New interactive textbook to take the sting out of laboratory mathematics

Posted on October 15, 2015

Any study course in the natural or health sciences is notoriously difficult and the thought of combining this subject matter with university-level mathematics is probably enough to make many students break out in a cold sweat. Professor Tahir Pillay, Head of the Department of Chemical Pathology and the Clinical Pathology Programme at the University of Pretoria (UP), is hoping that his new interactive mathematics textbook, which is available for use on the Apple iPad, will make life a little easier for students enrolled for the Mathematics for Laboratory Medicine course.

Interactive Mathematics for Laboratory Medicine is the first South African interactive mathematics textbook to make use of this platform and is a successor to Prof Pillay’s previous digital interactive science textbook titled Practical Clinical Chemistry: Core Concepts, which was released internationally in 51 countries in December 2014. This book has since been adopted by the Royal College of Pathologists in London as a preparatory textbook for their qualifying examination for membership.

Professor Pillay decided to produce Interactive Mathematics for Laboratory Medicine in response to the lack of a substantial foundation in high school mathematics that causes many medical undergraduates to struggle with calculations required for an understanding of some of the processes in the clinical laboratory. The book is intended for beginners and attempts to simplify complex mathematical topics in clinical chemistry and clinical laboratory medicine by using a step-by-step approach. It deals with a variety of subjects ranging from basic-level mathematics to more advanced topics such as the Hardy-Weinberg equilibrium, Bayes’ theorem, chi-squared tests, reference-change values and uncertainty of measurement.

There are some unique features in the book that help to enhance the users’ interactive learning experience. This is achieved through the use of interactive ‘widgets’, which are applications, or components of an interface, that enable a user to perform a function or access a service. In other words, widgets allow the user to interface with the application and operating system by displaying information and inviting the user to act in a number of ways. In this new textbook specifically, widgets generate interactivity in the form of multiple-choice questions, digital calculators, slide presentations and streaming videos.

The multiple-choice questions are programmed to give immediate feedback to the reader, which enables students to continually test themselves while working through the problems. In addition, all the solutions to calculations are shown step by step, using hand script so that students can actually follow them and stop and start, or speed up or slow down the calculation to suit their personal needs. This feature, which mimics the real-life effect of a teacher writing the solution on a board, was generated using a digital pen.

‘This is a very unique and powerful book and there is no other like it on the market’, says Prof Pillay. ‘One can embed dynamic material such as videos, animated presentations, 3-D objects and photo galleries to allow for a richer two-way interaction of the student with the material via the touch screen interface.’

According to Prof Pillay, one of the most powerful features of the platform is the ability to update the contents quickly. ‘One can, for example, update a book annually or even more frequently, and the updated version will be immediately available to users via the internet or the local network.’ Compared to conventional publishing, this greatly simplifies the process of updating or producing a new edition of a textbook.

As the need for innovative educational approaches grows, it is clear that digital textbooks will become increasingly commonplace. This truly is the future of publishing, especially in resource- and learning-challenged environments.

Click here for a preview of the book on YouTube.


*Prof Pillay is a Fellow of the Colleges of Medicine, South Africa and the Royal College of Pathologists, London. He has a doctorate from Cambridge University. He previously led the Departments of Chemical Pathology at the University of Cape Town (UCT) and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and is one of the two most senior chemical pathologists in South Africa. Prof Pillay is also a former Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Head of the College of Health Sciences at UKZN.

There are currently only two (pre-retired) professors of Chemical Pathology in South Africa.


- Author Ansa Heyl

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