An Introduction to the Internet: Creating and Using Web Pages for Instruction
The Internet consists of millions of users distributed across the world in a loose, unregulated, confederation of hundreds of thousands of nodes. Estimates of use in early 1996 indicated a compound user growth rate in excess of 20% per month. A large portion of this growth comes from those who use, Asurf,@ or Abrowse@ the World Wide Web (WWW) to find solutions to research problems, sell products and services, entertain, and persuade.
Web pages, the visible artifact by which organizations and individuals display their services and products on the Internet, have almost become an art genre. Educators have rapidly adopted this format to communicate with colleagues and to advertize academic programs.
This paper describes the essential procedures for creating Web pages within an academic environment and provides guidelines for other instructors who may wish to encourage student creation of Web pages. We begin with a general overview of Internet and Web procedures and then discuss specific implementation issues.
OVERVIEW OF WEB PAGES
Creation of Web Pages
Web pages consist of text and graphics artistically arranged to convey a message. Part of a Web page created by the author is shown in Figure 1. Within the Internet context, a Web page can be longer or shorter than the standard letter-size page. Page size is therefore a design element and not a physical construct. When someone talks about a AHome Page,@ they are usually referring to the primary page of an author or organization. The home page may contain hyperlinks to other associated pages where a hyperlink is a place on the page that when selected transfers the viewer to another location. Other Web page options include e-mail connections and collection of reader entered data.
The creation of Web pages requires word processing skills, an ability to design attractive layouts and graphics, and an understanding of Internet culture. Graphic creation, size, and selection are covered in a later section. We start with a discussion of word processing requirements.
Word Processing Skills
The word processing skills required to create a Web page include an understanding of special formatting codes included in a set of rules called HTML, or Hyper Text Markup Language. HTML is recognized by Web browsers such as Netscape in much the same way a wordprocessor recognizes its own (hidden) formatting codes. Browsers do not recognize the formatting codes used by wordprocessors but do interpret HTML formatting code.
<title> A Sample Page Demonstrating the Use of HTML </title>
<h1> Sample Page</h1>
<h2> Class Assignment </h2>
<h4> Due September 15, 1996 </h4>
Web pages are created by typing Aplain text@ and surrounding the plain text with the appropriate HTML formatting codes. The HTML code and text appearing in Figure 2 created the simplified Web page in Figure 3. Figure 3 represents how the browser Netscape interprets the Figure 2 HTML code.
In Figure 3, all the HTML code is invisible and the text has been formatted according to the guidelines of how Netscape interprets HTML. The default background color of gray has been added by the browser. The title text is only seen by search engines on the Web and by those whose browser can Aview@ the source HTML code.
HTML code is similar to early versions of DOS-based word processors which required users to enter codes to control the placement and appearance of text. For example, the matched HTML code pair, <center> and </center>, indicates that the text between these controls will be centered. The <hy> codes, where Ay@ is a constant, indicate the relative size of headings with 1 being the largest. Each Web document begins with <html> and ends with </html>. The code pair, <body>, </body> indicates the Abody@ of the text for the Web page.
Once the text and codes have been entered, the document must be saved in ASCII format. The ASCII file format strips the document of tabs, bolds, italics, indents, hard returns, multiple spaces, blank lines, and any other wordprocessor formatting. All character formatting and text placement is thus controlled by the HTML code.
The standard file extension for saving the ASCII document is Ahtm@ which is shortened from html to be consistent with DOS file naming conventions. In Figure 3, the file extension Ahtm@ is visible. Figure 3 was created by loading the file locally in Netscape.
Other HTML codes include those used for lists, changing the color of the text, changing the color of the background, creating forms, and the placement of graphics. A portion of the HTML code used to create Figure 1 appears in Figure 4. In Figure 4, additional codes have been added to create a textured background. The graphic text image that appears in Figure 1 is mba726.gif. A complete explanation of all HTML codes is beyond the scope of this paper; simple pages can be written using the codes demonstrated in Figures 2 and 4. An excellent introduction to HTML can be found in the books by Lemay and Graham listed in the Bibliography.
<Title> MBA 726, Management Information Systems, a required course in the MBA curriculum at
Columbus State University in Columbus, Georgia</title>
<body background="tan_pape.gif" text="#0000cc>
<h1><center><img src="mba726.gif" Alt="[MBA 726]"></h1>
<h1><center> Management Information Systems </h1>
<h2> Section 18838 </h2>
<h2> Winter, 1996 </h2>
<h2> Room 116 Woodall </h2>
<h2> 6:15 p.m. to 8:25 p.m., Tu, Th </h2>
PLACING THE PAGE ON THE WEB
Once the page is created, it may be viewed off-line depending on the browser. When the author of the Web page is satisfied with the results, the page is ready for placement on the Internet.
Placement of pages on the Internet requires that the user have a contract with an Internet provider or that the user=s organization have a node on the network. Internet providers offer a wide range of services such as e-mail and general Internet access. Selection of a provider therefore must include an investigation of prices and features since there may be extra charges for placement and maintenance of Web pages on the provider=s server.
Placing pages on the Internet is usually straight forward. The user loads the created Web page into the assigned directory using an FTP (File Transfer Protocol) software package which supports uploading and downloading files to the provider=s server. A screen image of an FTP interface is shown in Figure 5.
The user highlights the files on the left side of the screen to transfer and then selects the rightward pointing arrow. The transferred files appear in the right (remote system) window. Files in the user=s work space can be renamed, deleted, or downloaded depending on the options allowed by the provider and supported by the FTP software. When placed on the server, the Web page file extension would be renamed to html to conform to standard Web file nomenclature.
Once the file is on the provider=s server, it can then be accessed by anyone with Internet software who has the file=s address. The file can be accessed by typing its address in the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) window of the browser. The URL address of the page shown in Figure 1 is http://ldl.net/~bfleck/mba726.html where http stands for hyper text transfer protocol.
Finding Web Pages
Web pages can be found by using Internet search engines. One of the more popular engines is Yahoo! Authors of Web pages can make it easier for users to locate their pages by submitting descriptions of their pages to the search engines.
USING THE INTERNET FOR STUDENT INTERACTION
A number of educational institutions have placed home pages on the Internet as a way of displaying and advertising services. The types of institutions using the Internet range from Rhodes College, a private Liberal Arts institution in Memphis, Tennessee, to large international institutions such as Cambridge University. Some institutions have banded together to form regional or statewide initiatives on the Internet.
A number of schools claim that they can provide classroom instruction over the Internet and are thus using the Anet@ as another medium for distance learning. The author has taken a simpler approach and created Web pages for each of his courses in information systems. More of the MBA Web Page shown in Figure 1 appears below in Figure 6.
Each of the four figure boxes in Figure 6 are hyperlinks to other pages created by the author. These other Apages@ contain the information specified by the link.
Advantages and Interactions
Placing a syllabus on the Web makes the course syllabus available to currently enrolled students as well as any who might wish to consider the course at a later date. In addition, a student never needs to worry about losing the syllabus since the syllabus can be accessed from anywhere in the world.
To encourage Internet use and features of HTML, the class was assigned the task of writing their own home pages. These pages were then attached to the course syllabus via uploads and hyperlinks. These Web Pages can be accessed from an Icon which appears on part of the MBA 726 home page. This made the students an official part of the class and the high degree of visibility encouraged outstanding efforts even though none of the class had ever designed a Web page before. This form of participatory instruction has been received with much enthusiasm.
Approximately one hour was devoted to Web use and general topics of Web page creation before the students were assigned the task of creating their own pages. The discussion was supplemented with a 30 page handout on HTML coding and practices. The instructor loaded the student pages to assure that content was appropriate and to safeguard the password required by the FTP software. Some of the problems discovered in loading the pages are given below in the section on AGuidelines for Student Web Pages.@
The students brought many skills to the project. Some had extensive word processing experience and others had graphic design talents but none had any prior Web page or HTML experience.
This interactive and participatory approach has met with a great deal of enthusiasm from the students. They are proudly speaking of their presence on the Internet and several have indicated a desire to pursue additional features of Web creation for their firms. At the beginning of 1995, the position and title of Webmaster was unknown. Today Webmasters who assist in all facets of page creation and Internet access can expect to earn approximately $60,000/year according to one study.
All student and colleague feedback has been supportive and enthusiastic. However the amount of effort required by the instructor to create the original Web pages and then add student versions was enormous. The amount of effort required to create the Web syllabus was several magnitudes larger than the amount of effort required to create a traditional syllabus. In addition, many of the students printed out parts of the syllabus for ready reference, thus partially defeating a goal of minimizing paper use. However, the benefits of visibility coupled with student pride are perhaps immeasurable. Changing the syllabus will be easy for the next offering due to its highly modularized structure. The structure also supports links to other pages which are under construction for the school as a whole. For example, the course description module in the Web Page will eventually be linked to an on-line catalog.
Enthusiasm can be contagious. The Web Pages created by the students went beyond the basic requirements. However, the complexity of the pages magnified the difficulty of uploading the student pages.
Uploading Student Pages
Each student provided the instructor with a diskette containing all the files related to the student=s home page. The text file was named using the first eight characters of the student=s last name. The standard extension of htm was used by all.
Some of the students included hyperlinks to sub-pages and each of these files had to be uploaded as well. Unfortunately, the instructor failed to foresee this event and did not provide naming guidelines for Asub-pages.@ In addition numerous graphics were also included and the size of some of the graphic files were quite large and would soon have surpassed the allowed space on the server. These graphic files were imported into HiJaak Pro, a graphics package, and reduced in size. The worst problem occurred when several students named their sub-pages by the same name. For example, several named a page family.htm and others named a page educatn.htm. Since all student files were placed in the same directory on the server, the last file loaded with the same name was the one available on the server. Some students therefore found that their pages included someone else=s family or education. It took several weeks to straighten out all the problems. While it is possible to provide each student with a subdirectory which would solve duplicate file names, it would cause other management problems which are discussed below.
Based on the experiences described above, the guidelines in the next section should be useful to anyone working with student Web Pages.
Guidelines for Student Web Pages
All student created Web Pages should consist of only one text file which will be named using the first eight characters of the student=s last name and have the extension of htm. If sub-pages are allowed, they should be named using a maximum of the first seven characters of the student=s last name and should be numbered in sequence, e.g., smith1.htm, smith2.htm, and so forth.
DOS is not a case sensitive operating system while Unix is case sensitive. Students must be cautioned about naming sub-pages within their documents. If they internally name a hyperlink as Smith1.html, the Unix files smith1.htm and smith1.html will not be found by this link. Students must be told to name all links in their page using lower case (the Web convention) and whether or not to internally name the link with htm or html. Most Web Pages use html by convention, but htm will also work. The individual who uploads the file must either know the internal naming convention used by the page author or specify the convention to be used. If the internal links are named with the html extension, then the files after uploading must be renamed accordingly.
Graphics can occupy large amounts of space and can be used for backgrounds, images, and hyperlink buttons. Once students found image sites on the Internet, they downloaded graphics and included these and scanned images in their Web Pages. Some student Web Pages came close to one megabyte in size. While HiJaak Pro helped manage image sizes there are better alternatives.
A better solution to limiting graphic sizes is to use a single subdirectory for all student pages. That directory will have a selection of graphic images that can be used by the class for backgrounds and buttons. The class can also be provided with a list of Web sites that contain graphic images that can used via hyperlinks in their documents. By linking to other sites, graphics used in student pages do not occupy space on the local server. The negative to this solution is that linked sites are not controllable and owners of those sites may change addresses or abandon the location. Downloading graphics from other sites is also slower than using graphics available in the home directory.
The next time the course is offered, each student will be supplied with a short handout summarizing how to use the Internet, how to find the course on the Internet, and a summary of key items on the syllabus. In addition, more explicit guidelines on page creation will be given students to assure file naming uniformity and to control graphic size without stifling creativity.
The Internet is both the medium and the message. With its high growth rate, heavy use, and potential for reaching everyone in the world, the Internet is an excellent vehicle for syllabus placement and student participation. Future trends in Internet use will include greater use of animation and video. The Internet Phone which permits voice communication across the globe with charges only for local connections is just a sample of what will be in the future. Work is already underway to find ways of transmitting interactive video over the Internet. When this happens, it will transform the entire educational model. Clearly then, it is time to become involved in the changes to come.
Dr. Fleck teaches data communications, database design, and management information courses at Columbus State University. He is the author of over 100 articles and four texts on information management topics. In addition to his teaching and writing, he consults with businesses and organizations on computer-related issues. He has served as president of local chapters of ASM and DPMA as well as holding academic appointments as Department Chair, Dean, and Academic Vice President.
HiJaak Pro, Brookfield CT, (203)-740-2400
Graham, Ian S., HTML Sourcebook, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, New York, 1995.
Lemay, Laura, Teach Yourself Web Publishing with HTML in a Week, SAMS Publishing, Indianapolis, IN, 1995.
This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1996 issue of THE Journal.