Humane teaching methods

Educational Animal Use and Alternatives

Animal use resulting in harm or death has historically played an integral role in life and health sciences education, in disciplines such as surgery, physiology, biochemistry, anatomy, pharmacology, and parasitology. However, the last few decades have seen a rapid increase in the availability of non-harmful alternatives, such as computer simulations, high quality videos, ‘ethically-sourced cadavers’ such as those from animals euthanized for medical reasons, preserved specimens, models and surgical simulators, non-invasive self-experimentation and supervised clinical experiences. Yet students seeking to use such methods often face strong opposition from faculty members, who usually cite concerns about their teaching efficacy.

In 2021 we published a systematic review of learning outcomes achieved by humane alternatives, compared to harmful animal use. We located 50 relevant studies from 1968–2020, primarily from the USA, UK, and Canada. Humane teaching methods produced learning outcomes superior (30%), equivalent (60%), or inferior (10%) to those produced by traditional harmful animal use.

Many additional studies in which comparison with harmful animal use did not occur have illustrated other benefits of humane teaching methods, namely; time and cost savings, increased repeatability and flexibility of use, customization of the learning experience, more active learning, facilitation of autonomous and life-long learning, improved attitudes towards computers and alternatives to animal use, and increased employer perception of computer literacy.

This presentation reviews educational animal use, humane teaching methods, and evidence concerning teaching efficacy. The results indicate that educators can best serve their students and animals, while minimizing financial and time burdens upon their faculties, by introducing well-designed teaching methods not reliant upon harmful animal use.

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