Creating and managing Web materials for courses

The problem which comes up at the beginning of each semester is how to make course materials available on the Web. This sounds like a simple question, but there are several issues involved in this. I'll try to go through them and offer some hints.

Format of the documents

There are basically two choices if one wants to reach the widest audience: HTML and PDF. HTML is universal and can be viewed with any browser. It is not good for formatting (spacing, page breaks etc.), and for mathematics. My suggestion is to try and use HTML whenever possible.

If you don't know HTML and aren't willing to experiment with it, you'll have to ask the office staff to type things for you. Again, please remember that formatting is very difficult - don't expect much.

Please look at some existing pages to see how people have been handling this. Try to avoid various HTML editors, or saving documents created in Word etc. in the HTML format - the kind of code these gadgets produce is almost impossible to edit by hand later, and it is sometimes not quite compatible with all browsers out there.

Naming conventions

We need some uniformity in naming the files. The scheme the office uses is to keep files sorted by course/year/semester. For example, a file relevant to Math 211 taught in the Fall 2001 would be in .../211/2001Fall/file It would be good if the users who have their own collections of Web pages followed this.

Where to keep the files

There are at least three possibilities:
    1. user's WWW directory
    2. the "courses" area under control of the office staff
    3. the "courses" area on the server

1. is the easiest and preferred, but requires the user to learn some HTML and be somewhat conversant in Unix.
2. is appropriate when the pages might at some point need editing by the office staff.
3. is for people who don't want to maintain their own Web page and just want a few "static" files to be put up on the Web.

In cases 2. and 3. please use appropriate names for your documents (either directories as mentioned above, or reasonably descriptive names such as 211-2001Fall-syll.html), and send me a note saying which files to copy where.

Accessing the files

If you are maintaining your own Web page in your ~user/WWW/some_path directory, the corresponding URL will be
    http://www.math.niu.edu/~user/some_path
and this is what you should advertise to the students.

The course materials should also be made accessible from one of the central pages on the server, http://www.math.niu.edu/courses/. Please let me know what links to your pages should be added there.

Passing the torch

If you had some materials on the Web during the previous semester, you should let me know what to do with the files and links to them. We would like to archive syllabi, handouts etc. with your permission.

If you think some of your files are generic enough to be useful to others in the future, please mention it - I will then place them in a location accessible to all faculty and I'll advertise that fact. Conversely, if you do want some files archived but you do not want them to be used by others, make sure to mention that as well.


Eric Behr, behr@math.niu.edu