This document is provided for historical purposes. Many of the links no longer work.

Putting yourself on the Web

A tutor for Cal Poly faculty


Content! (What to put on your web page)

The Medium

  • Text - Any text that you already have on a computer can be turned into a Web page. Many recent versions of word processing programs have the ability to export text as HTML, either directly or through an add-in such as Internet Assistant for Microsoft Word. Even if your word processor doesn't export HTML, you can copy text and paste into an HTML editor. If your program doesn't support cut-and-paste (remember WordStar?), you can often "print to disk" and use the output.

  • Graphics - Images are often the most striking elements of web page design, but they can be the most problematic.

    • Beauty vs. Bandwidth - We all want our graohics to look good. But we also don't want people to push the big red Stop button because they are tired of waiting for the graphics to download. The term "bandwidth" refers to the proportion of a communications channel occupied by a piece of information, but the "width" part is misleading: the problem is the length of time that the item takes to transfer. You can't measure that directly, but what you can measure, and reduce, is file size in bytes. The size of a graphics file is determined by the size (in pixels) of the image, the number of colors it contains, its complexity, and the way it is compressed.

      There are two different graphic file formats in common use on the Web: "GIF" and "JPEG". Each handles the number of colors and the compression in a different way.

        map
      • GIF stands for Graphic Interchange Format (or something like that); it was developed by Compuserve, and uses a type of compression patented by Unisys, so that all manufactureres of software for making GIF files must pay royalties. GIF files use either 2, 16, or 256 colors, and "lossless" compression (no information is lost when the information is compressed - this is the same idea behind a DOS zip file or a Mac Stuffit archive). GIFs can have "transparent" backgrounds, so that the underlying background image of the page shows through. GIFs work best for images with a small number of colors or with large blocks of identical color.

        poppy photo

      • JPEG stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. The JPEG standard is public, and no royalties are collected. JPEGs are always "24-bit color", which means that they can display more than 16 million colors simultaneously. They are compressed with a "lossy" compression scheme: information is thrown away during compression. Ideally, the information lost wouldn't have been noticeable to the eye anyway, but certain types of visual artifacts are common in JPEG files, especially those with broad areas of similar color and with linear contrasting features. JPEG is the format of choice for mosrt photographic images, and should never be used for images with only a small number of colors.

      There are a lot of tricks involved in optimizing images that I won't go into here, but you can find more information by following the links below.

    • Working with images - The New Media Studio provides scanners for digitizing photos, and Adobe Photoshop for manipulating the images. All of this is on Macintoshes, but the machines read and write DOS disks, and the GIF and JPEG formats are the same for both.

    • Copyright/intellectual property - You might be tempted to use images already on the Web, especially if you have not yet learned to scan in your own. This is fraught with danger: just because an image is on the Web, that doesn't mean that it isn't protected by copyright or other intellectual property laws. Good pages will state the restrictions on use of their images (for example, the Tower of London Virtual Tour includes information about the status of every photo), but it is important to remember that an image (or text, for that matter) can be protected by copyright even of there is no "Copyright © 1996" statement. When in doubt, e-mail the owner of the page and ask.

      There is an exception to this: simple images such as buttons and icons are often in the public domain (how many different ways could you say NEW in a 12 by 31 pixel box?). Many background images started out as parts of commercial collections years ago, but are now ubiquitous (my home page uses one modified from Corel Photopaint, but I've seen it and variations all over the web). The license agreements for these usually prohibit redistributing them in the original format, but don't address using them on the Web.

      You must still be careful when you start to scan images for your web pages. The students in your class could each copy a photo from a book, and be protected by the Fair Use doctrine. You could copy the photo and distribute it to your class, and you would be in the gray area of the law that drove Kinko's Copy out of colleges. If you put a digitized version of that photo on the Web for all to see, you have clearly violated copyright. How to avoid this?

      • Use your own photos (be sure to let others on the Web know the circumstances under which they can use them - they are copyrighted, even if you never register the copyright).

      • Use illustrations from books that are no longer under copyright (I have heard that anything over 75 years old is fair game, but don't take my word for it). The Cal Poly Faculty Center web page guide has links to sites that discuss copyright law.

      • Use public domain images from recognized archives, such as the one at Washington University of St. Louis.

      • Seek permission from the owner of the copyright. (Prepare to be turned down - putting something on the Web is regarded by many as an invitation to infringement.)

      One thing that is especially important to watch for is reproductions of trademarks. If you put Mickey Mouse on your page, you will eventually hear from Disney (no, they won't be thrilled). On the other hand, if you put up an obvious parody of Mickey Mouse, that is protected speech (but don't expect the University to necessarily back you up).

  • Scripts and programs - These are beyond the scope of this tutorial (and generally beyond my knowledge), but there are some links below to pages about Java, Javascript, and CGI.

The Message

  • General faculty information - Your home page should tell people about you as a faculty member: your phone, fax, e-mail, and location, your office hours, the classes you teach, your professional interests. You might want to include a curriculum vitae, as well. This is your chance to present yourself to current, former, and prospective students, as well as colleagues around the world.

  • Course syllabi - If you already have your syllabi on disk, it is usually straightforward to put them on the Web, but there are some things to keep in mind:

    • You'll still need paper copies, unless you are sure that your student population is Web-literate. You don't want students appealing their grades because they weren't able to access the syllabus. You can always make updates to the web version during the quarter, as long as the students know they are supposed to look there. Remember too that you can print the on-line syllabus from Netscape and make copies of that for the students.

    • Students will use your web syllabus to check out the class before they take it. I can't think of any downside to this, but it's important to remember.

    • You can add Web links to your on-line syllabus more easily than to your paper one.

    • Your syllabus can act as a class "home page", linking to all the other Web resources for your course.

  • Glossaries and databases - Over a period of eight quarters, I put together a glossary for one of my courses, by having students turn in glossary entries on disk for extra credit, correcting them as necessary, and then assembling them. The glossary is included in the lab manual, but I also put it on the Web. Building a basic glossary is straightforward, especially with the provided template, but adding the cross-referencing, as I did, is more difficult, and my glossary still has some broken links. The same alphabetic links can be used to make a simple database (as in this example that I did for Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden). It is missing the ability to search for a name, but this is a function that requires somewhat sophisticated programming.

  • Examples of "A" work - Do you ever show students examples of superb work from previous quarters? Wouldn't it be nice if they could take a look before they even enroll? Ask your best students to give you electronic copies of their work and post it (with their permission, of course).

  • Hypertext tutorials - Some years ago, Apple Hypercard was a "big deal" for making educational software. The "H" in HTML stands for Hypertext, and web pages can do most of the stuff that Hypercard can do (although requiring the application of additional teeth-gnashing and hair-pulling). Unfortunately, there is no simple way to turn a Hypercard stack into a web page, but the pieces can usually be reused. And the best news is that HTML isn't tied just to Macintoshes.

  • Internet and library links - Most people put links to Web resources on their pages. Fewer remember to go back and check the links to make sure they still work. Unless you want the challenge of maintaining a "Most and Best Links for [your discipline]" site, it is best to link such sites put together by others (a good example for biology is CSUBioWeb), as well as the specific sites important to a class.

    It is also possible to put links to library catalogs and other library resources:

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Example pages

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Templates for various types of pages

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Some useful resources

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This page Copyright © 1996 by Curtis Clark. Last revision Wednesday, December 11, 1996.

Space for this page is provided by California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. Although it is intended to further the educational mission of the University, the opinions expressed here are those of Curtis Clark, and do not represent official policy of the University.