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Peer Review

DNA from the Beginning



Overall Numeric Rating:

5 stars
Content Quality: 5 stars
Effectiveness: 5 stars
Ease of Use: 5 stars
Reviewed: Jul 18, 2002 by Biology Editorial Board
Overview: "DNA From the Beginning" is an interactive set of 41 animated tutorials created through the DNA Learning Center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. This site is organized into three large units titled "Classical Genetics, Molecules of Genetics, and Genetic Organization and Control" that collectively cover the major areas of genetics and heredity, DNA structure and function, and genome organization and expression. Each of the three units is organized as a set of 13 or 14 sections developing a logical and chronological sequence of concepts that delineate how scientists came to understand the fundamental concepts presented in that unit. Each section is used as the title of a tutorial and each tutorial begins with a brief outline of the questions that lead to the concept, 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 lead to the understanding of the principle. For example, students may perform a genetic cross, or see how Griffith performed his classic experiment on genetic transformation. The key contributions of more than 60 scientists are presented in these units. Students may then 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 Real Player 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.
Type of Material: Tutorial and Animation / Interactive Lesson
Technical Requirements: Flash plugin
Identify Major Learning Goals: Understanding of the key concepts and experiments used to derive those concepts for classical genetics, molecular genetics and gene organization and control.
Target Student Population: Advanced high school and undergraduate courses.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 5 stars

Quality of Content:5, 5, 5 = 5

  • 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.


  • There needs to be a way to locate specific topics covered
    in the tutorials. For example, there is no way of knowing that Unit 17 "A
    gene is made of DNA" contains the tutorial and quiz for Griffith’s experiment
    on genetic transformation in Pneumococcus. This means that a user of the site
    must make an index of the contents of each unit, which could be time consuming
    and may discourage some site users. Perhaps the titles of the units could
    be modified to more closely delineate the topic(s) covered.

  • The site needs more video interviews from other scientists, particularly
    in the Classical Genetics area. Some of the units have either none or
    only one person. For example, the interviews with Robert Olby in the first
    unit could be expanded. Perhaps modern scientists could substitute for those
    who cannot be interviewed. 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

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool: 5, 5, 5 = 5

  • Excellent source of tutorial information

  • Tutorials promote understanding of basic concepts and contain more than
    one approach to understan ding 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

  • 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.


  • 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: 5 stars

Usability: 5, 5, 5 = 5

  • 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 RealPlayer Plug-in


  • None

Creative Commons:
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 United States