With over 20 million visits a year, Learn.Genetics is one of the most popular educational sites on the web. Developed by the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah, this website targets teachers and students seeking to learn more about genetics—the inherited microscopic processes and molecules that direct biological growth and development. Cutting-edge science ranging from epigenetics to gene therapy awaits those hungry for knowledge. More than just a repository of articles and videos, the pages on this site invite their visitors to think critically about genetic inheritance.

The presentation of subject matter is organized into six centers clearly and concisely presented on the home page: Genetics, Human Health, Cell Biology, Neuroscience, Science Tools, and Ecology. Each of these major topic categories consists of two to four “clickable” subtopics that help users find the information they wish to explore. Once teachers or students follow a link of interest, they will encounter resources offered via three primary delivery formats: interactive modules, videos, and articles.

For example, a student performing background research on cell biology might visit Learn. Genetics, find the related major category and click on the subtopic, “Amazing Cells.” That student will then find themselves in another page where they can further pinpoint the type of knowledge they seek. In this case they can select “Cells are Complex and Dynamic,” “Cells Communicate,” or “Cells in Perspective.” Short descriptors accompany subcategories under these three headings, leading to interactive games, articles, and videos the student could explore. If the student clicks “Membranes Define Cellular Complexity” under the first category in the previous list, they will find an easy-to-understand article written at an eighth-grade reading level, with short, digestible blurbs of information, accompanied by diagrams, photographs, and even a short video that complements and expands the content.

The interactive portions of the site run on flash. The game-based ones include cartoon-like drawings and characters accompanied by voiceovers meant to appeal to a middle school or early high school audience. All require users to do more than mindlessly click through links or drag objects; they must comprehend the content in order to make progress. The quality of these resources makes itself apparent. Clearly, much time and attention went into the development of each one.

Teachers may need to discover personal methods of incorporating web content into the classroom; lesson plans are not provided. Nevertheless, the subjects addressed in Learn.Genetics will align with standards targeted in typical middle and high school life science courses, making adoption of its use a simple task. Additional value exists in the inclusion of material not commonly found in educational biology websites, but relevant to the study of genetics. This includes a section that covers important mathematics, like probability and modeling, as well as a section dedicated to the overlap between genetics and neuroscience. For even more information and resources, educators can follow the link to the Genetic Science Learning Center, where they can interact with the researchers and developers that built Learn.Genetics.

REMY DOU taught high school life science for eight years before serving as an Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellow at the National Science Foundation. He is currently a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Maryland. For column queries: rdou@umd.edu