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University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships
University of Michigan Innovation Partnerships

Taking a SecondLook™ at How Students Learn Histology


When Michael Hortsch, Ph.D., decided to supplement his teaching of histology, also known as microscopic anatomy, to University of Michigan students with PowerPoint files, he had no idea that he was creating a future mobile app that would help students all over the world across a broad range of studies.

“Students always want to know whether they are prepared for an upcoming examination,” explains Hortsch. “Therefore, I created PowerPoint files with images and questions, so that students were able go through the material in 10 minutes, and get an idea of what they know and don’t know.”

Hortsch called the initiative SecondLook™.

“SecondLook™ was really a different way to help student be prepared. It isn’t just a list of possible test questions. It’s intended to show gaps in knowledge and skills,” Hortsch added. “My students loved it. It was a hit.”

Inspired by the enthusiasm for his idea, Hortsch used a sabbatical to expand the PowerPoint series to cover all tissues and organs of the human body, which are part of a regular histology or microanatomy course. That expansion was the next step toward a SecondLook™ mobile app, now one of the most popular medical review resources available for mobile devices.

“The idea of a SecondLook™ mobile app came when I started to think about modern ways of presenting microscope images and encourage problem solving by my students,” Hortsch said. “I received money from the University of Michigan Medical School Dean’s office to develop an app for iPads, and that allowed us to also publish the material outside of the University of Michigan.”

Hortsch worked with Lawrence Kirchmeier, a University of Michigan software developer, and U-M Innovation Partnerships to create and publish the SecondLook™ mobile app at the iTunes Store. Students worldwide began downloading the app, which won the Provost’s Teaching Innovation Prize in 2013, and inspired Hortsch more recently to work with Chris Chapman and his Learning Design & Publishing team to redesign the SecondLook™ Histology apps to make them compatible with iPhones and Android devices.

As for what’s next, Hortsch explained he is working to expand SecondLook™ beyond educating medical students. “I’ve started working with colleagues at other University of Michigan schools to create SecondLook™ content for topics including organic chemistry and the dental sciences. Three new SecondLook™ apps have recently been published, covering the subjects of Neuroanatomy, Musculoskeletal Anatomy and Oral Radiology. The concept can be adapted to any visual topic and students crave new resources supplementing what they get in the classroom.” All SecondLook™ apps together have been downloaded over 24,000 times from the app stores in over 140 countries.

“Publishing the SecondLook™ apps through the University of Michigan adds a stamp of approval and validates their quality,” he added. “Making the SecondLook™ apps available at the app stores shows that we’re educators who want to share what we know with the world.”