Mar 162003
Authors: Jana Gurkin

Students may soon dissect frogs and fetal pigs with a computer mouse instead of a scalpel.

Animalearn, a program designed to allow students and teachers alternatives to animal dissections in schools, has come out with a variety of high-tech solutions to those wary of formaldehyde. Some of the program’s alternatives include ideas like Multimedia Computer Simulation, which offers students and teachers everything from virtual dissections to full reality simulations.

“Software is available that provides students with tutorials and simulations requiring them to make their own decisions while allowing them to work at their own pace,” according to the Animalearn Web site.

Both the Poudre and Centennial High Schools in Fort Collins use dissection in their science classrooms. At Poudre High School, they also have the alternative of virtual dissections for students uncomfortable with dissecting the specimen. This allows students to participate and learn the same material as other students, but does not force them to perform an activity they may not be comfortable being a part of, said John Knight, head of the science department at Poudre High School.

Some of the animals dissected in the high schools in Fort Collins include cats, crayfish, squid, clams, starfish, earthworms, fetal pigs, shark, perch and snake.

Although many of the Animalearn teaching materials avoid using animals in the procedures, they also emphasize the importance of gaining real experience from dissections.

In an effort to conduct dissections and still maintain a humane approach, one of the program’s ideas posted on their website is to use “ethically sourced” animal cadavers. These come from places such as veterinary teaching hospitals and farms where the animals have either died naturally or in accidents, or were euthanized. This is an alternative to places where animals are bred or killed in order to provide cadavers or tissue samples for experiments and dissection purposes.

“Animalearn works to foster an awareness of and respect for animals used in education and to eliminate their use through the utilization of alternative methods,” according to their Web site.

Six million vertebrates are dissected each year in United States high schools. Many are also used for invasive experiments while they’re still alive, according to a news release.

Although Knight said the programs Animalearn offers may be an effective alternative, he said that there is a special kind of learning that goes on in performing dissections, and it’s important to make sure that element of learning isn’t lost in the alternatives to dissection.

“There is a quality learning that takes place in dissecting,” Knight said.

Some of the advantages to using these alternatives are a better education and financial savings, according to their website. Studies showed that students who learned with the alternate methods performed just as well as those who learned by working on animals, and half of the studies showed that the students even performed better because of the alternate methods, according to a news release.

The computer programs also provide students the ability to review what they’ve learned with the program, which isn’t an option in dissections in the classroom.

“This ability to repeat the lab is an effective pedagogical tool that animal labs cannot offer,” according to the Animalearn Web site.

An advantage for students with asthma or lung ailments may also be found in the fact that chemicals aren’t used with alternate methods, since animals preserved in the chemicals aren’t present in the alternate methods. Some of these chemicals used in preserving the animals can be harmful to students, according to the Animalearn Web site.

Animalearn has developed The Science Bank, which is the Animalearn’s program for lending out their technology materials so teachers can try some of the alternative methods to traditional dissections and other scientific procedures in the classroom. Teachers can try some of the alternate materials and are not charged for any of the materials so long as they are returned to Animalearn after the teacher is finished using them.

The products are designed for learning in anatomy, physiology and psychology, and the programs also offer books to go along with their materials. A new, recently released book “From Guinea Pig to Computer Mouse,” produced by the International Network for Humane Education and financially supported by Animalearn, contains over 500 “state-of-the-art” humane teaching alternatives to harmful use of animals in education and dissection, according to a news release from Animalearn.

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