Tossing out the Textbook

At some schools, faculty skip the textbook entirely in favor of an electronic educational platform. The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, for example, uses a platform well-known in K–12 teaching called Blackboard. Students watch lectures on digital video and then go to class for discussions, explains Doug Murphy, director of light microscopy at Janelia Farm Research Center and author of the textbook Fundamentals of Light Microscopy and Electronic Imaging. Before he took the position at Janelia Farm five years ago, he was a cell biology professor at Hopkins.

When Murphy taught the histology course, the Blackboard screen was divided into four segments. The main screen showed the lecture, and the other segments displayed relevant PowerPoint slides, laboratory exercises, and very high-resolution digital microscope images. “The students have that as their course,” says Murphy, “and it’s their option whether they go to class.” They can also choose whether to purchase a textbook, since it’s not required reading and all the necessary material is covered in detailed notes from each lecturer.

Rather than a lecture, class consisted of a discussion section where students talk about an ethical or societal aspect of histology. “Reporting to an auditorium to hear the speaker present on a routine topic is gone,” says Murphy.

-- Laura Putre
HHMI Bulletin, August 2011

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