Vol.1, No.2, 65-76 (2011) Open Journal of Animal Sciences
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/OJAS/
Development of online learning activities to enhance
student knowledge of animal behaviour prior to
engaging in live animal handling practical sessions
Julie M. Old*, Ricky-John Spencer
Native and Pest Animal Unit, School of Natural Sciences, Hawkesbury Campus, University of Western Sydney, Sydney, Australia;
*Corresponding author: j.old@uws.edu.au
Received 16 May 2011, revised 27 May 2011, accepted 22 June 2011.
Learning activities were developed to increase
the awareness of animal behaviour among first
year students enrolled in animal-associated
degrees prior to students engaging in hands-on
live animal practical sessions. Learning activi-
ties were developed in an easy to use collegial
online environment and to encourage student
engagement in learning activities. One hundred
and one students were given a preliminary and
post learning activity su rvey to assess their ini-
tial knowledge and experience of animal be-
haviour, as well as to determine if the learning
activities increased the students’ knowledge of
animal behaviour after engaging in the learning
activities. Of the students surveyed, most cur-
rently owned pets or have had pets (91.1%),
some had animal-related qualifications (22.8%)
and currently worked in an animal-related posi-
tion (24.8%). There was a significant difference
(70.3% increase) in student responses after
engaging in the learning activities with the ma-
jor change occurring in the students’ under-
standing of the term ‘ethology’, regardless of
the level of qualifications or animal-related ca-
reer experience. In addition, after engaging in
the learning activities, most students believed
that they could better articulate and interpret
animal behaviors based on their observations.
Overall, the inclusion of learning activities
successfully increased the ability of students to
understand behavioral traits of animals, which
will increase safety in live animal practical ses-
sions. The learning activities also encouraged a
collegial learning environment that enhanced
new knowledge construction amongst the stu-
Keywords: Agriculture; Animal Science; Ethology;
Learning; Safety
The use of animals in laboratory and field environ-
ments for undergraduate teaching is vital in animal sci-
ence, agriculture, zoology and veterinary science, how-
ever there has been increased scrutiny, and justification
associated with their use in these contexts. Amongst the
many issues covered by the term ‘bioethics’, the use of
animals for teaching and research remains a hot topic,
with animal rights groups, the general public and ulti-
mately legislation requiring increased standards and
greater accountability by tertiary institutions. At the
coalface are the undergraduate students that are actively
using and learning from their experiences with animals,
but it is this level which has been largely neglected in
terms of improving standards of animal welfare.
First year undergraduate students are generally ex-
posed to classes involving live animals with no formal
preparation, hence programs that prepare students for
practicals involving live animals, will not only increase
animal welfare standards, but also provide grounding for
improved knowledge assimilation for the student. The
Hawkesbury campus at the University of Western Syd-
ney (UWS) has an extensive history in agricultural
teaching [1,2]. Formerly known as the Hawkesbury Ag-
ricultural College, the agricultu ral educational institution
was established in 1891, and was the first of its kind in
New South Wales, Australia. Over the past few years,
UWS has offered courses in animal science as well as
retaining agricultural degrees. The animal science de-
grees are very popular and currently contain one of the
larger cohorts of students within the School of Natural
Science. The animal science degrees at UWS allow stu-
dents to engage their passion in animals, whether it is
domestic animals, companion animals or wildlife and
J. M. Old et al. / Open Journal of Animal Sciences 1 (2011) 65-76
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/OJAS/
provide a range of potential career opportunities. The
animal facilities (traditional outdoor domestic animal
facilities including cattle, sheep , horses and deer, as well
as a rat and mouse, native mammal and reptile facilities)
on campus allow a range of handling expertise to be
gained throughout the courses as well as utilising the
wildlife that naturally occur on the campus. In addition
many students enrolled in environment and traditional
science-based courses such as biology, choose electives
from the animal science core units to gain insights into
animal husbandry and obtain animal handling skills.
Over the last few years the university has seen a
change in the student demographic [3]. Previously, many
students enrolling in traditional agricultural degrees
came from farming backgrounds, whereas more recently
the bulk of students enrolling are sourced from the sur-
rounding western Sydney area. The reduced number of
students from farms enrolling in agricultural degrees has
also been evidenced in the United States [4]. Students
without farming backg rounds are therefo re entering th eir
degrees with less and less exposure to a wide range of
animal species and many appear to lack a general under-
standing of animal behaviour.
The learning objectives for one of the first units
within the Animal Science degrees, are aimed at ensur-
ing students learn how to handle, restrain and work with
animals based on the NSW Animal Research Act, UWS
Animal Care and Ethics Committee approved protocols
and the Australian Code of Practice for the Care and Use
of Animals for Scientific Purposes. However, prior to
students engaging in hands-on animal handling practical
sessions there is a need to ensure students have acquired
some basic observational skills to increase their confi-
dence, around large domesticated animals, as well as
wildlife. Not only should this increase in base level
knowledge improve the educational experience, but
standards of animal welfare should also improve because
students may be better equipped to identify behaviours
indicative of distress and/or discomfort. In the case of
large domestic animals such as horses and cattle, a lack
of understanding of interpreting animal behaviour, can
also lead to either animal, student, or potentially staff
injuries. Likewise, with smaller animals such as rats,
mice, small native mammals and reptiles, bites can occur.
Good animal handling sk ills and an awareness of animal
behaviour is therefore an essential attribute and require-
ment of students during enrolment, and graduating from
animal science degrees, similar to that stated in [5] for
veterinary students.
The aim of this study was to develop learning activi-
ties that increase student awareness of animal behaviour
prior to their engagement in practical sessions. The pa-
per discusses the outcomes of students engaging in the
learning activities prior to hands-on practical sessions
with animals and includes the results of a survey to as-
sess what the students learnt by engaging in the learning
activities. The learning activities were developed using
the online learning environment (Web Course Tools), at
the University of Western Sydney called vUWS.
2.1. Development of Learning Activities
A collegial peer learning environment was developed
for students to “post” their opinions using the online
discussion board within vUWS. It was thought this me-
dium would be beneficial to all students as it involves
sharing of experience, knowledge and ideas among the
group members [6] and is learner-centred rather than a
teacher-centred traditional didactic lecture method.
Small groups of students (up to 10) were randomly cho-
sen to work together in the online learning environment
with the aim of enhancing engagement in the learning
activities, social interaction, and physical comfort [7] as
well as critical thinking. The collaborative learning en-
vironment was aimed at promoting critical thinking.
Roberts [8] has previously suggested a collaborative
learning environment is successful because it aids stu-
dents to clarify their ideas during discussions. In addi-
tion, as students were required to write their responses to
one another while unable to see other students’ physical
responses (such as facial expressions) straight away, it
was hoped it would encourage students to reflect on the
“postings”, and their own answers, prior to submitting a
new “post” [9]. The incorporation of the discussion
board into the learning activities was also aimed at in-
creasing inclusiveness, as some students are more likely
to respond (“post” a message) in a non-threatening en-
The majority of students enrolled in the animal sci-
ence degrees, as apposed to the wider UWS student
community, enrol after completing secondary school (18
- 20 years), or within one year of completion of school
[3]. Animal science students are therefore presumed to
be generally classified as “tech savvy net geners” [10]
that are adept at communication via email, b logs, twitter
and facebook. The online learning discussion board
available through vUWS is therefore presumably easy
for students and staff to use. A discussion board on
vUWS with small groups (maximum of eight students)
was therefore established to allow discussions regarding
the pictures, sounds or videos provided. Each student
enrolled in the first year Animal Science unit at UWS
was randomly provided with a picture, sound and video
file of an animal or group of animals exhibiting some
J. M. Old et al. / Open Journal of Animal Sciences 1 (2011) 65-76
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/OJAS/
form of behaviour and asked to “post” a message on the
discussion board stating what they believed the behav-
iour to be and to provide evidence to support their deci-
sion. Each student was then asked to respond to at least
two messages “posted” by another member of their
group. Each group of ten students was therefore pro-
vided with a maximum of 30 files (of three media types)
to discuss and could only see the messages “posted” by
members of their group. There were 11 groups in total.
An additional benefit of having an online resource al-
lowed students to engage in the learning activities at any
time. Many students at UWS have part-time jobs and
decreasing time and money to spend on their studies. In
addition, there is no time lost travellin g to the campus as
students can engage in the learning activities in the
comfort of their own homes or even the local library or
internet café. Tennent and Hyland [11] have previously
found that students enrolled as distance or rural students
valued online discussion boards and many UWS stu-
dents presumably value the flexibility as well.
As students were randomly a l lo c at ed gr ou p s, a n d were
mostly newly enrolled at university, it was highly likely
that the students working together in groups online had
not met. The learning activities conducted within the
first week of semester therefore also acted as an “ice-
breaker” activity and is supported by the findings of
Roberts [8] whereby group work encourages student
self-esteem, allows students to learn more about their
peers and essentially develop a social support network.
The collaborative learning environment developed
therefore allowed students to meet and socialise and de-
velop a social support network with one another. In the
longer term, the learning activities may even aid student
Apart from the flexibility and collegial benefits pro-
vided by the development of the online teaching re-
source, the online resource can also provide examples to
students of animal behaviours that we can not provide on
campus. These behaviours can include specific behav-
iours of exotic species we do not have on campus, and
other behaviours we can not include due to animal wel-
fare implications such as pain, illness and some interac-
tive behaviours between different species such as preda-
tor/prey behaviour.
2.2. Survey of Student Learning
Preliminary and post learning activity surveys were
conducted using a matched but anonymous design. See
Appendices 1 and 2 for modified versions of the su rvey s.
The original surveys had larger spaces provided for
some of the questions.
The preliminary survey was used to gauge the stu-
dent’s level of interpreting animal behaviour, such as
their perceived level of knowledge of ethology, their
qualifications, and whether or not they had animals of
their own in the past or currently, and what type of ani-
mal (companion, farm, bird, aquatic and reptile) they
have had or currently have prior to engaging in the
learning activities. In addition, students were asked th ese
specific quest i ons :
1) What observational signs can we use to determine
the behaviour of an animal?
2) What signs do you observe in this picture?
3) What behaviour is being exhibited in this picture?
Questions 2) and 3) (above) refer to a picture of two
kangaroos (see Figure 1) and asked students to describe
the behaviour being exhibited and to provide reasoning
in their answer. The kangaroo was chosen as it is an
iconic and widely distributed Australian animal. After
the students engaged in the learning activities, the same
picture was shown to assess the level of change in the
students’ level of observational skills in regard to exhib-
ited animal behaviour.
The final survey also had some questions asking stu-
dents to state what they believed they had learnt about
ethology and allowed them to provide feedback on im-
proving the learning activities for future students. Any
unmatched surveys were removed from the analysis.
Student survey responses were categorised and en-
tered into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to allow
graphical comparisons to be made. In addition, the
Primer v5 [12] statistical package was used for compar-
ing student responses, both before and after completing
the learning activities. Specifically, SIMPER, ANOSIM
2.3. Data Analysis
Figure 1. Photograph of mother eastern grey kangaroo
(Macropus giganteus) with young at foot. The photograph was
used in both the surveys to gauge the level of observational
skills of students prior to and after engaging in the learning
J. M. Old et al. / Open Journal of Animal Sciences 1 (2011) 65-76
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and non-metric multidimensional scaling (MDS) analy-
ses (Primer v5 [13]) were used. Participants were also
grouped based on their perceived experience with ani-
mals or animal husbandry/handling qualifications (ex-
perienced or inexperienced). Bray–Curtis dissimilarities
were used to construct an MDS-diagram. The survey
responses of all participants were then compared, both
before and after completing the learning activities using
these techniques. Participants were also grouped based
on their perceived experience with animals or animal
husbandry/handling qualifications (experienced or inex-
perienced). Similar analyses were conducted to deter-
mine how both groups differ in their responses both be-
fore and after engaging in the learning activities. Prior to
the calculation of the Bray-Curtis indices, data was
standardised and square-root transformed [12,13].
ANOSIM is similar to an ANOVA but for multivariate
statistics. ANOSIM produces an R statistic which corre-
lates to how similar the samples are. This analysis pro-
duces global (over all samples) and pairwise (between
each combination of two samples) R statistics and p
values. An R statistic of one indicates that samples are
completely different while an R statistic of zero indicates
samples are identical [13]. R statistics are only inter-
preted here where p values are < 0.05. SIMPER analysis
produces an average dissimilarity between samples and
gives each species’ percent contribution to this dissimi-
The study led to both a perceived and actual increase
in student awareness of the signs exhibited by animals
and their behaviour after completing the learning activi-
ties. A total of 101 preliminary and 101 post learning
activity surveys were completed. Five surveys that did
not have the corresponding preliminary or post learning
activity survey were removed from the analysis. Overall,
the responses to the survey questions varied significantly
prior to and after students engaged in the learning activi-
ties (Global R = 0.049 p = 0.01; Figure 2).
3.1. Defining Ethology
The major change in the survey responses related to-
the students’ understanding of the definition of ethology
(Tab le 1). Initially 30 students could not define “ethol-
ogy”, and an additional 45 gave an incorrect defini-
tion,whereas 26 students could correctlydefine “ethol-
ogy” prior to starting the learning activities.
Figure 2. MDS plot comparing survey results of all respondents before and after they had
completed the education program. This plot separates respondents based on experience or
Table 1. SIMPER analysis comparing differences in survey results of all respondents before and after they had completed the educa-
tion program.
Initial Final
Mean Abundance Mean AbundanceMean DissimilarityDissimilarity/SD Cumulative %
Definition of Ethology 2.10 1.07 6.85 1.3 12.91
Ears Pricked 0.55 0.69 5.42 1.1 23.13
Animal Sound 0.48 0.57 5.29 1.11 33.09
Erect Stance 0.49 0.63 5.19 1.12 42.88
Animal Body Language 0.88 0.91 5.09 1 52.47
Alert Behaviour 0.30 0.14 4.86 0.9 61.63
Observing 0.23 0.18 4.18 0.91 69.51
Final No Experi-
Final Ex-
Preliminary No
J. M. Old et al. / Open Journal of Animal Sciences 1 (2011) 65-76
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Other definitions included the study of animal ethics
(12.9%), animal welfare (4.0%), wild animals (5.9%)
and the interactions between animals and the environ-
ment (2.0%), and interactions between animals (23.8%).
After the learning activities were completed, 97 students
could correctly define “ethology”. Overall there was a
70.3% increase in the student’s ability to define ethol-
3.2. Student Experience and Perceived
Level of Experience in Ethology
Owning a pet, working in an animal-based position or
having qualifications with some ethology included
would presumably increase a student’s level of experi-
ence in interpreting animal signs and hence their behav-
iours due to their interactions with animals. The survey
suggested most students had or have had pets of some
kind. These students would presumably have obtained
some knowledge of ethology by owning and caring for a
pet. Surprisingly only a small number of students
worked in an animal-based position at the time the sur-
vey was completed and greater than 20% of students had
qualifications that incorporated some form of ethology,
mostly from TAFE (Technical And Further Education),
NSW. Overall, there were only a small number of stu-
dents (24) that stated that they did not have any ethology
experience (or did not know, or did not answer the ques-
tion), compared to 44 students that perceived that they
had a lifetime of experience in ethology and 33 students
had between less than one year and up to four years of
experience. The student’s initial level of perceived ex-
perience in ethology may have been low due to their lack
of knowledge of the term “ethology”.
The type of pet/s owned was of interest as a greater
number and variety of pets owned would presumably
increase the student’s knowledge base of ethology
through their increased interaction with a larger number
of species. Of the 101 preliminary surveys completed,
companion animals (stated as dogs, cats, guinea pigs,
rabbits, horses and mice) were the most common pet
with 79.2% of students stating they currently have a
companion animal as a pet and 80.2% stating that they
have had a companion animal as a pet in the past. The
next most common currently owned pets were aquatic
animals (40.6%), defined as fish and yabbies, and were
slightly more common than birds (38.6%). Previously,
more birds (60.4%) than aquatic pets (47.5%) had been
kept as pets than are currently kept by students. The
fourth most commonly owned pets were farm animals,
(defined as dogs, horses, goats, cattle, deer, sheep and
pigs). Reptiles (snakes, lizards and turtles) were the least
common (17.1%) pets currently owned, as well as
owned in the past (18.8%).
A statistical comparison of pet owners and non-pet
owners was not conducted as only nine students were
shown to never have owned pets. In addition, some
problems arose with the classification of animal species.
Some students classified ducks and chickens as com-
panion animals, others as farm animals, and others
placed them in the ‘birds’ category. Likewise some stu-
dents classified horses and dogs as farm animals and
others as companion animals. Other pets owned included
alpacas, geese, budgerigars (Melopsittacus undulates),
rainbow lorikeets (Trichoglossus haematodus), galahs
(Cacatua roseicapilla), corellas (Cacatua spp.) and
Eleven students that were surveyed do not currently
have pets in any of the five groupings, 33 from one
group, 21 from two groupings, 17 from three groupings,
17 from four groupings and two from all five groupings.
Twelve students had never had any other pets in the past
from any of the groupings. Sixteen students of the stu-
dents surveyed had pets in the past from only one
grouping, 27 from two groupings, 29 from three group-
ings, 15 from four groupings and two from five group-
ings. In total there were nine students that did not have
pets currently or in the past from either of the groupings.
In addition to these five groupings, students may also
have other pets not defined by these groupings such as
stick insects, spiders, burrowing cockroaches, beetles,
amphibians such as axolotls or frogs, or mammalian pets
such as ferrets, rats and mice.
Some students (25) stated they work or had worked in
an animal-based position. Three students stated they
worked in a pet or produce store, one worked in a wel-
fare organization, seven worked with horses, four have
worked on farms, two have worked in laboratories, four
work as veterinary nurses, one was an animal attendant
and three have worked in a combination of ani-
mal-related positions.
Most of the students surveyed (76) stated they had
gained no qualifications in ethology. Twenty-three stu-
dents stated they had animal-related qualifications, all of
which were from TAFE. Three stated that they had a
statement of attainment in Animal Care, 11 had Certifi-
cate II qualifications, four had Certificate III, two had
Certificate IV, two had a Diploma and one had an Asso-
ciate Diploma.
3.3. What Observational Signs Can We Use
to Determine the Behaviour of an
Figure 3 provides a graphical representation of the
students’ responses to the types of observational signs
J. M. Old et al. / Open Journal of Animal Sciences 1 (2011) 65-76
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/OJAS/
animal body
animal sound
ani mal
interactions with
Figure 3. The number of each ‘sign’ stated by students that
can be used to recognise behaviour. Both responses provided
prior to and after engaging in the learning activities are
that can be used to determine the behaviour of an animal.
Most students stated that animal body language was an
observational sign used to determine animal behaviour
before engaging in the learning activities (88.1%) and
after engaging in the learning activities (89.1%). The
second most commonly stated sign used to determine
animal behaviour was the sound animals made. Initially
48.5% stated sound was one of the factors used to de-
termine the behaviour of an animal an d after the learning
activities there was an increase in this response to 57.4 %.
The reasons for the increase in this response (sound)
may be a reflection on the type of learning activities
provided—videos, photographs and sounds. Prior to the
learning activities being conducted, other observational
signs suggested included animal biorhythms (11.9%),
animal interactions with other animals (9.9%) and ani-
mal interactions with the environment (6.9%). These
suggestions decreased in number after the learning ac-
tivities (5.9%, 3.0% and 7.9% respectively). Prior to the
learning activities, three students did not answer the
question and following the activities, eight students did
not answer the question. In total, only one student did
not answer this question either before or after the learn-
ing activities (1.0%).
Thirty-six students stated only one sign prior to en-
gaging in the learning activities, 56 students stated two
signs, five stated three signs and one student stated four
signs could be used to determine animal behaviour.
Thirty-two students stated one sign after engaging in the
learning activities, 53 stated two, eight stated three and
one student stated that four signs could be used to de-
termine animal behaviour.
3.4. What Signs Do You Observe in This
Prior to engagement in the learning activities, students
stated four signs they observed in the picture, namely
erect ears, erect body stance, eyes fixed and paws up,
that could be used to determine behaviour. Figure 4
provides a graphical representation of the student re-
sponses to the signs they observe in the picture provided.
After engaging in the learning activities, another obser-
vational sign was stated, namely, that the young animal
was close to the adult (3.0%). Prior to the learning ac-
tivities, 32 students did not record any observations, 15
stated one observation, 36 stated two observations, 11
stated three and one student stated four signs. After the
learning activities, 15 students noted one observational
sign, 32 noted two, 23 noted three and four noted four.
Twenty-seve n st udents recorded no observati ons.
The most popular observations recorded prior to en-
gaging in the learning activities were ears erect (56.4%),
followed by erect body stance (50.5%), eyes fixed
(12.9%) and paws up (5.0%). Following the learning
activities, there was an increase in all observations re-
corded, as evidenced by 67 students stating that they
observed erect ears, 61 (60.4%) stated they observed an
erect body stance, 25 stated they observed ears fixed,
eight stated they observed paws up and three stated they
observed that the young was close to the mother (a new
3.5. What Behaviour Is Being Exhibited in
This Picture?
Eight categories were used to classify the behaviour
exhibited in the picture provided. The most commonly
stated behaviour exhibited in the picture, before the stu-
dents engaged in the learn ing activities, were alert/aware
behaviour (45.7%), followed by cautious/curious behav-
iour (28.7%), and observation (22.8%), and in lower
numbers, maternal/protective behaviour (6.9%), listen-
ing (5.9%), calmness (0.9%) and predatory behaviour
(0.9%). Figure 5 provides a graphical representation of
the numbers of behaviours stated by the students to be
occurring in the picture. After the students engaged in
the learning activities, all categories reduced in number
except for the most commonly stated behaviour of
alert/awareness behaviour (51.5%) which increased. No
calmness or predatory behaviour was stated after the
students engaged in the learning activities however
mimicry was suggested (2.0%). There was a consistent
increase in observing and recording most behavioural
traits after engaging in the learning activities, however
the recording of Alert and Observing Behaviours de-
creased (Table 1).
J. M. Old et al. / Open Journal of Animal Sciences 1 (2011) 65-76
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pricked erec t body
stance ey es fix edpaws upy oung
c l ose to
Figure 4. The signs stated by students that can be used to
determine behaviour in the picture provided. Both responses
provided prior to and after engaging in the learning activities
are shown.
Figure 5. The number of each behaviour occurring in the
picture provided. Both responses provided prior to and after
engaging in the learning activities are shown.
3.6. Statistical Analysis
How respondents changed their survey responses also
depended on perceived experience or qualification level.
Those respondents who considered themselves experi-
enced or qualified in animal husbandry responded dif
ferently after engaging in the learning activities (Table
2). The major differences in their observations and re-
cordings were that they appeared to recognise more
sub-tle behavioural traits (eg. Erect Stance and Ears
Pricked) and not simply stated their observations as
‘alertness’ (Table 3). More experienced students re-
sponded correctly to the definition of ethology before the
education program than inexperienced students. Most
students responded correctly to the definition of ethol-
ogy after completing the learning activities (Table 3).
Similarly, inexperienced participants were more likely
to categorise certain behaviours specifically rather than
simply noting it as ‘alertness’ after completing the
learning activities (Table 4). The responses from inexpe-
rienced students were varied prior to the learning activi-
ties, but they were more similar and consistent after
completing the learning activities (Figure 1). Inexperi-
enced respondents were more likely to define ethology
as either the study of animal ethics or something other
than the study of animal behaviour than experienced
respondents (Table 4). However, after the education
program, very few responded incorrectly.
Although both experienced and inexperienced groups
modified their answers after completing the learning
activities, they modified their answers similarly because
the final survey responses of both experienced and in-
experienced groups did not differ significantly (Table 2).
However perceived experience or qualifications did not
appear to help or significantly affect the initial survey
responses compared to the inexperienced group (Table
3.7. What Did Students Perceive They
Learnt from the Learning Activities?
Fourteen students stated they learnt the meaning of the
word “ethology”. Interestingly 66 students stated they
learnt that you could use a variety of signs to determine
the behaviour of an animal or animals and 24 stated they
had learnt there were different types of animal behave-
Table 2. ANOSIM pairwise comparisons of before and after
surveys from respondents with and without experience with
R Statistic Significance Level %
Final No Experience,
Final Experience –0.14 93.3
Final No Experience,
Preliminary No Experience0.043 0.1
Final No Experience,
Preliminary Experience 0.2 2.9
Final Experience,
Prelim No Experience –0.209 99.2
Final Experience,
Preliminary Experience 0.224 0.6
Prelim No Experience,
Prelim Experience –0.014 54.3
Table 3. SIMPER analysis comparing differences in survey results of experienced respondents before and after they had completed
the education prog ra m.
Initial Final
Behavioural Sign Mean Abundance Mean Abundance Mean Dissimilar ity Dissimilarity/SD Cumulative %
Erect S tance 0.10 0.90 6.41 1.18 12.71
Definition of Ethology 1.80 1.00 6.41 1.14 25.41
Ears Pricked 0.50 0.80 6.1 1.21 37.49
Cautious Behaviour 0.50 0.40 5.59 1.05 48.56
Animal Body Language 0.80 0.90 5.57 1.02 59.59
Alert Behaviour 0.30 0.10 5.29 0.97 70.07
Observing Behaviour 0.10 0.20 3.96 0.74 77.91
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Table 4. SIMPER analysis comparing differences in survey results of inexperienced respondents before and after they had completed
the education prog ra m.
Initial Final
Mean Abundance Mean Abundance Mean Dissimilarity Dissimilarity/SD Cumulative%
Definition of Ethology 2.10 1.05 5.39 1.02 11.46
Animal Sound 0.48 0.58 5.34 1.03 22.81
Ears Pricked 0.56 0 .68 5.29 1.02 34.07
Erect S tance 0.53 0.60 5.21 1.03 45.12
Observing Behaviour 0.24 0.18 4.96 0.96 55.66
Alert Behaviour 0.30 0.14 3.28 0.68 62.65
Animal Body Language 0.89 0.91 3.23 0.72 69.52
Cautious Behaviour 0.53 0.46 3.23 0.69 76.38
iour.Other students stated they learnt factors, such as the
sounds animals make, can provide information as to the
behaviour animals are exhibiting, that animals commu-
nicate and different animals exhibit different behaviours.
3.8. Suggestions to Improve the Learning
Unfortunately one of the biggest problems that arose
during the learning activities session was the techno logy.
The university’s computers block some live streaming
videos such as those “posted” on YouTube. For this rea-
son, some of the videos and sounds were unable to be
played on the university computers. As this activity was
also an option to complete off-site, some student com-
puters were not set up to run some of the file types and
some student computers had blocks installed such as
pop-up blocks and others lacked the software to use
some of the files. As a result 17 students suggested tech-
nical difficulties needed improvement.
3.9. Other Comments
Only a few students (17) provided any other com-
ments regarding the learning activities. The students who
did comment, stated they “enjoyed the group work”, the
learning activities were “good” and the learning activi-
ties were “fun”. Only one student stated they d id not lik e
the group work
Overall, the study found that the students did benefit
from using the developed online learning activities. After
completion of the learning activities nearly all students
could define ethology and most had a good understand-
ing of the signs animals may exhibit and could articulate
the type of behaviour associated with the signs observed.
This type of preparation prior to engaging in hands-on
live animal practical sessions, as well as later in their
careers, will better equip students to avoid potentially
dangerous situations involving animals. Quite often stu-
dents with little or no background in handling animals
are subjected to live animal practicals immediately in
their undergraduate careers and although all safety and
care may be adhered to under occupational health and
safety guidelines, a student’s increased understanding of
behavioural cues prior to engag ing in these activities will
reduce their risk of injury or even death. In addition,
after all the students engaged in the learning activities,
there was no significant difference between the students
with qualif ications and /or perceived ethology experience
compared to students with no qualifications and no per-
ceived ethology experience.
Generally, the learning activities worked well, how-
ever a few students did comment on the difficulty of
accessing the pictures, sounds or video files. It appears
that some students had difficulties due to factors such as
the blocks on some software applications, or a lack of
plug-ins and specific software. Some students were able
to overcome these difficulties by changing settings or
downloading upgrades and plug-ins, whilst other stu-
dents, perhaps not as “tech savvy”, or motivated, did not,
and therefore did not ‘post’ messages on the discussion
board for that particular learning activity. Had marks
been allocated for these learning activities, it may have
encouraged some of the students who had difficulties
changing computer settings or downloading additional
software or plug-ins to communicate their concerns ear-
lier and encourage the few students who did not partici-
pate in some of the learning activities to participate.
Roberts and Dyer [8] similarl y found when investigatin g
the attitudes of students to the online learning environ-
ment, that students with a higher level of computer pro-
ficiency were likely to overcome any minor technical
difficulties and had positive attitudes towards the use of
the online environment. In future, there will need to be
further clarification as to the requirements needed if
students are going to access the learning activities from
their personal computer or other off-site location. No
students indicated they experienced difficulties using
Tennent and Hyland [11] found that students felt re-
warded by participating when marks were allocated and
may provide a further incentive for students to partici-
J. M. Old et al. / Open Journal of Animal Sciences 1 (2011) 65-76
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/OJAS/
pate or respond with deeper learning or more critical
thinking style responses. No marks were allocated for
engaging in the learning activities described in th is study,
as it was believed that the incentive to participate, en-
gage in hands-on practical sessions in live animal han-
dling, would be enough incentive to participate. In this
study, the reward of marks was therefore replaced by a
different type of reward. It therefore appears that the
reward used in this study aided student engagement in
the learning activities, regardless of a lack of marks be-
ing allocated. A similar motivation has been used previ-
ously with veterinary students as they likewise want to
engage in practical hands-on experiences with animals
It is well recognised that students are motivated by
assessment. This activity appears to be no different, as
although all the students participated in the learning ac-
tivities some students did not engage strongly and their
‘postings’ were limited. If a small assessment weighting
had been applied to the learning activities, it would
therefore be anticipated that a much larger proportion of
students would have engag ed in the learning activities at
a deeper level. However, the lack of assessment in this
study ensured that the students had control of their own
learning outcome, rather then the students focusing on
meeting a criterion that would have been associated with
an assessment task. If an assessment mark/grade was
included as part of the learning activities it may have
resulted in students taking less risk in their discussion
‘postings’, reduced the creativity in their responses, and
decreased their levels of ne w kn o wl ed ge con st ructi o n.
Further studies could investigate more thoroughly if
pet ownership is advantageous to first year students
when articulating the signs that animals’ exhibit that
allow us to define their behaviours. In this study, the
categories students chose for their pets varied and a
more reliable set of categories would be required in any
future study.
The differences between the abilities of male and fe-
male student to define animal behaviours was not inves-
tigated in this study as most of the students enrolled in
the agriculture and animal science degrees were female
students enrolling straight after finishing high school. A
large number of female students have also been observed
in students enrolled in animal science degrees at the
University of Adelaid e, SA, Australia [9,15] found there
was no variation in male or female student perceptions
of the use of technology in web-based learning, but some
difference in students of varying ages, and so it is
unlikely that the online environment had an effect on
either males or females. Other factors such as part-time
versus full-time enrolment and mature-age versus stu-
dents enrolling straight from school were likewise not
investigated to ensure anonymity, but could be incorpo-
rated into future studies.
The learning activities developed had the desired out-
come of increasing student knowledge of animal behav-
iour and were successful in terms of the development of
a social support network where students engaged in a
collaborative learning environment and constructed new
knowledge through group work activities. Most students
can now recognise the signs exhibited by animals and
can articulate what those signs translate into in terms of
a defined behaviour. The learning activities were there-
fore successful in increasing student awareness of ani-
mal behaviour and will therefore increase the safety of
animals, staff and students in future hands-on practical
sessions involving live animals. The learning activities
also have the potential to be used by community groups
as part of their training sessions prior to trainees engag-
ing in hands-on live animal handling such as animal
welfare and wildlife rescue organizations.
Although teaching aspects of animal husbandry and
handling to veterinary students in institutions worldwide
has been discussed in several recently published papers
(for example, [16-19]), little has been written about the
expanding requirements of animal handling skills for
animal science and zoology students. Given that animal
science students can follow a broad range of career op-
portunities, students require a broad knowledge and
animal handling skills for a range of companion, live-
stock, and native and exotic wildlife species. The inclu-
sion of the online resource into the first year animal sci-
ence unit will enhance student-learning ou tcomes related
to animal handling in the future.
At a time when both agricultural, animal science and
veterinary sectors have a growing need for personnel
trained in the understanding and objective analysis of a
growing range of ethical issues, the graduates emerging
from tertiary education are largely inexperienced in ap-
propriate animal handling techniques. Preparing students
for a vocation in these fields not only requires practical
experience, but also requires training in the theoretical
and historical ba si s behind behaviour.
Funding for this project was provided by a Learning and Teaching
Action Plan grant from the University of Western Sydney awarded to
JO. This study was conducted with the approval of the University of
Western Sydney’s Animal Care and Ethics Committee and Human
Ethics Committee. Ms Ruth Donovan provided data entry support. Dr
Penny Trevor-Jones assisted in discussions regarding the conduct of
the project and Mr John Old provided feedback on an earlier version of
the manuscript.
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Appendix 1 Preliminary Student Survey
1. How would y ou define ethology?
2. Circle the type of experience you have had in ethology? You may circle more than one answer.
a. None b. Pets c. Work d. Qualifications e. Not sure
f. Other please specify: (such as life experiences, holidays, work experience)
If you answered (b) above, what pets do you currently have?
Reptiles Companion Aquatic Birds Farm
If you answered (b) above, what pets have you had in the past?
If you answered (c) above, what was the position you were employed in (eg. Veterinary nurse) and how many years
were your in that position?
If you answered (d) above, what qualifications do you have (eg. TAFE Cert IV) and what year did you gain this qualifi-
If you answered (f) above, what other experience do you have?
3. Please circle your perceived level of experience in ethology in years.
Less than 1yr
4. What obse rv at i onal sig ns c a n we use t o de t ermine the behaviour of an animal?
5. What signs do you observe in this picture?
6. What behaviour is being exhibited in this picture?
Appendix 2 Final Student Survey
1. How would y ou define ethology?
2. What obse rv at i onal sig ns c a n we use t o de t ermine the behaviour of an animal?
3. What signs do you observe in this picture?
4. What behaviour is being exhibited in this picture?
J. M. Old et al. / Open Journal of Animal Sciences 1 (2011) 65-76
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/OJAS/
5. What have you learnt from the Learning Activities?
6. Can you make any suggestions to improve the Learning Activ ities?
7. Any other comments you wish to add?