setting up a teaching platform

  hilz 15:41 12 Dec 03
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I work in a large teaching hospital and want to set up a web based teaching platform, however I am bewildered by the amount of software available, could somebody please suggest suitable software for someone who hasn't set up a website before but who is very eager to learn. The website must provide movie clips, workbooks, forums, news bulletins and be used for recruitment.

  Taran 16:58 12 Dec 03

That is a very large project, especially for a newcomer to web design, and there are a lot of considerations to take into account.

Will the site and its contents mainly be available internally over a networked intranet or will it serve for internal and external access.

You will need user registration or some system of registering existing students for access to the site, or will all information be freely available to absolutely anyone who visits ?

I’d imagine that you will need access rights restricted to at least some sections for a number of possible reasons.

Most of the systems I know of along these lines provide links to download documents, research articles, case studies and their findings and all kinds of other things (my wife is in psychiatry and I lecture part-time at a local college).

Although much of this can be outsourced to some of the large medical journal sites, you will still no doubt have a substantial amount of information you will want to make available that cannot be outsourced or linked to, and so you enter into some serious issues.

Download document type obviously should be PDF for security purposes (among other things) which entails investing in PDF creating software. This varies in features and cost, but Adobe Acrobat is the standard and for good reason.

Bandwidth - you will ned a lot of it, especially for delivery of video clips and audio (if you want to use it).

You will probably need some sort of cataloguing system to keep track of what you are offering and any revisions or updates and so on.

This may be reflected in the site itself, which should be fully searchable, and this is where it can start to get very complex to those not familiar with dynamic site content.

It would simplify things if your catalogue database could be queried online by students and items selected from it; a branch of the same system could be used to deliver teaching modules and training material.

I’m just bouncing some of the concepts around that I think you will probably require (there are many more) and without going off on one, for any reasonable information delivery/access system to work properly you are really talking about the kind of thing that you call in a designer to do for you.

Newsfeeds, bulletin boards (and the user registration involved), all of that form processing and so on will require a great deal of dynamic ASP or PHP (Perl/CGI could do some of it) and the appropriate databases to work as nature intended. Some of your criteria can be met by using third party solutions under license, but nothing will meet anywhere near all of your requirements as an off the peg solution.

If you would like me to suggest some of the products that you could implement I will, but no matter how eager you are to learn, dynamic sites is one area that brings most people to a very abrupt halt.

Post with more information if you can and one of us will try and point you in the right direction.

Doesn't your IT department have someone who can at least get the ball rolling for you or begin an evaluation/case study based on your requirements ?

Something of this size will need to meet the requirements of any and every department at the hospital for iformation delivery and will need to be very carefully planned to be properly implemented.

Sorry if I'm raining on your parade but, as I said at the beginning, it's a very large project and with all the software under the sun (and the knowledge of how to use it) I'd also suggest that it might not be a one person project.

Regards

Taran

  hilz 18:25 12 Dec 03

Thanks for your prompt reply ! Yes I imagine it will be a large project but one that will evolve over time. Maybe I should start with a simple site and gradually upgrade it as my expertise builds up.
I work for the ULTH the largest teaching hospital trust in Europe which has a website and so there is already the option of being added onto this.
The IT department has set protocols for adding departmental sites to the intra and internet and I feel confident they will support me fully with the project. However at the moment they promote Microsoft Frontpage as a standard web building tool and I'm not sure how suitable this is for our purposes.
The website would be specifically for my department ( Cardiology ) at the moment not for the whole hospital and so we can develop at our own pace. The department would be willing to invest in software, etc to build the right website so really I'm fishing for a little more advice before I toe the line.
Delving into the world of website design is a little scary at the moment and I have great respect for professional designers, I know that my site will not be at this standard but we do not have funding at this level.
Really this site has to grab the imagination of any student who uses it and so I would like to utilise as many interesting features as possible.
I guess what I'm saying is I am the creative input with an IT backup team to coach me and help as much as possible. They do provide courses but again Frontpage orientated.
As a background, although I am now a healthcare professional I spent 10 years in the graphic design industry so layouts and production sheets are second nature.
Again thanks for your reply and a little rain,

Hilary

  Taran 19:41 12 Dec 03

Right, here we go then.

FrontPage is, in fact, very near to the top of my list of web design software. The current version (2003) is superb and for connecting to and displaying information from data sources nothing competes.

It is capable of entry level right through to incredibly complex dynamic sites, so if you have the option of using and being trained in FrontPage, go for it and the very best of British.

All of the hateful feedback that FrontPage earned is largely based on old versions, but any version after FrontPage 2000 is an excellent tool and the latest, as I've already said, is in a class of its own. So don't go thinking you absolutely have to have Dreamweaver, Adobe GoLive or any of the other big names you might have heard about. It's nice to have them all available but they all have a learning curve and FrontPage in one of the easiest to get to grips with.

Your IT department will be able to help walk you through feedback forms (an absolute doddle in FrontPage) and membership systems as and when the need for them arise.

There is a Catch 22 situation to overcome initially: the "site has to grab the imagination of any student" and to do so you have to have a pretty impressive site at point of launch with lots of useful/interesting information. Although all good sites evolve and grow, without some sort of impact at the outset you won't generate any real long-term interest.

I'm really not too sure what more to say on the subject. Your background will, of course, be of great help, especially when combined with the subjects you will be trying to deliver. You will be working with a foot in both camps, as it were, instead of perhaps trying to design around something you don't entirely understand.

You should find that you have all the necessary software already available to you as well as the training to use it. As you say, you will be the creative input initially, but as time goes on and you become familiar with the software this will change.

I'd say go for it and be damned. You have IT dept backup for any questions/training and whatnot. You have a strong and useful background to call upon and you are familiar with the subject(s) you will be delivering. If anything that gives you advantages that a professional web designer might, in some cases, not have.

If you would like some links to some potentially useful resource sites I'll happily provide a few for you.

Be warned though; web design becomes addictive and there is, to date, no know cure.

Good luck with it.

Regards

Taran

  Forum Editor 07:15 13 Dec 03

at least in your particular circumstances, is its inbuilt ability to run discussion forums. I have designed and set up discussion groups and intranets for a national industry support organisation using FrontPage, and it seems to work pretty well for them, with over 700 staff using the facility. I'm sure you'll find the same thing will work well for you too.

FrontPage 2003 (available as a standalone product) is superb, and is lightyears away from the earlier versions mentioned by Taran. It will do everything you need to do and far more, and I think you'll soon feel at home with the interface and the way it all works.

Good luck with your project, and don't forget that we're here to provide advice and assistance whenever/if you need it.

  hilz 12:52 17 Dec 03

Thanks for your feedback and comments, I have found them very useful, great to know Frontpage is going to be suitable ( I have read quite a few dismissive comments by web designers - maybe wanting to promote their own services ? ) My project is due to begin in the new year and so I still have a little time to continue with my initial research.
I was particularly interested in the idea of a catalogue databse that would deliver teaching and training material. If you could suggest any useful sites you feel are particularly well set up I would be extremely grateful ?
Feel like I am moving into brighter weather now !

Again thanks for ypur comments

Hilary

  Taran 13:38 17 Dec 03

Those who malign FrontPage normally do so based on hearsay with little or no experience of it. It's a shame because many people dismiss it out of hand as soon as they play with a few of its site themes - they seem to be under some kind of misguided assumption that this is as far as FrontPage can and will go. Big mistake. The latest version of FrontPage (2003) is about the best program I've ever used for connecting to data sources for dynamic site content, which is handy really; that's what you will have to do at some stage.

To deliver documents for assignments, research and so on, you could simplify the process by offering them as file downloads. At one end of the scale you create a folder in your web root to hold your download files then hyperlink to them on one of your web pages.

Example:

Create a folder called downloads.

Create folders inside this called something like term1, term2, topic1, topic2, word, pdf, excel or other relevant names.

Put the necessary documents into their respective folders.

On your website, you have a page for term1 students. The students go to the download section of the page and click on a hyperlink which points to assignment1.doc in the term1 folder.

This is a grossly oversimplified example, but you get the idea. It's basic document management. Keep your web file and folder names in lower case and don't use spaces. If you need to use two or more words to name a file or folder, use an underscore like_this.

To deliver content from a database is far harder in many respects, but it becomes necessary at a certain point when the sheer volume and/or variety of files being offered gets difficult to manage, or when you need to keep track of who is accessing what, why and when.

The Outfront site has lots of useful tutorials for FrontPage in general, but in particular I'd recommend that you read the database articles by Spooky click here

They offer a gentle introduction to a topic that often brings people to a very abrupt halt.

Delivering content from a data source requires a lot of careful planning and I suggest you get to grips with the software for general web designing first. Setting up a large and complex site takes time and if you already knew FrontPage data driven methods I'd say it could benefit you to go that road from the outset. That way, when things get to a certain size, the system(s) required to run it are already in place, ready and waiting.


Microsoft offer some possibly useful downloads for you to play with once you get your head around FrontPage and web designing in general. The ASP .NET site has some free to use downloads of dynamic sites for use with Microsoft software. The site is click here and they have a link for Starter Kits, which include a fully functional web community and another that is a web portal.

This is getting way ahead, but in the future they could be useful as a springboard since they demonstrate how a web interacts with data sources for information delivery, user login systems, admin controlled communities, group permissions and all kinds of other things. This may seem a bit much just now, but if things become as large as I suspect they could in your environment, you will very probably have to go to dynamic content, so keep it in mind for the future. It would be worth discussing with your IT dept and network manager. They may prefer you to start out with dynamic content since it can be easier to have it all in place from the outset to cope with demand as things grow, but this is all ahead of you and not a topic to worry yourself over unduly.

We, obviously, will help where necessary and if you come unstuck with FrontPage there are a few of us in here who use it often at commercial level so you should never be too far from help where required.

It's difficult to know how far to go with advice on a new project, especially one where you will be learning the software as you go along, so I think I'll leave it at that for now.

There are lots of good web links and tutorials and aside from the above, I strongly suggest you spend some time with Microsoft on their FrontPage site click here . It offers tutorials, links, demonstrations, support and, well, all sorts really. It's a good place to start.

Come back with specific questions as and when you get stuck.

I'm looking forward to seeing how you come along.

Best of luck.

Regards

Taran

  Forum Editor 20:58 17 Dec 03

I'll follow your progress with interest, and as one of the people who use FrontPage commercially I'll help in any way I can, should you feel the need.

Good luck, and remember to back up absolutely everything at every opportunity. Create the kind of file heirarchy mentioned in Taran's post, so you don't lose track of your content - it's one of the golden rules of designing sites that are in any way complex. You think you'll remember where everything is as you create it, but a couple of days down the line................

  hilz 20:07 22 Dec 03

Thanks Taran, and Forum Editor I can't wait to get started now and I will keep you informed as I go along. You never know I might just pull this off with a little luck and a LOT of help. So far I have been mighty impressed with the level of advice the web designing forum has offered - Taran you are a star, thanks again.

Best wishes for Christmas

Hilary

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