|Project: Nathaniel Hawthorne in
Project web site: hawthorneinsalem.org/
Team members: Terri Whitney, Jan Arabas and Maureen O'Neill
Specifically, we wanted to offer the following in our website:
In September and October, we planned to:
The architecture section of the site also includes source documents on the construction of the Salem Custom House as well as depictions of it through history, using images from the collections of the participating museums. This section of the site also includes a discussion of Federal style architecture with rollovers identifying Federal features of the Custom House, a video clip explaining the distinguishing features of the style and a variety of virtual tours of the building. The third section of the site, Life and Times, provides some information on Hawthorne's life in Salem and his work in the Custom House. All three sections incorporate a variety of media including, in addition to text and images, video, audio and panoramic videos. The final section of the site for which we were able to add material is the Explore and Discover section. In this section we provide a few guided paths through the website with suggested activities appropriate for students.
Our project-related activities included the following:
Professor Dom Franco. Kirkwood Community College, was an attentive and knowledgeable mentor who kept us on track and provided important guidance throughout the project. His visit not only allowed us to evaluate the site, but he also answered a range of questions we had regarding online learning. Our only disappointment regarding the site visit was that only a few faculty attended the sessions. A number of faculty did view the website at the Liberal Studies division meeting, however.
Our interim president, Dr. Laurence Reeves, was an enthusiastic supporter of our project, and our new president, Dr. Wayne Burton, who was hired in the spring of 2000, is equally enthusiastic. Dr. Burton is eager for our college to explore the possibilities new technology offers for students and faculty, and, in fact, initiated the collaboration between the Essex National Heritage Area and the college on website development.
Dr. Maureen O'Neill, our team member who is Chair of the Division of Liberal Studies, provided vigorous support for the faculty developers, Jan Arabas and Terri Whitney. She requested and received permission from the Dean of Faculty for Jan and Terri to receive release time in the spring and stipends for their summer work on the project.
The college Information Systems office allowed our Web administrator to assist with the project. The Web administrator, in turn, recruited two students from NSCC's computer courses, to assist with scanning images, creating a database and programming of the site.
The college's Learning Resource Center allowed the Telecommunications Director to devote time to recording and editing audio and video, and their photographer took some publicity photographs.
First, although we had the enthusiastic support of our administration at all levels as well as the assistance (for a while) of our web administrator and two willing student interns, the time they had available to devote to the project was inadequate. The requirements for developing and maintaining a database, preparing and editing images, programming, photography, scanning, creating and editing audio and video were simply too demanding. The college web administrator was essential in coordinating the website posting, and when he was taken off the project because of the pressing demands of his job developing the college Website, we struggled. In addition, we were asking the student interns to do far more than could be reasonably expected of them. Fortunately, they were dedicated to the project, but our recommendation is that money be available in any future grants to pay programmers and others with the technological expertise necessary for sophisticated Website development. To create a rich, attractive, well-designed site requires extensive time and expertise.
We knew from the outset that we would need a database, but we could not find one which would work for us and with which our personnel were familiar or could easily become familiar. We spent considerable time examining commercial products and thinking about ways in which we could adapt them to our needs, but ultimately we used a database developed specifically for our needs by one of our student programmers. Our recommendation: when preparing a proposal for a website, establish what database will work for the project.
Because of the time it took to select a database, by the time we had one, we had a backlog of nearly one hundred images. As a result, when we were finally ready to post the images, we had difficulty locating all of them and had little time to post the necessary annotations.
Although we focused our project much more narrowly than we planned in our initial proposal to the CCHA, specifically on the Salem Custom House and its relation to Hawthorne, we still fell short of the goals we set for ourselves regarding the material we hoped to post on the Website. We never were able to post material on the Scholars' Forum or FAQ, and we were unable to complete the Life and Times section. We are still working on the maps and some rollover diagrams.
Because we were new at the technology, our first efforts at producing panoramic images were not as successful as we had hoped, and our web administrator, who was the only one familiar with QuickTime for panoramas, was unavailable for assistance for these. Ultimately, we turned again to one of the student programmers who learned how to create the panoramas.
Although the museums were willing to scan images for us for free and to grant us copyright privileges, in cases where documents or pictures were too fragile to scan, our only option was to pay for the museum to photograph the material. This limited our content.
When we linked to websites outside our own, the new site appeared in full screen so that navigation on our site disappeared and created the possibility of some viewers thinking that this material was actually on our site. Our mentor, Dom Franco, noticed this and suggested the site links appear in a smaller window. We will make this change when the site merges with the new NEH-funded site.
Although we were able to gain some feedback from the audience at the various meetings and conferences where we presented the website, and although the online tracking of the use of our Website was informative, it would have been helpful to have funding for a formal assessment conducted by an experienced designer of academic websites.
This project has taught us a great deal about what is required to create an effective educational website. Although we wished we had more time and resources for the project, because of the strong support we had at the college and the hard work of all involved, we were able to produce a website which we believe will be useful to students and faculty. We have included a document which provides a statistical analysis of the numbers of users of our site (See Appendix B.). Although we knew that our audience would potentially be worldwide, it was nonetheless somewhat startling to see the list of countries represented in the user list; we even had a visitor from Croatia. We hope our college will remain committed to maintaining and expanding the site as well as to supporting other technology projects. This is no small matter, as considerable time and cost are required, but we believe such investments can offer rich rewards.
North Shore Community College
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