Monday, July 29, 2013

How do I set up my web page?

One question we sometimes hear is "How do I set up my web page?" The need for web pages may vary. For example, a researcher may want to set up a simple website to share research results. Or an instructor may wish to share old tests and quizzes for her students to use as study aids. Or a project may want to publish updates so colleagues on campus can track the progress.

There is no "one size fits all" solution. In the past, we may have recommended using your "personal" website, or creating a new content area under the www website. But we have added many more web page options since then. I'd like to share a quick overview with you.

How much customization do you need for your website? Do you need total control, including installing separate programs to make your site work? Or do you just need a place to store "regular" web pages?

What is your technology skill level? Some folks feel very comfortable with editing the "raw" HTML code to create their own web pages, while others just want to type some text and have it appear on the web. Are you a technology novice, or a technology guru?

Your answers to these two questions will help guide you to the best fit to set up your web pages.


A few notes about these options:

If you aren't comfortable with technology, and you only need a place for your content to appear as web pages, then look to the bottom-left of the diagram. You can set up a blog on the University's UThink system. A blog makes it easy to write articles that appear on a web page just the way you wrote them. You don't have many options to customize the appearance or behavior of the blog, but the tradeoff is that it's really simple to use. Note that your UThink blog will appear at blog.lib.umn.edu/yourname/yourblog, such as my archive of Jim Bruce's "ITLP Tuesday Readings" at blog.lib.umn.edu/jhall/itlp/.

If you prefer to use different tools, you can use Google's Blogger. You already have a Google account anyway—all University faculty, staff, and students access their email via Gmail, and Gmail gives you a Google account—so feel free to set up your own blog. Editing is a little easier on Blogger because the editor looks more like, say, Microsoft Word with the toolbar for formatting your text. Again, you don't have many options to customize the appearance or behavior of the blog, but the tradeoff is that it's really simple to use. Note that your Blogger blogs will appear at yourblog.blogspot.com, such as my "Leadership and Vision in IT and Higher Education" blog at coaching-buttons.blogspot.com/.

Or, if you don't plan to make very many updates, and just want someone else to do the work for you, talk to us and we can arrange for our web developers to turn your content into web pages. We prefer to add these pages into the www website, so the web pages will use the Morris web design, but updating web pages can be as easy as emailing them to a developer.

But what if you need total control?

Sometimes, a project needs to have total control over its web pages. Maybe a research project requires a dedicated server where you can install new programs. Or perhaps you feel comfortable writing your own web pages, and you just need somewhere to put them. For that, look to the upper-right of the diagram. Our partners in the Office of Information Technology offer free server hosting (called "virtual machines" or "VM"). You can install whatever programs you need to support your project, and you can have total control over how you create your pages. It's great flexibility for projects that need that level of independence, but the tradeoff is that you'll need to know something about servers and web pages to take advantage of it. If this appeals to you, please let us know and we can help you get a server to use for as long as you need it.

A few projects find that OIT's VM service doesn't quite meet their needs. This might be because the project needs to install software in an odd location, or because the project requires "root" or "Administrator" access. OIT just doesn't allow that level of access. If that is your need, we can set up a VM on our systems for you to use. Again, this can mean great flexibility for projects that need that level of independence, but the tradeoff is that you'll need to know something about servers and web pages to take advantage of it.

What about web pages for class?

Many faculty wish to post materials to a website so their students can access them for study or projects. For example, you may choose to share old quizzes from previous semesters, so students can learn from them. Or maybe you want to make an article available electronically, for your students to read and respond to as part of an assignment. Sure, you could use a dedicated web server, or (like many faculty) share the files via your "personal" website. But I would also suggest using Moodle for sharing course materials. Moodle is designed specifically to classrooms. You don't have to teach an online class to use Moodle. Instead, talk with Pam about how to set up a Moodle to distribute course materials. It's pretty easy to set up Moodle so that only your current students can access the materials your post online; that's very handy if you are concerned about controlling your intellectual property.

Moodle doesn't require much technology skill; anyone can quickly learn it. The diagram shows an area bordered by a dotted line, suggesting that Moodle can accommodate a variety of customization. You can use it "as-is" to keep things simple, or you can modify how Moodle acts. Moodle is your best option if you need an environment customized for your class, but don't have much technology expertise.

Technology should be here to help you. If we can help you with your technology needs, please feel free to contact us. We would like to work with you to find the right solution for your needs.

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