New Faculty and Grad Students: Web hosting options

If you're a new faculty member or graduate student, you're likely to need web presences for at least three distinct types of work: teaching, research, and communication. We're here to help you navigate the world of possibilities. Let's dive right in!

Teaching, research, publication, and communication

Because each of these roles is unique, you'll likely find yourself looking for different tools in the web hosting and web-based application toolbox.

For teaching:

As an instructor, some of the key features you'll want in a class-related web space include:

  • Active Directory Class Roster-based access control:
    When you have hundreds of students to manage, being able to depend on the centrally-provided AD class rosters saves time and effort.  
  • Simple collaboration on shared documents with version control and editor history:
    For group projects, you may value a digital workspace where students can easily work together on a project but you can also assess each student's work individually.
  • Easy replication of a space and its structure for the next iteration of a class:
    If you're going to be teaching sections of the same class in both the fall and the spring, being able to easily duplicate a workspace and attach it to a new class roster is helpful.

Good tools for class-based web spaces include:

  • Illinois Compass:
    The largest campus learning management system, Illinois Compass provides an online structure for classwork, group discussions, homework assignments, online testing, and integrated grading. With FERPA approval and access restricted to class participants, it's one of the most secure class-related systems on campus.
  • The Illinois Wiki:
    Hundreds of courses every semester create AD class roster-based wiki spaces for their students to collaborate in. Students can collectively edit documents, make inline comments about particular items, or make page-wide comments for broader discussion. Replicating a previous semester's wiki space is a simple process. Wiki spaces can be either kept private to class members or made world-readable for sharing knowledge.
  • Kaltura Mediaspace:
    Like YouTube for the University of Illinois, Mediaspace offers a secure place to host recorded class lectures, student-created video and multimedia projects, podcasts, and more. You can use AD class rosters to control who can see your lectures and who can contribute to your class space; you can also choose to make your work visible to the world. Through Mediaspace, you can capture your screen, your voice, and an integrated webcam with a few clicks, upload the file for adding to collections, and request automated captions for accessibility.

For research and publication:

Researchers need different types of web spaces at different points in their research.

  • During the research and investigation phase:
    You'll want a private, secure space to collaborate with your team on content that you'll change frequently as you work. You'll want to be able to discuss ideas freely, annotate your work, store files, possibly work with databases and custom software, and prepare your work for the publication process. 
  • When you're ready to publish:
    Your digital publications will be presented in their final form, available either through a publisher's site or available to the world through open publishing. You'll also want the data that supports that publication to be uniquely identifiable (often with a Digital Object Identifier, or DOI). If you make revisions to that publication or data, people citing your work will need to be able to identify which revision of the publication and data they were referring to.

Good tools for the research and investigation phase include: 

  • The Illinois Wiki:
    You can have a working space that shares web-based navigability with Wikipedia-style group editing, inline or full-page comments, and annotated version history. A simple web interface provides easy and customizable access control, including by AD groups and class rosters.
  • U of I Box:
    While Box doesn't offer web hosting per se, it is a valuable tool for both research and web asset hosting. With unlimited storage, group ownership of Team Folders, APIs for interacting with content, and the potential to host both HIPAA and FERPA materials (with appropriate contributor behaviors), U of I Box lets you both keep your working materials safe and feed selected content into other applications. For example, you can store your research-related images, data files, and more in Box, then embed excerpts in your public-facing web spaces to illustrate your work. Box access can also be controlled by AD group and by class roster.
  • Google Apps @ Illinois: 
    The Google Apps collection available through the University of Illinois include Google Drive for shared unlimited storage and Google Docs for collective editing of files. If you don’t need to present a web-like navigation structure, Google Docs is one of the most convenient options for large group editing of shared documents with stored version history. However, Google Apps @ Illinois doesn't offer group ownership of folders; if your project is likely to be handed from team to team or class to class, a Box team folder makes that process much easier. Google Apps @ Illinois also doesn't offer AD group-based access control.

  • Microsoft’s Office Online suite:
    Microsoft's integration with other platforms allows you to collectively edit Microsoft Office document formats that are stored in a variety of locations, including U of I BoxOneDrive, and more. The web-based editing experience is similar but not identical to editing on a desktop application; if version history and comments are important to you, you’ll find the desktop version valuable.

The publishing phase:

One key difference between “web hosting” and “web publishing” is how much the end result resembles a book or journal.  Most “web hosting” offerings are for sites that are regularly updated and change frequently.

However, sometimes you want the digital equivalent of publishing a book: a fixed object that will be available in the same form at the same place for a long time, without regular edits (and sometimes without any changes at all). This is where “web publishing” comes into play.

Many of the resources for web publishing are offered through the University Library’s Scholarly Communication and Publishing unit:

  • Publishing data: The Illinois Data Bank
    The Illinois Data Bank a public access repository for publishing research data from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Many journals request (or require) open access to the data associated with a publication, and the IDB provides a digital object identifier (DOI) so that people can uniquely identify which data set and which revision is used. 
  • Publishing digital books and articles: Publishing Without Walls and IDEALS
    IDEALS is a digital repository for research and scholarship, including published and unpublished papers as well as other content types. Publishing Without Walls is a digital press that produces book-scale digital works that can include multimedia components. It is a digital scholarly publishing initiative that is scholar-driven, openly accessible, scalable, and sustainable.
  • Publishing digital exhibits and tours: Omeka and Scalar
    Omeka is the digital equivalent of a museum exhibit, with objects on display paired with descriptions and annotations of the resources. Scalar is best for long-form narratives with interconnected multimedia experiences.

For communication:

On the path to publication and tenure, you may have news to announce, projects to present, and other materials which will be more public than your internal notes but more flexible and updatable than digital books and journals. News, blogs, portfolios, and database-driven sites take up the middle ground between "private working space" and "long-term fixed-form publications."

  • Simplest:
    PIE is a multi-site WordPress installation maintained by Technology Services which offers semi-customizable templates to choose from. All the patching and maintenance is taken care of for you; all you need to do is provide the content.  
  • Balancing simplicity and power: cPanel Self Service Web Hosting:
    If you need a free web hosting space with easy point-and-click installation and maintenance where you can use WordPress or Drupal side by side with a SQL database and Python, Ruby, and other programming languages, consider creating a cPanel site for your project. In addition to campus collaborators, you can invite collaborators from around the world by adding them via a Gmail address. 
  • No holds barred: Your own virtual machine
    Many people will find PIE and cPanel serve their web hosting needs, but each of them has some restrictions. If you need full root access, complex databases, or other high-powered services, you'll likely want to consider your own virtual machine on campus, on Amazon Web Services, or on Azure. (The Web Hosting Finder can help you refine these decisions as well.)

Where to find resources

  • The University of Illinois offers a wealth of resources to its faculty and students. Some of the best places to begin learning the technological landscape include:

  • The Technology Services website:
    News, information, updates, and campus-wide help and support for hundreds of University IT services.
  • The Research IT Portal:
    Thousands of research-specific resources available across campus and nationwide, for consulting, collaboration, training, and technology needs.
  • Your department's website:
    Each department has unique offerings available to its members. It's the best place to get to know what your department offers and who to contact for local support.
  • The Web Hosting Finder
    Guided decision-making that helps you determine which of our web hosting services are best suited to your project.