The gift of The Digital Frog virtual dissection to a Wheeling, West Virginia school, will save them close to $4000 over five years, according to a story by junior reporters for WFTRF News in West Virginia.
The Ohio County SPCA, with help from PCRM (Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine) donated the software to Wheeling Park’s science department as a replacement for actual dissection.
Pat Durkin is the science department chair and is excited about the new technology.
Rebecca Goth is the head of Education Committee for the SPCA and says it’s time to recognize that killing and harming animals for educational purposes is not in the student’s best interest.
Approximately 450 students take regular or honors biology each year. Even if the school had had to purchase a site license for the virtual dissection program, over five years they would still save over $3000 compared to the cost of frogs and other materials required to perform dissections.
One of the perks of producing the Digital Field Trip series was that we had to actually go to the environments we were covering in the each of the programs. For The Wetlands, that was relatively easy as our main location was only a few hours drive away (and one spot in the program is almost literally down the road). The Rainforest required several members of the team to make the sacrifice and spend several weeks in the Central American country of Belize to collect the photographs, audio and video used in the program.
The Digital Field Trip to The Desert, however, became our most ambitious of the series. Team members spent weeks in the deserts of the southwest US to collect media, talk to experts, and bring back as much of the experience into the program to make it as accurate and representative as possible. As the program’s project manager, I was lucky enough to go on a few of these, spending a few nights camping in the desert at Texas’ Big Bend National Park (and waking up to find one of our SUV’s tires was flat), exploring the expansive salt flats of northern Nevada and almost running out of gas in the middle of Death Valley while out photographing sand dunes. I was also able to take a few working holidays to more far-flung deserts‚ the edges of the Sahara from both Morocco and Egypt, and the desert regions of southern Israel and Jordan.
By far one of the most impressive deserts I have been able to visit is the Namib Desert in the southern African country of Namibia. It is the oldest desert in the world and possibly the driest. It has some of the world’s largest sand dunes and a surprising wealth of wildlife, from welwitchia plants that can be hundreds of years old to herds of elephants that cross the harsh desert annually. It’s a harsh, but little known and incredibly beautiful environment.
It’s also one that is not fully understood or protected. This is something that the Namibian government is looking to change, by protecting vast swaths of the Namib Desert to connect the country’s two other protected parks: Skeleton Coast, a vast expanse on the western coast of the country where the sand dunes reach the sea, and Etosha national park, known for its incredible range of wildlife from small deer like the Springbok to the larger mammals from wildebeest to elephants, lions the endangered black rhino. This new park would effectively create a 15-million acre corridor for wildlife between the two existing parks and be one of the largest protected areas in the entire world.
To assist in is creation, recently the lead scientist for The Nature Conservatory, Dr. M. A. Sanjayan, led an expedition to cross the Namib Desert‚ 300 km of it, on foot. This daunting, 14-day journey was done to conduct a conservation assessment of everything from identifying the movement of animals to mapping little visited locations to locate waterholes, and even assess how tourism could be brought to this remote area with minimal impact on the fragile environment.
While they just recently completed the expedition, the entire journey has been documented on their web site and makes for a fascinating read. They get off to an inauspicious start, ranging from inevitable technical problems with equipment to losing three of their nine camels before even setting out. (One is too old, one became pregnant and one was eaten by lions, which, since the camels were imported from Australia, Sanjayan theorizes is probably the first time in history an Australian camel has faced and lost to a lion).
With accompanying videos and slideshows, it’s an interesting exploration of a fascinating ecosystem that few of us will get to experience first-hand. (Although I can recommend it if the opportunity ever arises.)
Before we launched the very first version of The Digital Frog back in 1995, we carried out extensive beta testing with local high school students. The student reports gave us much cause for both hilarity and concern.
Each student was asked to dissect the digital frog and then answer an extensive questionnaire and write his or her own comments. Overall, students preferred the digital dissection but for surprising reasons. One student commented “digital disection is much better than real disection because then I don’t have to dodge the scalpels of the kid behind”. Another student thought that “The Digital Frog” is much better than digesting real frogs”!
Yet another commented that “real disection is much better because then I get to mash the brains into the desk”! One has to wonder what these kids were learning in the traditional wet lab environment.