ARE PRINTED FOSSIL REPLICAS AN EFFECTIVE EDUCATIONAL USE OF 3D DATA SETS? EDUCATORS’ PERCEPTIONS OF FOSSIL REPLICAS IN THE CLASSROOM
To probe educators’ perceptions on classroom fossils, an anonymous survey queried practicing teachers (N = 38) about their preferences. More than 25% (n =10) self-identified fossils as the best aspect of historical geology exercises. Comments noted that “getting to hold really, really old stuff” and the ability to “actually touch and see the fossils instead of just looking at pictures” were valuable, hands-on experiences. Conversely, fossil activities were identified by 3 individuals (8%) as in most need of improvement. One participant said some specimens “were fairly unrecognizable.” When asked whether plastic replicas would be more desirable for fossil activities than the original specimens, 10 participants thought replicas were a better educational tool, 4 were undecided, but the majority (n = 24, 63%) stated they would still prefer authentic fossils. One participant remarked, “It is better to see the natural fossils and understand the variations.” Others noted we are unlikely to find perfect specimens in the field. Fossil replica proponents thought fossil variation was problematic, though: “it was unfair since many people received better fossils than others, putting students at a disadvantage purely by chance.” Another pro-replica participant stated that with replicas “everyone is on the same page and you can tailor whatever details you want students to see in their fossils.”
Responses were subjected to content analysis and two major themes emerged: 1) Printed replicas provided consistency and a common platform for instruction; and 2) Fossil specimens illustrate natural variations, and their authenticity engages learners and can’t be replicated in plastic. This research indicates that perceptual change in teachers may be necessary before printed fossils can be effective educational tools.