|Teaching and Learning Forum 2010 [ Refereed papers ]|
Jo Elliott and Dominique Blache
The University of Western Australia
There have been recent moves to replace the use of animals in teaching with interactive computer programs and simulations. However, it is important to understand student attitudes towards non-animal alternatives to the use of animals to ensure that students receive a valuable learning experience. Previous research suggests that students support the use of non-animal alternatives to the invasive use of animals but the replacement of non-invasive animal use has received less attention. The aim of this study was to determine the attitudes of undergraduate science students towards the use of non-animal alternatives to replace non-invasive animal use in practical classes before and after exposure to non-animal alternatives. Students were surveyed before and after taking part in a non-invasive practical involving the use of live sheep and a computer simulation of the same class. The results showed that, both before and after completing the practical series, students agreed with the statements that non-animal alternatives provide a valuable, and an enjoyable, learning experience and that this attitude did not change (p = 0.688; p = 0.549, respectively). However, students did not feel that non-animal alternatives provide as good a learning experience as the use of live animals. In addition, students rated the animal-based exercise as more enjoyable than the computer simulation (p < 0.001). The non-invasive nature of the practical, the species used and the relative simplicity of the concepts presented are thought to have contributed to these attitudes.
The use of computer-based alternatives to replace less- or non-invasive practical classes, such as those designed to demonstrate behaviour or thermoregulation, has received less attention. Although a practical class to demonstrate thermoregulation may not involve direct harm, the animals are exposed to psychological (e.g. handling-induced stress) and environmental stressors within the range of their capacity to adapt to the changes. Thus, while such a class is non-invasive, as it does not involve surgery, tissue collection or exposure to distressing stimuli outside the animals' ability to cope with the changes, it does involve an imposition on the animals. With this in mind, alternative teaching methods are being developed to replace these non-invasive practical classes. It is important therefore to assess the effectiveness of the developed alternatives.
When assessing the effectiveness of alternative teaching methods it is important to consider student attitudes, enjoyment and preference. If students have negative attitudes towards the use of non-animal alternatives it may reduce the effectiveness of these alternatives in teaching concepts. A positive mood enhances learning in comparison to a neutral mood (Lee & Sternthal, 1999), therefore it is important that students have a positive attitude towards, and enjoy, the teaching methods used. For example, students with a higher level of enjoyment of high-school physics classes achieved higher marks (Pell, 1985). Likewise, Green (1993) found that enjoyableness of a teaching method was moderately to highly correlated with the effectiveness of that teaching method. Conversely, if students do not enjoy a teaching method and thus have a poor attitude towards it, the method may be rendered less effective. Given that student opinions of the use of non-animal alternatives to dissections tend to improve after completing a class involving a non-animal alternative, and vice versa (Dewhurst, Hardcastle, Hardcastle, & Stuart, 1994; Strauss & Kinzie, 1994), it seems important to investigate student attitudes to alternatives to non-invasive practicals both before and after exposure to an alternative.
The positive attitudes of students towards alternative teaching methods found in previous studies may have been influenced by the invasive nature of the animal-based practicals used in those studies. Students often find the sights and smell associated with invasive animal use, such as dissections and surgeries, confronting and this can detract from the learning experience (Cox, 2004; Predavec, 2001). The use of a non-animal alternative allows students to study the same concepts in the absence of the confronting and potentially upsetting stimuli. In non-invasive animal-based practical classes, such as those used to demonstrate thermoregulation, these confronting aspects of animal use are not present. This may affect students' perceptions of the imposition on the animal and thus their attitudes towards the practical class. Therefore, alternatives to non-invasive practical classes may not be as appealing to students as alternatives to invasive animal use.
The aims of this project were to determine student attitudes towards the use of non-animal alternatives when the alternative replaces a non-invasive animal-based practical class (see method section for description), and to investigate whether these attitudes change after exposure to a non-animal alternative and an animal-based practical. In addition, the learning experience and the preference for each of the teaching methods were investigated. It was expected that student attitudes towards computer-based non-animal alternatives may become more positive after they complete the practical series.
The second questionnaire (Appendix 3) included the 11 attitude statements used in the first questionnaire, the preference for teaching methods and the request for additional comments. In addition, the second questionnaire included two items asking the student to rate their enjoyment of the two classes (computer-based or animal-based) on the four-point scale used for the attitude statements.
After completing the series of practical classes, the students rated the animal-based class as more enjoyable than the computer-based class (p < 0.001; Table 2). Before completing the practical series, 11 students stated that they would prefer to take part in a practical class involving live animals while 16 students preferred to take part in a class involving both live animals and a non-animal alternative. One student did not answer this question. After the practical series, 18 students stated their preference as a class involving live animals while 10 students preferred to use both live animals and a non-animal alternative. These proportions were not significantly different (p = 0.173; Table 3).
Table 1: The mean, standard deviation and median for the students' level of agreement with each of the attitude statements before and after completing the practical series (1 = strongly disagree, 4 = strongly agree). The p-value represents the results of the Wilcoxon matched-pairs test testing for differences between the two values.
|Attitude statement||Before practical series||After practical series||P-value|
|Mean ± S.D.||Median||Mean ± S.D.||Median|
|I believe that the use of live animals in practical classes provides a valuable educational experience||3.54 ± 0.51||4.00||3.57 ± 0.50||4.00||1.00|
|I believe that the use of live animals in practical classes is justified||3.32 ± 0.48||3.00||3.43 ± 0.50||3.00||0.25|
|The idea of using live animals in a non-invasive practical class makes me feel uncomfortable||1.61 ± 0.50||2.00||1.46 ± 0.51||1.00||0.29|
|The idea of using live animals in a non-invasive practical class makes me feel queasy or ill||1.57 ± 0.50||2.00||1.50 ± 0.51||1.50||0.69|
|I believe that the use of live animals in practical classes provides an enjoyable learning experience||3.14 ± 0.59||3.00||3.48 ± 0.51||3.00||0.04|
|I believe that the use of non-animal alternatives in practical classes provides a valuable learning experience||2.82 ± 0.48||3.00||2.77 ± 0.59||3.00||0.69|
|I believe that the use of non-animal alternatives in practical classes is justified||3.07 ± 0.60||3.00||3.15 ± 0.60||3.00||1.00|
|The idea of using a non-animal alternative in a practical class makes me feel uncomfortable||1.68 ± 0.48||2.00||1.50 ± 0.58||1.00||0.13|
|The idea of using a non-animal alternative in a practical class makes me feel queasy or ill||1.54 ± 0.51||2.00||1.50 ± 0.51||1.50||1.00|
|I believe that the use of a non-animal alternative in a practical class provides an enjoyable learning experience||2.67 ± 0.48||3.00||2.56 ± 0.64||2.00||0.55|
|I believe that the use of a non-animal alternative in a practical class provides me with as good a learning experience as the use of live animals||2.29 ± 0.66||2.00||2.42 ± 0.90||2.00||0.63|
Table 2: The mean, standard deviation and median for the students' level of agreement with the statements that they enjoyed the animal-based class and the non-animal alternative class (1 = strongly disagree, 4 = strongly agree).
|Mean ± S.D.||Median|
|I enjoyed the animal-based practical class||3.45 ± 0.53||3.00|
|I enjoyed the non-animal alternative class||2.63 ± 0.60||2.75|
|Before practical series (n=27)||11||0||16|
|After practical series (n=28)||18||0||10|
Four of the students who provided additional comments in the first questionnaire also commented in the second questionnaire, along with one additional student. Three of these students reiterated their earlier comments, for example "[w]hile the use of non animal alternatives would be valuable if animals could not be used, live animals are much better" (F, 19). One student, who had earlier commented that, because she had never used a non-animal alternative, she was not sure if it would be enjoyable, commented that "[t]he use of non-animal alternative is beneficial with the animal component as well. However I feel that more is learnt from hands on activity" (F, 19). Again, there was a distinction between the invasive and non-invasive use of animals with one student commenting that "if it is non-invasive I'd rather use live animals, but invasive or dissections of animals, use the non-animal alternative" (F, 19).
The survey results, in combination with the students' comments, suggest that students value the hands-on experience that they receive in a traditional laboratory class environment. While most students did recognise the value of the computer-based alternative, their preference tended to be for the animal-based practical or for the alternative to be taught in combination with the live-animal practical. A possible reason for the contrast is that the animal-based exercise used in our study was non-invasive compared to surgical procedures carried out in other studies (Dewhurst et al., 1994; Samsel et al., 1994). This is supported by comments provided by some of the students in the present study which indicated that they perceived the animal-based practical to be non-invasive and that this influenced their preference. This suggests that the nature of the practical class and the students' perceptions of the imposition placed on the animal can influence their attitudes towards the use of animal and preferences for different teaching tools. In support of this, 56 percent of college students expressed objections to dissecting anaesthetised live animals but more than 75 percent were in favour of using live animals in a practical class in which they would not be directly harmed (Lord & Moses, 1994). Likewise, the majority of students learning about classical conditioning techniques found that a computer simulation of the classical conditioning of dogs easier to use than the same practical using live earthworms (Abramson, Onstott, Edwards, & Bowe, 1996). However, more than 90 percent of the students felt that a better understanding of the concepts involved was gained from the practical using earthworms. As in our study, the animal-based practical did not involve harming the animals (Abramson et al. 1996).
The animals used in the practical class could also have influenced student attitudes and preferences. It is well documented that the attitudes towards the use of animals differs with species (Dawkins, 1991). For example, the use of companion animals, such as the dogs used by Samsel et al (1994), is viewed as less acceptable than the use of invertebrates, small rodents or 'utility' animals, such as sheep (Hagelin, Carlsson, & Hau, 2003; Vieuille & Aubert, 2005). The use of sheep combined with the farming background of the majority of students may have reduced student empathy towards the animals involved in the practical class (Hagelin et al., 2003). Furthermore, the most significant stress imposed on the sheep was due to handling. It is possible that the group of students surveyed in our study did not perceive the stress of handling as an imposition on the animals because of the placid nature of the species and because of the inexperience of students in detecting signs of psychological stress in sheep.
In addition, the relative simplicity of the concepts presented may have led to the students finding the computer-based alternative less stimulating than the animal-based exercise. If students are not challenged, they are unlikely to engage in the cognitive processes required for active learning (Michael, 1993). Without active learning, students are less stimulated and the learning experience is less valuable.
In conclusion, although students recognised the value of non-animal alternatives, they believed that the use of live animals provided a more valuable learning experience. They also found the computer-based alternative less enjoyable than the animal-based exercise. These attitudes were probably influenced by the non-invasive nature of the animal-based practical, the species used and possibly the simplicity of the concepts presented. If the non-invasive nature of the practical did influence the students' attitudes and preference, this suggests that the students, consciously or unconsciously, may have a utilitarian view of the use of animals in teaching and thus support animal use when they perceive that the learning benefits outweigh any harm caused.
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|Authors: Jo Elliott and Dominique Blache, School of Animal Biology, The University of Western Australia. |
Please cite as: Elliott, J. & Blache, D. (2010). Student attitudes and preferences towards non-invasive animal-based and computer-based practicals. In Educating for sustainability. Proceedings of the 19th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 28-29 January 2010. Perth: Edith Cowan University. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2010/refereed/elliott.html
Copyright 2010 Jo Elliott and Dominique Blache. The authors assign to the TL Forum and not for profit educational institutions a non-exclusive licence to reproduce this article for personal use or for institutional teaching and learning purposes, in any format, provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.