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Peer Review

Virtual Cell



Overall Numeric Rating:

3 stars
Content Quality: 3.5 stars
Effectiveness: 3 stars
Ease of Use: 3 stars
Reviewed: Mar 07, 2013 by Biology Editorial Board
Overview: This site is a collection of still images, texts and movies covering the structure and functioning of a typical plant cell. In particular it visualizes the chloroplast (and thylakoids), the mitochondrion (and the cristae) and the nucleus.
Type of Material: Interactive simulation.
Recommended Uses: Suitable for online or face-to-face classes.
Technical Requirements: Web broswer
Identify Major Learning Goals: None stated. Presumed to include learning the structure of a cell.
Target Student Population: High school or general undergraduate.
Prerequisite Knowledge or Skills: Web browser capable of viewing animations. Two types of 3D images are given as options, but the technical requirements to view these are not clear from the site.

Evaluation and Observation

Content Quality

Rating: 3.5 stars
  • All information is appears be accurate
  • The animations and GIF movies illustrate the concepts
  • Decent quality images and animations. Contains actual EM diagrams. Allows students to click and zoom in on structural elements of a cell.
  • The site is based on material dating from the 1970s
  • The site was last updated in 1997
  • Some terms are out of date in common usage (e.g. Coupling factor ATPase)
  • The level of detail is low in some areas of the site
  • The cartoons do not show much detail and not very sophisticated

Potential Effectiveness as a Teaching Tool

Rating: 3 stars
  • Allows some interactivity
  • Provides views in both cartoon form and as electron microscope images
  • May still work on some older computers with limited RAM and software
  • Accurate models and images Allows students to focus on different organelles at their own pace. Text accompanies each image. Could develop assignments based on the images.
  • Does not emphasize critical thinking or problem-solving
  • The topics are fragmented, no conceptual context is provided
  • Some parts of site are broken or slow
  • Viewing window is small
  • No questions are included to prompt students to think more deeply about the images or apply their knowledge.

Ease of Use for Both Students and Faculty

Rating: 3 stars
  • Does not strain most current computers
  • Instructions are provided
  • Some links are dead
  • Very slow to load some images or animations
  • The navigation is not clear or intuitive
  • The instructions for use are not clear
  • There are no buttons for navigation (user must user browser back button)
  • The images have only rudimentary titles, thus locating oneself within the site is difficult

Other Issues and Comments: This site was likely cutting edge in its day, but without major updates cannot compete with more recent resources that take advantage of the great strides in digital multimedia and computer technology we have made since the 1990s. This site would mostly be useful to people forced to use very old computer systems.