Making Use of Personal Website as the Medium of Teaching
By Yusuf Kurniawan
Research evidence shows that people from all walks of life have started to
use personal website for strategic and elaborate self-presentation. This
paper discusses the feasibilities of making use of personal website as the
medium of teaching. The ever-changing number of personal websites on the
Internet became one of the evidence that personal website is one of the new
media that could attract mass appeals. There have been a lot of personal
websites posting personal information, CV, family pictures and personal
interests. However, there are only a few that display academic things, such
as the name of subject taught by the author, the module description and its
assessments. The personal website can become the emancipatory and
strategic place for the author to have a more-extended self-presentation. The
author can carefully select the parts of his ‘self’ to be presented on his
personal website. In addition, the ease of having personal academic websites
to academicians can produce many advantages both for the owners
themselves and for their students. Regardless the reality constraints of
building the personal websites, the needs for such personal websites are very
crucial. Needless to say, young academicians should be encouraged to
Key words: academic personal website, personal website, ISP, server
What are the medium characteristics of the personal website?
• Multimedianess: The personal website can display text, graphic, sound, and
• Asynchronicity: Generally, exchanges between authors and browsers of personal
websites (usually by emails or guestbook messages) are non-instantaneous and
• Revisability: Before or after posting a personal website on the Web, website
authors can extend, modify, delete, or reorganize the website contents whenever
• Hypertextuality: A personal website can contain ‘hyperlinks’, which enable
browsers to roam from one webpage to other webpages within or external to the
• Global Reachability: Once a personal homepage is posted on the Web, normally
every net user around the world can access it. (Cheung: 2003)
Let me tell you a secret: in 1995, two years after the Mosaic browser had grabbed the
attention of the world and made the Web an interesting place to hang out; I was still illiterate
about the Net. First, because I hadn’t got a PC and second, the access to the Internet at the
time was still limited to a number of people since the cost was still quite expensive, at least to
me. Even in 1997, when I finally could get my first own access to the Internet, I saw that it
had not been very popular amongst the society, particularly in the midst of academicians. But,
just within three years it became impossible to think about life without the Web.
To academicians, the presence of the World Wide Web should be welcomed
enthusiastically. Moreover, with the vast opportunity to build our own website on the Internet,
posting information, pictures or articles/ essay became very easy. Why let an article go out of
date by two years waiting for a journal to publish it? Put it on the Web today and you can
appeal hundreds of audience. Why fly thousands of miles only to hang around with lots of
middle-aged, unhappy academicians? Instead, chat with them within the welcome confines of
e-mail, and then do the international travel to explore other cultures.
Research evidence shows that people from all walks of life have started to use personal
website for strategic and elaborate self-presentation. One of the prominent uses of personal
website is to promote one’s professional achievement in ways which may not otherwise be
possible in everyday life. People seeking jobs, for example, use personal website to highlight
and embellish aspects of their professional achievements, so as to reach potential employers
or to create more lasting impressions than brief phone or face-to-face job interviews
(Rosenstein, 2000). Likewise, artists use their websites to promote their artistic persona
(Pariser, 2000), and young academics use faculty homepages to gain wider exposure (Miller
and Arnold, 2001).
The emergence of the World Wide Web should have challenged academicians who
particularly accustomed to using the Internet as one of their media of communications to
maximize its functions. Besides its ease of use as the medium of communication, the World
Wide Web which overlaps with the Internet also serves as the great source of information. For
teachers/ lecturers, the Internet can become the always-ready assistant whenever they need
teaching/ lecture materials or just supplementary materials since it is accessible for twenty-
four hours a day. To confront the challenge, the academicians should not only make use of the
Internet for sending e-mails and browsing information, but also make use of it as the medium
of teaching. Indeed, the lecturer or the teacher must build her own personal (academic)
You might have been familiar with personal website, but not with academic personal
website. I use this term to refer to a personal website that mostly contains academic things
such as courses or subjects, syllabus, assessment to the subject taught by the lecturer,
announcement board for the result of a test or an exam, feedback of assignment and links to
other useful websites that relate to the teaching/ lecture materials. Most of all, what the
lecturer must provide on her personal academic website is related to what she teaches in her
college or university.
‘It is me!’: the Personal Website as a Stage for Strategic and Elaborate Self-
The first emancipatory use of the personal website is strategic and elaborate self-
presentation. In everyday life we usually try hard to tell other people who we “really” are.
Though we can one-sidedly complain that other people misunderstand us, sociologist suggests
that self-presentational failure in everyday life actually involves other factors such as social
interactional contexts and our presentation skills.
Goffman (1959) argues, in everyday encounters, the social settings and audiences we
face always define the kinds of ‘acceptable’ selves we should present –a worker will perform
as a hard-working employee in front of his boss. However, we may want to present certain
identities but may not be able to find the ‘right’ social settings and audiences, and if we insist
on presenting our identities in inappropriate social settings, we will experience
embarrassment, rejection or harassment (Cheung, 2003). For instance, a student who is fond
of singing in class will not only fail to get praise from his teacher but also annoy his friends.
In face-to-face interaction, we present our selves through the use of ‘sign vehicles’ like
clothing, posture, mimics, speech pattern and bodily gesture. But most face-to-face
interactions proceed in a spontaneous manner and do not include an assigned block of time in
which we can present ourselves in an orderly and systematic fashion. Frequently, our
presentation of self in everyday life is a delicate enterprise (Goffman, 1959, Cheung, 2003),
subject to moment-to-moment mishaps and unintentional misrepresentations. What follow
these mishaps are again the experience of embarrassment, rejection or harassment, and
consequently the failure of self-presentation.
The personal website gives more opportunities for having more strategic self-
presentation than everyday interaction. It is a self-defined ‘stage’ that we can decide what
aspects of our selves we would like to present on it. To academics, the personal website could
be a strategic place to elaborate their self-presentation than that of in everyday presentation.
Academicians who might get less public acknowledgement can still appeal mass audience by
setting new personalities and reputation through their academic personal websites. For
instance, if they have unpublished writings, instead of queuing for years just to publish one of
their articles on a journal or a newspaper, they can put them on their personal websites. It
would give them more self-confidence as academicians since their writings will have been
read by hundreds or maybe thousands of people, not only by their students but also by other
lecturers from other university. As one young academician confessed: ‘For the person
visiting the Web page of my own department, I am more visible than the professors (who
don’t have pages)’(Miller and Arnold, 2001:105).
The Advantages of Having Academic Personal Website
There are many things you can do of having academic personal website. Both the
owner and the students can benefit from such website.
For the lecturer, academic personal website can become a good medium to teach. I’m
not saying that lectures should be conducted through website, but in certain occasions
the lecturer has to leave her class free because of sudden business, attending seminar
for a few days for instance. If the lecturer could not compensate the free class in other
occasion, the students will lose their chance to learn from her. More often than not, to
compensate the free class in other occasion is very difficult because the limited time
owned by the lecturer. Such situation can make the students disappointed if it happens
frequently and lower her professionalism. With academic personal website the lecturer
does not necessarily have to leave her students free from the lecture, instead she can
still give her students lecture materials and the instruction from her personal website.
All in all, the lecturer must tell her students from the beginning of her lecture that she
has an academic personal website available on the Internet that can be accessed by the
students. Moreover, she must also strongly recommend her students to frequently visit
her website and ask her all students to have e-mail addresses that she can contact to
give them information. In consequence, the students must also check their e-mail
folders regularly in case of the incoming sudden important announcement or
information from their lecturer. This seems difficult to do, but after a few weeks
running the students will get used to it. The lecturer can upload the file of the materials
from everywhere while she is away from campus. She can always do it at ease even
though the time is very limited. As long as there is the Internet access and computer,
then definitely uploading files becomes feasible.
Academic personal website also serves as the source of information for the students.
The lecturer who teaches a certain subject definitely can post supplementary materials
and other sources of lecture materials on her personal website, such as links to other
websites which provide fruitful information. Besides additional materials, the lecturer
also can display the general and specific purposes of the subject and the syllabus, so
the students can find out about them since early of the semester. To make students
know that the lecturer has a personal website, she must announce the website address
at the announcement board or on the department’s website. If you attach your personal
website on to the department’s website, the students will easily find it.
The lecturer who has personal website can easily share, and exchange ideas with other
lecturers from other universities or colleges. The alike-minded lecturers can arrange a
meeting, a conference or a research that is definitely beneficial for them. For instance,
a lecturer who has great research interest in new media studies will always keep
himself up-to-date with any development of theories in new media studies by any
means, e.g.: subscribing to weekly-news, participating in on-line discussions, and
expressing his thoughts about the development of new media studies theories on his
personal website. He simply writes on his e-mail to his counterpart, who might be in
different hemisphere, the URL of his personal website and ask the receivers to check
out his personal website.
A lecturer who is keen on conducting researches or writing books, he can also make
use of his personal website as a means of attracting other researchers who have the same
interest to participate in or support his research, or might be other writers who are interested
in contributing articles for the book.
The book entitles Web.Studies, which was edited by David Gauntlett, (former lecturer
at the Institute of Communications Studies of the University of Leeds), is contributed by
distinguished writers from various countries. Uniquely, the editor has never talked to all of the
writers face to face; he invited them to contribute essays for his book because he had seen and
read some of their articles in several books. He showed his websites: www.theory.org.uk and
www.newmediastudies.com to these people to let them know who he is, and then the book
writing started. All the discussions were made by e-mails. Gauntlett (2000) says:
This book, for example, came together entirely on the Internet. I have
never spoken to most of the contributors, nor written to them by
conventional mail. But we’ve exchanged a lot of e-mails. ….. I received
140 proposals for chapters –mostly from academics and postgraduate
students—within a month. Obviously, I had to reject most of them.
Once commissioned, the chapters were sent and discussed by e-mail. I
checked facts and gave away bits of the forthcoming book at
newmediastudies.com in a bid to raise interest.
Web.Studies is just one of the evidence that personal website can become the effective
means to promote our interest or achievement. Many other academicians turned into
successful and famous people. The key factor is just how you can promote the existence of
your website to other people that are millions out there, and we do not know who interested
are in the content of your website. But, it is at least beneficial to the lecturer’s own students.
How Should the Academic Personal Website be?
Although the academic personal websites are not like common personal or commercial
websites, they necessarily adopt the checklists that are generally followed by other common
• Page Title
Does your title explain what the page is? Is your page title descriptive? This is what
will show up if someone bookmarks your page, and at the top of the page. The academic
personal website should have representative title. This is important especially if you target
your personal website for outer visitors –not your students. Visitors will usually see title of
the web page before they read the content and scroll it down.
• Appearance and Content
Have you thought about how your page will look on different browsers? If it is too
long, people won’t want to scroll to read it, but if it’s too short, it won’t have enough
information to keep people on the page.
Under no circumstances have text that goes from the left hand edge of the screen
across to the right hand edge of the screen. That is the classic sign of a horrible webpage. The
human eye hates running along those long lines. That’s why newspapers come in columns. In
order to have shorter text lines and a nice layout, put all (or most) of your webpage within a
table. Obviously having everything in a grid on the screen would be horrible. If you are not
happy with the layout, you can make the table invisible.
Many people might think that the face of an academic website should look
sophisticated and brilliant. An academician with good capability in web building and design
may be able to create a good-looking personal academic website. In fact, the website should
not be like that, but it must give more emphasis on the quality of its contents. The academic
website should reflect the academic things, so the things like the description of the module/
subject taught by the owner, the way of assessing it, or essays written by the owner should
appear on the website.
Some academicians might like using animated graphics, such as animated cursor,
animated text, bouncing image and ever-changing background colour to decorate their
personal websites. Obviously these are very nice in personal websites, because the visitors
will probably be impressed by the sophistication of the animated graphics. But, I would like
to suggest that these are not always impressive for the website visitors. Instead, these graphics
will be very annoying for them since these are actually just the side-effect. These are probably
not what they are searching for. In the academic website, the contents are far more important
than the side-effects. What’s more, the capability of some Internet providers that have limited
bandwidth makes the download process of a web page slower if it contains many animated
graphics. Conversely, if it just contains text, the download progress will be faster. The effect
will be great to the website visitors; they could browse the website more quickly.
Daniel Chandler’s personal websites (below) illustrates the simplicity of how the
personal website should be. It is not decorated with animated graphics, but just simple
background design. Compared with my personal website, though it is not coloured with
animated graphics, its links are made with graphics, not text. This will also differ in time of
downloading the web page. In addition to Chandler’s personal website, the author seem to be
more attentive at the contents rather than at the appearance. Many personal website authors
like using animated graphics to beautify their websites. Nonetheless, they also pay attention to
the content, in terms of its good quality.
Another example is the personal website belongs to David Gauntlett,
newmediastudies.com. He doesn’t employ complicated design to his website, especially on its
front page. However, undeniably its contents are far more important than its humble-looking
front page. Newmediastudies.com is full of fruitful information regarding the new mode of
media studies as well as the study of new media. In short, personal academic website doesn’t
necessarily show its prominence on its appearance, but it should emphasize more on the
qualified contents, not only “junks”. More often than not, a personal website comprises only a
very few things, a picture of the author and some links to not-really useful sites.
The other thing is, don’t go mad with colours. That sounds a bit boring… but a mass of
colours just looks horrible. What you really need is to choose a small number of
complimentary colours and use those.
In short, the content must be compelling, interesting and informative. You should
know the target audience. Academic personal website has its own audience, i.e.: students and
academicians. Having known your website rich of useful contents, this kind of audience will
come back to it since they come to website for information.
Picture 1: Daniel Chandler’s academic personal websites
Picture 2: The very simple front page of www.newmediastudies.com
• Ease of navigation
The personal website must have this characteristic, i.e.: easy to navigate by the visitors.
Lacking of this will probably cause negative influence to the visitors. A personal website
which is designed without paying attention to its layout, whether or not it is easy to navigate
by the visitors, can cause the visitors desperate. The desperate visitors will not be willing to
come back to your personal website. Even though the lecturer can require his every student to
visit his personal website regularly, but it will be somewhat bothering. Make sure that the
visitors can easily “go home” to the front page whenever they are “lost” to restart their
navigation. My personal website (picture 3 and 4) probably can illustrate this. The left
navigation bar enables visitors to always restart their navigation whenever they want.
Picture 3: One of the site maps on my personal website is about the subject I teach.
It covers Introduction, Objectives, Syllabus, Assessment, References,
Sources and Links to other websites
• Don’t be too Big or too Small
In determining the text size, don’t do very big. Generally, if things are smallish they
look more stylish, whereas huge things have a tendency to look dumb. If the text you use in
your web pages is too big, it is sometimes associated with children’s books. Anyway, there’s
been a trend recently to make everything look more compact. It is of course dependent upon
your own style in designing your page.
Conversely, avoid using lots of tiny text that is too small to read. Visitors are not keen
on reading too small text.
• Keep up-to-date
In order not to disappoint the visitors, the personal website should be regularly
updated. The academic personal website ideally should be updated at least once a week.
When a lecturer wants to announce important information regarding his sudden plan to be
absent from the class, he could immediately post it on his personal website. His students
should have been told in advance to check his website at least twice a week.
In modern universities who have used computers and the Internet as the means of
communication among administrators, students and lecturers, such kind of case can be solved
easily because the lecturer can immediately tell the students by e-mails through the university
e-mail network about certain information. When the students are accidentally accessing the
university computer, they will be notified by popping-up message from the network
administrator that they get new e-mails from their lecturer. Accordingly, the students can
check them immediately.
• Provide a guestbook for feedback
Feedback from the visitors is very important for the sake of the improvement of your
website. Therefore, you should provide a guestbook that enable the visitors to write their
comments and recommendations to your website. These can become the inputs to improve
your website. Even, you should “listen” to what the visitors say about your site, whether the
content has been good, rich or poor. In addition, they may also criticize the design of your
website. If you think they give constructive ideas to improve the website, you’d better follow
Picture 4: The front page of my personal website.
Picture 5: The face of www.theory.org.uk
• Use a counter
It is also important to know how many people accessing your personal website
everyday, every week and every month. Therefore, you should install a counter on your
website. It will enable you to know the number of visitors. Even though you have provided a
guestbook, not all visitors will leave a message in it. Every month you can compile the
statistical data obtained from the counter, and you can compare between months about which
is the most. Having done this, you can evaluate them to increase the effectiveness, the
attractiveness and the quality of the content to suck more visitors.
• Check spellings and grammars
Web pages with no spelling and grammatical mistakes will be far more convenient to
read than web pages which have many mistakes on grammar and spelling. Therefore, it is
important to check them before uploading them to the website. If you write on your web
pages with too many mistakes on spelling and grammars, it will describe that you are a
careless person, or it will show that you don’t administer your website seriously. If you can
write well then the visitors may have good judgment to you. Conversely, they may show less
appreciation to you if you can not comply with the well-written and free-spelling and
grammatical-errors web pages.
• Improve its visibility
Having been successfully targeted your academic personal website to your students
you should also think of letting other people know its existence by improving its visibility. If
your website is attached to the department’s, the faculty’s or and the university’s official
website, it would not be too hard for visitors who are predominantly your own students to find
it, what’s more if your institution is the famous one. But, if your website is independent --not
attached to the faculty’s website—you should make efforts to tell people with different ways
instead of just telling them from class to class. When you have expanded your target audience
to people outside your university, you need to improve the visibility of your personal website.
TIPS TO IMPROVE WEB SITE VISIBILITY
Use an “obvious” URL
Install plenty of links
Register all possible variations in spelling
Register keywords that are likely to be used by web users, not your own promotional
How to build a website?
There are many ways to build a website, namely using HTML/DHTML, XML, PHP etc. But
that would probably be too difficult and time-consuming if we just want to set up a simple
personal website. Building a website requires at least a little skill mastery in HTML or other
website-building software such as Microsoft Front Page or Macromedia. It probably
takes quite a long time to learn HTML since it is quite complicated, especially for the
beginners. Young prospective academicians may have high idealism about making their web
pages. However, to learn HTML may just spoil their time, unless they have already got
preliminary skill in it.
By using ready-used software for end-users can enhance your time-speed of learning
how to build a website. Using Microsoft Front Page or Macromedia Dreamweaver can
be very convenient and enjoyable, because they use what you see is what you get principle.
Microsoft Front Page is more appropriate for beginners. You can follow the instruction
from the Help section in the software step by step, from planning the layout of your website
until publishing it on the Web.
Nevertheless, if you are still not familiar with using the programs above, you can try
the easiest one, namely using the website-building tools available for free on the Internet such
as Geocities and Tripod. Anyone can make her personal website directly on the Internet, then
upload the file to the server as they also provide you free domain up to 80MB. Even, you will
have been provided with templates that can guide you to set up your website. It is probably
the simplest and the quickest way to build a personal website. Having finished uploading all
the web pages you make, you can test your website URL from any browsers, the Internet
Explorer or Netscape Navigator. There are also some commercial websites which offer you to
shorten/ redirect your website URL to make it easy to remember, e.g.:
Reality Constraints in the Making of Personal Website
So far, the making of personal website is still hindered by some factors. One key factor
that influences people’s chances of reaping the emancipatory benefits of the personal website
is their internet access rate. One factor which influences one’s opportunities to access the
Internet is country of residence. Take some countries as examples: the Internet access rate of
people living in China is 3.6%; France, 28.4%; Germany, 38.9%; Greece, 13.2%; Iceland,
69.8%; Malaysia, 25.2%; Russia, 12.4%; Singapore, 51.8%; Sweden, 67.8%; Spain, 19.7%;
Thailand, 2%; United Arab Emirates, 36.8%; United Kingdom, 57.2%; United States, 59,1%
(the above are 2001 and 2002 statistics, see Nua.com, 2002). Since internet access varies
widely from country to country, the availability of the emancipatory potentials of the personal
website varies substantially between people living in different countries. In fact, besides
country of residence, internet statistics also show that, in many countries, some factors such
as ethnicity, gender, age, educational attainment and income level may also affect internet
access rate, although the influential power of individual factors varies greatly from country to
country (Cheung, 2003).
But will equal internet access bring about equal opportunities in making personal
websites? Not necessarily. In a study of the student websites of four USA universities and
four Germany universities, Döring (2002) finds that females only make up 27% and 13% of
the student website authors in the USA universities and Germany universities respectively,
despite the fact that all of these universities the gender of students are balanced. One possible
explanation is that females tend to feel alienated from the male dominated computer culture
(Morbey, 2000; Turkle, 1988), making them less easily and motivated to learn website-
building skills. In other words, even if females and males have similar opportunities to ‘log
on’ to the Internet (it has already been the case in certain countries like the US and Canada),
females may not have the same degree of technique and motivation as males to create and
maintain personal websites. In short, equal internet access does not necessarily means equal
opportunities in making personal website.
It is also illustrated by Dominick’s (1999) study of how the factors of gender, age, and
occupation may influence people’s chances of making website. From 317 English personal
websites randomly sampled from the Yahoo! website directory, Dominick finds that those
who mention an ‘occupation’ are students and around 90% of the remaining occupations are
white collar workers. These data suggest that, at least for the making of ‘English’ websites,
the young, females, the unemployed and blue collar workers may have less chances of
building websites than other people (Cheung, 2003).
My analysis so far clearly demonstrates that, although the personal website is an
emancipatory media genre for some people, its emancipatory potentials have not yet benefited
all. The reality constraints though in some cases do matter can still be resolved. Looking at
the importance of the personal website and its advantages produced, the young academicians
should start thinking of to have a personal website which is used to teach the subject he
The problem of the Internet access might be less bothering if there is an Internet
Services Provider in the university. Some universities have already got their own ISP that
operates to serve their internal users. This can solve the problem of lecturers who don’t have
the Internet access at home. They don’t necessarily go to the Internet café to update their
personal websites, so they can maintain their websites from the ease of their office chair.
Moreover, it is important to implant the new habit to students to check their e-mail
folders and faculty websites or their lecturer’s personal website regularly. If they have
accustomed to doing it, the learning process through personal website will be optimum.
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