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Category: Professional practice
Teaching and Learning Forum 2009 [ Refereed papers ]
Attitudes of undergraduate science students towards the use of animals in teaching

Samantha Bickell and Dominique Blache
School of Animal Biology
The University of Western Australia

The attitudes of undergraduate science students towards the use of animals in teaching and learning were investigated to determine whether using animals in teaching is an effective educational practice. If students hold negative attitudes towards the use of animals in education then the use of animals in teaching could be less useful as these attitudes could form barriers to effective learning. In addition, factors such as previous animal dissection experience, the type of animal and the type of research the animals are used for may also influence people's attitudes and this study attempted to address these issues by (1) using specific animal examples, laboratory animal (mouse), versus production animal (sheep) and (2) using specific examples of the type of teaching purpose the animal is used for.

The attitudes of undergraduate students were obtained by an anonymous questionnaire distributed during a practical session to 1st year Plant and Animal Biology students and final (3rd and 4th) year students enrolled in animal based units at the University of Western Australia (UWA). Overall, both first and final year undergraduate science students at UWA do support the use of animals in teaching. However, first year students seemed to hold more negative views towards using animals in teaching compared with final year students. This negativity may be due to their lack of knowledge, previous experience and nature of their previous experience in using animals as well as the fact that they are from a broad range of degrees and they do not have a choice this early in their studies as to what units they can learn. However, the positive attitude of the students towards the use of animals in teaching is not hindering their learning experience suggesting that use of animals in teaching is an effective educational practice.


Introduction

The use of animals for teaching and educational purposes has been a long standing practise and can be dated back to Aristotle (384-322 BC) who dissected animals for study and teaching purposes (Stanisstreet, Spofforth, & Williams, 1993). Most educational use of live animals or animal tissues are based on the demonstrative value of the practical or 'hands on' component of the lesson (Petto & Russell, 1999). Hands on learning improves the student's learning experience since students learn more when they confront learning problems that engage them in inquiry, problem posing and problem solving (Jungck, 1985; Peterson & Jungck, 1988; Petto & Russell, 1999). However, despite the long standing tradition of using animals in education, the need and ethics of using animals for teaching and educational purposes has recently become under debate due to the 'animal rights' and 'animal liberation' organizations becoming more vocal and active (Balcombe, 2000; Stanisstreet, Spofforth, & Williams, 1993). Some of these groups seek the end of all animal experimentation, in research and testing as well as in education (Langley, 1991). Animal rights issues have a high media profile which is raising student awareness towards the ethics of using animals in education and promoting a change in attitude towards vivisection and the use of animals in teaching (Dewhurst, 1999).

Many educational institutions have reduced the number of teaching exercises that require the use of animals (Langley, 1991; Samsel et al., 1994). The reduction in the number of animals used for teaching purposes is a result of expense, cost to the animals, space, time and ethical concerns (Langley, 1991; Samsel et al., 1994). However, the reduction in the number of animal based learning exercises could be beneficial or detrimental to the learning experience of the students depending on their attitudes towards the use of animals in teaching. If students hold the attitudes of the animal liberation groups then the usefulness of using animals in teaching could be unsuccessful as these attitudes could form barriers to effective learning and thus the reduction in the use of animals in teaching would be plausible. However if students do not have negative attitudes towards the use of animals in education then a reduction in the number of animals used for teaching purposes would not be substantiated. Therefore the attitudes of the students towards the use of animals in teaching and learning needs to be investigated to determine whether using animals in this way is really an effective educational practice. In addition, factors such as previous animal dissection experience, the type of animal and the type of research the animals are used for (Driscoll, 1992; Hagelin, Carlsson, & Hau, 2003) may also influence peoples' attitudes towards the use of animals in teaching. This study aimed to investigate the attitudes of first year undergraduate science students, who had limited or no dissection experience, and final year undergraduate science students, who had dissection experience, towards the use of animals in teaching. In addition, this study attempted to address the issues of animal type and teaching procedure the animals are used for by (1) using specific animal examples, laboratory animal (mouse), versus production animal (sheep) and (2) using specific examples of the type of teaching purpose the animal is used for.

Methods and approach

The attitudes of undergraduate students were obtained by an anonymous questionnaire distributed during a practical session to 1st year Plant and Animal Biology students and final (3rd and 4th) year students enrolled in animal based units at the University of Western Australia (UWA). The questionnaire has been developed based on previous questions by Braithwaite (1982) and taking into account some factors that may influence the outcome as discussed by Hagelin (2003) and Driscoll (1992).

Participant group

The participants were recruited from the 1st year Plant and Animal Biology practical classes (n = 163) and from the final year Animal Science and Technology (n = 7), Animal Resource Management (n = 6) and Behavioural Ecology (n = 18) practical classes. Participants were asked if they want to participate in the voluntarily anonymous questionnaire. Participants were of both sexes and ages varied.

Questionnaire

The two page questionnaire (Appendix A) consisted of 6 quantitative (closed-ended) questions regarding the demographic and background of the participants. The next 9 questions were randomly ordered statements about various uses of animals for teaching purposes, which required the participants to rate each statement as 1 = strongly agree, 2 = agree, 3 = disagree or 4 = strongly disagree. There were 5 main questions addressing the type of teaching that the animals were used for (live dissections involving the animal being euthanased or not, non-invasive behavioural observations, post-mortem dissections and anaesthetic injection techniques) to determine if the method of using animals influences the attitude of the students. These 5 main questions dealt with a laboratory animal, mouse, and a production animal, sheep, to determine if the type of animal, laboratory versus production, used influences the attitude of the students.

Statistical analysis

The participant's ratings of each statement were analysed using the non-parametric Mann-Whitney U test using GenStat 8th edition (VSN International Ltd). Within each year group of students, 1st year and final year, the effect of age, gender and previous dissection experience on the participant's responses were analysed. The effect of previous dissection experience on the final year students responses were not analysed since all students had dissection experience. Comparisons between the 2 year groups, 1st year and final year, of the participant's ratings for each question was also analysed using Mann-Whitney U test.

Results

Attitudes of first year students

The age of the students only influenced their responses to two questions. Older students, 21+, supported the use of using representative models instead of using real animals in teaching more than the younger, <21, students (p = 0.022; Table 1). Older students, 21+, also said they found it more difficult to answer the questions because they didn't know much about using animals for educational purposes more than the younger, <21, students (p = 0.01; Table 1).

There was a large effect of gender on the student's responses. Males showed stronger support than females for the use of animals in most teaching procedures (Table 1). However males and females did not differ in their attitudes on using mice (p = 0.214) or sheep (p = 0.236) for non-invasive behavioural observations (Table 1), or for using mice to teach how to administer an anaesthetic injection (p = 0.2), although, females agreed less about this procedure when it come to sheep (p = 0.014; Table 1). Males and females also did not differ in their ability to answer the questions (p = 0.165; Table 1).

Whether the students had previously dissected and animal or not also influenced their responses to the questions. Students that had dissected animals before supported the use of animals in teaching more than the students that had not dissected an animal before (p = 0.02; Table 1). Students that had dissection experience were in support more than the students that had not dissection experience of; the use of live dissections on anesthetised mice that will be euthanized at the end of the dissection (p = 0.021), the killing of mice/sheep painlessly for use in post-mortem dissections (mice: p = 0.047, sheep: p = 0.045) and agree more that hands on learning is important for university learning (p = 0.057; Table 1). However, the students that had not dissected an animal before supported the use of using sheep in non-invasive behavioural observations more than the students that had dissection experience (p = 0.012; Table 1).

There was no effect of the type of animal, laboratory versus production, on the student's responses. The student's attitude toward using a mouse or a sheep in live dissections (mouse = 2.6 ± 0.06; sheep = 2.7 ± 0.07, U = 11961, p = 0.146), behavioural observations (mouse = 1.5 ± 0.04; sheep = 1.5 ± 0.04, U = 12729, p = 0.593), post-mortem dissections (mouse = 1.9 ± 0.05; sheep = 2.1 ± 0.07, U = 11795.5, p = 0.081), learning how to administer an anaesthetic injection (mouse = 1.8 ± 0.05; sheep = 1.7 ± 0.05, U = 13059, p = 0.365) did not influence their responses to the questions.

The type of teaching the animals are used for influenced the attitude of the students. The students prefer the animals to be euthanased before for post-mortem dissections than using live anesthetised animals that will be euthanased after the dissection (p = 0.001; Table 2). Students prefer using live animals that will be nursed back to health than using animals that will be euthanased at the end of the teaching practical (p = 0.001; Table 2). Using animals to teach how to administer an anaesthetic injection is more preferred than using live anesthetised animals that will be nursed back to health in a teaching practical (p = 0.001; Table 2). Students also prefer using animals for non-invasive behavioural observations than using the animals to teach how to administer an anaesthetic injection (p = 0.006; Table 2).

The students were in stronger support for using animals in teaching than representative animal models (p = 0.001; Table 2). The students also support hands on learning more than theoretical learning (p = 0.052; Table 2).

Attitudes of final year students

The age of the students did not influence their responses. There was no difference in the attitudes of < 21 and 21+ year old students towards the use of animals in teaching (p > 0.05; Table 3).

There was no effect of gender on the student's responses. Male and females did not differ in their attitudes towards the use of animals in teaching (p > 0.05; Table 3).

There was also no effect of the type of animal, laboratory versus production, on the student's responses. The student's attitude toward using a mouse or a sheep in live dissections (mouse = 2.6 ± 0.15; sheep = 2.7 ± 0.16, U = 449, p = 0.657), behavioural observations (mouse = 1.4 ± 0.09; sheep = 1.5 ± 0.09, U = 434, p = 0.605), post-mortem dissections (mouse = 1.9 ± 0.13; sheep = 2.07 ± 0.13, U = 434, p = 0.493), learning how to administer an anaesthetic injection (mouse = 1.9 ± 0.09; sheep = 1.7 ± 0.09, U = 427, p = 0.397) did not influence their responses to the questions.

The type of teaching the animals are used for influenced the attitude of the students. The students prefer the animals to be euthanased before for post-mortem dissections than using live anesthetised animals that will be euthanased after the dissection (p = 0.001; Table 2). Using animals to teach how to administer an anaesthetic injection is more preferred than using live anesthetised animals that will be nursed back to health in a teaching practical (p = 0.001; Table 2). Students also prefer using animals for non-invasive behavioural observations than using the animals to teach how to administer an anaesthetic injection (p = 0.001; Table 2).

Students showed no preference between using live animals that will be nursed back to health than using animals that will be killed at the end of the teaching practical (p = 0.159; Table 2). The students also showed no preference towards hands on learning or theoretical learning (p = 0.301; Table 2). However, the students were in stronger support for using animals in teaching than representative animal models (p = 0.001; Table 2).

Comparison of the attitudes of first year and final year students

The attitudes of 1st year students towards the use of animals in teaching did differ in some respect from the attitudes of the final year students. Students in their final year at university tended to agree more than the 1st year students that some learning procedures require the use of animals (p = 0.063; Table 4) and that theoretical learning is an important component of university teaching (p = 0.077; Table 4). Final year students also agreed more than 1st year students that hands on learning is an important component of university teaching (p = 0.045; Table 4). However final year students disagreed more than 1st year students about using live anesthetised mice that will be nursed back to health at the end of the teaching practical (p = 0.026; Table 4). First year students did find it more difficult than final year students to answer the questions because they did not know much about using animals for educational purposes (p = 0.004; Table 4).

Table 1: Scores (mean ± s.e.m) of first year undergraduate science students towards the use of animals in teaching according to their age, gender and previous dissection experience. Scale: 1 = strongly agree to 4 = strongly disagree. Significances < 0.05 are in bold.

QuestionAgeGenderPrevious dissection
< 21
n = 151
21+
n = 15
p valueMale
n = 78
Female
n = 88
p valueYes
n = 104
No
n = 62
p value
Some learning procedures require the use of animals 1.6 ± 0.051.6 ± 0.130.891.5 ± 0.71.6 ± 0.060.0551.5 ± 0.051.7 ± 0.080.02
The use of live dissections on anesthetised mice that will be euthanised at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable 2.5 ± 0.072.5 ± 0.260.8812.3 ± 0.092.8 ± 0.080.0012.4 ± 0.082.7 ± 0.10.021
The use of sheep in non-invasive behavioural observation during teaching practicals is acceptable 1.5 ± 0.041.5 ± 0.160.9941.5 ± 0.61.6 ± 0.060.2361.4 ± 0.051.1 ± 0.070.012
The killing of mice painlessly for use in post-mortem dissections is acceptable 1.9 ± 0.052.0 ± 0.20.6121.7 ± 0.072.05 ± 0.070.0031.8 ± 0.072.0 ± 0.070.047
Hands on learning is an important component of university learning 1.3 ± 0.041.5 ± 0.130.3661.2 ± 0.051.4 ± 0.050.0111.3 ± 0.041.4 ± 0.060.057
The use of live anesthetised mice that will be nursed back to health at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable 2.1 ± 1.91.9 ± 0.210.3431.9 ± 0.092.3 ± 0.090.0042.0 ± 0.082.2 ± 0.110.173
The use of live sheep to teach students how to administer an anaesthetic injection (the sheep do not die) is acceptable 1.7 ± 0.051.7 ± 0.130.9291.6 ± 0.071.8 ± 0.060.0141.7 ± 0.071.8 ± 0.060.082
The use of live dissections on anesthetised sheep that will be euthanised at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable 2.7 ± 0.082.5 ± 0.260.4772.3 ± 0.13.0 ± 0.090.0012.6 ± 0.092.8 ± 0.130.368
The killing of sheep painlessly for use in post-mortem dissections is acceptable 2.1 ± 0.072.1 ± 0.20.991.9 ± 0.082.3 ± 0.090.0012.0 ± 0.082.2 ± 0.090.045
Theoretical learning is an important component of university learning 1.4 ± 0.041.5 ± 0.1311.4 ± 0.061.5 ± 0.050.051.4 ± 0.051.5 ± 0.060.572
The use of mice in non-invasive behavioural observation during teaching practicals is acceptable 1.5 ± 0.051.4 ± 0.130.551.4 ± 0.061.5 ± 0.060.2141.4 ± 0.051.6 ± 0.080.219
Representative models can be used instead of real animals to provide the same learning experience 2.6 ± 0.062.1 ± 0.20.0222.7 ± 0.092.4 ± 0.080.0662.6 ± 0.082.4 ± 0.10.154
The use of live mice to teach students how to administer an anaesthetic injection (the mice do not die) is acceptable 1.8 ± 0.051.6 ± 0.130.3111.7 ± 0.071.8 ± 0.070.21.8 ± 0.061.8 ± 0.080.796
The use of live anesthetised sheep that will be nursed back to health at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable 2.1 ± 0.061.8 ± 0.20.1571.9 ± 0.082.2 ± 0.090.0052.0 ± 0.082.2 ± 0.10.106
I found it difficult to answer these questions because I don't know much about using animals for educational purposes 2.6 ± 0.073.2 ± 0.20.012.8 ± 0.92.6 ± 0.90.1652.7 ± 0.082.5 ± 0.10.072

Table 2: Scores (mean ± s.e.m) of first and final year undergraduate science students towards the type of teaching animals are used for in education. Scale: 1 = strongly agree to 4 = strongly disagree. Significances < 0.05 are in bold.

QuestionFirst yearFinal year
Mean ± SEp valueMean ± SEp value
The use of live dissections on anesthetised mice that will be euthanised at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable 2.6 ± 0.070.0012.6 ± 0.150.003
The killing of mice painlessly for use in post-mortem dissections is acceptable 1.9 ± 0.051.9 ± 0.13
The use of live dissections on anesthetised sheep that will be euthanised at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable 2.7 ± 0.070.0012.7 ± 0.160.004
The killing of sheep painlessly for use in post-mortem dissections is acceptable 2.1 ± 0.072.0 ± 0.13
The use of live dissections on anesthetised mice that will be euthanised at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable 2.6 ± 0.070.0012.6 ± 0.150.742
The use of live anesthetised mice that will be nursed back to health at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable 2.1 ± 0.072.5 ± 0.16
The use of live dissections on anesthetised sheep that will be euthanised at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable 2.7 ± 0.070.0012.7 ± 0.160.107
The use of live anesthetised sheep that will be nursed back to health at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable 2.1 ± 0.062.3 ± 0.14
The use of mice in non-invasive behavioural observation during teaching practicals is acceptable 1.5 ± 0.040.0011.3 ± 0.090.001
The use of live mice to teach students how to administer an anesthetic injection (the mice do not die) is acceptable1.8 ± 0.051.9 ± 0.09
The use of sheep in non-invasive behavioural observation during teaching practicals is acceptable 1.5 ± 0.040.0061.4 ± 0.090.051
The use of live sheep to teach students how to administer an anesthetic injection (the sheep do not die) is acceptable 1.7 ± 0.051.7 ± 0.09
The use of live anesthetised mice that will be nursed back to health at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable 2.1 ± 0.070.0012.5 ± 0.160.001
The use of live mice to teach students how to administer an anesthetic injection (the mice do not die) is acceptable 1.8 ± 0.051.9 ± 0.09
The use of live anesthetised sheep that will be nursed back to health at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable 2.1 ± 0.060.0012.3 ± 0.140.003
The use of live sheep to teach students how to administer an anesthetic injection (the sheep do not die) is acceptable 1.7 ± 0.051.7 ± 0.09
Hands on learning is an important component of university learning 1.3 ± 0.040.0521.1 ± 0.050.301
Theoretical learning is an important component of university learning 1.4 ± 0.041.2 ± 0.07
Some learning procedures require the use of animals 1.6 ± 0.040.0011.3 ± 0.090.001
Representative models, such as computer simulations, can be used instead of real animals to provide the same learning experience 2.5 ± 0.062.8 ± 0.11

Table 3: Scores (mean ± s.e.m) of final year undergraduate science students towards the use of animals in teaching according to their age, gender and previous dissection experience. Scale: 1 = strongly agree to 4 = strongly disagree.

QuestionAgeGender
< 21
n = 17
21+
n = 14
p valueMale
n = 6
Female
n = 25
p value
Some learning procedures require the use of animals 1.3 ± 0.111.4 ± 0.150.7271.2 ± 0.171.4 ± 0.10.568
The use of live dissections on anesthetised mice that will be euthanised at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable 2.5 ± 0.152.7 ± 0.290.4752.2 ± 0.42.7 ± 0.160.298
The use of sheep in non-invasive behavioural observation during teaching practicals is acceptable 1.4 ± 0.121.5 ± 0.140.8971.3 ± 0.21.5 ± 0.10.47
The killing of mice painlessly for use in post-mortem dissections is acceptable 1.8 ± 0.172.0 ± 0.210.6391.8 ± 0.41.9 ± 0.140.944
Hands on learning is an important component of university learning 1.0 ± 0.061.1 ± 0.10.851.0 ± 0.01.1 ± 0.060.176
The use of live anesthetised mice that will be nursed back to health at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable 2.2 ± 0.222.8 ± 0.210.1232.5 ± 0.432.5 ± 0.171
The use of live sheep to teach students how to administer an anaesthetic injection (the sheep do not die) is acceptable 1.7 ± 0.11.8 ± 0.150.9381.5 ± 0.221.4 ± 0.10.203
The use of live dissections on anesthetised sheep that will be euthanised at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable 2.5 ± 0.172.9 ± 0.270.3712.5 ± 0.432.7 ± 0.170.716
The killing of sheep painlessly for use in post-mortem dissections is acceptable 1.9 ± 0.162.1 ± 0.20.4272.0 ± 0.362.0 ± 0.130.847
Theoretical learning is an important component of university learning 1.1 ± 0.081.4 ± 0.130.2491.3 ± 0.211.2 ± 0.080.826
The use of mice in non-invasive behavioural observation during teaching practicals is acceptable 1.2 ± 0.11.5 ± 0.140.2481.2 ± 0.171.4 ± 0.10.197
Representative models, such as computer simulations, can be used instead of real animals to provide the same learning experience 2.8 ± 0.162.9 ± 0.140.6593.0 ± 0.362.8 ± 0.10.614
The use of live mice to teach students how to administer an anaesthetic injection (the mice do not die) is acceptable 1.7 ± 0.112.0 ± 0.130.0891.7 ± 0.211.9 ± 0.10.236
The use of live anesthetised sheep that will be nursed back to health at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable 2.1 ± 0.22.6 ± 0.170.1162.3 ± 0.332.3 ± 0.160.913
I found it difficult to answer these questions because I don't know much about using animals for educational purposes 3.2 ± 0.193.0 ± 0.190.6383.0 ± 0.452.2 ± 0.140.813

Table 4: Comparison of first and final year undergraduate science students scores (mean ± s.e.m) towards the use of animals in teaching. Scale: 1 = strongly agree to 4 = strongly disagree. Significances < 0.05 are in bold.

QuestionStudents
First yearFinal yearp value
Some learning procedures require the use of animals1.6 ± 0.041.3 ± 0.090.063
The use of live dissections on anesthetised mice that will be euthanised at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable2.6 ± 0.062.6 ± 0.150.928
The use of sheep in non-invasive behavioural observation during teaching practicals is acceptable1.5 ± 0.041.4 ± 0.090.698
The killing of mice painlessly for use in post-mortem dissections is acceptable1.9 ± 0.051.9 ± 0.050.983
Hands on learning is an important component of university learning1.3 ± 0.041.1 ± 0.050.045
The use of live anesthetised mice that will be nursed back to health at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable2.1 ± 0.072.5 ± 0.160.026
The use of live sheep to teach students how to administer an anaesthetic injection (the sheep do not die) is acceptable1.7 ± 0.051.7 ± 0.090.581
The use of live dissections on anesthetised sheep that will be euthanised at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable2.7 ± 0.072.7 ± 0.160.881
The killing of sheep painlessly for use in post-mortem dissections is acceptable2.1 ± 0.062.0 ± 0.130.961
Theoretical learning is an important component of university learning1.4 ± 0.041.2 ± 0.070.077
The use of mice in non-invasive behavioural observation during teaching practicals is acceptable1.5 ± 0.041.3 ± 0.080.343
Representative models can be used instead of real animals to provide the same learning experience2.5 ± 0.062.8 ± 0.110.108
The use of live mice to teach students how to administer an anaesthetic injection (the mice do not die) is acceptable1.8 ± 0.051.9 ± 0.090.29
The use of live anesthetised sheep that will be nursed back to health at the end of the teaching practical is acceptable2.1 ± 0.062.3 ± 0.140.146
I found it difficult to answer these questions because I don't know much about using animals for educational purposes2.7 ± 0.063.1 ± 0.140.004

Discussion

Both first and final year undergraduate science students at UWA do support the use of animals in teaching. However, first year students seemed to hold more negative views towards using animals in teaching compared with final year students. This negativity may be due to their lack of knowledge, previous experience and nature of their previous experience in using animals as well as the fact that they are from a broad range of degrees and they do not have a choice this early in their studies as to what units they can learn. In addition, the type of procedure the animals are used for and the gender of the students also influenced their responses.

A lack of knowledge in the first year students could explain why final year students were more supportive of using animals in teaching than the first year students. A positive association has been found between increasing educational level and acceptance of the use of animals in research (Hagelin, Carlsson, & Hau, 2003). Our study found this same trend, and in fact the first year students found it more difficult than the final year students to answer the questions because they didn't know much about using animals in teaching.

In addition, previous dissection experience also influenced the students responses since the first year students that did not have any dissection experience supported the use of animals in teaching less than the students that had dissected before. Practical experience of the use of animals through research or teaching is generally positively associated with acceptance of animal research (Hagelin, Carlsson, & Hau, 2003; Hagelin, Hau, & Carlsson, 2000; Pifer, 1996). However, the nature of the student's previous experience with using animals in teaching would also influence their responses. Final year students would have used animals for teaching in a range of different circumstances, such as dissections and behavioural observations, while first year students would have mostly used animals for dissections. Animal dissection is an invasive procedure and most animals are killed in order for their bodies to be used (Valenzuela, 2008). Students have negative feelings towards classroom exercises that are harmful to animals (Balcombe, 2000) and students switched career plans away from the life sciences when they learned that they were required to dissect animals (Orlans, 1988). If the only experience students have with using animals in teaching is through dissections, this may bias their opinion towards the use of animals in teaching as they may not be aware of all the other less invasive procedures in which animals are used for.

The nature of the student's enrolment in their studied unit could also have influenced their attitudes. The first year students were enrolled in a range of courses, not necessarily destined for animal based careers and the Plant and Animal Biology unit was a compulsory unit the students had to complete. On the other hand the final year students were all from animal based degrees and their units were all elective. Therefore the first year students may have held a more negative attitude than the final year students because they were not able to choose the unit they were studying. This observation has been reported in other studies by Solot (1995) and Barr and Herzog (2000) while studying the attitudes of primary school and high school students towards animal dissections. A possible explanation why younger students had greater misgivings towards animal dissection than the older students in these studies as well as in the present study, could be attributed to the students age and that their course was not an elective and the older students were headed for careers in science or medicine (Balcombe, 2000). Therefore the lack of freedom to choose what they could study as well as the fact that some students were not destined for careers in which the use of animals in teaching is relevant could have influenced their responses.

While the type of animal, mouse or sheep, did not influence the student's responses the type of teaching procedure the animal is used for did. Both first and final year students showed stronger support for the less invasive procedures like behavioural observations and teaching how to administer an anaesthetic injection. The way in which animals are used seems to be a major factor that influences the opinion of the general public (Braithwaite, 1982; Driscoll, 1992; Hagelin, Carlsson, & Hau, 2003). Students in the present study also preferred the animals to be dead before a dissection than killing them after. Past surveys suggest that respondents are less likely to support animal research if the words 'painful' or 'death' are included in the question (Hagelin, Carlsson, & Hau, 2003). Interestingly this trend was only seen in the first year students who prefer using live animals that will be nursed back to health than using animals that will be killed at the end of the dissection. Final year students showed no preference for either of these procedures which indicates that they may have a better concept of animal suffering, gained from their tertiary subjects, because although the animals remain living after the procedure, this may not always be the most humane option depending on the type of procedure the animals are subjected to.

Since all the students showed a stronger preference for procedures that were less invasive to the animal it was surprising that both the first and final year students were in stronger support for using animals in teaching rather than representative models. Some students that may be bothered by the use of animals, due to moral or ethical reasons, would be more likely to favour the use of computer simulations or representative animal models (Samsel et al., 1994). First year medical students that used both computer and animal demonstrations in teaching cardiovascular physiology, rated the computer based demonstrations higher than the real animal demonstrations (Samsel et al., 1994). However the students in our study may not have had much, if any, experience using representative animal models which may be why they hold a more negative view towards them than the use of real animals.

Gender had an effect on the attitudes of first year students towards the use of animals in teaching with male students showing stronger support than females for the use of animals in most teaching procedures. Women typically show higher levels of positive behaviours and have a more compassionate attitude toward animals, than men (Herzog, 2007). Gender differences in attitudes are somewhat explained by gender variations in socialization, linking more emphasis on caring, nurturing and expressiveness to females than males (Hagelin, Carlsson, & Hau, 2003). However, although males showed stronger support than females for the use of animals in most teaching procedures in the first year students, there were no differences in the final year students between males and females. This may be because the final year students were more experienced and knowledgeable about the use of animals in teaching and their support from the use of animals in teaching outweighed any gender differences. However as most studies generally find gender differences (DeRosa, 1984; Hagelin, Carlsson, & Hau, 2003; Stanisstreet, Spofforth, & Williams, 1993) it is more likely that our sample size was too small to detect any gender differences due to the fact that there were only 6 final year male students.

Conclusion

Undergraduate science students at UWA do support the use of animals in teaching. Therefore this positive attitude towards the use of animals in teaching is not hindering their learning experience. Thus, educational institutes should consider the attitudes of the students when making future decisions about using animals for education. Reducing the number of practicals where animals are used for teaching purposes could be to the detriment of the students learning experience since undergraduate science students do support the use of animals in teaching.

References

Balcombe, J. (2000). The use of animals in higher education. Problems, alternatives and recommendations. Washington: The Humane Society of the United States.

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Valenzuela, H. (2008). Dissection in secondary biology classrooms: Examining alternatives to animal use. Paper presented at the Teaching the child in front of you in a changing world, The Evergreen State College Olympia, Washington. [verified 27 Jan 2009; full Proceedings 3.6 MB ] http://academic.evergreen.edu/curricular/mit2008/Win08handouts/CPBOOK08.pdf

Authors: Samantha Bickell and Dominique Blache
School of Animal Biology, The University of Western Australia, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley WA 6009
Email: bickes01@student.uwa.edu.au

Please cite as: Bickell, S. & Blache, D. (2009). Attitudes of undergraduate science students towards the use of animals in teaching. In Teaching and learning for global graduates. Proceedings of the 18th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 29-30 January 2009. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://otl.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2009/refereed/bickell.html

Copyright 2009 Samantha Bickell 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 (including website mirrors), provided that the article is used and cited in accordance with the usual academic conventions.


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