Learning to recognise tissue types with PathXL

Lecturer's name:

Carla Zijlstra


Veterinary Medicine



Carla Zijlstra runs the course "From organism to tissue" within the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. This is a compulsory course for first-year students. Here, students are introduced for the first time to the building blocks that make up an animal. It is a combined course that includes part histology, part anatomy and part embryology. It is an introductory course in which students learn how an animal is put together, but also learn terms and recognise the four basic tissue types. PathXL is used for the latter.


The aim was for students to have microscopic specimens available for self-study. This allows them to prepare well for the practicals, but also allows them to hold digital images alongside the "live" microscope images during the practicals.

Carla says she first used the tool during the corona period. Students then could no longer physically work with the microscope to learn about tissue types. As teaching fell away, I converted the practical. I put everything that was first in the microscopy practical manual into PathXL. Through this route, students could still do the practicals independently, without a teacher and without a microscope. After the completion of corona, we still wanted to give students the ability to access the materials continuously, but it was also relevant that they learned to look through the microscope again. So we decided to use it side by side. Students can thus prepare and practice well.


In Carla's view, the goal has been met. The test shows that the goal has been achieved. Here, pictures from PathXL are used and structures are designated. The student should be able to recognise and name these structures. The test shows that in the corona years, the use of PathXL has ensured that students are able to learn to recognise tissues and structures on a digital image. Carla does indicate that students spend less time working with a microscope because of the tool. During physical labs, students spend a lot of time on PathXL, at the expense of the time they can spend looking through a microscope. Learning to work with a microscope is therefore less addressed. However, the question is to what extent veterinary science students should be able to work with a microscope.

Tips from Carla

  1. Take the time to add questions and answers in PathXL and don't just use view mode. It really does add quite a lot. It takes a lot of time to create it because you have to create a question, make a good answer and set arrows correctly, but students will benefit from it.
  2. It is useful to use PathXL as a component in an e-module.  You can then put other learning components in the module and add exercises or explanations. In the module, you can put a link so students can click a direct to the appropriate folder in PathXL.
  3. PathXL is not a replacement for the microscope, but it is a complementary tool that helps students to be able to do histology at other times than just at faculty. The images are good quality and you can zoom in far. Almost all the specimens we use in undergraduate teaching are now read in and thus available, also for other lecturers.