Froguts Is a Wonder, but Maybe Students Should Get Their Hands Dirty
Froguts steps you through the dissection of a frog. First you have to pin it to your surface so it won't move around when you use a virtual scalpel to slice it open. You'll also use scissors to cut away sections and remove organs, as well as forceps to grab and remove tissue -- squeamish yet? -- and a microscope to take a closer look. The process is accompanied by slightly eerie background music.
This story was originally published on June 17, 2013, and is brought to you today as part of our Best of ECT News series.
Froguts Frog Dissection HD for iPad by Froguts is available in the iTunes App Store for US$5.99.
Dissecting frogs in high school biology classes used to be a rite of passage. It was a physical, visceral method for teaching kids that living organisms have common pieces and parts: organs, muscle, nerves and connective tissue. Kids learned that even frogs have hearts, lungs and brains.
With a real dead frog, though, the lesson seems to be larger than just the anatomy. By dissecting a formerly living thing, there's the knowledge that it used to hop around, eat, swim -- and now it's dead and you're just a kid slicing it open to peer inside and see its secrets.
It's not like looking at the dried and flattened remains of a frog run over by a car in the street.
Kind of Dead
A new app, Froguts Frog Dissection HD for iPad, aims to bring the real dead to virtual reality. The app uses photorealistic frogs -- inside and out -- and guides you through a dissection of both male and female specimens. Plus, if you're a real student, the app can walk you through sections as well as quiz you.
When I was in high school, our biology class didn't get to dissect frogs. I think it had more to do with our budget than any real opposition to using dead frogs as teaching tools. It wasn't until advanced biology that I got to dissect anything -- a shark, actually, which was a tough decision for our teacher, a lover of everything alive. She would even carefully capture spiders in her home and release them outside.
Still, a shark is a fish and a frog is something else. It's something a small child can catch and hold, can feel its lungs expand and its heart pound, and then can release. So frogs are more intimate subjects, I think -- no offense to sharks -- and the Froguts Frog Dissection app retains a bit of that feeling, albeit with slightly eerie background music. (I kid you not: eerie music.)
Once you open the app, you can choose a male or female frog or a random selection to make discovery more natural to a learning environment. The app loads a quasi-3D photo of a clearly dead laboratory sort of frog, and a the whole process is led by a vaguely academic sounding narrator who guides the process and tells you what to do. You can zoom in and out and check out the funky frog skin or rotate the frog to get a better look at it. You can choose to dissect from the back (dorsal) or the belly (ventral).
To make the process seem more real -- presumably to help the learning process in environments that are opposed to using frogs or don't have the resources -- the app steps you through the dissection. First you have to use pins to pin the frog to your surface so it won't move around when you use a virtual scalpel to slice it open. You'll also use scissors to cut away sections and remove organs, as well as forceps to grab and remove tissue -- squeamish yet? -- and a microscope to take a closer look.
Oh, and because it's a dead laboratory frog, it's not like it's wet and bleeding on you. So it's real, but laboratory real, which is the whole point.
The Gross-Out Factor
Along the way, you'll use additional pins (orange heads) to give you anchor points of further exploration. Place a pin in a lung, for instance, and the next time you tap the lung you'll be able to learn its name and use tools to remove it or look more closely at it.
You pinch and zoom to examine parts more closely, and because it's not an actual photo but something more dimensional and photorealistic, the organs and arteries and such will move around as you work on the frog.
It's pretty cool actually, but some will find it gross -- mission accomplished, since making a frog dissection too pretty would leave the whole process lacking a connection to the real world.
For students, the app can quiz, prompt, and test you, even giving you a timed practice and assessment.
But What Does It Mean?
All in all, I was surprised and delighted by the sense of the real infused into this app. As more and more students have the opportunity to use tablets in school, this sort of app can extend the teaching process by replicating some hands-on learning without the need for old-school resources or the need to kill little critters.
However, there's a dark side to this app and the iPad it runs on: It puts a layer of nonreality between a student and the world. After all, this is just an app. It doesn't convey smell, texture, or the very real sense that a frog used to be active in our world -- that it grew from something small.
It removes hope of remorse or respect surrounding the death of the frog -- and through the metaphorical leap of understanding biology, it isolates a kid from cause and effect, as if beef is merely something you buy from a restaurant or get prepacked with clear plastic wrap from a grocery store.
While bringing us closer to some things, apps can push us farther away from the world we live in. Crazy, amazing stuff, really -- good and bad wrapped up in one app package.