This web page on "excitable cells" is one of many pages included in an online biology textbook authored by Dr. John W. Kimball, a retired biology professor who has taught biology courses at Tufts and at Harvard. This section explains concepts such as resting potential, action potentials, and the integration of signals.
Type of Material:
This web page consists mainly of text with many hyperlinks and a few images.
The online biology textbook of which this page is a part could be used as a supplement to a hard-copy biology book for students and faculty in that discipline. In psychology, this particular page (and a few others in the collection) could be used to supplement material on how neurons work for introductory psychology students or as a review of this topic for more advanced students in physiological psychology courses.
Identify Major Learning Goals:
This page explains "excitable cells" which are cells that can be stimulated to create a tiny electric current. After reading the page, one should be better acquainted with the following aspects of excitable cells: the resting potential, ionic relations in the cell, depolarization, action potentials, the refractory period, the all-or-none law, myelination, hyperpolarization, and the integration of signals.
Target Student Population:
This page (and others within Kimball's online textbook) is best suited for introductory students in biology and psychology. It also may serve as a good review for upper-level students in these disciplines; it is probably too simplistic for most graduate students.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills:
No prerequisite knowledge or skills are needed,
although an understanding of the material presented is necessary in order to fully benefit from the information provided; a student encountering this site as their first introduction of the topics covered would likely be overwhelmed.
Written by a man who taught introductory biology for many years and who authored a biology textbook that went through six editions between 1965 and 1994, there is no doubt that this page was created by an expert in the field of biology. This online biology textbook, as a whole, has been the recipient of several awards and recommendations (e.g., a Sci/Tech Webaward in 2001 by Scientific American and a commendation by Medical Resource Reviews Database). The material included on this page is accurate and written in an understandable way; any terms that might be confusing or new are linked to other pages where one can find additional information.
Although of high quality, there is not a great deal of material here (just the one page plus a few explanatory links) for students/faculty in psychology. The site would be more useful for biology students.
Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool
If students are having difficulty understanding neuronal action potentials (and other aspects of nerve cells), this page is a nice supplement to introductory or physiological psychology textbooks/lectures. The images included are simply drawn and serve to enhance the text. The hyperlinks to other explanatory pages is a great learning aid.
As stated in the section on content quality, there is simply not enough material here to make extensive teaching use of it. However, as a site to which to refer students to help them understand the concepts associated with neuronal transmission, it would make a valuable addition to a list of such sites. There are copyright issues so that instructors wanting to use aspects of the page outside of the online environment would need to get permission from Dr. Kimball.
Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty
The page couldn't be easier to use. It is a single page with hyperlinks (all of which work) and static images. The text is clear and understandable and the diagrams are useful. The hyperlinks to explanatory information means that the page (and others in this collection) are much easier to use and learn from than a traditional textbook.
Simplicity and ease of use is great when one is referring students to a page for additional information; however, the simplicity of the page means that there isn't a great deal one can do with it in terms of out-of-class assignments or in-class activities.
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