12.000 | Fall 2003 | Undergraduate
Solving Complex Problems


Web Site Development Tools

Web site development is an integral part of 12.000. Students build three different web sites during the semester: Personal Web Sites, Team Web Sites, and a final Project Web Site.

Personal Web Sites

Each student must build and maintain a functional Web site to document his or her research on the part of the team. These sites are not “diaries” of how a student spends his or her time in 12.000. In the first week or two, they will serve principally to articulate a student’s role on the team and how she or he intends to fulfill it. What are his responsibilities? How does she intend to do the necessary research? As the student gathers information, the site will evolve into a presentation of his or her personal research findings as they develop. The content should focus on facts and design ideas that come to the student through his or her own research and discussions with others in the Mission 2007 community.

An important part of research is proper documentation. When a student presents a fact, a graphic, or an opinion that is not his or her own in the personal web site, he or she must reference it properly. Proper referencing style is not taught as part of most high-school curricula, so each student should become familiar with the correct approach. She or he is referred to Chapter 10 of the on-line Mayfield Handbook of Technical and Scientific Writing for a brief treatment of the subject. We use the American Psychological Association (APA) citation style exclusively for this class.

Sites can be developed using any number of high-end programs (e.g., Dreamweaver®, PageMaker, etc.), but the simple tools available in Netscape® Composer, which comes bundled with the Netscape® browser and is installed on most personal computers as well as MIT’s Athena Environment.

Students are expected to update their personal Web sites at least once each week. It is reviewed by one of the Graduate Teaching Assistants each week (Monday or Tuesday). He or she provides the students with feedback each week via email.

Team Web Sites

Each team is responsible for developing a Web site that details its component of the overall Mission 2007 design. At some level, this site can be regarded as a synthesis of the information contained in the personal web sites of the team members. It is also a useful way for a team to communicate what it is doing to the Alumni Mentors; they can just call up the web site of the team and keep up with its progress. If students are clever and coordinate styles among these sites, the team web sites can be linked toward the end of the semester to form the bulk of the project Web site. As a consequence, these sites should have a solid, professional look and they should be informative to anyone who might read them from outside the Mission 2007 community. Again, information and ideas that are collected should be properly referenced.

Each team is expected to update its team Web site at least once every month. A good strategy is to assign one team member with the update responsibilities for a two-week period and then rotate to another team member for the next period. Each team Web site will be reviewed by members of the teaching staff at the end of every month beginning day 12, and each team will be provided with feedback by e-mail.

Project Web Site

One of the principal assignments for the semester is the development of a coherent, highly informative description of the final Mission 2007 design in the form of a project Web site. While this site should contain links to the team web site, it should be more than an introductory page with ten links! This is the class’ opportunity to provide a succinct review of the principal components of the overall design and to describe its implementation strategy in some detail.

One effective approach to building a good project Web site is for each team to designate a delegate to a project web site committee which will meet regularly beginning in mid-semester.

General Web Site Design Hints

There are so many fun things to do with web pages that it’s easy to get carried away. Unfortunately, too many special effects can dilute the power of the message. Remember that the focus of Web site development in this subject is content, not flash. For the team Web site, one page should be devoted to a statement of the problem. Others should focus on specific aspects of the design. For the final project Web site, it is not enough to list what will be done; students must explain why they prioritized research efforts as they did, and why they propose their strategy. In every case, they must justify their decisions. They should clearly illustrate not just their final design, but the thought process they followed as well. What alternative design components did they consider and ultimately reject? What was the logic behind their choice of alternatives? Who did they consult with to research their decision, and what were their opinions?

Improper (or inadequate) referencing to information sources is a common problem with many sites on the World Wide Web. Another is that they do not include easy and obvious navigational tools. Are the links obvious? Does the Web designer need to include a site map?

Students in 12.000 have at least three options for building their sites:

  • They can use any HTML implementation if they can code HTML directly;
  • They can use the page-development tool Composer that is part of the Netscape® Communicator and available on the Athena Network; or
  • They can use any number of commercial page-development tools that they may have available.

Students often find the following web sites to be useful references to the art and science of Web authoring:

Building Web Pages with Composer - A good place to start, brought to you by Netscape®.

Web Page Construction Using Netscape® Composer - A great resource by Julie Van Camp, a professor at Cal State - Long Beach. Ignore the school-specific information concerning downloading and publishing.

Netscape® Composer: A Tutorial - Another straightforward how-to resource by Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne Jones (great name!) at the Murray Hill Middle School in Maryland.

NCSA’s Beginners Guide to HTML - Ready to graduate to HTML programming? Here’s the classic place to start.

W3 Schools Tutorials - Best of the bunch as a broad-spectrum, site-building tutorial. If you can’t find it here, you probably don’t need it.

HTML Goodies Site - A great resource for tips and tricks.

Yale University Web Style Guide - Strategies for making Web sites effective, not just operational!

Fixing Your Web Site - A nice resource from Vincent Flanders, infamous host of Web Pages That Suck.