Teach the Earth > Web-Based Resources > Website Design > Overarching Considerations

Overarching Considerations


As with the other aspects of developing web based resources, there are some global issues that are helpful to keep in mind.

1. Know your Audience

  • Your Students - Even though there are still small differences in the way that different modern web browsers render the same pages, these differences are much less dramatic with the growing acceptance of compliance with standards put forth by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). That said, some of your students will inevitably have "ancient" browsers that do not support these standards (Netscape and Internet Explorer versions 4 and previous). As mentioned under Accessibility, the developer can reasonably set a higher threshold for accessing the pages because the "audience" is a small number of people with a vested interest in the site. So you don't need to balk at requiring student to download a modern, standards-compliant browser to use with your resource.
  • Your Peers - Faculty have probably been reusing each others' web resources since the beginning of the web. But most probably don't put thought into how to make resources more re-usable by others when constructing them. By building resources in modular chunks rather than as integrated whole courses, not only will it be easier for your peers to adapt your creations into their courses, but you will give yourself the flexibility to change your own course around if you discover a better way of teaching it.
  • Simpler is better. It is easy to get distracted by the flashy bells-and-whistles that are possible in web design. Just try to remember that the object of this game is improving student learning in your classes. Focusing on the aspects of the web that will return results in learning will keep your pages leaner and more directed.

2. Know Yourself

  • What skills do you have and what skills will you have to learn if you intend to build the resource yourself?
  • Building your own resources from scratch is the traditional approach in academia. But as technologies get more complicated this approach becomes more difficult. There will be a point at which it is more efficient for you have someone build the resource for you or re-use and adapt resources that have already been created.
  • Whichever route you go, how easy will it be for you to update your resource in the middle of the term? This will inevitably be necessary.

3. Know your Resources

Time and money are the two resources that are always in short supply. Many faculty will find it necessary to justify the additional up-front time and expense of creating web resources.

  • What tools and resources are available at your institution? Does your technology support group have people dedicated to helping faculty with web resources? Many institutions will have several options, so see what yours has to offer.
  • Once created, web resources can save faculty time. Distributing logistic information via a website rather than taking time in class is an example. Also consider the possibility of having assignments that are automatically graded online.
  • Students can help in building the resource. Student-written content can become a part of what is used in subsequent sections of the class. Also, students with the necessary computer skills or the desire to learn them can help a faculty member create class pages.
  • Are there any internal grants available from your institution to fund the effort?
  • Can you get recognition for your web resource creation in tenure decisions? What about for adapting pre-existing resources or using digital libraries?
  • Get baseline data before using a web resource so that the results of using it can be quantified and used as further justification.

4. Know the Rules

Reuse and adaption of existing materials is a powerful technique for building web-based resources. However, there are intellectual property issues that one must first come to grips with.

Using Material Developed by Others
  • The most basic 'use' is simply to refer to a resource by bibliographic reference or (in the case of a website) a link. Although there has been some controversy over so-called "deep linking" (which is the practice of linking to a page deep within a site rather than to the site's homepage), for the moment it appears to be 'safe' to link to other sites.
  • If your use of the material goes beyond a simple link you'll need to consider copyright. The issue is quite complex but important for educators and so worth spending a bit of time learning about. A Crash Course in Copywright.
  • In general most material published after 1922 is copyrighted and cannot be reused unless you get permission from the copyright holder or you decide that you're allowed to use it under the provisions of 'Fair Use'. You can find more details about fair use here: Stanford University Fair Use and Copyright Center (more info) . Keep in mind that putting material on the web (where anyone might run across it) may push you outside the bounds of fair use even if you only intend it for the use of your students.

Making it Easier for Others to Use Your Materials
  • Having waded through the vagaries of fair use and copyright law you may wonder if there isn't a better way. Happily, if you're putting up your own original material and would like to make it easier for other folks to reuse it there are some simple answers. First you'll want to make sure you actually hold the copyright to the material you've created. There's some ambiguity in the law about who holds the copyright to faculty work (Ownership of Faculty Works and University Copyright Policy (more info) ), though this is usually clarified by local institutional policy. So even if you created the material yourself you'll want to be sure you're familiar with your institution's policies (and especially any intellectual property considerations in your contract).
  • Once you're sure the material is yours to give away you can simply give explicit permission for others to use your work. The Creative Commons (more info) offers a quick and easy way to do this with a variety of helpful options including requiring appropriate attributions and allowing use of your materials only for non-commercial purposes.
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