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MERLOT II


    

Peer Review


The Hidden Forest

 

Ratings

Overall Rating:

4.4 stars
Content Quality: 4 stars
Effectiveness: 4.7 stars
Ease of Use: 4.4 stars
Reviewed: May 20, 2005 by Biology Editorial Board
Overview: Nature is full of strange and wonderful things; that is why many of us are biologists. For some people being able to name the organisms they find enriches their experience. The author describes this site as “my small attempt to photograph and name many of these strange things.” The Hidden Forest site combines an attractive webpage design, good quality pictures, and well-written text to explore species that are sometimes overlooked in forest and other environments. A site map is provided (leading to more images of New Zealand carnivorous plants and orchids) and the site is searchable. Slime molds, fungi, lichens, bryophytes and lower vascular plants are presented with pictures, text, and classification systems used to identify organisms. An older classification system is used (e.g., Division is used instead of the new Phylum system recently adopted for all species), and students should be aware that some of the names might have been modified after the site was created. The additional links included in this site show some of the more interesting scenery, wildlife, and foliage found in New Zealand. The author clearly states that he is an amateur and encourages feedback on accuracy of materials.
Learning Goals: Students will appreciate and learn about the diversity, classification, and
identification of many fungi, bryophytes, and lower vascular plants. The site is dedicated to helping users learn about native New Zealand lower plants and fungi, which are the organisms that are typically hidden.
Target Student Population: Content is appropriate for introducing the topic in middle school classes as well as college courses in Biology and Botany. Further study of pictures can also be used to complement upper-division college courses in Mycology and survey courses such as Plant Kingdom.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Browsing the material simply to explore the diversity of organisms requires no
prerequisite knowledge. However, classification and identification of species
may require some background in biology, botany, and taxonomy.
Type of Material: This site is organized primarily as a collection or database, but may be modified with inclusion of assignments as an interactive tutorial.
Recommended Uses: This site has a myriad potential uses. It provides an excellent introduction to lower plants and fungi for the non-specialist. The presentation also provides more detailed information on fungi, lichens, slime moulds, bryophytes, and primitive plants of New Zealand for the botanist/mycologist. It illustrates classification techniques and provides a classification guide for fungi.
Technical Requirements: Technical requirements include the ability to view text as HTML with frames and
activated scripts. A java-enabled Internet browser is needed for some of the material.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 4 stars
Strengths:

  • Images are good quality and can be obtained in even better quality from the
    author; they can be enlarged by clicking on them
  • Material includes a comprehensive survey of many organisms found in The
    Hidden Forest
  • Pictures and identifications appear to be accurate and can be corrected by
    corresponding with the author
  • Labels and accompanying text are generally accurate, although it may help to
    have some content reviewed to make sure everything is correct
  • The site is engaging, particularly because of the creative design and layout
    of materials
  • Links to more sites on each type of organism are provided
Concerns:

  • An outdated classification system is used (taxonomists agreed to use Phylum
    for all Kingdoms a few years ago)
  • No mention of voucher specimens to verify identifications
  • It might help to provide a perspective of how organisms in The Hidden Forest
    relate to what most agree to be six living Kingdoms of life
  • Some discussion of role of these organisms in ecosystem would be beneficial
  • There are some unidentified specimens included in the site

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 4.7 stars
Strengths:

  • Inclusion of classification along with identification helps to demonstrate
    taxonomic relationships
  • Assignments focused on specific grade/course objectives could easily be built around the information presented
  • The breadth and depth of this collection makes help to build knowledge about
    organisms from several different kingdoms
  • This is a great site to introduce students to the incredible diversity of little-seen and little-appreciated life forms
  • Leaving some species unidentified may have some benefit, in that, it entices users to get involved in the taxonomy of The Hidden Forest
  • The photographs are unique and have potential to raise curiosity
Concerns:

  • Learning objectives are not clearly stated
  • Some examples of how the site can be used for classification and
    identification would strengthen the teaching effectiveness
  • Perhaps an introductory video could be included to get users more interested
    in the material
  • Shockwave animations might be included with life cycles to make them more
    interactive

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 4.4 stars
Strengths:

  • Site is searchable and a site map is provided
  • Sidebar menus make navigation easy although some headings are vague (e.g., "Fungi Things")
  • Material is well organized and easy to follow
  • Most of the main links load fast without difficulty
  • Site is designed intuitively, which makes it easy find specific pictures
Concerns:

  • While the main pages load without problems, there are a number of external
    links that are either defective or inactive
  • There should be some statement in the website about activating browser
    frames and scripts (and a disclaimer about how this might cause security
    vulnerabilities) to view all materials
  • Link to unidentified fungi has no contents

Other Issues and Comments: The design and theme use for background of this site are excellent. The excellent images and clear presentation should attract the attention of interested users and specialists alike. Pictures of species found in The Hidden Forest are well done. The layout, organization, text, and good pictures will inevitable catch the attention of students. This is a great site to get people interested in species that are sometimes overlooked in forest and other environments.