Why should I sign up for a Moodle account?
The Virtual Lab is a platform for performing experiments, so that we can design a wide variety of experiments customized for different audiences. It is not a tutorial, and it does not walk you through experiments. In fact, the simulator does not even know what you are trying to do, so it has no way to help you troubleshoot, or to correct your errors.
One consequence of this approach is that you really need a plan, and probably some guidance, to successfully complete an experiment in the Virtual Lab. We have chosen to put these materials into Moodle courses, which include learning objectives, background resources and tutorials explaining the problems or scenarios to be solved and the technologies employed in the lab, evaluation instruments, and so forth. Moodle also provides extensive infrastructure for discussion forums and mailing lists, and we make use of these as well.
So you really need to sign up for a Moodle account to get full use of the virtual lab.
Do I need to register with Simzymes too?
OOPS! It turns out that for now you do need to register with Simzymes also. I need to fix a database problem so you only have to register once. The following paragraph contains 'forward-looking statements' that will be true some day.
When you register with the CMS, you will automatically be cross-registered with Simzymes. These cross-registered accounts are a bit different from the temporary accounts you can sign up for directly from Simzymes. For one thing, they last for a longer time (a full year versus one week). The cross-registered accounts also are designed for single-login, that is, you log into Moodle, then follow a link to your cross-registered Simzymes account. In fact, Moodle creates a secret password for your cross-registered Simzymes account; since you do not know this password, you can only access your Simzymes account from within Moodle.
What do I get for free?
Instructors (and enthusiastic students) can obtain a free account to evaluate Cybertory courses. These accounts will be valid for one year. Instructors and exercise developers may also sign up for permanent Instructor, Developer, or Beta Tester accounts.
What else can I do with a registered account?
Several of our simulations are only available to registered users. While we would love to let you demo these features as a guest, they require registration because they need to keep results separate for different users. There are two types of registered accounts: you can either sign up for a temporary account directly through the Simzymes catalog, or you can register through the on-line Course Management System (Moodle). We encourage serious users to register for Moodle accounts because they are longer-lived (a full year versus a week), and they give you access to our teaching modules.
Save your configuration
If you register for your own account, you will get your own personal laboratory configuration that you can save in our database. Personal configurations come with a freezer, and saving the configuration is done by closing the door of the freezer. This lets you perform complex procedures that take more than one session at the computer.
Instructors whose students are properly registered through the Course Management System will be able to access their students' configurations. This will let instructors check student results, and monitor their progress.
Having configurations stored in our database also lets us examine them; this will be very helpful if you encounter software issues that we need to fix.
Do DNA sequencing
The Virtual Laboratory is integrated with the Cybertory DNA Sequencing Simulator, so that you can obtain the sequence of PCR products and other DNA samples from the Virtual Lab. The sequencing simulator is set up to save individual users' results on the server, and we can only do this if you are registered and logged in, so we know whose results they are.
Order custom primers, and other reagents
With your own account, you can order any of the reagents in the Simzymes catalog. These will appear in one or more Dry Ice Boxes the next time you log into the lab. Feel free to browse the catalog to see the wide array of samples, enzymes, buffers, and chemicals available for virtual experiments.
Simzymes offers a custom oligonucleotide synthesis service, so you can design your own primers for sequencing and PCR.
Access courses and curricular materials
A Moodle account lets you register for our on-line modular courses. These are short, focused, topic oriented teaching modules that address particular biological, medical, or technical subjects. Instructors can use them to supplement their own courses. These modules contain much more detail and more complete support for both teachers and students than the simpler demos you can use without registration.
Are you going to send me spam?
No! We hate spam as much as you do. You can set your own preferences within Moodle to control how much email the system sends you. In general, we prefer to use web forums to communicate with users; you may choose to have email notifications (or periodic summaries) of forum postings, or none at all.
What other services are available?
Our plan is to develop subscription-based services to support on-line molecular biology education. These will include monitored tutorials (so we can tell you if your students prepared for class), graded quizzes, and other course management services.
We are interested in collaborating with researchers and educators on developing a wide range of molecular biology exercises and teaching materials. Please contact us for more information.