Websites of note


Address for correspondence to: Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, The University of Melbourne, Victoria 3010, Australia. E-mail:

Splice Site Analysis Server

The Automated Splice Site Analysis Server was cited as a Website of Note in 2011. Peter Rogan (Chair in Genome Bioinformatics, Western University, London, Ontario, Canada) told me of updates and added “In my view, it is an important concept in biochemistry education, which I make certain to expose undergrads to in my lectures, even though it is not generally found in textbook chapters that introduce the mechanism of mRNA splicing. Latest updating has extended the source data to include new genome, mRNA, and SNP catalogues. The server now predicts the specific isoforms of sites and their abundance produced by mutations at either constitutive or regulatory splice sites. This is performed using the concept of exon definition, first proposed by Susan Berget in the 1990s. Exon definition is now widely accepted as directing the first step in splicing of hnRNA, preceding cleavage at the 3′ donor splice site. A companion paper has now been published in Human Mutation; One of the reviewers of this paper stated that this resource closes the virtuous circle between bioinformatic analysis and the wet laboratory.”

Drug Trend Report

The Drug Trend Report has been published annually since 1997. It claims to be the most detailed analysis of prescription drug costs and utilization. The current edition highlights the $408 billion in annual pharmacy-related waste. The report is provided by Express Scripts, an online US pharmacy retailer that also analyzes trends in pharmacy transactions and reviews drug efficacy. Express Scripts claims to have pioneered the understanding of consumer behavior relative to healthcare benefits and acted to reduce waste while preserving individual choice. The latest Drug Trend Report features these extras along with a solution that addresses the problem of nonadherence. The web site is a collage of bits with multiple drop-down extras and not at all intuitive. Visit only if the subject matter is of interest.

The Great Courses

I have been mailed a number of glossy printed catalogs from The Great Courses Company. The catalogs are like being in a candy shop for the inveterately curious with topics ranging from calculus to philosophy, with health-science featuring in the mix. I have not ordered any courses, but the window shopping is a stimulating activity in itself. The Teaching Company was formed by Tom Rollins, chief of staff to Senator Ted Kennedy when he quit his post in 1989 to find the most charismatic college professors to tape college-level courses for the adult-education market. The target was to have lectures from the top1% of university teachers, based on teaching awards. The lecture courses are mostly as DVDs. Independent reviews on the web are largely positive and two are given below (http://askville. Review 1: “In general, yes, they are worth the money. Be sure to buy the courses only when discounted (every course is discounted at some time of the year). Presentations are clear and to the point. A significant sign of a good professor is identifying and conveying clearly the most crucial points in a discipline, and most of the 12 or so I have purchased have done just that. A number are real treasures, good enough that I might watch them again in a few years. Sometimes the professors can be a bit stuffy, but that's the nature of the beast; even the pompous ones have conveyed information well.” Review 2: “I think the trouble lies in the fact that a great teacher, who electrifies his students in a live lecture, doesn't necessarily make for great video or audio recordings. I could see how the teachers' students would have enjoyed being in those classes. But by the time they were transmogrified into video/audio, the lectures had lost all of whatever had made them magical to begin with. It was very similar to the difference between watching live community theatre, and a video of the same performance.”


Medscape is directed to physicians and other health professionals to provide research findings and best practice. The website is a commercial venture financed through advertising, but this is rarely intrusive. I have used this resource since it began in 1995 and, despite some disruptive issues of ownership, it has remained a premium utility. The site provides daily medical news and conference coverage and offers peer-reviewed medical journal articles written specifically for the website. Mainstream articles are easily found using the MedScape portal to the National Library of Medicine's MEDLINE database. A major feature is a drug database (Medscape Drug Reference) and drug interaction checker. One section of the site is Medscape Reference that claims to be the most authoritative and accessible point-of-care medical reference for physicians and health care professionals. The reference articles are organized in categories including diseases and conditions, drugs and herbals, anatomy, drug interaction, MEDLINE, and image collections. The reference section titled anatomy has a useful and comprehensive listing of all organs with clear diagrams explained by high-level text. For example, the anatomy of the liver section begins “Embryologically, the liver grows as a diverticulum from the junction of foregut and the midgut into the ventral mesogastrium (the caudal part of the septum transversum; the cranial part forms the diaphragm). The same diverticulum forms the gallbladder and bile ducts as well. The ligamentum teres hepatis is the obliterated umbilical vein; the ligamentum venosum is the obliterated ductus venosus.” The images category is not quite what you might expect, because it is an extensive collection of clinical scenarios that allow the viewer to work through symptoms to obtain a diagnosis. Try looking at “Case Quiz: A Newborn with Strange Coloration: what should you do?” This relates to jaundice of the newborn and the explanation of the metabolic basis of bilirubin accumulation is excellent. All content in Medscape is available free of charge for professionals and consumers alike, but registration is required for full access. Registration is easy, so do not be put off.

How to Teach and Writing a Teaching Philosophy

The site given is the home page for numerous “how to” reports in the fields of Academic Leadership, Educational Assessment, Instructional Design, Online Education, Teaching and Learning, and Teaching with Technology. The web site has the nice feature of expanding the contents of each folder and leaving them on the screen as you browse. I arrived at the site by finding the report listed under Teaching and Learning titled “Writing Your Teaching Philosophy Statement: A Practical Guide: Examples and Tips on How to Write a Teaching Philosophy Statement.” The download is free, although registration is required. I recommend registration because of the additional benefits of regular news feeds and stimulating commentaries. The 21 page .pdf file on teaching philosophies helps to deal with an international mania by bureaucrats to demand that teaching staff describe their teaching philosophy during evaluations for tenure, awards, or promotion. This can extend to job applicants as well. The introduction at the web site puts it well. “For beginning instructors, putting their teaching philosophy into words is particularly challenging. For one thing they aren't even sure they have a philosophy yet. Then there's the added pressure of writing one that's good enough to help them land their first teaching job.” The 11 chapters are written by different authors and are a comprehensive guide to the chore of formulating a teaching philosophy.


GenomeWeb has replaced and expanded a magazine titled Genome Technology. It is a large resource featuring news and information for all involved in the commercial and research aspects of genomics and bioinformatics. Information ranges from stories about people to practical laboratory procedures. A free registration is needed to get beyond an abstract or headline. GenomeWeb belongs to The GenomeWeb Intelligence Network, which also includes several other magazines and newsletters. Somehow, this site did not impress, although by sheer mass of material it should have.


Pinterest is a pinboard-style image sharing website that features thematic collections of events, interests, and hobbies. The site was founded by Ben Silbermann and associates in 2010. In December 2011, the site became one of the top 10 largest social network services. The niche identified by Pinterest has attracted several ivy-league universities to develop content. For example, Yale University mounts “The Treasures of Yale” to connect students with the impressive collections of arts, sciences, and humanities artifacts the university owns. Students can learn about the items from the videos, get a chance to see some of the faculty at the school, and may even get inspired to visit a campus museum. Skidmore College students are encouraged to think creatively, and Skidmore has used the campus motto “Creative thought matters” to create a Pinterest board of the same name. In general, the educational examples on Pinterest are from nonscience disciplines, but with some creative thought any discipline could exploit the capacity for Pinterest to show the output of student projects.

Inside Higher Ed

I was surprised to find that this website has not previously featured in its own right as a website of interest. I checked after reflecting on an article from this site about the retirement of venerable professors ( If you look at that article, you will see all of the rational and irrational reasons to retire old professors to allow the young to flourish. The responses were particularly interesting with most having the fault of tacitly advocating that one approach would suit all cases. Regardless of where you start, there is an abundance of news and reflections on educational practice that will leave you floundering for choice to begin. This is a recommended site.

Database of Research on International Students

The International Development Program is a corporate entity that is the world's largest international student placement provider. The Program was started by Australian Universities and Colleges in the 1970s and grew to be international in scope. The Program became part of the team that established IELTS (International English Language Testing System), the world's most widely used English language proficiency test. Because of origins as a quasigovernmental organization, links still remain to educational innovation and research. This explains the patronage of a research database of more than 8,000 books, articles, conference papers, and reports on various aspects of international education. The stored articles have been published from 1990 onward. For example, searching for assessment delivers 987 hits. Lists can be sorted by year, title, and author. The articles are largely big-picture overviews of the nature of international students' experience in their host country. Searching for biochemistry produces an article on why Ph.D. graduates leave the US to return to their home country (there are no surprises in the mix of economic and personal factors). The site provides interesting browsing if you are involved with international students.

Observatory on Borderless Higher Education

The Observatory provides insights into how education has become a tradable commodity among nations. It is an independent organization that focuses on cross-border higher education across the globe. The group fosters research to report emerging trends, best practices, and quality assurance. It began as a collaboration between the Association of Commonwealth Universities and Universities UK and now comprises over 150 organizations across more than 70 countries. Reports describe branch campus models in countries such as China, Malaysia, and the United Arab Emirates. International student mobility trends are given for nations including the US, the UK, Germany, France, and Australia. To cope with rogue institutions, quality assurance standards are provided for international distance learning programs. The promotional summary claims that “you will learn about the latest educational transformations in South Africa, India, Mexico, Vietnam and Brazil; new public–private partnerships in transnational higher education and emerging regulatory frameworks governing borderless higher education. And along the way you will develop an expanding network of colleagues and friends from across the globe.” The Observatory is directed particularly to institutional leaders and policy-makers to make informed decisions relevant to opportunities in the global marketplace. Full access requires an institutional subscription, but a free trial is also offered.