Pathology interactive practicals (PiPs)

Project summary


Online eLearning has been used successfully in pathology previously at the University of Southampton Faculty of Medicine. In the late 1990s, a package of eLearning activities called "Scalpel" was produced under the auspices of Professor William Roche. These were based on the principles of interactive computer-aided learning and were specifically intended to replace practical classes in which large groups of students looked at pathological material in teaching laboratories.

The results were very encouraging. Students found the "Scalpel" practicals much more engaging. The activities in the teaching laboratories were generally felt to be "boring" and of limited educational value. In contrast, the "Scalpel" practicals that replaced them were received enthusiastically by the students.

In the years that have passed since "Scalpel" was produced, there has been a huge expansion of what is possible in online interactive learning. Furthermore, there have been significant changes to the medical curriculum at Southampton. These factors resulted in a new project to replace "Scalpel", a project that would produce eLearning in pathology that is integrated with the new curriculum and takes advantage of advances in information technology. This led to the birth of PiPs: Pathology interactive Practicals.

Key features


The pathology curriculum in Years 1 and 2 emphasises how clinical features of disease can be understood in terms of the underlying pathological mechanisms. This requires a deep understanding of a number of fundamental processes, e.g. inflammation, necrosis, neoplasia.

The aim of the PiPs is to ensure students have this understanding, and they are designed to take advantage of the strengths of eLearning:

  • Pathology is a visually-rich subject, and images can be presented with and without annotations.
  • Students can take as much time as they need to master difficult ideas.
  • Understanding can be tested with questions embedded in the activity, with instant feedback.
  • Students can return to the PiPs later in the course to revise the important topics they contain.
  • Each individual PiP is short (taking 15-30 minutes to complete), which maximises learning efficiency.

Linking each PiP to a specific lecture or tutorial ensures that eLearning is fully integrated into the course. This allows students to elaborate the principles they have learnt in the PiPs and make links between different areas of knowledge.



The project manager is Sunhea Choi. The content is supplied by members of the Cellular Pathology Department at Southampton General Hospital (mostly Norman Carr). The material is technically edited by Marcus Parry and Fiona Alexander; the project is coordinated from the client perspective by Marcus Parry.



Funding for this project was obtained from the Service Increment for Teaching (SIFT) budget.