Digital vs Paper Histology Lab Exams: Pros and Cons Conference Paper uri icon


  • The histology and oral histology faculty have converted traditional histology lab exam slides into digital exams for oral and general histology courses using the ExamSoft program. In the last 15 years, the labs were converted to virtual microscopy and lab exams were converted to timed PowerPoint presentations (45 seconds/slide) with a fillintheblank (FITB) answer sheet. Our goal was to convert the PowerPoint/FITB format (paper) to a digital exam with multiple choice (MC), FITB, and choose the best image question formats. A second goal was to compare the paper exam to the digital exam outcome for 2 courses, oral histology and general histology. We also compared student performance with different question formats. Many issues were addressed to produce questions used on many test taking platforms (ipad, apple and PC computers). Question construction and type, image attachment, grading options, categories and tags were parameters we considered. We produced 3 lab exams for each course. Parameters that have to be established early are image indication of test structure (outlined, pointed to or numbered), with distinct labels for multiple questions. FITB questions were used, and all acceptable answers could be selected from the student responses, which delays immediate scoring. We also used a question stem with images as answer choices. Advantages of the digital format include faster grading, item analysis, student outcome reports by category with images attached. The grading process was clear to the students and faculty. The category tag made it possible to mix lab and lecture exam questions in the same assessment. Comparing the oral histology lab exams, the mean was 10% higher in the digital format for the first exam, 3% lower for the second exam and less than 2% lower for the third exam. Comparing the general histology lab exams: the mean grade for the digital format was 8% less in the first exam, 1% less in the second exam and 5% higher in the third exam in the 2017 class (n~103) compared to the 2016 (n~102) class. Although we recorded these changes in exam performance, it was difficult to compare students from different academic years as each student group is unique. The faculty thought the digital exams were comparable to paper, and the advantages of data provided by the digital format was valuable. Student comments were generally positive for the digital format, because taking the lab exams on computers provided the option of zooming the images and having more time to answer. They could also revisit a question several times, something they were unable to do in a timed PowerPoint format. Students also liked the exam reports as they contained the image. Overall, the faculty and students had suggestions and comments to improve the exam format, but preferred digital to the paper exam format.Support or Funding InformationBiomedical Sciences DepartmentThis abstract is from the Experimental Biology 2019 Meeting. There is no full text article associated with this abstract published in The FASEB Journal.

name of conference

  • 2019 Experimental Biology Meeting, Orlando FL, April 2019

published proceedings


author list (cited authors)

  • Opperman, L. A., Logan, S. M., Ruest, L., & Svoboda, K.

citation count

  • 0

complete list of authors

  • Opperman, Lynne A||Logan, Shaun M||Ruest, L-Bruno||Svoboda, Kathy KH

publication date

  • April 2019