The Oak Park Tourist has evolved into an unofficial homepage for Oak Park -- the Oak Park Tourist promotes Oak Park as place to live and visit. It presently connects together the Schools, Public Library, Community Organizations, Individuals, Village Government, Village Businesses and a variety of Information Resources.
In this article, we discuss how the Oak Park Tourist sprang to life, and consider what has worked and been effective. This review suggests directions to pursue in the future, as the community homepage grows into a true Community network to provide the best online educational resources, business support, community service, and sense of Village for Oak Park.
The writer has been the Webmaster for the Oak Park Tourist for the last 8 months, a task that involved writing, layout, some graphics work, and a lot of encouraging the contributions of others. The Oak Park Tourist is, in totality, the collective efforts of numerous individuals throughout town. The Web is naturally a collective enterprise, benefiting from the synergy of many people, and it is also natural that Oak Park - River Forest, with its high density of advanced degrees, should have a vibrant presence on the internet.
The Oak Park Tourist was originally posted to showcase a set of pictures of north Oak Park via the Frank Lloyd Wright Blading Tour -- naturally, taken by the author while Roller Blading through the Frank Lloyd Wright district. This initial homepage quickly expanded to encompass the OPRF High School, where the dedicated efforts of three teachers (Mary Ann Gini, Kevin McCarron and Carol Strandberg) created the OPRFHS Web homepage in early summer 1995 (on the UIC server www.math.uic.edu.) The Village Hall homepage was posted, with the cooperation of Peter Dame, Assistant to the Village Manager, in early summer 1995 -- also on the server www.math.uic.edu. Through the rest of summer, several other community groups were hosted and/or linked on the Oak Park Tourist page, including the Public Library through the efforts of Ted Field, Automation Coordinator at the library. The elementary schools joined the effort in early Fall 1995, with the posting of the District 97 homepage, along with homepages for individual schools. The District 97 Web has been coordinated by the dedicated efforts of Rosemary Jacot, Technology Innovation Coordinator for District 97, and the school homepages were created by teachers and parents at the individual schools. Janet Rogers, owner of the commercial service provider InfoRamp donated access and Web server space for Hatch and Mann elementary schools, and Percy Julian Junior High. The homepages for Beye, Irving, Lincoln, Longfellow and Whittier are hosted on Web servers at the Illinois Institute of Technology, Northwestern University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Several non-profit organizations have homepages posted on the Oak Park Tourist -- the latest efforts are homepages for the League of Women Voters of Oak Park-River Forest and the Historic Pleasant Home.
Email discussions about the Oak Park Tourist led to forming the group of CyberCitizens of Oak Park-River Forest, a loosely knit coalition of citizens with Web interests. Three meetings have been held, each surprisingly informative, constructive, and skirting with nerd-dom, entertaining. The personal contacts have guided the evolution of a variety of Web activities towards a cohesive whole. The first meeting was held on the Sunday evening of September 10 at the author's house - 30 people showed up to discuss activities and Village-wide plans for the Web. The second meeting was hosted by Ted Field at the Oak Park Public Library on December 17. The third meeting was hosted by Mary Ann Gini at the OPRF High School Library on Thursday evening, February 29 - Leap Day! The minutes of all meetings are posted on the CCOPRF Homepage.
As the New Year arrived, there has been a burst of Web activity in our Village. The local papers now have Web homepages -- the Forest Leaves, Oak Leaves & Wednesday Journal. Several of the area realtors have also posted Web homepages -- F.C. Pilgrim and Gloor. The Wednesday Journal now posts online the list of Open Houses each week.
The OPRF High School has developed its own Computer Lab with direct internet access for the lab network, and its home page has moved from the UIC Math Server to its own home server at http://www.oprf.org/. The Elementary School District 97 now offers a full suite of essential information online -- the guides Parent Handbook, and Effective Student Behavior Handbook, the Curriculum Overview augmented with links to Instructional Web sites, and an the online course Introduction to the Internet. Moreover, District 97 is developing its Wide Area Network connecting the elementary schools together, and will soon connect these to the internet. And one cannot ignore the level of publicity the Web has received -- ``WebMania'' or total hype, as you wish -- nor the incredible rise in the price of Netscape stock, to get the feel that the ``Web'' offers great promise. The nature of that promise is for us to decide and develop locally.
Our Village Web homepage can be much more than it is now. Some of these roles will be naturally assumed by the Online versions of the two local newspapers, the Oak Leaves and the Wednesday Journal. There are key aspects of the Web, though, which thrive under individual initiatives. The Web nurtures communication, so that one key aspect of Web homepages is to enable personal communication and understanding. The Web is an excellent publishing medium - a magazine allowing text, pictures, video and sounds - all with no cost for paper or ink. The actively developing Hemingway Foundation Homepage is an excellent example of this. Hypertext, the publishing format of the Web, presents new challenges as it allows information to be presented in novel, often more powerful perspectives. Archival information need not be so inaccessible, as hyperlinking makes such data relevant and easily displayed as a key ingredient in other sites. The list of possible advantages goes on, with developments racing through the academic and business web cultures. Interfacing these ideas with village life presents yet another challenge -- with rewards commensurate to the effort as we deal with the evolving nature of our communications and notion of village.
The author foresees the Oak Park Tourist continuing its role as an organizing focus for the community and its organizations, with future efforts focusing on particular needs: an online OPRF Town Center to feature and promote the Village Buinesses on the Web, parallel to what Oak Park Tourist accomplished for non-commercial activity; expanding the tourism features of the Oak Park Tourist , hopefully in coordination with the Oak Park Visitors Bureau and other interested parties in town; thirdly, the graphical capabilities of the Web make it an excellent medium for a Village Online Art Gallery, to showcase the many artistic talents within the Village. Such a feature has a strong peripheral benefit -- Web sites featuring art prove to be a continuing draw for Netsurfers to browse at, and along the way surf the other Village pages. There are many, many directions to pursue concerning showcasing our Village on the Web.
Most all of the following discussion and comments are solely the author's personal opinions. These comments should be well salted, as others will certainly see matters from a different perspective. The goal, in any case, is to encourage discussion and generate new ideas.
There are two excellent Online surveys of this new medium -- The Accidental Superhighway from the Economist, and Orbiting On-line by J. Coates of the Chicago Tribune.
The internet is not free, but is a bargain anyway. Until a couple of years ago, its development and maintenance was funded by University and Government contributions. It is now an entirely private enterprise, which has opened the information highways to commercial traffic.
For the private user, this means that you must subscribe to an internet provider, typically costing $25/month for unlimited access. The software browsers and related software utilities are all freely available over the net, though excellent packages can also be bought for under $100 that offer great convenience. In the Chicago area, there are three main providers - InterAccess, WorldWide Access, and MCSNet. In the Oak Park area, we have at least two access providers - InfoRamp and NetHomes. Illinois also has public access provider -- PrairieNet. A phone call will get you signed up in a day or so.
Why would anyone sign up to pay $25/month? Quite simply, that is the ticket price to an incredible amount of creative efforts, to information that no single library could ever hope to assemble, to University databases and research archives, to homepages for just about every conceivable social, business, artistic, and eclectic activity. Looked at another way, a good multi-media personal computer now costs around $2000, and for $300 a year more you can make that computer your link to a world of information and entertainment.
Recently, the appellation ``Information Superhighway'' for the internet has seemed inappropriate, for the net can crawl to a pace so slow that it makes the Eisenhower at 5:40 PM look attractive. There are two slow-downs - one technical, the other basic. The technical slowdown is the ``lookup process'' wherein the net browser inquires to a central DNS server for the numerical equivalent of the given address. For example, the URL www.math.uic.edu is really an alias for the numerical address 126.96.36.199. Providing a browser with the even more awkward address http://188.8.131.52/oakpark will allow it to access the Oak Park Tourist without going through the lookup stage. Occasionally, a Web search ends with a breakdown in the DNS lookup procedure. Retrying almost always succeeds, though at some minor aggravation.
The second slowdown is more fundamental -- limitations on the rate of transmission of information over telephone lines, through computer server ethernet ports, and due to the processing of the information by the computers at both ends. These ``speed limits'' can cause the downloading of information to seem to crawl at a pace hardly instantaneous. This problem has been exacerbated by the desire to transmit more and larger image, sound and movie files over the internet. These problems are real, and most severe at peak times - typically 3 to 6 PM each day, and Friday and Saturday evenings. However, new mechanisms for transmission of the Web information are soon to be forthcoming, especially through cable access. The occasional frustrations and limitations of working online through telephone access are well-worth tolerating while learning about and exploring this new communications medium.
All of the Web activity at OPRF High School and the District 97 Elementary schools has been initiated, developed and maintained by individual efforts. We review in some detail the excellent accomplishments to date of these individuals.
In this last Fall Semester, a grant targeted to the business classes at OPRF High equipped a Computer Lab with Macintosh computers. These were networked and linked to the internet by a fractional T1 line. This Computer Lab is available for broader use after classes are over, which has allowed an ``internet culture'' to flourish among the students. For example, Gini, McCarron and Strandberg organized ``The Internet Club'', which meets in the Lab bi-weekly and has an attendance of some 40 to 50 students. These same three teachers also lead bi-weekly sessions for other teachers offering an introduction to the internet.
The High School has had a good start, but now faces several key problems and decisions. The first, and most obvious problem, is that the Computer Lab is dedicated to business classes during the school day. In contrast to many other High Schools in the state and nation, and also to the Elementary School District 97, there is no program to equip each classroom with internet access and computers, nor to develop a second Computer Lab on the internet for general class use. All this problem requires is money to solve it -- say, a million dollars would do nicely ;-) Seriously, a modern computer lab typically requires 40 to 50 thousand dollars to equip and connect to the internet, so perhaps a more realistic estimate is on the order of 100 thousand dollars for the High School.
There are also more mundane issues - the OPRFHS Web homepage will soon migrate to the server in their lab, at the address http://www.oprf.org/ so that control over the homepage will pass from those with accounts on www.math.uic.edu, to the students in the lab. This poses new problems: Should there be regulations and a review process for material to be posted on the OPRF High homepage? Or, should the homepage reflect ``free-form'' the nature of students' writing and interests? There is a delicate balance involved, between creativity and appropriateness. A Web page must avoid becoming static or stale, as the Web thrives on the unusual and eclectic, and the almost total freedom of information. On the other hand, let the reader imagine letting High School students post just anything they want! Then imagine the possible reactions by parents reading the homepage. The standard solution to this is to have a faculty member sympathetic to the students activities overview what is to be posted, on a timely basis. This requires faculty time dedicated to maintaining the Web homepage, so that a policy decision must be made to enable release time for the teacher chosen to ``maintain the school Web homepage.'' Given the traffic the High School homepage can expect, typically up to 50 visitors a day from outside the school, this can become an important responsibility.
An absolutely crucial concern is to develop appropriate uses for the Web and internet resources for instructional activity. A primary difficulty -- true all the way from grades K to advanced undergraduate -- is that there is no uniform way to implement the Web in each class, as this depends heavily on the subject, on the comfort of the teacher with the technology, on the comfort and skill level of the students with the technology (this is usually higher than one expects), and finally simply with what is available online for the subject. The amount of quality educational material on the Web is growing at an astonishing rate. There is a large degree of experimentalism with introducing the Web into the curriculum, affordable in the University setting, but more problematic in grades K-12.
Teacher training is essential for successful uses of the Web in instruction. The technological expertise required to surf the Web is minimal, but the format is entirely novel, and a supportive environment for discovery seems essential before the internet can be smoothly incorporated into the curriculum. District 97 has addressed this question head-on, with teacher training efforts that are proving very successful, but which also show how clearly it is needed. Such training is traditionally done in the easily-accessed computer lab, and guided by other teachers who have ``done it already''. It is very much a partnering effort, as the peer communication is so much more effective and it minimizes ``dislocation'' during the learning process, allowing direct questions about how it might really be used.
Rosemary Jacot, Technology Innovation Coordinator for District 97, has been the champion of developing the Web presence for the Elementary and Junior High Schools in Oak Park. During Fall 1995 and early 1996 she has delivered several educational products related to the Web, and taught training classes as well. This has been an exemplary effort, with a tight focus on the developing educational curricula and training.
The cornerstone of Jacot's approach has been to post online the District 97 Curriculum Guide, at the URL http://www.math.uic.edu/oakpark/district97/CG/ This handbook is distributed to parents at the start of each year, and outlines the curriculum for the coming year. The innovative idea is that once this guide is online, it can be embellished with Web links to other resources around the world, relevant to that topic. It is hard to overemphasize how amazing these resources can be - from ``Ask Dr. Science'' at the Argonne National Laboratory in Batavia, IL, where students can get any science question answered; to ``Ask Dr. Math'' from Swarthmore in Pennsylvania; to the research center in Antarctica, the discoveries never end. By linking Web resources to the curriculum guide, teachers, parents and students have a ready guide for their exploration of the internet. There could not be a more effective approach. In fact, similar efforts are taking place in districts all over the USA.
In support of this effort, the author created a Web form for posting newly discovered educational URL's, and a bulletin board to try out what others have found. The URL for the bulletin board is http://www.math.uic.edu/U97/sites.html
The second pillar of Rosemary Jacot's efforts has been to create a teacher training program. Though the technological expertise required to surf the Web is minimal, but one should not underestimate the discomfort that the new technology cause in any case.
``Mouse's are for cats to play with,'' not to be held in your hand! The questions raised by PhD Math faculty about using a mouse and graphical interfaces (during various training sessions in the Math Department) have been repeated many times over with teachers of all levels. It's easy to learn, but the initial questions must be addressed. Similar paradigms and problems seem to occur at levels of use of the internet and Web. Six year olds have no trouble - 26 year olds find it all pretty obvious - and 56 year olds can be baffled! (But not for long.) Jacot's solution has been to first organize a training class for the Technology Aids associated to each school in District 97. This class was held in the Mathematics Computer Lab at UIC on November 10, 1995. In attendance was a group of 26 Teachers and Technology Aids from District 97, one Principal, 4 Teachers from Chicago school districts, and the Technology Coordinator for the entire Chicago system! The sessions focused on the various aspects of using the internet - telnet, email, and surfing the Web. Photos of the November workshop can be viewed at the URL http://www.math.uic.edu/workshop/. The success of this effort led Jacot to develop a formal course through University 97, a continuing education program offered by District 97. This internet training class consists of five instructional units, with three of them meeting in the same Computer Lab for blocks of three hours each. The goal is to progress from developing a familiarity with the Web and email, to developing a Web page to implement a lesson based on Web resources. The notes from the course can be found at http://www.math.uic.edu/oakpark/district97/inet97/toc.html
District 97 is following a planned approach, with the outline being:
A similar approach has been followed in the Math Department at UIC, but with the balance tending more toward installing equipment and less towards training. The net result has been that the equipment is not always effectively used towards teaching. Researchers vested interests which tend towards other matters, so that training and a local ``culture of use'' seem essential to push the threshold of ease of use sufficiently low, so that all will find it an attractive addition to their usual teaching methods.
Effective training, and dedicated efforts to obtain the ``good-will and cooperation'' of the teachers who will use the technology, seems crucial to success.
The author was invited to attend a meeting in June 1995 of the Community Networking Task Force of Oak Park, chaired at the time by Carol Brey -- a committee with members representing the various taxing bodies in the Village. Among other items, the committee is addressing the goal to establish a Community Network between the represented agencies. The author presented a new goal - to develop a unified Web presence for the governing bodies in Oak Park. To this end, after this meeting, Web homepages were posted on accounts created for the participants:
At the second meeting of the CyberCitizens of OPRF, Ted Field opened the meeting with a demonstration of Oak Park Public Library's Online Public Access Catalog, a.k.a. ERNIE. As reported by Jane Andrews, email@example.com, this system will offer:
There will be some 30 public terminals throughout OPPL system and 2 dial-in lines to start with (more can be added easily if needed). The library has asked for volunteers -- of all ages--to help patrons with the new system.
It is clear that the Oak Park Public Library has embraced technology and the Web. It is also clear that the growth and incorporation of the Web as a library service of is driven by the efforts and dedication of Ted Field.
One envisions the Village Hall homepage presenting a variety of useful and timely information, having a feedback feature allowing submission of questions and discussion of problems through Web forms, and offering a variety of other useful information not otherwise easily available. The Web allows essentially instantaneous publishing, and there is no charge for ink or paper, so it is common to use homepages to distribute essential information in its most up-to-date form. The author considers this one of the greatest features of the homepage for the Math Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago, one that makes it essential for all faculty to check it regularly. In fact, the timeliness of Web information, and the fact that it is always available, from any location, are two key aspects of the utility value of all Web sites.
Experience suggests that to fulfill this goal, the Village Hall homepage requires the support of a dedicated individual (its webmaster) with the time and the direct interest in seeing the page stay timely, grow and develop. Establishing a Village Hall homepage meeting these goals makes an excellent goal in our effort to develop a community on the Web. It would also make excellent sense for Oak Park government to have its own Web address -- at the URLhttp://oakpark.gov/ of course.
Another exciting use of the Web requires formal sponsorship of a governing agency -- or at least some agency with a lawyer on retainer ;-) The Web provides an excellent medium for online posting and discussion of current issues. Interactive pages and commentary pages are popular within newgroups, within specialized fields, and at commercial sites. For example, the educational site Ask Dr. Math hosted by Swarthmore College allows the Websurfer (read: customer or voter) to post a question to the site, which is then later answered by an appropriate volunteer or worker associated to the page. As another example, the Math Department at UIC has a standard Feedback page, which will be expanded to form a forum for questions related to undergraduate math courses, so that students studying at home can post questions to the Online Office Hours site, then see their questions answered in a reasonable amount of time. The answers then remain available for others to browse and review before exams. This model clearly can have excellent uses within political discourse, and for citizen contact with Village government. Such moderated interactive pages require resources though -- they must be maintained regularly by individuals for whom this is a defined part of their job.
Any organization with a Web homepage can have it listed on the Oak Park Tourist by sending email to the author with the URL for the page. In special cases, as with the OPRF Symphony, the information was emailed to the author, who then created a site for the organization on the MathLab server and posted the information there. Other organizations with members who have learned the basics of HTML can post up their own work, as with the League of Women Voters. Non-profit organizations are highly encouraged to submit their information to the Oak Park Tourist .
The development of organization Web homepages is limited solely by the initiative of the members of the organizations, as there is such an abundance of servers in the Chicago area. This is a good informal measure of the amount of ``Web activity'' in the Village.
The Oak Park Tourist has evolved into the de facto tourism page for Oak Park, tying together activities throughout the town. This effort is based entirely on the voluntary activities of the author. The original purpose of the site was to showcase a series of photographs around the Frank Lloyd Wright area, a project which meshed nicely with the mainstay of tourism for Oak Park. The Oak Park Tourist site has been extensively viewed in the eight months since its posting -- the cover page alone has been viewed approximately 10 thousand times,and the page is currently viewed by about 60 to 80 sites a day.
The essentially ad hoc touristic nature of the Oak Park Tourist can easily be expanded along a more formal approach, as there are many possibilities for tourism features. Formal cooperation with the Oak Park Visitors Bureau remains for the future, with the synergy from combined efforts hastening the site to achieving its full potential as a mechanism to highlight the tourism attractions of our Village. In the meanwhile, the author intends to redo the Oak Park Tourist site to incorporate two new projects of personal interest.
Recently developed computer software enables a Web page to present a continuously updated variable imagemap -- a technical goal for sure, but with spectacular applications. This technology can be seen in action on the popular IDOT - Expressway Congestion Map Web site posted by the UIC EECS department. This site posts -- in real time -- the current traffic conditions for Chicago. For the Oak Park Tourist , it nows appears feasible to create an Inter-active Blading Tour featuring a ``virtual tourist'' moving along a tour route, displaying the relevant photos as she/he goes. Such a project poses a novel challenge in Web development, so merits development for its own sake.
Also, the author is currently soliciting contributions to an Online Art Gallery featuring works of local artists. Art makes a popular online attraction, and such a feature will present yet another vibrant aspect of our Village life. Such a page offers a nominally commercial venue for local creativity.
There are many other tourism ideas that would appear effective and could be implemented quickly, though they tend towards a more commercial nature. Still, the costs involved are nominal compared to the current resources dedicated to advertising by local businesses and tourism agencies. Here are some of the goals which might ideally be realized for the coming summer tourist season:
The Oak Park Tourist has received its share of ``fan-e-mail''. Here are some quotes:
First, here is a rough estimate of the expected costs: For a commercial enterprise, there is no free Web access. Typically, it costs $300 initial expense, plus $100/month recurring charges to host a full Web page with it's own URL address. As an example, F. C. Pilgrim and Company has the Web URL address http://fcpilgrim.com/. Alternately, a business can choose to have its homepage hosted on a larger common site. For example, Gloor Realty has the Web URL address http://neog.com/gloorrealty/, being hosted on the server http://neog.com/. Each option has its advantages and disadvantages.
In addition to the monthly charge for hosting a page on the internet, the business must pay to have the initial site developed. That is, the page must be designed, graphics to represent the business scanned in or created as appropriate, and the printed material to be posted on the site written and/or marked up in HTML - the language of the Web. This can cost anywhere from $200 to $500 for a very basic page, to many thousands when there are a lot of pages, information, graphics and pictures to present. And if you have the money to spend, it is purported that some sites cost in the hundred of thousands to develop (the site http://www.prudential.com/ is rumored to be such a site.) If the information changes on a frequent basis, the business also must make arrangements to have the page frequently updated to keep it fresh.
What are the advantages? A Web homepage presents a business -- in the fashion of its choosing -- to the electronic community, a typically affluent segment of the population. A truism of the Web is that with some effort, a start-up or other small business can create a Web homepage that competes equally with those of much larger companies. The small business homepage often stands out due to its innovations and the creativity of the people creating the page, working in close contact with the owners of the business. Creativity is a magnet that attracts attention of Web surfers.
A business Web homepage can be set up to encourage feedback and communication with the browser. It can be a third contact mechanism: one can use a Web ``interactive form page'' to initiate contact with a customer, then respond to the request either with email, or by telephone or Fax.
Moreover, Web homepages can see a lot of traffic. A top site might have 10,000 visits a day! The Oak Park Tourist currently registers about 2,000 visits a week total. One simple example, is provided by the Hotels and Inns page on the Oak Park Tourist . It is a very nominal page -- just text about the Carlton Hotel and Inn, and the Write Inn -- provided so that UIC Math visitors can make arrangements to stay in Oak Park, and a map from UIC to the hotel is provided online. Since its inception, this page has been visited approximately one thousand times -- typically 4 to 6 visits a day from outside our town, for the last 8 months. A full-featured homepage for a business, which is posted on the various Web Search Engines, can expect many, many more views than that. As another example, the recent posting of the interactive Magic Decoder Game in MSCS almost immadiately drew an average of 30 to 35 visits per day; the theatre page Plan 9 from Outer Space saw 14 hits a day on its initial posting.
Analyzing which businesses would benefit is beyond the essay scope of this article, yet there are some immediate, obvious examples: Real Estate companies, tourism-related companies, mail-order firms, and small at-home enterprises in need of exposure for their products. The author believes that a strong commercial presence on the Web for the area businesses will have a very positive effect on all local sites. Business and Tourism are clearly related, and projecting a diverse and healthy business profile is an essential component of developing our Village on the Web.
Crucial to the success of a business page is to have links to it from other, well-visited pages. The Oak Park Tourist is exactly such a site for the Village agencies, schools and non-profit organizations. The Village business homepages require a corresponding commercial access site -- an online OPRF Town Center.
The author estimates that the index (cover) page of the Oak Park Tourist has been visited around 10 thousand times since first posting on April 16, 1995. The total number of views of all pages is probably closer to 40 thousand since its inception. The complete statistics are posted online.
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