Bill MacKenty

 
 
 

Animal dissections should not be computer simulated

Posted in Educational Tech Games in education on 18 - March 2014 at 06:14 PM (8 years ago). 23 views.

I am participating in an interesting discussion about the role of simulations and dissection. My thoughts are below: 

There is a huge difference between a computer-simulated dissection and a real one. Simulations are great because they: 

a. allow us to abstract an idea, piece of knowledge, or thought-object; 
b. allow us to easily and quickly manipulate objects in a simulation to see what might happen; 
c. allow us to model complex systems (see serious games as an example); 
d. help us model and manipulate an environment. 

If we support the use of simulations over real-life dissections, we should at the minimum include a discussion about the kinds of knowledge that using simulations support. The key point here is that simulation allow users to change and manipulate variables, and then observe an outcome based on the changes they made in the simulation. 

A simulation is not a series of videos or images, which is what I see most "frog dissection" simulations sites. Please know there is a difference between watching a movie of a frog dissection and simulating a frog dissection. I found many dissection sites that seemed to be a series of linked flash videos that showed different stages of a normal dissection process. For example, this site: http://www.whitman.edu/academics/courses-of-study/biology/virtual-pig is a series of images that describe what students should look for when they dissect a pig. Likewise, a cow eye dissection (eww, gross) http://www.exploratorium.edu/learning_studio/cow_eye/index.html is not a simulation, but a "click next and look" activity. This site http://www.biologyjunction.com/frog_dissection.htm is good because it has photographs and diagrams, but there is nothing "simulationy" about it. 

This site http://www.mhhe.com/biosci/genbio/virtual_labs/BL_16/BL_16.html has interactivity, and could qualify as a good resource. Also http://www.froguts.com/demo/ is passable, but neither of these sites reach to the standard of a simulation in my opinion. Online resources need to be more than just watching a movie or series of movies; they need to include meaningful interactivity (see https://www.explorelearning.com/ as a good example). For the record, the gold-standard for online resources are resources which allow students to create simulations. I had originally wanted to try to stay away from the debate about dissection and stick with "what is a simulation". 

Personally, I disagree profoundly with the notion that a computer can replace a live dissection exercise. Organisms are gooey, slimy, and not "clean and tidy", as a computer would present an animal dissection. I also believe the affective element of dissection is part of learning (but I'm an IT guy, not a biologist nor an ethics expert) IMHO, technology would detract from learning if our goal in learning was for kids to understand the digestive system (and it's place in other systems) of a real frog. 

To underscore my point, the real value of a simulation is to allow users to change and manipulate variables, and then observe an outcome based on the changes they made in the simulation. 😊 this is not what most animal dissection sites (that I could find) do.