"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
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
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
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 Griffiths 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
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 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.
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
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