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EDUCATION REPORT - October 23, 2003: Virtual Learning - 2003-10-31

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English Education Report.

Many people remember the day in school when they had to cut up a dead frog. Students often perform this dissection as a requirement for biology class. A smelly chemical, formaldehyde, preserves the body of the frog. The students remove and identify the organs as part of learning about the science of life.

But some schools no longer require students to cut apart frogs. Cost may be an issue. Also, animal rights activists may object.

Today, more and more students learn about frogs by computer, through "virtual dissection." A company called Froguts sells educational services to schools. But it also offers a free demonstration on its Web site. First, the image of a whole bullfrog appears on the screen. Users of the site direct cutting tools with clicks of their computer mouse. Lines show where to cut. Several steps later, the frog is open. The next steps are to remove and identify the heart, lungs and other organs.

The Web site is froguts-dot-com. That's spelled f-r-o-g-u-t-s.

Some educators praise virtual dissection. Others say nothing can replace the real thing.

Other virtual activities are also increasingly popular in schools. Some schools cannot send their students to places like museums and zoos. Distance and money may prevent them. But children can still “visit” zoo animals, museum collections and historic places by computer.

Last year, Maine launched a plan to become the first state to provide laptop computers to each of its middle school students and teachers. Maine is a small Northeastern state which, like many other states, is facing budget troubles. But now seventh and eighth graders and their teachers in more than two-hundred-forty schools have these wireless computers.

And the idea is spreading. Michigan, for example, has started to spend twenty-two-million dollars for laptop or hand-held computers for sixth graders. Schools can get the computers if they can pay twenty-five dollars for each student.

Yet such plans have critics, as a story in the magazine U.S. News and World Report noted. They say there is little proof that computers are better than traditional teaching methods. Other teachers say the computer is simply another tool that depends on how it is used.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Jerilyn Watson. This is Steve Ember.