FROM THE EDITOR: This "At Issue" by Edward M. Reeve addresses some important issues associated with the growth of the Internet and web-based technologies. These issues include a need for procedures for insuring web-site maintenance, making decisions about the types of information that should be posted, and addressing accuracy, copyright, and privacy concerns.
Maintaining Your Web Site
The information age has brought with it many ways to keep us informed. Perhaps the most significant impact today has been through the Internet. The growth of the Internet has been phenomenal. At one time, you were considered "cool" if you had your own e-mail address. Today, you are considered innovative if you have your own web site with an elaborate home page containing animations and music.
Most people today have access to the Internet. Realizing its importance, many organizations, associations, and colleges and universities who have direct relationships or interests in industrial and technical teacher education have developed their own web sites and it appears that these web sites are being visited regularly. For example, Starkweather (1998) noted that the ITEA home page had 30,631 "hits" since the beginning of the year in 1997. This is a substantive volume of activity. This reinforces the point that the Internet is an important medium that can be used to share information across the technology-related disciplines.
In order to effectively share information about these disciplines via the Internet, web sites must be developed and regularly maintained. As professionals, we must strive for web sites that accurately portray our mission and goals. Developing a web site requires a carefully developed plan of action. The following issues, concerns, and suggestions should be addressed by those who develop or maintain their organizational (or personal) web sites. Who is Responsible for Maintaining The Web Site?
It is very frustrating to search the Internet only to locate web sites that are not current. Recently, while conducting a search, I located information that was over a year old. (Author's note: The site has since been updated.) Most web sites include a location on their home page that shows when the site was last updated or modified. If this information is unavailable, most browsers provide a mechanism for determining when the site was last modified. For example, in Netscape, use the "View Document Info" to locate this information.
When the dramatic explosion of Internet began several years ago, many technology-related organizations, associations, and schools wanted their own web sites. As a result, many sites were created but have not been maintained. Un-maintained web sites provide a disservice to their members and others who may wish to view them to locate additional information about the organization, association, or school. A critical component of web-site development must include planning for sustained updating and development. Organizations that develop web sites should also appoint a committee (or individual) to maintain the site. The committee should meet regularly to determine the types of information that should be posted on the site. The person(s) responsible for maintaining the web site should have a solid understanding of the organization's mission and goals, as well as a thorough knowledge on the software and hardware being used to develop and maintain the site. In addition, the webmaster should strive to develop an aesthetically pleasing site that positively and appropriately portrays the organization. Webmasters should also be reminded to restrict graphics, animations, and special features to a reasonable amount. Web sites that are laden with graphics and animations can take an excessive amount of time to download. There are still many people with relatively slow modems, or a limited knowledge on how to disable graphics features. Graphic-intensive web sites are also a concern in many foreign countries where download time may be charged by the minute.
What Types of Information Should be Posted on the Web Site? Initially, most web sites contained very little information. This was due, in part, to limitations such as limited bandwidth technology (i.e., slow modems) and difficulty with using the software needed to develop the web site. Over the past several years, the situation has changed dramatically with faster modems and the proliferation of web development software tools. What types of information should be posted? The information posted on a web site should positively and accurately represent the organization, association, or school. These sites can provide information about the organization, including its mission and history, members of the executive board, information on annual conferences, and procedures for attaining membership. In addition, the site can provide links to other useful sites, and can provide other information related to career placement and scholarship/awards programs.
Colleges and universities who develop their own web sites should post useful information about their undergraduate and graduate programs. At a minimum, these sites should include information about admission and program requirements, course descriptions, faculty profiles, and contact information. They can also extend to contain information about student clubs, examples of student projects, scholarship and grant information, and links to specific courses in the department.
Today, many professors and instructors post information (e.g., lesson plans, assignments, class notes, etc.) about their individual courses on the Internet. In the near future, many colleges and universities will offer "web- based" distance learning courses that will require faculty in higher education to rethink how courses are designed and delivered.
Web Site Accuracy, Copyright and Security Issues
After a web site has been developed by the webmaster, it must be checked regularly for accuracy. Websites containing inaccurate information and errors will create confusion and portray an unprofessional image. A committee or individual must be assigned to review new or updated information before the information is posted. It is important to note that since organizations, associations, colleges, and universities are dynamic entities, web sites should be undated at least once a month, if not more frequently. Many large commercial organizations update their web sites on a daily basis. Information posted on web sites should be copyrighted. These postings represent the intellectual property of the organization, association, or school who posted it. If your organization develops and posts a new curriculum on the web, it is your property. Others should be prohibited from downloading and selling it. Unfortunately, copyright laws special to the Internet are still somewhat unclear. As Bill Gates (1996) has noted, "Copyright laws will need to be clarified to ensure that they work in an on-line environment. The network will force us to think more explicitly in every field for every market what rights users have to intellectual property" ( p. 202).
There are two primary security issues that must be addressed by web site developers. The first issue focuses on protecting sites from unauthorized access (e.g., hackers, students, etc.). Only the webmaster should have the ability (e.g., password) to access and modify the site. Privacy of the site must be maintained and information must flow through a central point before it is posted on the web.
The second issue has to do with the sale of good and services. As the Internet continues to grow, many organizations, associations, and schools associated with industrial and technical teacher education will begin to emulate commercial organizations by offering products for sale (e.g., videotapes, curriculum guides, etc.). As this situation occurs, web sites must be made secure using the appropriate encryption software. Those who purchase goods and services on the Internet must be made to feel secure.
Web sites developed by industrial and technical educators can be a valuable asset. They can extend information to a "world audience" and can help to keep interested constituents up to date and informed. However, they must be properly maintained. The posted information must be accurate and relevant and should tastefully express the mission and goals of the organization. Finally, the site should be developed with respect to copyright considerations and the ability to keep the site secure.
Reeve is Associate Professor, Industrial Technology and Education Department, Utah State University, Logan, UT.
Reference Citiation: Reeve, E. Maintaining your web site. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 35(4), 83-86.