Faculty more comfortable with computers and used to follow written instructions
can simply go ahead after their ERes account is generated, others may need
a bit more assistance which is available in basically three ways:
ERes start page
This means that your course home (starting) page follows a standard
and rather simple (plain vanilla) design. Example.
non-ERes start page
Page is "dynamic", i.e., it is rewritten every time a student requests
it based on an underlying data file. Some changes of this data file (announcements,
links) do not even require a new file upload to the maxweber server. All
you need is access to a web browser anywhere, all changes are made via
easy to complete web forms. (If you add documents to your course web site,
you will need to upload the corresponding files, of course.)
Page design is simple, but flexible. The page loads quickly even over slow
modem connections and it will display correctly no matter what monitor
size and what video display options are used. Students with a 14" monitor
with 480x640 resolution will be able to see the page as clearly as students
with a 19" monitor and 800x600 resolution.
Usage of documents listed on an ERes start page can be tracked (hit counter).
While ERes does not monitor individual students, the number of hits on
a document (like a study guide) provides a rough estimate of its usage.
The location (URL, file name) of documents is protected if a course password
is used; this reduces the risk of unauthorized downloads of copyrighted
material and possible violations of the "fair use" clause in the copyright
Though simple in graphic design, the use of folders allows efficient structuring
of the page contents.
No bells and whistles, no spectacular graphics, no animated gifs, no background
word -- boring.
Modified re-use of this starting page in subsequent semesters is somewhat
tricky and would require the assistance of the ERes manager (in most cases).
This start page would not be portable to a new CMS product.
Here you design your own course home page with all the bells and whistles
you like. Then, you can either have the ERes manager add a link to this
course web page (which may reside on any server anywhere) to the listing
of all courses, or you can generate an ERes course page for your class
and put a single link on this page which leads to your real course start
(home) page. Example.
The latter variant has two advantages:
So, I will assume the second variant for the following discussion.
You don't need the assistance of the ERes manager to link your actual course
page and make adjustments to this linkage very semester
You can still use ERes accessories (like a course bulletin board and a
course chat room)
You can make the page look as cool as you want. And you can use really
cool templates found in software like FrontPage.
You can easily modify this page for use in subsequent semesters, since
it exists as a (static) html document, and you could easily transport it
to a new CMS product (which, however, may have its own "dynamic" start
page for each course)
If you are not careful with the cool design of this page, there may be
unintended consequences: not all students have a 19" inch monitor set to
800x600 or even higher resolution; if you use fixed size tables, students
with smaller monitors will have to scroll horizontally; if you use
graphics, that will add to the download time and some students may only
have a 28.8K or even slower connection.
Every change of the page (even the most minute change) requires an upload
of this file, since an ERes account does not give you "shell access" to
maxweber and you cannot edit this file directly on the server. And rather
than being a simple upload (as with a new document) you need to go through
the modification/delete sequence first (due to the necessary 'overwrite'
protection). Of course, if you don't keep your files on maxweber, you may
have shell access to the server where your files are and you may be able
to and comfortable with editing files directly on the server.
You cannot track usage of your documents via ERes. You will have to add
counters to your pages independently; but you may be able to find and use
a more refined counter.
The course password protection is compromised. Short of hacking, you cannot
get to an ERes course start page without knowing the course password (if
this option is in place) and consequently, there is no way to determine
the location (file names) of the documents belonging to this course site.
However, the "path" follows a standard pattern which includes the official
course number (e.g., SOC241) and the name of the instructor (e.g., KUECHLER).
If the start page is named in an obvious way (e.g., index.htm, homepage.htm,
home_page.htm, or some variation thereof), its location can be guessed
easily and the page can be accessed directly using the path rather then
the ERes gateway thereby avoiding the course password check. And once on
the start page, the locations of all other files are disclosed. -- Faculty
who have their files on another server can, of course, strengthen the course
password protection by using an ".htaccess" restriction for the subdirectory
where they store their files.
Finally, keep in mind, that a "web course page" is more like a "web
course site" that contains many documents and we are simply talking about
the start page here -- or a table of contents. However, first impressions
count; so, I understand the desire for a snazzy start page. On the other
hand, if a course web page has a major pedagogical function, then function
(allowing quick and efficient access to documents and links on the course
web site) is much more important than appearance. A student may access
this start page 2-3 times per week (or some 50 times over the course of
a semester), and the cute animated gifs that were great fun the first three
times become nothing but a nuisance. -- But there are very good non-Eres
web course pages (example);
it just takes more planning, consideration, and technical skills to avoid
the disadvantages described above.
This is a very tricky issue as there are few clear cut court rulings what
constitutes "fair use" and what not with respect to electronically stored
documents. Here are a few considerations to will help to minimize the risk
of running into legal problems if you are using copyrighted material on
your web course site (without obtaining a specific permission to do so):
Use a password for your course page. The course password scheme in ERes
is not terribly strong, but better than nothing.
Remove such material as soon as it is no longer needed (e.g., for assignments);
certainly after final exams have been given
Consider linking to such material rather than downloading and storing a
copy of the document (file) on a Hunter server; some people maintain that
even linking requires permission, but this is not the dominant view. The
full text contents of many scholarly journals can now be accessed online
-- though requiring a license (see currently licensed resources at Hunter
and at CUNY) -- and
this is an ideal way of making journal articles available to students.
A separate workshop (on Nov 17, 1999) was devoted to this topic, check
the summary for step-by-step
instructions on "deep linking"
More generally, look for material that may be copyrighted (and almost
everything is in the legal sense -- even this document is copyrighted irrespective
of whether I put a copyright notice on this page or not) but where a general
permission is given to use the material (if the source is properly identified).
Documents from government sites typically fall into this category, but
there are many private citizens out there who believe in the Internet as
a forum where information should flow freely. In particular, many academic
teachers generously share what they have developed for their local classes
and simply take pride in the fact that colleagues around the nation (or
the world) like what they have been doing and use their material -- without
looking for monetary rewards (copyright fees). But this maybe changing
quickly, as publishers are developing web-based textbooks and other instructional
As an example, I had not taught the "Social Statistics" class since
1996 and was quite overwhelmed by what people around the country had developed
in terms of teaching resources freely available to anyone willing to look
for those on the web. See the links in the the "tutorials" and the "statistical
texts -- online" folders of my Soc241
course page. Now, the situation may not be as fortunate in other areas/fields,
but it is always worthwhile to look. A great help in searching for such
material (which will not create copyright problems) is the NSF-funded Scout
Project at the University of Wisconsin.
So, copyright issues need to be taken seriously, but with some imagination
and some precaution these problems can be overcome. To look into more details,
visit the "Fair Use" site at
Stanford University or the Copyright
Office at the Library of Congress. The recently (May 25, 1999) issued
on copyright and distance learning (some 350 pages in pdf format) can
also be accessed from a local Hunter server.
Contents Organization and Form
Whether you decide on an ERes or a non-ERes start page, the more important
issue is contents organization and structure. It does not matter much if
your course web site does not contain much more than a syllabus and a few
extra items, but if you use the course web page extensively, structure
is all important. For ERes start pages, folders provide an excellent way
of keeping the clutter down. The contents of a folder remains hidden until
the students clicks on the (closed) folder icon, then the icon changes
to an open folder and a list of the available documents and links is displayed.
The folder structure on an ERes page can easily be changed -- as over the
course of a semester there is often a need for adding or reorganizing folders.
Of course, something similar can be done with a non-ERes start page, though
reorganization is more cumbersome (as I know from own experience with the
maintenance of sociology's
departmental web page).
Form should follow function, this is a thesis I strongly believe in
-- especially when it comes to web pages. Their primary function is to
serve the students in our course and we should anticipate that quite a
few of them do not have the fanciest hardware around. Course pages should
be designed with a user in mind that has just an old 486 computer, not
a lot of memory, just a 28.8K modem, and a slow video card. So, graphics,
an essential didactic function to keep download time as low as possible.
Frames can make quite a mess when the page is displayed on simpler or older
systems and should be avoided altogether. Animated graphics, blinking text,
and similar should be used very sparingly. Background images almost never
serve a real function, and, e.g., a dark blue background with black text
may seem cool, but it is a eye strain to most people. In short, in designing
pages for a course web site it is important to resist the temptation to
play with all the new toys: in general, simpler is better.
Document Types and Formats
ERes is a very flexible system so that virtually documents of all types
or formats can be made part of a course web site. I use "document" in a
very wide sense here -- including audio/video clips and multimedia presentations.
Everything goes -- but some formats do work better than others. "Bandwidth"
comes into play, or to put it in more common terms, how long it takes to
download and display a page (document/file).
Web (HTML) format
The fastest way to get documents to the user (student) is to use documents
in "html" format (which can have embedded graphics, video clips, etc.).
These get displayed directly by the web browser (like Netscape, MS Internet
Explorer). Html documents do not necessarily have to be created from scratch.
Recent versions of MS Word and WP have built-in html conversion routines
which work reasonable well though they are not perfect. But they provide
great opportunities to use existing materials (lecture notes, assignments,
handouts) for a web course site without much additional work. In addition,
there are now quite a few very user-friendly html editors around, so that
you don't need to know much about "html tags" (though some knowledge of
these does not hurt). The free Netscape Communicator contains such an html
editor ("Netscape Composer") along with the browser ("Netscape Navigator").
This is my favorite tool to generate new html documents, and OICIT offers
workshops on this product.
PDF format for complex layout
For material with complex layout (e.g., complicated tables) and/or foreign
characters, special symbols, sub/supercripts, and charts, another and usually
better option is to use Adobe Acrobat. Acrobat converts output from virtually
any application to "pdf" format. It's kind of sending the output from the
application (be it WP, SPSS, Stata, or what have you) to a fancy laser
printer, but intercepting it, and producing electronic copies of the printed
pages. These pdf documents are very compact (they download easily) and
therefore much more suitable for web delivery than original WP or MS Word
documents. There are two drawbacks, though, one slight, the other more
significant. The slight drawback is that current web browsers cannot display
such documents directly, rather they need an "Acrobat reader" in addition.
However, the Acrobat reader can be downloaded free of charge and since
this format is widely used, most labs will have it installed as part of
their standard setup. The more significant drawback is that Hunter has
a very limited site license for the full product (the one needed to produce
these files) only. One copy of Acrobat is available in the faculty
lab, but you need to use a specific station (ask the lab manager/assistant).
The actual conversion is very simple: you prepare the output in the specific
application and simply select the (virtual) "Acrobat printer" to print.
But instead of getting paper output a file in pdf format is written. Clearly,
expanding the Acrobat site license and making at least one copy available
to each department on campus should have high priority.
Graphics formats and input types
Still images (photos, drawings, charts) are best put into either "gif"
or "jpeg" (also "jpg") format both of which can be interpreted and displayed
directly by better web browsers. Virtually all decent graphics/photo editing
software allows output in these formats. Especially the jpeg format, however,
offers quite a range of compression choices and the differences in resulting
file size can be enormous while the quality stays pretty much the same.
There are a number of specialized programs to get the best possible compromise
between file size (=download time) and display quality -- like the jpeg
optimizer which sells for just $29 with a free evaluation copy available.
A highly recommended investment to increase the use value of your course
web site. As to choosing between .gif and .jpeg format, the former typically
works better with simpler structure and larger areas of identical color
(most charts), the latter usually produces better results with color photos.
Graphical input can come from a number of sources:
photos, drawings, charts already stored electronically -- which may simply
need to conversion to a web suitable format (gif, jpeg)
output files from specific applications (like statistics programs, spreadsheets,
etc.) -- most recent versions of such applications offer a built-in conversion
to a web suitable format
screen shots; you can capture the contents of any computer screen by simply
pressing the "print screen" key (in Windows) which thus gets copied to
the "clipboard" and then paste it into a file in any graphics program (I
usually use PhotoHouse which comes as part of Corel WordPerfect suite)
to crop the part you want and save the image in a web suitable format
photos made with a digital camera -- where photo files can be transferred
to the computer via the parallel port
hard copy material (including hand written text) -- which need to be digitized
by using a scanner
Screen shots go way beyond classes that are per se computer-oriented.
Anything that you, the instructor, may see on the Internet and that you
may want to share with your students, you can share by taking a screen
shot, embed it into a web document, and put the document on your course
web page. For some strange reason, I long overlooked this very useful method.
Maybe, people overlook it because of its simplicity. In addition, screen
shots are a tremendous help in writing guides/tutorials to help students
with any computer-related task, like how to use a specific data base (like
Lexis-Nexis or "Books in Print") or an online library catalog (see also
section on tutorials below). There are also special
"screen capture" programs available that integrate the two steps described
above, like HyperSnap
or Parsons' Screen
Shot. I have bought and installed the latter, and it make the whole
process really simple. Worth the $30.
Scanners have come down in price tremendously, and, for occasional
use, there are well working scanners for under $100 (I have an Agfa SnapScan
EZ at home for which I paid about $90 all included). So, a scanner is not
major investment anymore, though installing a scanner can be quite a hassle
at times. The OICIT training lab offers a scanner for those who don't have
access elsewhere. Getting exactly the result you want, however, can require
quite a bit of experimentation and different scanners (plus associated
scanning software, e.g., scanner drivers) work differently. So, it is best
to get familiar with one specific scanning setup and use this all the time.
But be prepared for some frustration when you start out.
I have seen very good use of hand written text on course web
pages, so do consider this option. In the sciences, many instructors use
hand written lecture notes (formulas, diagrams are much quicker written
by hand than with even fancy software like Mathematica); in all fields,
example of students' essay exams (in anonymous form) could be posted to
provide concrete illustration of good (and bad) writing. Originally developed
by a physicist, ERes offers a particularly convenient way of putting such
handwritten documents on a course web page -- once you have done your scanning
appropriately (for on screen display you want to scan with a relatively
As part of the MS Office suit, Powerpoint has become a multimedia tool
of choice. Though many people only know Powerpoint presentations as "animated"
(text moving in and out) slide shows, recent versions allow to add an audio
track very easily. As sound cards have become pretty cheap and newer computer
are rarely sold without one anymore, you should consider adding sound (your
narrative) to a Powerpoint presentation. The various options of serving
Powerpoint presentations via the web are discussed in a separate
Other special software output
Depending on field, there may be a need to display output from special
software like the statistics program SPSS or Mathematica -- a powerful
software product for mathematics and the sciences. Both products have built-in
html conversion routines, but in both cases a lot is lost in the conversion
especially in term of complex layout, formulas, graphics. Despite some
disadvantages in terms of file size, it is usually better to put the original
output files (in .spo format for SPSS, in .nb format for Mathematica) on
a course web page. This requires a small, one-time adjustment on part of
the web server administrator and it requires that students have either
the full product or a corresponding reader installed on their station.
For Mathematica a free reader is available, for SPSS there is no free reader,
but there are student versions of the full product at good prices. (There
actually is a SPSS viewer, but the company has made a site license rather
unattractive and tries to push its special SPSS server which Hunter bought
for $5000 just to have it sit on some shelf. It really does not meet our
If faculty use other special software with output in specific formats,
additional adjustments on the web server (adding matching "mime types")
can be easily made. I maintain a test
page with links to documents in non-standard formats which can be used
to check the setup of a computer. Hopefully, all Hunter lab managers use
this page to make sure that students can view any web course document
in any of the Hunter labs -- or to alert students to limitations
in a specific lab.
The static screen shot approach described above can be extended. Rather
than using single still images of the screen, a movie can be made capturing
all screen actions. This movie can be further enhanced by adding text bullets
or a sound track (example).
To do this, special software is needed, Lotus Screencam, which sells for
under $100. The movie is in a special format which requires the use of
a special viewer on the student end (which can be downloaded
Streaming video/audio clips
Video and audio clips easily get quite large which made it impractical
to serve them via the web. With the advent of "streaming" technology, this
has changed. In a nutshell, streaming means that the display (playback)
on the user's computer starts as soon as a small portion (buffer) of the
file has been downloaded. Download and playback run parallel, not consecutively
as in the old days. Major media sites (e.g., CNN) have extensive
offerings of such video clips, but this is not out of reach for faculty
at Hunter. See a more detailed
description of what can be done -- with modest means -- at Hunter now.
In courses with multiple sections, in team-taught courses, or courses with
a lab segment, it may be advantageous to have additional people (teaching
assistants, fellow instructors) contribute to the contents of a specific
page. While only one person should be in charge of any web page, it is
possible to designate certain areas of a page for specific purposes (like
announcements about the lab segment) and use a "dynamic" web page where
the contents of this specific area is taken from an underlying data file
(to which the designated contributor, lab assistant has access). More details
in a separate document.
I have tried to be brief and -- consequently -- you may want to get more
specifics on any given aspect. There is always the web itself as a source
of information. A particular good starting point for technical questions
is the PC Webopaedia. Just
type in any term or acronym and you get a brief explanation -- typically
along with a select and annotated list of sites to provide further details.
One of the best information sources on the whole Internet.
And for those old-fashioned among you (those who still read printed
books), I just came across a great desktop quick reference titled "Web
Design in a Nutshell" by Jennifer Niederst (O'Reilly 1999). Maybe not
the ideal book for someone who is not quite sure what exactly "html tags"
are, but a great resource for people with a medium (or higher) level of
computer savvy. List price is $24.95, but it's 20% off at the local B&N
stores -- if you just can't wait to get it.
Much of the contents of this document grew out of contacts with faculty
at Hunter developing their web pages -- either as recipients of a Zabar
fellowship or independently. Often, I did not have an immediate answer,
but I usually take questions as a challenge to broaden my own knowledge
and experience. I do welcome such challenges. I was also stimulated by
being back in the classroom (after a sabbatical in the 1998 calendar year)
and by working actively on my own course web page again. I had hoped to
do more (like to produce more screencam tutorials), but it is tough to
stay abreast with all new developments and options and to develop practical
routines at the same time. I think, we as faculty can learn a lot from
each other and I would like to thank all my colleagues who have contributed
to this document by their ideas and practices, and by their questions.
I was particularly stimulated by the "best practice" session at the ITG
meeting on May 19, 1999, and I just hope that we find an even more effective
way to organize the exchange of ideas and experiences in the future.
Several colleagues (including Diane Bowstead (English) and Peter Parisi
(Film & Media)) had suggested to create an e-mail list or discussion
group for faculty interested in course web pages. After some negotiation,
such a list was finally approved by the Hunter administration and was launched
in early August 1999. It is called "coursepage-l"
and resides on the Hunter LISTSERV server. This list works like any other
e-mail list, but in addition it also has a web interface that makes it
very easy to search for past postings -- and to manage one's subscription.
The web archive is essential, as faculty become interested in enriching
their courses with web pages at different times and with varying speed.
A posting, then, that may appear as of no interest or relevance today,
may contain just the information the same faculty member is looking for
three months down the road.
All ERes account holders with a valid e-mail address on record (as
of late July 99) were made subscribers of this list. As such, they can
access the web archive and they can post to the list, but -- in order to
respect their privacy -- they do not receive postings automatically via
e-mail. Their subscriptions have been set to "nomail" and it is up to them
to select another option.
For the time being, I have volunteered to serve as "list owner" (taking
care of some administrative chores, helping people with subscription problems,
etc). However, whether this list will become an active forum on web course
page related issues will depend on the Hunter faculty (of course, anybody
interested in these issues is welcome to join).