Technology Integration In K12 Education/Technology in an Interactive Science Classroom
Technology integration into the classroom is an expanding part of education today. The field of science education is built off of technology. Thus it is very important for teachers to continue to find ways of brings more, and new technologies into the lessons that they teach. This chapter will outline one area of technology integration into a science classroom. It will cover virtual dissections. The first section of the chapter will give a detailed overview of basic dissections and then an overview of two different and unique types of virtual dissections that can be used in the classroom. The next two sections will then cover the advantages and disadvantages associated with using this type of technology within the classroom.
In the average high school biology classroom, dissections are a common occurrence. When a specimen is dissected, it is cut open so that it can be observed from the outside to the inside. Dissections are not reserved solely for animals. Plants, rocks, and other objects can be dissected. It really depends on what is being studied at the given time. Basically, a dissection is the opening of an object so that its insides can be examined. The most frequent dissections are dissections conducted on animals.
Many times the purpose of dissecting animals is to study the comparative anatomy of the specimen with the anatomy of a human. The type of specimen that is to be dissected varies greatly on the learning objectives of the unit being taught. Common animals that are dissected include invertebrates like crayfish, cockroaches, and earthworms to vertebrates such as frogs and fetal pigs. Typically these dissections are done in what is called a wet lab, or with real specimens and real dissection equipment. This provides a real life close up view for students to learn with. Up until recently dissections in the classroom have been relatively devoid of technology. The techniques used have been around for centuries and the tools, though modern in construction, are just as antiquated. However, computer aided virtual dissections have become more and more popular in recent years.
Virtual or online dissections are done on a computer rather than in a laboratory setting. These dissections are basically computer programs. They can be found on the internet to be downloaded or bought from educational software companies for student use. The basic background behind a virtual dissection is that it is done on a computer whenever and wherever the student feels like conducting the dissection. The student does not necessarily need to be in class on the day of the real dissection in order to learn the material from the dissection. They are able to load the virtual dissection on to their computer to learn the material gone over in a real dissection.
Virtual dissections can come in many forms. Each program is a little different so knowing what you want your students to learn and experience while conducting a virtual dissection can influence the type of program you use. There are two basic types of virtual dissections, slideshows and interactive dissections. First, let’s cover the simpler of the two types of dissections, slideshows. Slideshows dissections are just that; a series of pictures. They are pictures from a real life dissection that are placed in order from beginning to end. The pictures are then labeled with captions that describe each stage of the dissection. This type of slideshow involves the dissection a real specimen at some point in time. Another type of slideshow virtual dissection is a cartoon representation of the specimen. This type is similar to the previous example in that it has pictures of the various stages of the dissection except it has drawn or computer generated images of each stage of the dissection instead of actual photos of a real life dissection. This type is typically not as detailed as the real thing or the interactive virtual dissections. It can provide good study material as a supplement to a real life dissection. A class of students could even make their own slideshow virtual dissection by cooperating in dissecting one specimen and documenting it with photographs.
The other type of virtual dissection is interactive. It has a little bit more to it than just clicking the forward and backward arrows. Interactive virtual dissections are a close representation of a real dissection but on a computer instead of in a lab. The exact details of these interactive dissections can vary. Most of the time they are animated dissections, so they are either cartoon or computer generated pictures, but they are more than a just series of drawings. Typically, the program has a tray of tools similar to a set of tools that would actually be used in a real dissection. The student using the program would use the computer’s mouse to grab a tool and follow the instructions for the dissection. Certain tools do different jobs just like in a real dissection. When a scalpel is selected the student can click on the specimen to cut it open. Pins and needles can be selected to pin back skin and hold the body cavity open. When selected extractors and clamps will remove certain organs and parts for closer examination. Depending on the depth of the dissection, the organs that the student removes could possibly be dissected also. In this type of virtual dissection, detailed directions are given for the students to follow. These include which tools to select, where to click on the specimen to use the tools and how to proceed to the next stage of dissection. Detailed descriptions for the major features of the specimen are also provided for when the dissection comes to those features in the process of the dissection. This was a brief overview of what a virtual dissection is. The following will be a point and counterpoint discussion on virtual dissections and their use in the classroom. Some of the major advantages and disadvantages associated with using virtual dissection in the classroom in place of real life dissections will be highlighted and discussed.
Pros of Virtual DissectionsEdit
Virtual dissections offer many benefits when compared to more conventional classroom dissections. To begin, virtual dissections effectively address the animal rights issues that are faced when conventional dissections are used in the classroom. Many disagree with the raising and killing of animals (frogs, cats, pigs, etc.) for classroom dissections; and some of those who disagree are the students themselves. According to the National Anti-Vivisection Society (NAVS), whose purpose is to “[promote] greater compassion, respect and justice for animals through educational programs based on respected ethical and scientific theory and supported by extensive documentation of the cruelty and waste of vivisection,” both cats and fetal pigs are breed solely for the purpose of dissections, while frogs are obtained from the wild because they are unable to breed in captivity (NAVS). With 6 million animals being used for dissection each year, this is startling information (National Humane Education Society). Furthermore, animal rights activists argue that conventional dissections “desensitize students” and teach them that “we do not have any respect for the animals” (eSchool News). George Russell, an expert and writer for the journal American Biology Teacher, wrote in 1972, “"Experimentation of this kind can lead to a systematic and progressive crippling of one's capacity for feeling and produces changes of personality that, in my opinion, are noticeable even to someone with no formal training in psychology or psychiatry...?" (American Biology Teacher). Regardless of whether this effect if true for all students, this is a topic that should be taken into consideration.
Another benefit of virtual dissections is that they provide easy access to the material and can be repeated as many times as necessary. This is incredibility useful for students who are absent on the day of the dissection or for students who need extra practice with the material. Not to mention, this software allows students who work in pairs to each have a meaningful interaction with the materials—something that isn’t always possible during conventional dissections. Dr. Laura Ducesseschi, the director of the American Anti-Vivisection Society, states that, “Having [the] ability to repeat and reinforce your learning experience and become highly skilled and knowledgeable is something that CD-ROM dissections can offer, but not traditional wet lab dissections (Animalearn). This ability undoubtedly enriches student learning experiences and provides an incredible opportunity to work on difficult concepts. As a result, many proponents of virtual dissections suggest that their use in the classroom increases student engagement and leads to higher assessment scores. Although research indicating this statement is valid is slowly coming in, there has been a great deal of research that indicates that students who use alternative dissection methods, including virtual dissections, score just as well as their peers who are taught with more conventional dissection methods—indicating that students who use virtual dissections’ learning is not being impeded by these more modern methods (Dissection Alternatives).
In addition to being more animal friendly and providing useful learning advantages (better access, repeatable processes, etc.), virtual dissections also are easier to set up, create no mess, are safer, and are all together less consuming then conventional dissections (Lewis, Lough, and Moore-Russo). Students and teachers typically spend a great deal of time on the set up and clean up of their labs. In a forty-five minute class period at least fifteen minutes is devoted to this process—leaving only thirty minutes for real learning to occur. With virtual dissections, all the teacher must do is open program in the morning and then shut down the program at the end of the day. Also, virtual dissections prevent exposing students and teachers to harmful chemicals and sharp objects. Therefore, the concern for safety is drastically reduced. All of these things which virtual dissections provide—more safety, quicker set up, no messes, add to the positives of this increasingly more desirable path to classroom dissections.
Finally, in the long run virtual dissections will end up costing a school a great deal less than conventional dissections—something that could likely be a deciding factor for many school districts. It is well known that many districts are currently feeling the crunch of tight budgets and are struggling to provide students with well-rounded educational experiences. Virtual dissections could be used to provide interactive lessons each year without the need to purchase new specimens and additional equipment. According to the Physicians Committee for responsible medicine, in spite of the initial start-up cost for virtual dissections, which can be upwards of $2000 dollars, the overall savings of using the software after a five year period can range from $300-2000 dollars—an amount of savings which could end up having a huge impact on the overall school science budget (PCRM). By providing a resource that school can use year after year at no additional cost, virtual dissections end up becoming a much more affordable option than conventional dissections. With all of these benefits, it is easy to see why many schools have decided or are considering using virtual dissections in their classrooms.
Cons of Virtual DissectionsEdit
There are many reasons why virtual dissections have become a popular tool in science education. Virtual dissections reduce district costs and improve certain cognitive skills. However, like most educational resources, virtual dissections present certain obstacles that need to be considered.
First, students will not gain the experience of seeing and interacting with the real specimen. Images, diagrams, and animations are designed so the viewer can easily distinguish different organs, systems, and fluids. As a result, students learn to identify various aspects of a specimen in this fictional way. When students interact with a real specimen they can truly see how the internal cavity is similar. The live dissection forces the students to use their knowledge of anatomy to locate parts. Students planning on studying in the medical field will be at a strong disadvantage if they are not able to distinguish structures on a real organism.
Second, live laboratory exercises allow students to use a wider variety of their senses. Virtual dissections eliminate the use of smell and touch, which are vital senses when trying to store information in long-term memory. It is believed the more senses that are incorporated in learning, more neurological connections are made. This results in a better understanding for an extended period of time.
Third, virtual dissections allow the students to correct an error by simply clicking the undo button. This is a popular feature because in the event of an error, the dissection can be corrected and the student continues with the exercise. A fundamental principle of science is precision. Dissections performed on real specimens require students to follow directions and complete tasks in a sequential order. When students make mistakes, which cannot be undone by a click of the mouse, they are forced to see the consequences of their actions. Errors while dissecting are not necessarily a bad thing. Students must implement critical thinking skills to solve the problem and continue with the dissection. When individuals can notice their mistake(s) and learn from them, they are more likely to retain the information. This type of problem-solving based learning, which is critical for long-term retention, is nearly eliminated with virtual dissection.
There is another obstacle that is often over-looked with virtual dissections and that is the age of this technology. Various virtual dissecting programs have been around for some time, however; they have become increasingly more popular in the past decade. With the historical timeline in mind, the vast majority of instructors wishing to implement this tool into their classroom are not properly trained with the software. Modern technology is terrific, but there is a learning curve when people are getting familiar with new programs. Often times teachers are not prepared to address problems or questions as they develop, resulting in a great deal of time wasted and student confusion. When students become confused, especially when they see their instructor uncertain of what to do, they are likely to give up and redirect their attention elsewhere and the activity has no impact on student learning. The key to avoiding this obstacle, as the teacher, is to spend a great deal of time becoming familiar with a particular virtual dissection program before integrating it in the classroom. If the instructor does not dedicate enough time to learning the program, it could have adverse affects on the students' cognitive development.
The fourth obstacle we need to examine is the evolution of virtual dissections. There is a logical demand placed on companies to constantly improve graphics, accuracy, educational relevance, and the overall ease of operating the program. When improvements are made to the software, school districts must also adapt their technology in order to run the virtual dissection programs. Most of the programs run on the QuickTime player, which typically is free to school districts. However, it is the teacher’s responsibility to check all classroom computers prior to the activity to ensure the proper QuickTime player are downloaded on each computer. This can be a very time consuming process for the teacher, but is critical in making sure everything is up to date.
Lastly, we cannot forget to discuss the business aspect associated with virtual dissections. It is widely accepted that virtual dissections reduce laboratory expenses, but for how long? Companies have begun to break up the material in a way that forces districts to purchase a series of programs, rather than a single one. The Digital Frog Shop has created a series of programs to ensure the proper compatibility, content, and student/teacher resources. The cost for the entire series and proper licensing for a school is $2,500 (not including cost of tax and any additional funds needed to train the teachers). If the same software is used in a district for several years, the initial high cost is worth the investment. However, these programs are much like textbooks, they need to be updated every couple of years to maximize the benefit. The cost benefit of virtual dissections is based on one major component, how long a particular program can be utilized. Important note, virtual dissections are created by companies trying to make a profit and stay in business. These companies will find ways to make previous versions nearly irrelevant, in order to a sell new product.
Currently, most schools are continuing to choose traditional wet lab dissections over more modern virtual dissections—a decision likely made to address the more negative aspects associated with virtual dissections, such as less hands-on involvement, quick-fix errors, and the need to update the software. However, as the push for greater animal rights continues, the cost of technology decreases, and the quality of the virtual dissections increases, many schools could potentially start being more open to the consideration of using virtual dissections in their classroom. Not to mention, with the current push for technology integration increases, it is likely that a greater number of teachers will begin seeing virtual dissections as beneficial to their classroom—potentially helping to reach student who would otherwise be uninterested or left behind. Only time will tell whether this new software will be incorporated within our science classrooms and replace more traditional methods. Until then each individual science teacher and district will likely be making these crucial decisions on how the students will be taught these fundamental science concepts one by one.
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National Anti-Vivisection Society. (2004). Frequently asked questions. Retrieved November 23, 2010, from http://www.navs.org/site/PageServer?pagename=faq_main
National Humane Education Society. Classroom dissection an action that is inhumane and outdated. Retrieved on November 23, 2010, from http://www.nhes.org/files/Dissection.pdf
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. Cost analysis of dissection versus nonanimal teaching methods. Retrieved on November 23, 2010, from http://www.pcrm.org/resch/anexp/cost_analysis.html
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