Campus News - January 29, 2001


Erlandson clicks for HSC

By Malcolm Brenner, Health Sciences Public Affairs Representative

Jane ErlandsonFrom her cubicle in the depths of the HSC Library building, web applications developer Jane Erlandson shapes the future of education.

Like everything else, education is moving onto the World Wide Web. As a member of HSC’s Web Team, Erlandson provides consulting and website development for the North Campus. Her interest in technology’s impact on education started in the mid-1970s when she was a librarian in the Illinois public library system

“I was using computers long before there were desktops,” Erlandson recalls. “It was hard to explain the Internet to a wall of blank faces before the World Wide Web existed.”

Now, Erlandson advises her on-campus clients about creating Web pages everyone can read and use. Her job is to make sure that the layout of course-related materials is intuitive, easy to navigate and graphically pleasing.

“I try to balance the number of clicks versus the amount of information on the site,” she explains. “At first, the design of Web pages was so print-oriented, we wanted everything to look cool. But HTML — the language used to build Web pages — is not conducive to page layout.”

Further complicating website design are attempts by many Web developers to “tweak” HTML code for the sake of layout. Erlandson insists on consistent code, which reads the same in any browser, a commitment she made after experiencing speech software for vision-impaired Web users.

With no formal art training, Erlandson draws on her innate aesthetic sense when designing a Web page. Although she describes her style as “unsophisticated,” her layouts are simple and clean. Her hobby, lost-wax casting in silver, had led her to pursue a degree in metal art.

Erlandson sees many advantages to a Web-based curriculum, one being the access it provides to vast amounts of information.
“One of the best things about taking a course on the Web is for people who don’t speak up in class,” she says. “They may feel less self-conscious on the Web, where richer discussions can take place. ”

Still, Erlandson sees the Web as augmenting, not replacing, face-to-face instruction. Without the subtle cues communicated by posture, gestures and tone, for instance, it’s easy to misinterpret another person’s intentions in e-mail, she says.

“I’d hate to see education move entirely onto the Web,” she says. “If we’re really interested in students, we should pay attention to how they learn. What’s the best way for people to explore what they want to learn?”

Erlandson said she was attracted to UNM by its non-profit status and the New Mexico environment. After a hard day of Web-building, she may look forward to a round of golf or a late-night walk with her dogs. Even though her work puts her in front of a terminal all day, “I have a heart attack if I can’t get on-line at home,” she confesses.

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