Has COVID-19 opened the door for humane dissection alternatives?


NAVS promotes the use of humane dissection alternatives not only because they can replace animal use, but because they are very effective teaching tools, as demonstrated in dozens of studies. With the COVID-19 pandemic shifting educational instruction from the classroom to an online format for many teachers and students this past year, we wanted to learn more about whether biology educators incorporated dissection alternatives into their lesson plans.

Last summer, NAVS conducted a nationwide survey of biology teachers, asking about their experience as classes transitioned online. We wanted to learn if teachers used alternatives, which alternatives they used, how teachers identified those alternatives, and whether the educators planned to use dissection alternatives again for in-person or online learning.

In addition to gaining insight into how biology educators changed their teaching modalities because of the COVID-19 pandemic, our survey findings identified dissection alternatives that biology educators used for remote learning during the pandemic, which may provide a starting point for educators looking to use dissection alternatives in their remote and in-person science classes in the future.

Our initial results were shared in the Winter 2020 issue of Animal Action. Now, the full findings have been accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed educational journal. Here is a sneak peek at what we learned.

Our survey revealed that 72% of biology educators planned on having their students participate in classroom animal dissection exercises in the spring of 2020. While the pandemic led to about 67% of educators cancelling their scheduled dissection exercises and choosing not to pursue the use of dissection alternatives, 29% of educators polled used dissection alternatives for remote learning.

Most instructors relied on virtual dissection resources for online learning. Many teachers also found videos of dissections online or made their own videos. A smaller percentage of educators relied on worksheets or paper dissection. Importantly, many of these instructors reported that they and their students had positive experiences when using dissection alternatives.

Most instructors were already familiar with the dissection alternative they selected before using it during the pandemic; however, more than a third were not. Instructors most often identified which alternative to use by looking online, while fewer instructors selected alternatives based on their ease of use or personal preference, used resources they had relied upon in the past, selected resources that aligned with their curriculum or textbook, or relied on a colleague to help them make that decision.

When asked if they would consider using dissection alternatives again, most instructors expressed interest in doing so not only through continued remote instruction, but also for in-person classes. Unfortunately, the majority of respondents indicated that they would use these dissection alternatives in conjunction with animal dissection rather than as a replacement for it when they return to the classroom. But use of the humane alternatives in any capacity is a good start.

This spring, NAVS will be introducing a new online resource to help educators quickly identify and acquire humane science tools that meet their classroom needs. As they use the tools, we expect that they—and their students—will see the value in increasing their use of these academically equivalent humane options.