A Learning Outcomes Perspective on Animal Use in Teaching


The Learning Outcomes Perspective on Animal Use in Teaching document provides guidance to instructors and students in the Department of Integrative Biology with respect to animal use in teaching. It briefly reviews the regulatory context of animal use at the university and the pedagogical use of animals in the biological sciences. Eight learning outcomes addressing the use of animals for instructional purposes are presented, linked to specific learning outcomes of degree programs, and categorized with respect to whether the use of animals is necessary, preferable, or unnecessary. For instructors, the document is intended to stimulate consideration of whether animal use is necessary to meet a learning objective and to guide accommodations for students expressing ethical concerns about the use of animals. For students, the document is intended to clarify why animals are being used and when accommodations can be reasonably requested.

Purpose and Rationale

The University of Guelph is committed to learner-centered education, including valuing and promoting independent learning that falls outside of traditional practice. The University is also committed to course and program design and evaluation of student performance based on explicit learning outcomes. These conditions may sometimes generate tension between instructors who use animals for instruction and some students who have concerns about the value of using animals in instruction. The Department of Integrative Biology (IB) has a strong organismal focus in its research and teaching that often includes the close examination of animals. This can pose a significant challenge in education when the benefits of close examination oppose the ethical standards of some students who are uncomfortable with participating in invasive investigations of animals. The Department has received a low but persistent number of requests from students, sometimes supported by the Central Student Association Academic Commissioner, to consider allowing students with ethical concerns about animal use to avoid certain instructional exercises involving animals (Appendix 1). This document summarizes departmental discussions occurring from 2013-2016 with the expectation that such discussion will continue. For course instructors, the document provides guidance to help ensure that animal use in a course is aligned with the learning outcomes of that course, this document, and each of IB’s majors (Appendices 2-5). For students, the document provides guidance on when they may be required to work closely with animals, as well as when they may be excused from working closely with animals, depending on the learning outcome specified in a course.

Regulatory context of animal use in teaching and research at the University of Guelph

All animal use in teaching and research at the University of Guelph is regulated under the jurisdiction of the Animal Use Committee. That committee oversees compliance of all aspects of animal use under the directives of provincial and federal legislation and also reflects the continual development of national standards by the Canadian Council on Animal Care. The proposed uses of animals in all teaching and research are evaluated at Guelph against the three ethical principles of animal replacement, reduction and refinement. These principles collectively attempt to minimize animal use, minimize discomfort to animals, and maximize animal care balanced against other unavoidable constraints (such as utility of using the animal in research or teaching, costs, etc). Current national standards apply to all vertebrates but currently to only a few invertebrates, such as the octopus. Nonetheless, the discussion below is intentionally designed to encompass the use of vertebrates and invertebrate animals and of live and dead animals in teaching. The Department of Integrative Biology has steadily reduced the number of vertebrate animals used in teaching over time in two ways: by reducing number of animals used overall (through fewer exercises or through shared group work with single specimens) and/or by replacement of vertebrates with invertebrates in some instructional exercises.

Animal use in Biological Sciences

Biology is about the study of life and its many processes. Zoological studies unavoidably require observation along a broad spectrum of animal invasiveness that can be minimal (e.g., passive observations of live organism behaviour) to moderate (e.g., active manipulation of live whole organism) to highly invasive (e.g., active manipulation of parts of living organisms or examination of prepared dead organisms). All observation has the potential to negatively impact animals and in some cases cause death. It is important for students to recognize that different fields of biology by nature of their focus will tend to occupy different regions of this animal invasiveness spectrum (e.g., botany requires no invasive animal use by a focus on plants whereas animal physiology often uses invasive procedures in order to understand processes and mechanisms that occur within an animal). Students should not expect a single standard of invasiveness to apply in all fields of biology. It is equally important for biology students, instructors and researchers to respectfully recognize the validity of diverse ethical positions on the use of animals in teaching and research and the evolving discourse on ethical animal use in society.

Use of Animals to achieve Learning Outcomes (LOs)

The department recognizes that some aspects of biology may be best learned through observation of real animals or their parts whereas other aspects of biology may be learned by other methods. The Integrative Biology Undergraduate Curriculum Committee (IBUCC) consulted with a variety of IB faculty and instructors, the chair of IB and the Associate Dean Academic of the College of Biological Sciences in order to develop and evaluate a set of eight learning outcomes (LOs) that are often related to instructional demonstrations involving animals. Below, we organize these LOs under three general categories: Required or Professional skills; Conceptual Knowledge; Research and Knowledge Discovery. For each LO, we then evaluated whether the use of animals falls into one of three categories in order to achieve that LO: Necessary, Preferable, or Unnecessary, and also summarize the classification rationale.

Distinguishing learning outcomes on the basis of the animal use requirement is beneficial because it:

  • Allows instructors the opportunity to consider accommodating students around the method of achieving a particular LO, such as when LOs fall into the ‘preferable’ or ‘unnecessary’ animal use categories.
  • Stimulates instructors to consider other instructional methods to achieve those LOs where animal use is not necessary.
  • Informs students about the nature of animal use decisions in courses so that they can determine when they can and cannot expect accommodation around animal use in a course/program (because of the LO need).

Required or Professional Skills LOs

(*indicates specific outcomes from degree programs. See Appendices 2-5)

  1. Develop tactile skills involved in effective collection and observation of live animals and dissection, cell and tissue preparation of animal specimens.
    Necessary, because the motor, tactile and judgment skills required cannot be taught through currently available alternative abstract methods.
    (BIOD, MFB, WBC, ZOO: A3c)*
  2. Gain experience at proper techniques for observing, collecting, and handling live animals and tissues that minimize stress and so improve the accuracy and reliability of observation.
    Preferable, because observing/evaluating animal stress is often species-specific and learning stress cues comes about through experience from animal observation.
    (BIOD, MFB, WBC, ZOO: A1b, B1b; MFB, ZOO: B2d; BIOD, WBC: B3b)*
  3. Identify and quantify the inherent natural variation and diversity within and among individuals, populations and species through examination of variability among real organisms or their parts.
    Necessary, because the challenge of accurate quantification requires understanding the true nature of the variation that exists within and among groups of organisms to be classified.
    (BIOD, MFB, WBC, ZOO: A1b, B1b; MFB, ZOO: B2d; BIOD, WBC: B3b; MFB: B3c)*
  4. Identify and hierarchically classify the complexity and function of real animal tissues among cells, tissues, organs, systems.
    Preferable, because the judgment required to classify complexity is often enhanced by direct experience of that complexity.
    (ZOO: A1b, B2e; MFB: B2d)*

Conceptual Knowledge LOs

  1. Demonstrate knowledge transfer between conceptual and practical knowledge domains by synthesizing observation of real animals (e.g., dissection, measurement, observation with or through various instruments) with complementary conceptual and more abstract presentations of similar material (e.g., reading, watching, listening, etc).
    Necessary, because the act of knowledge transfer between domains requires and can only be evaluated through participation in those domains.
    (BIOD, MFB, WBC, ZOO: A1b)*

For example:

  • Demonstrate or identify aspects of physiological process (circulation, respiration etc) operating within animals as they respond to changes in local conditions (acclimation), and integrating these processes and their effects over different parts of the body or different tissues.
  • Demonstrate an understanding of the structure and function of tissues and organs, the material properties of different tissues and organs, and the physical and functional relationships between parts in real organisms.
  1. Develop an aesthetic and/or scientific appreciation for the similarity and differences in the organization of animals (e.g., variation) that will enhance understandings of organismal function, performance, ecology and evolution.
    Preferable, to the extent that the inherent beauty and complexity of natural organisms can motivate excitement, curiosity and the search for meaning and understanding in many (although not all) students.
    (BIOD: B2d; MFB: B3c; ZOO: B2d; WBC: B2f, B3b)*
  2. Develop an appreciation about the ethical and appropriate use of animals in teaching and research that attempts to balance the costs and benefits of animal use.
    Unnecessary, because this can be taught by other abstract methods.
    (BIOD, MFB, WBC, ZOO: B2b)*

Research and Knowledge Discovery LOs

  1. Observe real animals (alive or dead) or their component parts to pose questions about form and function that motivate self-directed research leading to enhanced understanding of process in animal biology.
    Necessary, because observing and manipulating nature is often the only way to both ask and answer questions about natural processes; with the exception of entirely mathematical modeling based approaches or a focus on non-animal organisms.
    (BIOD, MFB, WBC, ZOO: B3a, B3b; MFB, ZOO: B3c)*

Over time, it is expected that more learning outcomes could be added to this list or new technologies could become available that would change the department’s assessment of the use of animals in teaching for a specific LO.

All appendices are in the Learning Outcomes Perspective on Animal Use in Teaching document.