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MERLOT II


    

Peer Review


RNA as the First Genetic Molecule

 

Ratings

Overall Rating:

5 stars
Content Quality: 5 stars
Effectiveness: 5 stars
Ease of Use: 4.75 stars
Reviewed: Aug 06, 2008 by Biology Editorial Board
Overview: This module on “RNA as the First Genetic Molecule” is from the Supersite "DNA From the Beginning." This learning object shows experiments conducted by Stanley Miller (with inspiration and support from Harold Urey) to demonstrate RNA as the first molecule of heredity. Additional information is provided to explain how Ron Cech and Sidney Altman discovered the catalytic function of RNA (ribozymes). This unit is organized as a set of about a dozen ideas that delineate how scientists came to understand the fundamental concepts. This tutorial begins with a brief outline of the questions that lead to the conclusions, followed by a statement of the concept. A more in-depth examination of the concept is achieved through the animation menu, which accesses an animated tutorial of the basic experimental design(s) that guide users through the learning material. Users may access the "Problem" menu, which presents several multiple choice questions requiring interpretation of the experimental results presented in the tutorial. The questions are instantly graded, providing immediate feedback. Additional menus are: the "Picture Gallery," with images of historical photographs of researchers, lab, and laboratory equipment used in the experiments described; the "Audio/Video" menu, that presents QuickTime interviews with researchers who discuss the concept in more detail; and a "Biography" menu, providing further information about the key scientists. A "Links" menu provides further bibliographic information, as well as links to additional relevant sites.
Learning Goals: Understanding of the key concepts and experiments used to study classical genetics, molecular genetics, and gene organization and control.
Target Student Population: Advanced high school as well as undergraduate and graduate students
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: No prerequisite knowledge is required, but some background in chemistry, genetics, and molecular biology may help users better understand the information.
Type of Material: Tutorial and Animation / Interactive Lesson
Recommended Uses: This material can be used in lecture or for independent study to learn about molecular genetics.
Technical Requirements: Flash Player and QuickTime are needed to see animations and view video clips.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths:

  • Clearly laid out, well organized, and very well presented
  • Very complete and accurate information with appropriate vocabulary
  • Content follows a logical progression, both conceptually and chronologically
  • Animations accurately represent experimental designs presented
  • Exceptional combination of animation and video interviews
  • The breadth of coverage is impressive and complete
Concerns:

  • Perhaps the titles of the units could be modified to more closely delineate the topic(s) covered.
  • The site would benefit from more videos from the key investigators, in addition to the interesting interviews with Raymond Gesteland. A few female and minority scientists would be a plus for this part of the site. These interviews are valuable tools for learning and understanding the methods of science.

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 5 stars
Strengths:

  • Excellent source of tutorial information
  • Tutorials promote understanding of basic concepts and contain more than one approach to understanding the concept
  • Tutorial animations and problems lend themselves to the creation of additional questions such as "where do we go from here?"
  • Interactive quizzes provide immediate reasons for correct and incorrect answers
  • Video interviews with famous scientists provide motivation for student learning
  • The animations represent an excellent collection of scientific reasoning and logic, and focus on "how we know" not just "what we know." The animations frequently begin with a famous scientist posing a problem to be solved. This approach may make more of a connection between the results of a classical experiment and the mind behind the reasoning. The constant flow of scientific reasoning from unit to unit provides a clear and impressive thread of logic showing how scientists realized that DNA is the genetic material.
Concerns:

  • The tutorials could be improved by adding sound and expanding upon the interactivity of some of the Flash Player animations

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 4.75 stars
Strengths:

  • Clear and accurate instructions
  • Well designed, easy to navigate, intuitive and fast
  • Widespread and effective use of animation
  • Definitions linked directly to the term
  • Excellent use of Flash Player and QuickTime video clips
Concerns:

  • At the time of this review, the link for Raymond Gesteland’s did not navigate properly.
      A search feature would be nice for students who don't know what topic to look under.

Other Issues and Comments: The animations represent an excellent collection of scientific reasoning and logic, and focus on "how we know" not just "what we know." The animations frequently begin with a famous scientist posing a problem to be solved. This approach may make more of a connection between the results of a classical experiment and the mind behind the reasoning. The constant flow of scientific reasoning from unit to unit provides a clear and impressive thread of logic showing how scientists realized that DNA is the genetic material. It might help to add more video interviews from other scientists, especially where there is only one person featured in the video clips. A few female and minority scientists would be a plus for this part of the site. These interviews are valuable tools for learning and understanding the methods of science. The authors might consider adding sound and expand upon the interactivity of some of the Flash Player animations.