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Created By: Kienna Knowles

Course: EDUC 6665-005 Managing Change: Technology, Leadership, and a Vision for the Future

Course Instructor: Rachel Bordelon, Ph.D.

Technology Standard 2: Planning and Designing Learning Environments and Experiences

Program Outcome: S2.2: Apply current research on teaching and learning with technology when planning learning environments and experiences.


Research suggest that effective technology integration begins with research and professional development. Several pedagogy exists that supports the use of technology and digital equipment in education. Particularly, science education offers many opportunities for technology integration. One of those areas includes computer simulations and virtual dissections used in science laboratories. The following application assign details and combines several articles of research that supports the integration of technology into science laboratories via virtual dissections.

In order to effectively use technology (for a virtual dissection) this learner set out to locate research, software and current computer applications that successfully simulate gravitational science dissections. Planning digital learning environments enables educators to design or adapt relevant learning experiences that incorporate digital tools and resources to promote student learning.

Title: Emerging Technologies and Education: Virtual Dissections

The technological advances achieved in the past few decades have brought about a revolution in the business world and in society (Thornburg, 1998 and Laureate Education 2004). Technology affects nearly all aspects of a life, professionally and personally. More than ever, technology integration needs to become a top priority among teachers, schools and school districts. The exponential rate of technological advances demands that educators and school districts prepare students for the future with the 21st century skills to access and evaluation information from a variety of digital sources (Thornburg, 1998 and Laureate Education 2004).

This learners supports that technology integration in science is critical and can be incorporated in a variety of methods. One method, in particular, is the use of on-line or virtual dissections in biological science courses. Dissections are one of the most widely used methods for teaching biological structure and morphology in secondary and collegiate biology courses. The immediate benefit for students participating in dissecting laboratory investigations is the hands-on experience (Offner, 2003).

Piagetian theory argues that knowledge is constructed through action or active learning (Piaget, 1954). As children exercise existing mental structures in particular environmental situations, accommodation-motivating disequilibrium results and the children construct new mental structures to resolve the disequilibrium (Piaget, 1954). Research supports that most science students remember ninety percent of what they participate in actively via demonstrations or hands-on activities, but only fifty percent of what they merely observe (Berg, 2004). More importantly, the learning that occurs during hands-on activities (like dissecting labs) is qualitatively different from the learning that occurs in a lecture setting (Offner, 2003).

Dissections enable students to translate concepts about spatial relationships into three-dimensional reality, which is how humans view the world (Berg, 2004). Dissecting for the primary purpose of studying the anatomical structure of animals has been used for centuries in science education, and remains an important part of secondary biology science classes (Berg, 2004). The educational goals for students in dissecting laboratories often include; understanding how the human body works over successive levels, understanding biological systems by studying other highly developed members of the animals kingdom and understanding how humans, one myriad of organisms on earth, evolve and interact with each other as well as other elements of the environment (Berg, 2004). These educational goals are traditionally accomplished using a variety of preserved specimens including the sheep, cow, frog, and cat. However, new digital technologies are enabling dissection to be completed virtually.

The use of animal dissections in science curriculum, particularly within biology courses, is becoming more controversial, leading educators and students to consider valuable alternatives for this method of teaching (Akpan, 2001). Several alternatives to dissections are available to science educators. They include computer programs, films, videos, slides, photographs, transparencies, wall charts and three-dimensional models (Franklin et al, 2002). However, computer simulations are transforming how many teachers perform dissections in their classrooms. These simulations have put a new spin on the science education, redefining the role of educators and reshaping the classroom learning experience according to the National Science Education Standards (NSTA, 2001). The following sites offer exceptional virtual dissections appropriate for most biology classrooms:

• eBioinfogin (eBioinfogin Innovations, 2001).

• Glencoe Biology (McGraw, 2008).

• Academic Info (Madin, 2008).

• Digital Frog (Digital Frog International, 2008).

• Home Science Tools (Home Training Tools, 2008).

Currently in most secondary and collegiate science classrooms, educators are frequently using computer simulations of dissections as an alternative to traditional hands-on dissections (Akpan 2002, 2001, Franklin et al, 2002, & Predavec, 2001). According to Akpan (2001), the focus of recent research is understanding how the use of computer simulation will enhance learning in secondary and collegiate science classrooms either pre or post completion of a didactic unit of instruction. Computer simulations can be extremely effective in assisting students to understand and experience practical applications of scientific thinking (Akpan 2001).

Research suggest that computer simulations provide advantages over natural events in that simulations bring a sense of immediacy to the learning objectives and challenge students to actively participate in the dissection. In these learners’ experiences, computer simulations enable all students to equally participate in the laboratory investigation. According to Akpan and Andre (2000), computer simulations provide a model whereby students play a direct role in the investigation by interacting with the computer. These interactions enable students to demonstrate the how living and non-living environments are interrelated.

The constructivist position that students should have access to multiple resources and representations for information can be partially satisfied by effective computer simulations. Computer simulations, specifically used to replace the use of specimens in dissections, could be used without diminishing the learning goals. According to Akpan (2001), simulations must be designed with the purpose of immersing students into real-life science encounters that require hands-on activities, higher-order thinking, and collaborative problem solving.

According to Akpan (2002), effective computer simulations should follow a particular taxonomy, experiencing, informing, and reinforcing. Experience occurs when computer simulations provide student with organized structures, expose misconceptions and include concrete examples, informing is simply the deliver of information, and reinforcing occurs when learning simulations strengthen objectives (Akpan, 2002). Using computer simulations to provide information, to expose students to concrete examples and to reinforce learning objectives appears to be a growing and attractive teaching method for science educators who teach biology of the human body (Akpan 2001, 2001, Franklin et al, 2002, & Predavec, 2001).

Computer simulation experiences allow students to visual grasp certain processes that happen in real life that can be difficult to observe using actual specimens. Reviews of computer simulation research reveal successful student learning gains and increase popularity amid science educators (Franklin et al, 2004). Additional research studies have indicated that the use of computer simulations, compared to the traditional hands-on method of dissection, provide comparable results in improving student attitudes and achievement as well as strengthening learning objectives (Akpan 2002 & Franklin et at 2002).

In a comparative analysis of the virtual frog dissections and traditional frog dissections in secondary schools, research shows that student participation and positive attitudes increases amid students who performed computer simulated frog dissections (Akpan, 2000, 2001 and Berg, 2004). Students’ level of learning and retention of knowledge of the frog’s external and internal anatomy shows no significant differences in student learning and retention. However, students who perform simulated frog dissection use one class period and students who perform traditional frog dissections require extensive class time (Akpan, 2000, 2001).

Computer simulations display some distinctive advantages when used as an alternative or supplement to traditional hands-on dissections. Previously shown in this paper, simulations can increase student retention of form and function, improve student participation, and ensure learning objectives are fulfilled. Additionally, an advantage to simulations is that they promote a transfer of learning. According to Akpan (2001), a transfer of learning consists of skills or knowledge one learning environment and applying that knowledge to other situations. Simulations potentially promote a transfer of learning. Knowledge from the simulation in one situation or class can transfer to a real-life situation. This transfer of knowledge is most prevalent amid science college students or health professional students (Akpan, 2001 & Predavec 2001).

Dissections and hands-on activities have become extremely important to biology curriculum and lesson plans. Without them, educators would find it difficult to demonstrate biological concepts. Particularly, dissections are more prevalent in biology courses to show how the human body and other animals function. Dissections enable educators to visually demonstrate anatomical and physiological concepts that are common to all living systems.

The research in this paper suggests that simulations can lead to equivalent learning to traditional hands-on dissection experiences. Further, the research suggests that simulations can be educationally sound and useful for educators and students. More importantly simulations as an alternative or as a supplement for dissection exercises can minimize the difficulty some students face with dissection experiences. Technology creates powerful possibilities for science education to be reinvented. However, as technological advances are made the educational systems must advance also to ensure students are prepared to live and work in this technology driven society.


Akpan, J. P. (2001). Issues associated with inserting computer simulations into biology instruction: A review of literature. Electronic Journal of Science Education, 5(3) Retrieved 02-21-06 from the World Wide Web:

Akpan J. P. (2002). Which comes first: Computer simulations of dissections or traditional laboratory practical method of dissection. Electronic Journal of Science Education, 6(4). Retrieved 07-03-08 from the World Wide Web:

Akpan J. P. and Andre, T. (2000). Using a computer simulation before dissections to help Students learn anatomy. Journal of Computers in Mathematic and Science Teaching. 19(3), 297-313.

Berg, B. (2004). Virtual creatures’ teaches biology without dissections. Stanford school of medicine. Retrieved 07-03-08 from the World Wide Web:

Digital Frog International. (2008). Retrieved 07-03-08 from the World Wide Web: eBioinfogen Innovatives. (2001).

Virtual Dissections. Retrieved 07-01-08 from the World Wide Web

Franklin, S., Peat, M., & Lewis, A. (2002). Traditional versus computer-based dissections in enhancing learning in a tertiary setting: a student perspective. Journal of biological Education. 36(3). Retrieved 07-03-08 from ProQuest database.

Home Training Tools. (2008). Home Science Tools: The Gateway to Discovery. Retrieved 07-01-08 from the World Wide Web:

Laureate Education, Inc. (Executive Producer). (2004). Technology, Leadership and a Vision for the Future. [Video recording]. Los Angeles: Author.

Madin, M. (2008). Virtual Biology Dissections. Retrieved 07-01-08 from the World Wide Web

McGraw, H. (2008). Glencoe Science Biology: The Dynamics of Life. Retrieved 07-01 08 from the World Wide Web hp?abrev=ntl

National Science Teachers Association [NSTA] (2001). Dissection, an NSTA position statement. Retrieved 07-03-08from the World Wide Web:

Offner, S. (2003). The importance of dissection in biology teaching. The American Biology Teacher. 55(3), 32-34.

Piaget, J. (1954). The construction of realty in the child. (pp. 15-30). New York: basic books. (Original French Education, 1973).

Predavec, M. (2001). Evaluation of E-Rat, a computer-based rat dissection, in terms of student learning outcomes. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 17, 40-45.

Thornburg, D.D. (1998). Brainstorms and lightning bolts: Thinking skills for the 21st century. San Carlos, CA: Starsong Publications.