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|Human||Miscellaneous or multiple species||Perch|
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Dissection in veterinary and medical schools has sharply declined as they have switched to alternatives (Hart & Wood 2004). And the variety of dissection alternatives for grade school and high school students has greatly expanded over the last decade. We now have more technologically advanced options to learn anatomy and physiology, and studies have shown that we can learn effectively with these methods that are non-detrimental to the animals, the environment, and students (Rasmussen 2001).
Dissection often focuses on memorizing facts instead of teaching students critical thinking skills (Rollin 1981). On the other hand, alternatives teach students to ask questions, gather data, and problem solve. Alternatives demonstrate scientific concepts (Hart et al. 2008) including the structure and function of living systems at all levels of organization (cells, organs, tissues, organ systems, whole organisms, and ecosystems), the composition of body systems, and the regulation of an organism’s internal environment and relationship with the external environment. Alternatives also demonstrate how form fits function, comparisons between species, and how the body systems work together and function.In addition to better fulfilling the learning objectives in a timely, efficient, and interactive way, alternatives allow the students to reexamine an organism, unlike dissection, which destroys many of an organism’s structures and their spatial relationship (Rosse 1995; Richter, Kramer, Lierse, Maas, & Hohne 1994; Balcombe 2001). Because the alternatives are reusable, a school can save thousands of dollars each year by using them and can reduce laboratory waste and disposal of hazardous biological or chemical preservatives.
Two popular types of dissection alternatives are computer programs and models.
As an example of what can be provided for the undergraduate program in biology, at the University of California, Davis, a course in Comparative Vertebrate Organology using alternatives, presents functional anatomy of the major organ systems in fish, birds, and mammals, from the cellular to the gross level. Engaging laboratories focus on each of the organ systems, offering three-dozen gross anatomy laboratory stations, which are available for a full day each week. The laboratories present reusable materials, combining an array of preserved specimens, prosections, microscopic slides, and diagrammatic presentations (Hart, Wood, and Weng 2005).
Computer simulations give students the opportunity to learn interactively while controlling the lesson’s focus, direction, and pace. Available software programs include simulations of the anatomy, physiology, and behavior of cats, crayfish, dogs, fetal pigs, frogs, humans, rats, sharks, and other animals. Some of these programs simulate the step-by-step performance of a dissection. In addition, many programs enhance the lesson by including critical thinking questions, data gathering exercises, and additional information on comparative anatomy, the physiology of the animal, and the environmental niche. Animated sections may comprise films of functioning systems at the organ, tissue, cellular, or molecular level. On-line self-evaluation quizzes are also available on many of these programs, allowing students to evaluate their learning and identify areas for further study.
Models often have removable, labeled, and detailed parts that provide a realistic look at the anatomy of the organism. While preserved specimens are usually faded, monochromatic, and used only once, models are colored to reflect the appearance of a living organism and are reusable.