Web Site Creation as a Valuable Exercise: Seven Steps to Communicating Significance Online: Students Often Are Eager to Learn How to Make a Web Site, but Get Frustrated Easily by Details. (Web Site Creation as A Valuable Exercise)

Article excerpt

Technology classes in educational programs are abounding. Some are more theoretical, others more practical. Some take a technical perspective, others a rhetorical. Despite numerous differences in the make-up of these technology classes, many have one thing in common: the Web site assignment. Conveniently, this assignment can be sold as a "real world" application exercise with the goal of making it more attractive to the upper level students. Experience on the part of the author gained from teaching eleven communication technology classes in the past five semesters shows that most students are eager to learn how to make a Web site. However, unless the assignment is carefully crafted and directed by the instructor, the students gain little more than technical expertise at a very low level.

Good writing is more than putting words on paper, and a quality Web site requires more than colored text, a few graphics, and a few links. Quality education regarding Web site development calls for teaching students more than technical skills. Standards for Technological Literacy (ITEA, 2000) defines content of effective technology education that leads to technological literacy. This article explores the Web site assignment as a valuable exercise. By presenting a seven-step model, which forces students to think about their Web sites before actually creating them, the article directly addresses five of the twenty standards defined by the International Technology Education Association. Experience has proven that a combination of background information through lecture and the seven-step process leads to high quality Web sites that students are proud to show to potential employers. In the process, students develop an understanding of the characteristics, core concepts, and scope of Internet technology (Standards 1 and 2). Students also learn to draw connections between Internet technologies and other fields of interest (Standard 3). Finally, through the applied component of the exercise, students develop an understanding of attributes of Web design and are able to immediately apply this understanding (Standards 8 and 11).

The main problem with the Web site assignment is the time allowed for its completion. The Web site is usually not the only assignment in the class. However, in order to create even basic Web sites, a number of skills must be taught, such as a graphical interface Web site design program, or basic HTML code, navigation of the Web for information retrieval, and a file transfer protocol (FTP) program to upload the sites. If the instructor wants the sites to have more than a very basic level of sophistication, usually the fundamental techniques of scanning and a computer graphics software program application must be taught. Also, lectures of conceptual issues such as Web credibility, usability, audience targeted message design, visual rhetoric, and visual design need to be included in the instructional package. Finally, class time must be allocated for students to work on their Web sites. However, even this level of commitment does not always lead to "good" sites. Unfortunately, once uploaded, student sites are usually still identifiable as such.

The goal, then, is to turn the Web site assignment into a task that is enjoyable for the students and manageable for the instructor during the time allowed. As the end result of the assignment will be publicly available, students ought to be proud of their work rather than regarding it as "just another assignment completed." Ideally, students will learn not just how to create a Web site, but also understand how to direct the communicative power such a document can have.

The most successful strategy, according to personal experience, is adapted from van Hoosier-Carey's (1997) recommendations. Van Hoosier-Carey describes the Web site assignment as an exercise in the technical communication classroom. The key element to designing effective Web sites lies in good graphic design, which is often missing in Web sites that were created as class assignments. …