I just spent all weekend at a teaching conference. The entire weekend focused on meeting our educational goals and objectives as teachers. How can we best approach facilitate learning? What can we do to enhance our connection with students and their connection with the material?
The same keywords continue to surface: active learning, group collaboration, kinesthetic learning, repetition, seeing different perspectives of the same thing, interactive learning, and using multiple modalities.
This morning, while looking for other information on pedagogy, I encountered yet another website that proposes that online (simulated) dissection is better than the real deal (sponsored by, who else, PETA). They provide no evidence to support this contention. I would freely support these amazing virtual experiences as support for the real thing. But, the virtual experience does not replace the real thing. Two-dimensions cannot convey the same information as three. Online, you can't see texture. Online, you can't move things aside, examine connections, feel internal structures, or change your angle. The online versions don't show individual variation. In a lab, students can wander around and see differences between individuals corresponding to sex, size, age, and just individual quirks. All of the aspects that the virtual experience misses are informative to understanding morphology, function, development, and cementing the names of the structures in your memory.
Real dissections are multi-modal, active learning, collaborative, student-directed, kinesthetic, three-dimensional, active, and more real, applied, and relevant.
If something is worth doing - it is worth doing right.
That said, I have offered students with objections the opportunity to use virtual dissection as an alternative. I am ok with someone that has real objections not compromising their beliefs. I can say from my teaching experience, assessment, and student performance that this tool is not as effective by itself as the real deal. This has to be a choice students make.
Like all tools, we need to use dissection wisely and where we will get the most learning opportunies. When I teach about a forest - I go outside rather than watch a movie about one. From a teaching and learning perspective, this is the same thing.