December 6, 2001
Final Internship Report
The creation of a web site can be divided into two major portions: site design and information gathering. Common misconceptions are that design is more important than information and the opposite. Some people inevitably would argue that information is far more important than how it is presented. In response to this, I would argue that all the information that will be on this web site is available to the public through other forums. The idea, or more accurately the ideal behind a campus ecology web site is to provide easy access to campus issues for anyone who has access to the internet. Of course, presentation does not do much good without accurate and detailed information. This piece will attempt to separate and report on the balance of both information and design.
Important issues of site design are speed, ease of use, graphics, and proper publicity on the web. This is a network of things that must work together if a user wants to receive valuable information.
Speed is essential for a web site. If a page takes over a minute to load the average information seeker will more than likely give up. Several factors go into creating a website that has a good balance between graphics and speed. The web is a multimedia tool and it would be ridiculous not to take advantage of using pictures and even sound or video as parts of the nest of information on a web site. These media have to be used in a special way for desired speed. Both file compression and moderation must be used. Without going into painful detail, file compression makes a piece of media smaller therefore the web user gets it faster at any connection speed. All the pictures that are up on the campus ecology web page have been compressed to a fraction of their normal size. The technology is at my fingertips to put video and sound on the web, however, if a student presents me with a convincing piece of video or sound that should be on the site I would be more than happy to put it up.
The importance of ease of use cannot be underestimated on the World Wide Web. Information should not be a commodity only available to the computer guru. Any user of a web site should be able to get from a main page to information within that page in just a few clicks and without any hassle. I did several things in order to instigate ease of use into the campus ecology web site. First, divisions of the site into separate more specific sites. The separation alone however is not nearly enough. The separations have to have clear titles that represent what is contained in them. For instance, one of my more specific sites is called “Student Organizations and Opinions”, the idea is that anyone who wants to find out about a student operated organization will see this title and have no problem determining the information they need is behind this link. Another policy I stuck to as much as possible is the rule of three clicks. This being, that when someone comes to the website they should be able to access any information on that site in just three clicks. This rule was not completely obeyed because it is almost impossible on a site like this; however, I adhered to it as closely as possible.
Graphics have been talked about some already under the issue of speed; this however is not the only issue surrounding graphics. Most of the graphics available to the typical computer user are copyrighted. In order to use these graphics one must obtain permission and possibly pay a regular fee. I have chosen to ignore the path of copyrighted graphics and design them on my own. This is one of the bigger challenges of designing this page. First, I use self taken pictures, then I put them on the computer, use a program to combine them and make them the correct size, then use another program to compress them for speed. The toughest part perhaps is thinking creatively in the analytical environment of the computer. Each tiny graphic that goes on the page is a long, multistage process that takes significant amounts of time and energy. So far I have designed several graphics that can be used in more than one spot on the web. For instance, one graphic I designed is an underline that incorporates a wheat field in Walla Walla that matches the background picture I am using. This underline can be used in multiple pages of this web site, which makes the long design process more worthwhile.
Finally, the design and information that go into a website are useless if no one ever sees that web site. The Google search engine has access to 1,610,476,000 web sites. The web is literally a sea of information that needs proper representation in order to get use. The campus ecology site will be contained somewhere within the Whitman main page. The question is where will it be. Whiman.edu gets a significant number of hits consistently through its existence; each page contained within Whitman.edu gets fewer hits as a user searches deeper. Inevitably, the deeper the campus ecology page gets placed within Whitman.edu the less hits it will get. I hope that the people in charge will place this site with easy access on the Whitman page.
Lea Redmond suggested to me that it is impossible to separate environmental and human rights issues and therefore I should place these issues equally with environmental problems. My argument was that environmental issues are inseparable from economic, psychological, cultural, religious, and personal issues. I agree that social and other issues are of huge importance, but the campus ecology site puts the environmental issues in the foreground and leaves the other issues up for debate. Other issues will be presented, but they will mainly surround an environmental issue rather than become issues in and of themselves. With this in mind, I have chosen to separate the site into a main page and five more specific pages; Conservation Committee, Campus Operations (working title), Environmental Curriculum, Student Organizations and Opinions, and International Campus Sustainability Information.
The main page is a departure point for getting to the other pages. However, a current, and controversial campus issue will probably be placed on this page also. Currently I presented the issue of food scraps at food service. Under current policy these scraps are given to hog farms. This is better than throwing the scraps away but hog farms are a major polluter and Whitman could start a composting program and produce very rich soil for the Organic Garden. Hopefully students will see the page and respond to this. I have also completed links on the main page to all the more specific pages, to Whitman.edu, and to my email for suggestions or comments.
The Conservation Committee includes information on none other than the conservation committee, including meeting dates, issues, and contact information.
The Campus Operations page is about campus food service, landscaping, and general policies affect the environment. The goal of this page in to increase activism and awareness of what happens on campus for students, prospective students, and anyone else who is curious. As I continue to gather information this site will branch into more and more issues concerning the Whitman campus.
A perspective student interested in environmental issues would probably want to know what courses in this area Whitman has to offer. This information is well defined on the environmental studies web page. The main purpose of the curriculum page is to redirect prospective students looking for Environmental Studies information to the Environmental Studies page. This is done.
Student Organizations and Opinions turned out to be the most comprehensive and time consuming part of this project. There are many student-run organizations involving the environment, some of these have a web page and some do not. I made links to the groups with web pages and putting up a small amount of critical and contact information for the organizations without. I toyed with the idea of created a web site for groups without an existing one. I came to the conclusion that this should not be my job and the time involved in creating pages like these would take critical amounts of my time that could be better dedicated to the project. Student opinions, a branch of this page will be an ongoing collection of applicable student opinions. For instance, Lea Redmond has written a comprehensive report on ideas for campus sustainability. This report is available for students and community members alike and will be on this page in the site.
The International Campus Sustainability page is primarily responsible for making outside information accessible for anyone who is interested. There are several national and international organizations dedicated to campus sustainability. I took small blurbs of information about these sites and I will of course provide links to them. Also on this page are links and information on other college's sustainability programs. This includes Brown University's “Brown is Green” program and Middlebury College's environmental program. These sites provide valuable information Whitman could use to model a campus sustainability program around. The only thought I have against this information being on the site is that Whitman should come up with programs that best fit this college rather than copy from another program.
In doing this project I have realized that there are more environmental possibilities
on campus then I can imagine. Also, one thing that came to mind is that no web
page is ever complete. The information on a site like this is constantly changing
and new information is always coming to light. So, in the future this page will
have to be kept up. For instance, if there were always a current environmental
issue on the main page this would create much more traffic on the site and would
encourage students to solve this issue. Also, the site needs to be filled in.
I provided an outline and some starting issues to talk about, however, the issues
students and faculty want to present should be the foremost part of the page.
So, I hope I have provided a good start to a project on campus that could go
on for as long as the campus exists.