I enjoyed a four-year run as the Teaching Assistant for an introductory-level Zoology class (animal form and function) at McGill University’s Macdonald Campus. In 2012, I began creating a series of video dissection tutorials that guide students through the basic anatomical structures of many of the most common lab organisms.
In these videos, I take student on a visual “tour” of each animal, typically starting with external structures/features, often emphasizing any interesting adaptations that allow them to thrive in their particular habits. Then I address internal anatomy, and I generally cover basic digestive, reproductive, and urinary systems, along with notable muscle groups in some animals, as well as cardio-respiratory organs. (I don’t spend a lot of time discussing the circulatory or nervous systems.)
There were two main catalysts for these videos. First, as the sole TA in three busy labs of 35+ students, the students and I were getting frustrated by my lack of availability during in-class dissection exercises; despite my best efforts to address everyone’s needs, there’s only so much of me to go around! Second, and closely related, was the fact that these exercises (for many students) represented their first time performing dissections. Lack of experience (but plenty of enthusiasm!) sometimes lead to overzealously picked-over specimens with few intact or visible structures remaining. “I’m not sure what I’m looking at here,” was a frequent lamentation.
These tutorials solved both problems: they give the students the opportunity to benefit from a personal “TA tour” of the organisms studied in class, with a well-dissected specimen whose structures are clearly visible. Thanks to tablets and laptops, the videos could be accessed during the labs, while the students worked on their own specimens. They could also be viewed in advance of the labs as a preparatory measure, and they later acted as useful study aids for the students’ practical exam.
The videos have proven to be wildly popular, not just with my own students, but also with other university/college students, high school students, and homeschoolers: they have been viewed on YouTube over one million times! I’ve had great responses from teachers who are now using these as compliments to their usual zoology or biology curriculum.
Here’s an example:
If you’re interested, you can check out the YouTube channel, MacOrganisms2 (don’t forget to subscribe, if I get the chance I’ll make more!)
Here is the complete series of dissection videos:
Feel free to use them and any feedback would be appreciated! I’d love to hear from you, especially if you’re a teacher 🙂