BioSafaris: A Smart Dissection Alternative

by Lynette Hart, University of California at Davis

With primary startup funding from the Animal Welfare Institute, researchers from the University of California at Davis have developed BioSafaris, a project using the latest interactive learning technology to address the current gap in pre-college biology education. The web-based software prototype will introduce three body systems—digestive, respiratory, and cardiovascular—in intermediate and high school life science classes. BioSafaris will present human anatomy and physiology, along with examples from comparative anatomy, key cellular components, and physiologicalproblems.

Over the past decade, we have observed a rapid shift away from consumptive uses of animals for teaching anatomy and physiology.

New resources have been created to assist students in learning subject material and manipulative surgical tasks without requiring animals specifically for the procedures. The exploding World Wide Web, complemented by the development of non-invasive imaging methods for viewing living organisms, presents enhanced opportunities for creating learning resources that are readily accessible to anyone and reusable.

Yet this modernization has not trickled down to pre-college classrooms, and younger students are presented substandard lab materials that fail to convey the excitement of learning human and animal biology.

By offering opportunities to ask questions, modify variables, perturb the systems to simulate disruptions in homeostasis, and assess the resulting effects on the human body, BioSafaris will make the learning process an interesting experience for intermediate- aged students. The software will allow participants to rotate bodies, zoom in, change transparency and explore body parts visually by simple mousemovements.

Now midway in production, data for the software prototype have been extracted and simplified from the Visible Human dataset from the National Institutes of Health National Library of Medicine. We are working on creating sample interactive tools for simulation, measurement and perturbation of the three systems. Focus groups of teachers assess the web-based prototype in concept and design. This science education program will convey the thrill of science and seek to awaken students’ pursuit oflearning.

In the meantime, a simulation system supporting the perturbation and measurement tools for each system needs to be developed. For example, the cardiovascular system will be represented as a graph-like structure indicating how blood flows through the human body, and a simulation that approximates the blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels needs to be developed in order to provide data for students to measure. The prototype design for the simulations of each of the three systems will elicit the necessary variables required to produce the level of realism desired for our final project.

While the traditional study of biology in pre-college education evolved by using animals as a surrogate method for learning about human biology, we have chosen to focus primarily on the study of humans. BioSafaris will engage learners on topics relevant to their families, such as indigestion and changes in blood pressure or heart rate. Many students have no further biology education after high school, and it is our hope that this learning experience will assist them in managing their own lifestyles and lifelong medical care.

Project team:

Lynette Hart, Stuart Meyers, UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine
Bernd Hamann, UC Davis Institute for Data Analysis and Visualization (IDAV) and Department of Computer Science
Marco Molinaro, UC Davis Center for Biophotonics
Frazier Stevenson, UC Davis School of Medicine
Bill Storm, Davis Joint Unified School District
David Wiley, Stratovan Corporation
Mary Wood, UC Davis Health Sciences Library

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