Ear and Hearing, September 2002

Reviewed by Kelly J. Shea-Miller
Department of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology
Seton Hall University
South Orange, NJ 07052

       The quality and usability of resources provided on the web can vary greatly. The Otoacoustic Emissions (OAEs) Portal Zone is a high quality, user-friendly source of information on the clinical aspects and basic science of otoacoustic emissions (OAEs). The stated mission of the site is to "represent all the aspects of OAE research and related developments till today". This is an enormous task, and the web editor, Stavros Hatzopoulos Ph.D., from the Center of Bioacoustics and Department of Audiology at the University of Ferrara in Italy, admits that this project cannot be accomplished without help. Assistance is provided in two ways. First, Dr. Hatzopoulos has put together a team of international experts to serve as his assistant web editors and as the web editorial board. This team appears to provide much of the research and content of the web page. The second way in which the plethora of information regarding OAEs is collected is to accept contributions from outside authors on topics that might be useful to the OAE community. The outside submissions undergo a peer-review process prior to publication in the OAE Portal Zone, in order to ensure the validity of the material. In this way, Dr. Hatzopoulos hopes that the website can "evolve into a true PORTAL".

        Evolve is a very appropriate term for the OAE Portal. The material already on the site is frequently updated and new information continues to appear. Due to this expansion of information the web site material must be clearly organized or it would loose usability. The OAE Portal successfully uses a standard web site organization to bring order to the large body of information. The website homepage provides current information such as a bi-monthly "Guest Editorial" and a section on "The Latest News". Navigation within the site is accomplished by selecting highlighted topics in the various content pages or selecting topics from the "sidebar". The sidebar is arranged in three categories; on-line information references (types of OAEs, biophysical research and other topics) clinical applications of OAEs (books, software and hardware reviews etc.) and educational material (on-line power point courses and white papers on aspects of OAEs). Within each of these topics there is a separate content list so the user does not have to scan through pages of irrelevant information in order to find what they need. Many of the topics will link to outside sites, as would be expected in a true portal. When a link to an outside site occurs the new web page either opens in a separate window or retains the OAE Portal sidebar, so navigation back to the portal is easily accomplished. In addition to the sidebar, the web site has a traditional "top navigation bar". This bar provides general contact information, guidelines for submissions and information about the site's sponsors. Once again these selections are clearly organized with easy navigation back to the home page. The easily understood organization of the OAE portal greatly increases its value as a resource.

        The content on the OAE Portal offers material for a range of knowledge levels. The site includes both basic definitions and advanced biophysical research, such as the current guest editorial on Time- Frequency (TF) analysis for TEOAE interpretation by A. Graznaka. The educational materials also range in level. There are powerpoint slides covering introductory information on distortion product otoacoustic emissions and hearing loss from such familiar names as M. Gorga and S. Neely, as well as advanced topics, including a 32-slide presentation on Thyroid Sensitive periods and DPOAEs by M. Knipper. These presentations are available to download for free, as long as you notify the web site when you intend to copy something and give credit to the original author. The ease of downloading the powerpoint presentations, however, is less than desirable. Either by design or unintended omission, presentations cannot be downloaded as a whole, only as individual slides. If the purpose of providing these presentations was as an educational tool, the difficulty downloading multiple slides will greatly limit the use of this tool.

         The question arises "If the information is free to users, how is the site supported financially?" This is accomplished through site sponsorship. A list of sponsors, as well as some limited logos placed in the top panel, generates the revenue needed to support this project. These "advertisements" are not intrusive and, thus far; do not detract from the value of the content on the web site. In addition, there appears to be no bias towards these sponsors in relevant materials.

        Perhaps the most unique and beneficial quality of the OAE Portal is it's ability to change. Unlike a published text or software package this resource can quickly adapt to the interests and demands of the OAE community. Corrections of material, new advances, and conflicting views can easily be incorporated into the medium. The web editors encourage users to contact them with feedback and the site can only benefit by this ability to interact. With this in mind, individuals interested in OAEs should not only visit the site but also contribute to its expanding body of knowledge. Contributions, in the form of feedback to the site editors or submissions of materials, will improve this already valuable resource.