This website is an excellent presentational resource for information related to the brain. As of April 2006, eight of a proposed twelve modules have been developed, focusing on topics ranging from brain anatomy and function to mental disorders. The site is arranged in five layers of organization (molecular, cellular, neurological, psychological, and social) and three levels of explanation (beginner, intermediate, and advanced). It was developed, researched, and written by neuroscientist Bruno Dubuc, and is affiliated with and funded by the Canadian
Institutes of Health Research (Institute of Neurosciences, Mental Health and Addiction). An additional plus of the site is that it is available in two languages: English and French.
There are too many potential learning goals to list; however,
the major topics are: from the simple to the complex (brain anatomy and function); memory and the brain; pleasure and pain; emotions and the brain; evolution and the brain;
body movement and the brain; the senses; and mental disorders. Modules currently under construction include: how our faculties develop; from thought to language; sleep and dreams; the emergence of consciousness.
Target Student Population:
Because the site contains several levels of explanation, it could be used by
middle school, high school, college, or even graduate students. It also makes
an excellent resource for instructors. The site would be of use in any course where some element or aspect of the brain were being studied.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
No prerequisite knowledge or skills are needed.
Type of Material:
This website is a multi-page presentation consisting of text, images, and links. As the authors explain, "The Brain from Top to Bottom has been designed so that you can not only browse its pages on the Web, but also project them with a video projector to make interactive multimedia presentations. Simply choose the topic or sub-topics that you want to cover, and the appropriate difficulty and interest level for your audience, then navigate through the site, projecting the desired pages. The Brain from Top to Bottom thus becomes a veritable museum, with you, the presenter, as the guide."
The website can be used as a reference resource for faculty and students and for in-class presentations. Additionally, out-of-class assignments would be easy to design for use with this site.
Evaluation and Observation
Institutes of Health. The quality of the material here is excellent; the site is attractive, accurate, and well-organized. The three levels of explanation as well as the five levels of organization and the supplementary information modules are all excellently written with helpful graphics. Even the outside sites linked from some pages have been chosen with care and provide the same quality of information.
The site is so extensive that it is likely to forever have components under construction and the authors will need to be diligent in identifying dead links. Conversations with one author have found that dead links will be replaced by PDF files of the missing material.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
The diverse means of presenting the information ensure that any student will find something engaging.The site is quite popular; during Feb. 2006, the site averaged over 1500 English hits per day. It is also massive in scope: as of November 2005, the site provided beginner, intermediate, and advanced discussions of 92 different subjects, for a total of 228 main content pages, plus 44 supplementary modules and 4 guided tours. Organizing the material into beginner, intermediate, and advanced pages allows multiple levels of students to profit from the site. The author has also taken a uniqued approach to copyright or rather, "copyleft." "The content of the site The Brain from Top to Bottom is under copyleft. The concept of 'copyleft' is a method of providing free access to the results of original work and of encouraging people to reproduce and even modify this work on an equally free basis."
The strength is the concern - it is easy to get lost. There is also no opportunity for self-assessment, which would be a most valuable addition.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
The site is, in many ways, simply done despite the wealth of material. The pages are uncluttered with easily found navigational links and icons. To increase the ease of use, the author has included a user's guide as well as guided tours. One also can search within the site (using Google's search tool).
I have no concerns.
Other Issues and Comments:
I have nothing but glowing praise for this site. I recently taught physiological psychology, which is not my primary area. During that semester, I searched continually for good websites that my students could use for more explanation of difficult concepts. "The Brain from Top to Bottom" was far and away the best one I found.