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Once a faculty member has decided to create a web site, two common questions are: (1) How long will it take? and (2) What is the best software to use? Unfortunately, these questions cannot be answered in any simple way, because the answers depend heavily on the individual user and the educational objectives. For instance, if the goal is to create a modest web syllabus, then the task will probably take 3-10 hr, depending on the individual's level of computer experience. On the other hand, a large educational web site with thousands of links might require several months of full-time work.
Likewise, the choice of software depends in part on an individual's level of computer experience, and in part on the desired end product. A simple web syllabus can be created easily with a standard word processing program or text editor. If, however, the web site will have interactive forms, frames, image maps, or other advanced features, then it is probably best to use software specifically designed to create web pages. There are a number of excellent web page editors available, and many can be downloaded free for a trial period. My recommendation would be to seek the advice of other web developers and to choose a software program that has good technical support either at your institution or through the software maker.
Once you have chosen a web editor, two further pieces of software are necessary. First, you will need a way to send your pages to the web. Many web editors have this feature built into their menu as a "publish" option. Alternatively, you can use one of several file transferring programs (known as ftp programs, short for "file transfer protocol") that are widely available as freeware. If you are not sure which route to take, I would suggest talking with technical support professionals at your institution. A good technical support professional should be able to set up an ftp program for you in less than 15 minutes.
The final piece of necessary software is a web browser (a program that allows people to look at, or "browse," web pages). At the time of this writing, the most popular browsers are Mozilla's Firefox, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, and Apple's Safari. Any of these programs is fine for browsing the web as a consumer of other people's pages. If you are developing your own pages, however, my advice would be to install all web browsers so that you can check how your pages look with each browser (web pages can appear very different depending upon the browser).
Beyond the three software programs necessary for web design -- a web page editor, a file transferring program, and a web browser -- serious web developers will also want to obtain a graphics program such as Photoshop. A graphics program allows you to create, modify, or resize images for use on the web. This capability is especially useful if you want to customize scanned images, design logos, or make navigation buttons for visitors to click on. If you are interested only in creating a few simple web pages, however, then a graphics program is probably unnecessary. Instead, you can get a wide variety of free images by visiting clip art sites on the web.
In the tips that follow, I will assume that you have obtained the necessary software and that you have a working familiarity with hypertext markup language (i.e., the language most web pages are written in, known commonly as HTML). If you are unfamiliar with HTML, my advice would be to work through a few simple HTML tutorials, either on the web or through a workbook (e.g., Callihan, 1997; Campbell & Darnell, 1997; Lemay, 1997; Oliver & Holzschlag, 1997). Basic proficiency in HTML can be self-taught in a day or two, and it is worth taking the time to learn this language even if your web editing software advertises that no knowledge of HTML is necessary (by understanding the language, you will be able to troubleshoot problems, make direct modifications to the HTML code if necessary, and see how other people's pages are written). With these prerequisites assumed, I turn now to the nuts and bolts of web site construction.