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JPT Nº16

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The most powerful way to teach students about evolution is through the use of fossil or biological specimens (Rahman et al., 2012).
With specimens in hand, students can make their own observations and test the assertions of their instructors—but, more importantly, they can experience the evidence for evolution themselves. Ideally, to teach about evolution, comparative anatomy, or other similar topics, one would have a set of charismatic modernnand fossil specimens at hand to demonstrate the course of evolution.

Many have been lured into paleontology or vertebrate evolution classes with the prospect of getting to see and touch some of these. However, more often than not in classes such as these, the skulls turn out to be merely drawings and the only real bones that students
get to touch are those scavenged from recent roadkill. The fact is that it is difficult, and expensive, to build a vertebrate collection. Few institutions have the resources to go out and collect their own dinosaur skeletons. Likewise, procuring modern comparative skeletons is difficult.

Few institutions can afford or provide access to a comprehensive set of real specimens. Quality replicas provide a way for many institutions to build vertebrate collections. Physical models have been shown to be an effective way to educate students at a lower cost than real specimens (Yammine and Violato, 2016), superior to the performance of 3D computer models (Preece et al., 2013). From a replica, one can experience and interact with the object in 3D in a way that is not possible with drawings or computer animations. Purchasing quality replicas of modern species is more attainable than real skeletons, but is still expensive—for example, a fully mounted duckbilled platypus skeleton replica is nearly $600.

For all of the advantages of having a fully stocked vertebrate teaching collection (real or replica), one must acknowledge that there are some things you cannot do with a typical vertebrate teaching collection. The skull of an elephant will always be big, and shape comparisons between juveniles and adults will always be obscured by the difference in size. However, with 3D printing, you can easily scale down large objects, or scale up small objects, making them more useful for the teaching of the visually impaired (Horowitz and Schultz, 2014; Teshima et al., 2010). Doing so, you can have juveniles and adults printed at the same size to better compare the changes in shape that take place during growth, without confusing the changes with increasing size.

3D printers are becoming much more widespread and easier to access. There are a number of applications to geology alone (D’Urso et al., 2000; Teshima et al., 2010; Rahman et al., 2012; Hasiuk 2014; Horowitz and Schultz, 2014; Lautenschlager and Rücklin, 2014; Hasiuk and Harding, 2016), not to mention other fields (Niven et al., 2009; Preece et al., 2013; McMenamin et al., 2014; Scalfani and Vaid, 2014; Thomas et al., 2016). While anyone can download ready-made models from places like, it is relatively easy to prepare your own model from freely available CT-scan movies.

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