2. Getting started with web-based projects
Web technology has become the mainstream of CALL (Computer-Assisted Language Learning) courseware development. While the web has promised to provide more potentials for foreign language instruction, it is crucial that you work out a well-defined project plan and pull together all the necessary resources before you start working on your project.
Webpages are first created by someone (e.g., content writers and programmers) on a workstation and published on a server (the web server) to be accessed by a user. Users surf those pages through a web browser from a networked computer (the client). Just like any other teaching materials development project using the traditional means (paper-and-pencil, in most cases), the working plan of a web-based CALL project should contain answers to the following minimal set of questions:
1) Learning materials authoring:
2) Backend technology:
3) Webpage design:
To be able to answer the above minimal set of questions, the development team of a web-based CALL project should have both the necessary human and system resources.
2.2 Human resources
Whether a web project is an individual endeavor or that of a teamwork, developing online interactive language learning materials requires expertise in three different areas which include content authoring, programming and system administration.
2.2.1 Content writer
This is someone who will develop the content of language learning materials. Usually language instructors will be responsible for this part of the job. While a language instructor may have written learning materials for classroom use before, to work on a comparatively large language instruction project requires a solid training and first-hand experiences in teaching materials development. Further, content developers should be aware of the limitations of the web as well as other related technology.
Well planning is crucial for web-based projects, as in the case of paper-and-pencil based projects. Take the simple case of writing language exercises using the multiple-choice format, for example. It takes some insights and efforts to even create three or four appropriate options for a multiple choice question. The same principles apply to web-based projects where equal efforts are required.
2.2.2 System administrator
This is someone who is responsible for setting up, configuring and maintaining servers on which those learning materials will be published. Usually other internet services such as email, ftp and file sharing are also provided from the same server system. In order to process user input data, for example, a system administrator would have to configure the web server properly to allow scripts (which implement interactivity) to be running on the machine.
This is someone who can write programs or scripts to process user input data and customize your webpages for interactivity.. There are three kinds of programming skills involved as far as developing web-based applications is concerned:
The particular programming proficiency of a programmer is not a crucial factor. As long as one is good at one programming language, he/she can pick up other languages very quickly.
By server we refer to two things: The server machine (hardware) and the web (as well as database) server software. A server machine is the computer on which your webpages are stored and published. Web server is a piece of software which runs on the server machine through which those pages are made available on the internet. In the real world, the term 'web server' could refer to both the hardware and software, depending on the context.
Since most language teaching websites do not have a heavy network traffic, the exact hardware configuration of the serve system is not of a particular concern to CALL developers. Rather, it is important to know which operating system is installed on your server machine before you start your project.
The two most popular operating systems on which a web server is running are UNIX and WindowsNT. (See www.netcraft.com for statistics.)
On UNIX-based servers, Apache is the most popular web server software. In fact, more than half of productive web servers on the entire Internet are powered by Apache (c.f. www.netcraft.com). On Windows-based servers such as Windows2000 Server or WindowsNT Server, Microsoft Internet Information Server is the most popular.
This is the machine that language learners will use to access your web-based learning materials. While its platform is not critical, a client machine should have the following capabilities:
A special note should be mentioned here about the kind of network connection available to you and your user. You must consider this factor before you set to design your web pages. There are three major means to access the internet:
The crucial factor which distinguishes the various connection methods is speed. Direct access is the fastest, while dial-up is the slowest. Others fall in-between. Remember that larger files takes more time to download and most users just don't have the patience for waiting too long.