HTML-eZ: The Easy Way to Create a Class Website

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1 For more resources click here -> HTML-eZ: The Easy Way to Create a Class Website Henry Borysewicz Director, AeroSpace Network / Scientific Computing Center John D. Odegard School for Aerospace Sciences, University of North Dakota Introduction Distance learning and campus-based courses can greatly benefit from a World Wide Web component. The web allows students to have 24-hour access to course material - syllabus, assignments, schedules, and lesson content - no matter where they are. For example, while studying for an exam, both distant and campus students may need to access course materials late at night from their homes or dorm rooms. Posting material on the web also benefits the instructor. Since information is stored and maintained at one location (the web site), there is no need to distribute multiple paper copies to students who may be geographically dispersed. Unfortunately, the web relies on an arcane method of document formatting - Hypertext Markup Language - or HTML. It is the language that all web browsers read to display a web site. Although HTML is not a programming language, it has the appearance of programming code and can be difficult for the layperson to read and understand. While it is certainly possible for anyone to learn to write basic HTML, it can take a lifetime to become proficient at it. Graphical HTML editors have made this task easier, but still require a substantial investment of time and effort to learn. Few instructors have the time or desire to learn the skills necessary to publish information on the web, much less maintain the computer equipment and software required to put a web site online. Such tasks are usually assigned to a "webmaster", one whose job is to keep abreast of the latest HTML changes, and maintain a web site for the organization. A Webmaster can maintain a small site and do a good job of posting a limited amount of information for an organization. However, the Webmaster becomes an "information bottleneck" if there are many updates that must be made in a timely manner. A better solution is to create tools for posting information to the web - tools that can be used by everyone in the organization. The goal is to eliminate the information bottleneck and associated technical challenges, while simultaneously making it possible for people to post their own information. Current Tools The first generation of these tools was homegrown, developed by universities to suit their own needs. They captured information entered into web page text fields and passed it on to scripts, which would automatically add the necessary HTML, and save the result to a file that can be read by a standard web browser. In this way, the user created a rudimentary web page while being shielded from the actual HTML code. Some of these homegrown tools have been developed into commercial products - WebCT and Top Class are examples. Commercial software developers have also entered the market. Blackboard and Web Course in a Box are two examples. Yahoo has recently added its own offering. These commercially available products solve certain problems with varying degrees of success. 1

2 For more resources click here -> Drawbacks Off-the-shelf software has serious drawbacks. By the time it actually makes it to the shelves, it is already outdated (online education is a rapidly evolving field). Add the time necessary to bring the product to market and distribute it, and off-the-shelf software is practically obsolete by the time it becomes available. In online education, you either lead or you follow - and anyone relying on off-the-shelf software is already behind the curve. By necessity, off-the-shelf software is one-size-fits-all. Many of these tools are restrictive and difficult to use. Commercial software developers have no interest in developing software to suit particular needs. Rather, they search for the lowest common denominator of product features. Ask a commercial vendor to create a new feature especially for you and they will tell you to buy the next upgrade - perhaps it will address your issue (perhaps not). Finally, commercial software is expensive and costs are increasing. Users have recently seen licensing fees for major commercial products rise by 50% or more (Young, 2002). Initially low license fees often lure institutions to commercial products. Later, they discover that the low fees are for entry level software. Upgrades to more capable software often come at a cost of many tens of thousands of dollars. Also, the end-user must purchase and maintain the necessary hardware in support of the software product. They must devote significant time and resources to install and setup the software, and debug the installation and maintain it. When a new version comes out, this process repeats. With off-the-shelf software, one must purchase, install, maintain, administer, and upgrade server hardware, and bear these significant costs. The Next Step The AeroSpace Network (ASN) at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences, University of North Dakota, has developed a web tool that we call HTML-eZ (for Hypertext Markup Language made Easy -- ez for short). HTML-eZ does away with the drawbacks of commercial software. We wanted something more capable, flexible, and easy to use than the commercial offerings. HTML-eZ is an ongoing research project as well as working production software. It is pushing the envelope in online educational tools and has a growing community of users. These users are not merely software consumers. Rather, they are educators who play an active role in ez s development. EZ is a faculty-driven tool, pushed by the needs of its user community. Our developers are responsive to users needs. Advantages HTML-eZ enables instructors to create and maintain graphically rich course web sites on their own, without learning HTML or other proprietary software. ez allows instructors to create and modify all aspects of their course web site, including content, layout, design scheme, and site navigation. HTML-eZ is an application that is delivered over the web, eliminating the hardware maintenance headaches associated with commercial software. Since it is completely web-based, ez can be used by anyone who has Internet access. There is no software to install, upgrade, or replace - those functions are handled in one place, on our end. Updates and new features appear as they are implemented - no need for users to update software. Users simply occasionally update their web browsers - something they should be doing anyway. There is no server hardware to purchase or maintain. HTML ez is a web-delivered Application Service. 2

3 For more resources click here -> Probably the biggest advantage of HTML-eZ is its ease of use. It is not a new application that must be learned by sitting through lengthy training sessions. HTML-eZ leverages instructors pre-existing software skills rather than forcing them to learn new ones. Instructors work with standard, familiar software applications (word processors, PowerPoint, etc.) to create content incorporating graphics, images, tables, etc. They upload their documents to the system through a web interface. This interface is meticulously designed to be intuitive and easy to use. Uploaded documents are converted to HTML. All links, image names & locations, etc. are handled automatically, by the system. HTML-eZ is a smart system, creating web pages on the fly, specifically tailored for each user. A single hour introductory demonstration is adequate for most users to get started. Some have mastered the system entirely on their own, without training or manuals. Ease of Use for Instructors Some Benefits From Using HTML-eZ HTML-eZ allows instructors to quickly and easily create and maintain graphically rich course web sites on their own, without learning any HTML. Working in any standard word processor, instructors create content incorporating graphics, images, tables, etc. They upload their documents to the system through a web interface, where it is converted to HTML. All links, image names & locations, etc. are handled automatically, by the system. No Training Required Using ez does not require special skills or training. If the instructor knows how to use a web browser (Netscape, Internet Explorer, etc.) and a word processor (MS Word, WordPerfect, etc.) they already have all the skills they need to create a fully customizable, graphically rich course web site. Instructors who use it actually say it's fun! Instructors Have Complete Control Unlike other software, ez puts complete control in the hands of the instructor or course developer. They control every aspect of the course web site(s). ez allows instructors to create and modify all aspects of their course web site, including content, layout, design scheme, and site navigation. They choose font face, size, color, and alignment. Pages can include backgrounds, graphics, images, tables, links, anchors, etc. Ease of Use for Students ez does not require student to own any particular software (other than a web browser) to view course material. Course material is presented as HTML, not a document that must be downloaded and opened in another software application. A Graphically Rich Web Site, Not a Document Repository Some tools only allow instructors to insert text into a rigidly defined template. Others simply allow document uploads. HTML-eZ does much more. Rather than providing a fill-in-the-blank web site or a document repository, ez enables instructors to create and maintain an actual web site. 3

4 For more resources click here -> Supports Class Interactivity Class interactivity is supported in a variety of ways. For example: A Survey tool allows instructors to poll their class over the web. Everyone is allowed to vote only once on each survey, enforced by ez. Results are tabulated and displayed, both graphically and numerically, in real time. An Exam tool creates multiple choice, short answer, and essay exams to facilitate student assessment. Multiple choice and short answer questions are automatically graded, and can provide instant feedback to the student. ez creates an internal Messaging System, asynchronous discussion Forum, and a real-time Chat Room, automatically, for each class created. File upload and sharing is facilitated. Instructor Comments 1. User feedback speaks volumes. Here is a representative sample. 2. It was all very intuitive and also very robust, both critical and difficult areas. 3. The plan was for me to build at least one class on both HTML-eZ and Blackboard. I must admit, it takes more time with Blackboard, and it is harder to navigate. Those who have viewed both are certainly convinced that ez is easy. 4. I finished my Web CT training, and I like HTML-eZ much better! 5. We have found that HTML-eZ has features that the high buck platforms don't have 6. As far as I am concerned the service is wonderful. I am very impressed how fast it was to build our own web page and how easy it is for students to use it. 7. I have found working on HTML-eZ to be easy and fun, but more importantly, it gives me the control of the page and removes the inhibition I have to make someone else adjust the page to my liking. 8. What a great tool this is. I look forward to using it this semester. It really is ez :-). 9. I like the fact that we can use Word files including the Word Equation Editor, which makes it quite convenient for math courses. 10. The short story is that HTML-eZ is a big hit around here. I have about four faculty using it on a regular basis--one for a fully online course! 11. I want to express my sincere thanks to you for taking the time to show me HTML-eZ. It is absolutely wonderful. Just as you promised it is very easy to use. I really like the fact that I can create everything and then upload it to HTML-eZ. It is such a smooth process and converts very quickly to HTML. I had my doubts when you said you only needed an hour of my time and I would be familiar enough to work on HTML-eZ. You were correct. The technical support that you and your staff provide has been incredible. You take a lot of pride in your product and it shows. 4

5 For more resources click here -> Future Development ASN has recently added a stand-alone multimedia presentation creator. This software allows an instructor (or student) to create an Internet-delivered voice and graphics presentation, from their laptop or desktop computer. This tool, called Click-iT, is fully integrated into HTML-eZ. The next phase of development will add more sophisticated management tools and polish existing ones. We will also add features that will facilitate more and better student learning and progress assessment. Conclusion HTML-eZ is an educational technology research project as well as a useful teaching tool. Our research in ez's development helps push the envelope in the application of Internet and computer technology to classroom and distance education. The project s development is faculty-driven. We have created an advisory board consisting of representatives from colleges that use ez. The board explores new features, enhancements, and guides further development of the project. It represent a wonderful resource - a research & development test bed distributed across centers of higher learning. With input from people that use the software, we produce a product tailored to the specific needs of the educational community a product that will evolve based on that community s changing needs. ASN has applied for a patient on the technology behind ez, and is seeking partners to license and further develop the technology. We hope to establish an ongoing partnership with commercial developers that will commercialize our current and future research in these areas. We are also seeking educators interested in using the project for their online coursework and becoming part of the driving force behind future development. To join our growing community of users, or to find out more, about HTML-eZ, please contact the author. References Young, J. (2002, March 19). Pricing changes by Blackboard and WebCT cost some colleges more much more. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved June 4, 2003, from Biographical Sketch Henry Borysewicz is the Director of the Scientific Computing Center and the AeroSpace Network at the John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences. He has extensive experience with the application of educational technology for distance learning. At UND, he developed some of the first World Wide Web virtual campus support, and spearheaded the innovative use of distance education technologies. He can be reached at Address: PO Box 9023 Grand Forks, ND URL: learn.aero.und.edu Phone:

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