Educational Technology & Society 3(4) 2000
ISSN 1436-4522

Science Explained

(Website review)

Reviewer:
Simon Heppenstall

Park Lane College, Leeds, West Yorkshire, United Kingdom
Sheppenstall@hotmail.com or s.heppenstall@mail.parklanecoll.ac.uk

Site URL:
http://www.synapses.co.uk/science/index.html

Site title:
Science Explained

 

Brief overview:
The site offers interesting information written in an interesting format.  The diagrams are clear and the text is entertaining. 

A wider audience could be reached with the use of a few simple aids.  Effective use of anchors and hyperlinks would help the learner to generate a knowledge map of where and how things fit together.  The interface is overwhelmed with text.  This could be broken down into a PowerPoint type presentation to make the information more accessible.  The use of buttons and icons for navigation would help make the site more attractive, and therefore, more manageable.

Objectives of site:
The main aim of Science Explained is to further the understanding of those people interested in Science.  The target audience for the site appears to be first year undergraduates, but the information in the site is suitable for anyone with an interest in science.

Domain related aspects:
At the time this review was undertaken, there were six main topics that were covered.  These were the discovery of water on the moon, genetics (with reference to chicken flu), cloning (with reference to Dolly the sheep), the Monserrat volcano, Martian fossils and astronomy.

The content itself is easy to follow, being structured by a series of questions, which act as advanced organisers.  The content fits in with my knowledge of the subjects contained within the site and although specific, is complete.  Each article contains diagrams as well as text and a short bibliography of related books.  The site is funded through Amazon.com and the bibliography links to this site.

The links leaving the site are not all operational.  Of the links that worked, there was one to learning Alchemy on the net.  This was a site set up in the same vain and written by the same author. The astronomy homepage allowed you to download freeware to help you understand the basic principles of astronomy. Another link took me to the volcano world site. This is brilliant. If you want to know about volcanoes, or building model volcanoes, this is the place to go. The other links were commercial in nature and although linked to the subject matter, did not really interest me from the point of this review.

Overall, I would rate this site as fair to good.  The only disappointment is the lack of interactivity. This is a shame, for the old saying, “What we hear, we forget.  What we see, we remember.  What we do, we understand,” comes to mind.  The content and the explanation are of a high quality, but it could be written in a book.

Connectivity:
The site is easy to access, and is quick to download.  It has been set to the lowest common denominator of browsers, working in both Navigator and Explorer version 4 without the need for add-ins.  In some ways, this is a pity, as a couple of flash movies would have been nice. 

The layout of the site is similar to a newspaper.  The background colour struck me as leaving a lot to be desired at first, but as I am sitting here using my little worn contact lenses, I find the background less harsh than white.  The diagrams are simple and clear. 

The site is set out in the same format as a book.  This includes the amount of text on a page.  The use of more pages, linked together as the user wishes to visit them would allow for more learner led interaction.  This would also provide a method of helping the learner to organise the knowledge contained herein.  There are times that the text appears confusing as Dr Love (The author) tries to explain smaller ideas within the overall picture.  There is a logic to the text, but the page layout is off putting.  More pages with less content on each one would be what I would see as the ideal.  In addition, it would probably increase the number of visitors and the duration of their stay.

The search facilities are basically hyperlinks to specific parts of the web site. One good point is that Dr Love explains what you are going to find there when you click on a hyperlink.  There is no search box or drop down list.  This is probably due to a lack of JavaScript knowledge.

The internal links are all text-based hyperlinks. These are basic and far between. However, they do fulfil the criteria of allowing a user to find their way around the site. What you don’t get is an all singing, all dancing site that looks inviting. You need to have an interest in the material to stay there.

Overall issues:
The content of this site and the links it sends you to are both of high quality. The layout of the site could be improved in several ways. Cutting down on the text on each page would be a start. Making the text size larger and offering hyperlinks to different parts of each document would also help.

The site is about two years old and unfortunately, some of the links don’t work anymore. However, the links, that are available, lead to high quality sites that are well researched and set out. The author of this site would be well advised to copy some of the web design techniques from these links.

The advertising upon which the site depends is clearly explained on the homepage. The use of a bibliography that connects to the relevant book at Amazon.com is a clever one. I wish I had thought of that.

And finally:
Web site design issues are the weakness on this site. The content is well explained and interesting. The user is made aware of the finance aspects of the site and this again is well thought out. I thought the bibliography was a good idea.


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