"Should I Use the Latest Technology?"

Whether you are designing a new online resource to use in your class or just putting together a new homepage, you will need to make decisions about what kind of content to include. Will you use standard HTML or something newer and more powerful? Will you include some pictures to break up the text or will you go all out with movies and audio and wing dings and whiz bangs? The end products of fancy new media types can be exquisite. Well implemented site designs can be stunning examples of the latest functionality. But there can be drawbacks to using the latest thing. (Low-End Media for User Empowerment (more info) )

  • Most users still access the internet via a dialup connection, so bandwidth and download time should be considered. As the number of colleges and universities with high speed connections to the internet increases, bandwidth is becoming less of an issue for those connecting on campus. But distance learners and off-campus residents will probably be using mostly dialup connections for some time to come.
  • Low-end technology is more easily mastered by amateurs. Faculty are more likely to be able to use these technologies to create resources because they do not have to invest as much time and effort into learning new tools.
  • Compatibility on different platforms is not guaranteed even with the latest technology. Again, many students will be accessing these resources in a controlled computer environment on campus, but there will be those attempting to login from some off-campus location. If your resource needs a custom or newly published plug-in, there can be significant confusion for students who need to find and install it. You also don't know if these new technologies will be long-lived or will soon become obsolete.
  • High-end media types have accessibility issues. While it is generally possible to provide alternate content for users with disabilities, it requires a good deal of extra work to do so. Low-end media tend to be easily accessible to this population.
  • Using multimedia as "eye candy" runs a serious risk of distracting the users from the main site content you are trying to communicate.

On the other hand, resources created for specific audiences (such as a class of students) have a bit more flexibility in what they can realistically ask of their users. As long as you ensure that your students know what they need, it is likely that they will tolerate even lengthy downloads and installations or complex site interaction. These are not random visitors but stakeholders in the resource you have created. (Web Style Guide (more info) )

If you decide to use multimedia as a significant part of your educational resource, there are ways to minimize the impact of bandwidth on its usability. Check out the Web Style Guide: Web Multimedia Stategies (more info) .