The World Wide Web offers great opportunities for would-be media magnates. But, says Ian Carter, you need to consider the time and resources involved
Roll up, roll up for the latest bandwagon - the World Wide Web. But before you get carried away, consider why you would want to publish your own pages on the Web and, more to the point, the commitment required to maintain them.
There are some delightful school sites to browse through to find inspiration, such as the pages on Research Machines' Internet for Learning Web site. Providers like RM give you a few megabytes of space to dip your toes in.
The first hurdle is creating the pages with a simple text editor. However, incorporating HTML, the hypertext mark-up language used to define the content and appearance of your pages is not for the faint hearted. A simpler, but more expensive, option is to buy a copy of Adobe PageMill (Macintosh only at the moment) which creates pages as simply as laying out a page in a desktop publishing package. Pictures and hypertext links can be dragged and dropped until you get the desired effect. It also allows children to get feedback on their pages. Microsoft is planning to release its most recent aquisition, FrontPage (the Windows equivalent of PageMill), for next to nothing for educational users.
These packages allow you to rebuild the links between pictures and pages which frustratingly fall apart when you copy them from the Web to your computer. The Web Whacker (Principal) is the perfect copying tool. You simply direct it to a site, tell it how many levels you want to dig into and let it work while you browse. At the end of a session the complete site, with pictures and links all intact, appears on your hard disc. This is what computers are made for!
Good downloaded materials help a school set up its own "Intranet"; Web pages which are available on the school network on an internal server. Sound investment in a robust school network soon pays off, because those wonderful pictures of the Orion nebula from the Hubble telescope Web site can be made available to the rest of the school. And a Web server works on most makes of computers: whether it is set up on a Mac or a Windows NT server, any computer can access the pages.
(If you don't even have a modem, you can still get a taste of the Web with the Net Classroom Collection (Pounds 10) from the Scottish Council for Educational Technology. This contains 13 educational topics from the Web on one CD-Rom, along with the browser software.) For technophobes, a Mac is an obvious choice; an old Apple Macintosh SE running the shareware program MacHTTP provides a slow but serviceable Web publishing system. Anyone who has bought the Windows NT server can ask for Microsoft's free Web publishing software. And Sun provides a fully configured Unix Netra server for wealthier schools, with full maintenance and support.
The Rolls Royce system would be an Apple Internet server 6150 bundle which has a one-button Web site installer. Every conceivable Web appliance is here, including the highly regarded WebStar server, Adobe PageMill, BBEdit (an excellent text editor) and Applesearch for full-text searches. Apple's built-in file-sharing allows groups of children to "own" their pages for editing and updating.
The Intranet can be used for distributing all manner of resource materials created internally or downloaded from the Web. Or the brave can go the whole hog and get a full leased line or digital ISDN connection to their service provider to create their own, independent Web site - Research Machines will happily advise on the options available.
There is a steady path which can be taken towards full Web publishing and it is fairly easy to duck out without too much financial damage. At some stage, we will all be publishing pages on the Web - an exciting prospect for the millenium generation.
* Acorn: 01223 254254Apple: 0181 569 1199RM: 01235 826000Adobe: 0181 606 4000Microsoft: 01734 270001Sun Microsystems: 01252 399570Principal: 01706 831831SCET 0800 591 262Z