Open textbook education at its finest

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Scientist in a lab coat looking at a vial that contains sickle-cell red blood cells.
That’s a blood cell?! lee lim

A mission to make science common knowledge

Open education resources are generally viewed as exceptionally valuable tools that reflect the need for information to be widely available across all borders and fields.  

Jennifer Kong, a faculty member of the Department of Basic Health Sciences at British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT) in Burnaby, saw a need to make knowledge about anatomy, physiology, and pathology accessible to everyone.  

“That helps them guard against misinformation, and be better able to understand what a symptom might represent, what causes disease, and how it’s likely to play out,” explained Kong in an interview with BCIT News. 

After pitching her idea to Helen Dyck, the manager of the University of British Columbia and David F. Hardwick, Pathology Learning Centre in Vancouver, Kong worked alongside Dyck and Zoë Soon to make people more aware of their bodies and how they function. The result was the open education pathology textbook Pathology: From the Tissue Level to Clinical Manifestations and Inter-professional Care.  

The book was written and published to educate and inspire a diverse audience. The target audience is first-year post-secondary students, but a curious reader could use the textbook to fill gaps in their knowledge.  

The textbook is written simply, and begins by explaining what the field of pathology is and what a pathologist does. The simplistic style of writing sets a tone that sparks curiosity for the rest of the textbook, and hints at the thorough detail it goes into in later chapters.  

The format in which the information is presented is also simple and effective. The chapters are a mixture of written and visual content, with integrated video lessons. For instance, in the chapter “Video lessons on Histology,” there is a video lesson describing what a tissue looks like to a histologist. The language used is simple and clear, and the visuals are clear and high-quality. Visuals found in other chapters are of equal quality, and seem just as engaging.  

 Each section of the textbook focuses on a specific disease. At the beginning of each chapter are ‘Learning Objectives’ that guide the reader in determining what information is the most important to take away. For post-secondary students, these learning objectives would help to structure notes for better knowledge retention. For the most curious of readers, the objectives summarize the chapter’s contents into broad categories. 

The textbook covers a wide variety of diseases and the science behind them. These diseases include heart failure, metastatic cancer, emphysema, pneumonia, pulmonary edema, diabetes, angina, acute kidney injuries, cirrhosis, anemia, and leukemia. 

For example, the chapter “Blood, Anemia, Leukemia, and Blood Tests” provides a comprehensive look at the anatomy of blood components, the functions of blood in transportation and defence, the maintenance of homeostasis, and the pathological changes that can be seen when the blood is diseased.  

The blood chapter also has a video tour of LifeLabs, the largest processor of blood tests in western Canada. Being online, free, and accessible to all, post-secondary students could make the best use of this in their academic journey of understanding and learning more about pathology. 

The section on the treatment of anemia talks about the different ways it could be cured. Anemia is a disease that can be caused by multiple things, with different types named differently. For instance, sickle-cell anemia is given its name from the “sickle-” shaped red blood cells. Sickle cells are more fragile and prone to destruction. Blood cells that die faster than they regenerate can result in “anemia due to RBC loss or destruction,” a condition for which treatment is described in the textbook. 

Overall, this is an interesting and useful resource for people of all ages and backgrounds. This open-source textbook may even be the beginning of many more similar open education textbooks. 

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