The New York Botanical Gardens’ educational website Plant Hunters (http://www.nybg.org/planthunters/) is an interactive learning tool for students that presents plant life in both scientific and cultural contexts. There are 2 ways to navigate through the site: users can test their knowledge by playing game-like Plant Challenges or simply explore the collection of plant specimens through an illustrated and narrated virtual tour of the NYBG’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory. The designers of the site, Second Story, describe the site as “an immersive experience to introduce students to the wonders of botanical science.” As a user successfully progresses through the Plant Challenges, he/she may start out as a Beginning Botanist and end up as a Professional Plant Hunter. Some of these challenges also teach the cultural significance of certain plants. If simply browsing through the Plant Explorer, the user can learn the scientific name, origin, and use of particular plants.

The weaker aspect of this site is that it is not easy to navigate back to a previous page. For example, once you’re on the tour – or hunt – you lose the ability to navigate back to the start or home page. There is no home button. In the Plant Challenge areas, it asks the user to assign certain plants to certain categories such as leaf-shape and edible parts, with the option to click on a plant for more details to make this determination. However, after viewing more details, one cannot navigate back to where he/she left off in the challenge in order to complete it. It would have to be started over (though it does remember what has been correctly identified). In addition, the Plant Hunters site lacks a search function and external links to NYBG’s primary site (other than in the footer). The absence of these things makes the site feel self-contained and with predetermined paths, similar to a software game. Perhaps with those flaws, there are some benefits – students may be less likely to get distracted or derailed from the task of learning.

The strongest aspect of this site is its interactivity and its fun design and spirit. The comic book-style illustration of the virtual tour is an unexpected and fresh interpretation of the panoramic virtual tour. All of the illustrations on the site are very crisp and lovely to look at and manage to do so without compromising the informational content. The site does a good job of encouraging users to explore and learn by making the interactive experience very appealing. Overall, the site lends itself quite well to exploration and discovery, but does suffer a bit from the lack of a conventional navigation structure and search function.

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