Using independent research projects to foster learning in the comparative vertebrate anatomy laboratory

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This paper presents a teaching methodology involving an independent research project component for use in undergraduate Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy laboratory courses. The proposed project introduces cooperative, active learning in a research context in a Comparative Vertebrate Anatomy course. This project involves pairs or groups of three students testing a hypothesis concerning variation of an anatomical feature among vertebrates and an oral or poster presentation that reports the results. The project requires both examination of anatomical descriptions in scientific literature and direct anatomical investigation of vertebrate specimens available in the laboratory. This project component has been used successfully at two schools, where it increased student enthusiasm for the discipline, increased student interpretive skills, and better placed the course material within the context of science. Both faculty and student perceptions of the successes and difficulties of such a project are presented.

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