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Peer Review

Exploring Life's Origins

by Janet Iwasa


Overall Numeric Rating:

5 stars
Content Quality: 5 stars
Effectiveness: 5 stars
Ease of Use: 5 stars
Reviewed: Mar 03, 2013 by Biology Editorial Board
Overview: This is a multimedia presentation on the origins of life, emphasizing the role of RNA and ribozymes as catalyst for the formation of the protocell. The learning object uses the tools of multimedia and creates an engaging presentation of a topic that is otherwise abstract and difficult to comprehend by audiences who may not have an updated knowledge of molecular biology. The site is conveniently divided into three modules (A timeline of Life’s evolution, Understanding the RNA World, and Building a Protocell). Each module can be used independently but for a thorough understanding of the concepts, it is recommended that the user access all the three modules. This learning object can be used as supplements for in-class lecture, or for online homework. The website is part of a multimedia exhibit at the Boston Museum of Science.
Type of Material: This material is a combination of animation, illustrations, and narrated video presentation on the subject of life’s origins.
Recommended Uses: This resource will be useful to online instructors, and could be used as an in-class demonstration or homework assignment in face-to-face classes.
Technical Requirements: The material at this site can be viewed with a web browser that has the ability to view animations and videos.
Identify Major Learning Goals: The goal of this learning object is to use molecular illustrations and animations to describe the theories on the origin of life based on more recent research findings.
Target Student Population: This material is suitable for a broad audience, including all grade levels from elementary and up through graduate school. Home school parents and students will find this materail especially useful when learning the concept of life's origins.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Pre-requisites include a basic knowledge of biological mechanisms involving DNA, RNA, and enzyme catalysis.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 5 stars
  • The animations bring to life abstract concepts and make the information come alive even to audiences that have minimal background in life sciences
  • Comprehensive treatment of origin of life scientific issues
  • The animations, illustrations and movies are excellent quality
  • The accompanying text is very high quality, but accessible
  • Includes many topics that will obscure even to scientists
  • At the time of this review, there were no concerns about content quality

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 5 stars
  • Lots of internal links connect the various pages of this site
  • Very attractive presentation of complex topics
  • Who does not love a good animation
  • Students (and people) at all levels will find something interesting in this resource
  • Resources for educators (such as downloadable versions of some animations) are provided
  • The length of each presentation, the text, the vocabulary, and the audiovisual presentations are appropriately designed and will prove useful especially to audiences who may be learning the concept of molecular biology for the first time
  • Some material is likely too technical for some students or the general public
  • No technical requirements are listed, so it is unclear what software a user might need

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 5 stars
  • Topics are chunked into appropriate lengths and the animations are crisp and easy to navigate
  • Navigation is clear and easy
  • All animations worked in multiple browsers
  • All links appear to be working
  • Load time is fast, especially given the nature of the content
  • Additional resources open up more opportunities for students to investigate ideas that may be of interest to them for future exploration
  • Overall, a very pleasant user experience is provided
  • The internal links (to other parts of this website) are useful, but it is not always clear where a link is taking the user, or why a particular link exists in a specific location (e.g. a link to the RNA page at the bottom of the timeline), and thus they may seem confusing to some users
  • The interactive timeline had a small lag and was sometimes unresponsive to my mouse when attempting to drag it

Other Issues and Comments: This website is a gem. The research on the origin of life can be arcane, but is also of high interest to students. For faculty and students who want a much more in-depth treatment of this fascinating area of biology, this site appears to give an excellent overview. The resources provided for educators is a very nice feature of this site. This is an engaging way of using multimedia tools to present a content that may be difficult to comprehend by audience who may not have an updated knowledge of molecular biology. With interactivity and narration accompanying the animation, the abstract concepts become more visual and entertaining.

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