My blood was a’ boiling this morning after reading an article on edweek about an investigation done by the College Board:
… can a student get the same level of experience from a virtual dissection online, without actually smelling the formaldehyde or making a cut?
In recent years, the College Board, which authorizes AP classes and offers college-level material to high school students, has been trying to determine whether simulated labs in some science courses can take the place of real-world experiments. It’s a debate that online science providers and hands-on teachers are grappling with as well.
The very first comment on this post insists that virtual labs can never replace “real labs” (in this case, fetal pig dissection is the example used). From Dr. Brad Huff:
Simulations represent how the programmer thinks the real world should behave, not how the real world does respond when explored by a student.
Learning science is learning to be a skilled observer and accurate recorder of what is observed, not a participant in a computer game purporting to teach the nature of Nature.
Here is the thing:
Let’s disregard the fact that the article mentions formaldehyde, which no one uses anymore…
1) Cost- dead animals are expensive, and disposing of these dead animals, year after year, means you have to keep ordering and keep buying them.
2) Evidence– What exactly do students get out of dissecting animals? DO we have empirical evidence that they make students better recorders of nature? That they motivate students to become scientists? Why don’t we hold our previously held assumptions to the same scrutiny that we hold tradition?
3) Real Science -There are numerous physics, meteorologists, chemists, immunologists, that deal STRICTLY in models and simulations, and never hold a messy piece of nature in their hands. They are scientists in every bit and in fact, quite frankly, they are the scientists that are leading the way in contemporary sciences. Modelers get much more of the funding these days and make headlines far more often than zoologists. They need to learn how to understand and interpret a coder’s “bias” (BTW- no coder works in isolation outside of subject matter experts and instructional designers these days) just as much as any experiment has bias and noisy data.