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1998: Identifying the Need
As a chemistry teacher, I could lose up to half a lesson just going over the previous day's homework!
And why? Because, although the textbook had quite a few questions or exercises, it provided very few answers!
Even highly competent students would lack confidence in their ability to "do the questions" if they couldn't look up the answer.
And, if a student got the "wrong answer", they felt incompetent, even if the answer in the textbook was wrong.
Highly motivated students would go searching through their class notes and the textbook trying to figure out how to answer the questions, but often, they couldn't even find the right section of the textbook to look in (through no fault of their own, I might add!).
So, could this internet thing help?
1999: HTM hell?
Here was the idea, link particular questions and exercises back to an explanation page on the internet.
But how do you do it?
Now, this guy was really nice and tried to be very helpful, but he was talking a foreign language as far as us poor science teachers were concerned.
HTML (something to do with hell)?
Java script? (some Indonesian style of writing? something to do with coffee?)
So, it became obvious that someone was going to have to learn about this stuff.
"Hey, Janice, have you finished that Masters Degree yet?", asked Jo (the Physics Teacher and resident, helpful, computer geek)
"Well, not quite, no", I replied.
"Close enough though. You're it!"
2000: AUS-e-TUTE Launched
I started writing pages for concepts that students often found hard, and needed to practice.
By the middle of 2000, we had about 30 pages. Not much but it was beginning.
Most importantly, I had demonstrated that we could acheive our goal; each tutorial page linked to 2 pages, one page of easier interactive "test" questions, and one page of harder interactive "exam" questions.
And, I finally finished my Masters Degree!
So, what will we call this website?
We are in Australia. (AUS)
Our stuff is only available electronically. (e)
We are providing a tutoring service. (TUTE)
Sounds like we have a name: AUS-e-TUTE
Getting the website up required a whole new set of learning experiences (but that's another story).
http://www.ausetute.com.au was born in the year 2000.
Some people remember 2000 as the year of the Sydney Olympics, some as the beginning of a new millenium and the Y2K bug, but for me it will also be the beginning of AUS-e-TUTE.
Students and teachers gave us feedback about topics they wanted on the website, and we started creating a "to do" list, which we tried to work through systematically from the most to least urgent need.
2003: "Now, About your Website's Bandwidth..."
Our web host introduced us to a whole new concept, bandwidth.
It appears our website was eating it up at a great rate of knots.
Too much traffic.
Solution: the whole website needed to migrate over to a new server.
2005: Where Do All These People Come From?
The one thing we had never thought about originally was that our website could be viewed by people all over the world, not just in Australia.
"Hey, we've got an email from this guy in California. He wants to know if we could do something about equilibrium constants."
"A Teacher in London wants to know if they can get a site licence to access the Test Centre"
"A student in Singapore wants to know how to cite one of our webpages"
"A South African directory wants to add our site to their database of links"
"Someone from education in New Zealand wants to add links to us"
And so it goes on, and on, and on, ad infinitum.
Is it possible to find out who is visiting the website?
New learning curve: web stats!
"Hey this can't be right!"
"These stats say we get about 7,000 visitors a day!"
"Where do all these people come from?"
"OMG", (we were really were getting the hang of this internet stuff by now), "They come from everywhere! Name any place in the world, and I bet you we've had visitors from there!"
And, migration over to another new server.
2007: The Bleak Year
A lot changes in 10 years.
People move on, change jobs, find other interests.
As our popularity grew to over 10,000 visitors a day, we were inundated with spam. Junk email flooded us! No-one had time to cope with the thousands, and yes I do mean thousands, of junk mails we were receiving daily.
And it was disheartening.
And, the AUS-e-TUTE website was looking old, dated, sad, tired.
Was it time for AUS-e-TUTE to disappear?
2008: The First Facelift
In the beginning, a bunch of Science Teachers got together to set up a website that would make their life easier, and help their students.
But, and this is important, not one of those teachers knew anything about design, or graphics.
And, in 1999 when this all started, we were all on dial-up modems. Most of us had 28kb modems (incredibly slow), a few had upgraded to 56kb modems (really slow).
So, we tried to keep download times small by only including images if they were absolutely essential.
In 1999, most of us were still on 640 x 480 tiny monitors, a few had 800 x 600, ie, small, monitors. So the website was designed for the lowest common denominator, 640 x 480.
In the beginning, there were 2 main browsers; Internet Explorer version 4 and Netscape (apologies to Mac users, but there were so few of you I can't even remember the name of the browser that was bundled with your Mac). And they didn't handle code the same way at all. Painfull!
Fast forward to 2008.
Internet speeds have improved dramatically. Download time is not the issue it once was (although bandwidth still is to some extent).
Screen resolutions have increased. Typically, less than 1% of our current visitors have screens less than 1000px wide.
The number of browsers (and versions!) in use to access the website has also increased; Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Chrome, even Netscape still makes an appearance, plus others.
It was time to take all these factors into account and give AUS-e-TUTE a facelift!
Besides, the number of visitors was still on the rise, and our webhost was starting to complain again about the amount of bandwidth our website uses.
Time to migrate to yet another new server.
But this time, I decided that when the website moved, it would have a newer, fresher, look, and hopefully, we would improve site navigation so that users can more easily find what they are looking for.
We also introduced "Chris, the AUS-e-TUTE chemist", a speaking glossary of chemistry terms and definitions.
Chris was an immediate success, and we will continue to add terms and definitions to Chris' vocabulary to make it an even more useful tool.
2009 : The Year of Expansion
We set ourselves a number of goals for 2009, and quickly realized that, once again, we may have bitten off more than we can chew!
We did however, manage to
2009 was an amazing year. The number of members and unique visitors to the website almost doubled in one year, and the number of people spending an hour or more on the website increased similarly.
The number of emails we received giving feedback about the website also increased substantially, which is fantastic. Ofcourse we love to hear that you think the website is useful, but we also like to hear about the things you think could be improved or added.
And so, all the things on the 2009 list that didn't get done have been forwarded to 2010.....
2010 : Goals and Outcomes
And just when you thought things were going well ... in Australia the draft "National Curriculum" for Chemistry was released ... and it was a doozy of a document!
How on earth could anyone turn that enormous curriculum into a syllabus that could be taught in High Schools over a 2 year period?
And what would the teaching program for such a syllabus be like?
So we wrote a Syllabus Study Guide for the Draft Australian Curriculum for Chemistry (and if you kept the students in school for an extra couple of years you might even have been able to get through it all!)
2011 : Increasing Interactivity
We put the "Draft Australian Curriculum for Chemistry" to bed, and, quite frankly ignored it after we wrote the syllabus study guide.
There had been an attempt in Australia at introducing a National Curriculum in the early 1990s, and it had failed. Disappeared. Never implemented.
Surely the same thing would happen this time.
So, we proceeded to revise our website..
10 years ago we had an idea, a magnificent idea infact.
We had wanted to write truly interactive learning activities, a kind of scaffolded approach to problem solving, but at that time, we were somewhat hampered by our limited coding ability.
(I don't mind admitting that to all my friends reading this).
It was time to revisit that idea, not just because it is a really good idea, but because we now had the skills to tackle the job!
The first few of these Interactive Learning Activites went live in 2011 and our available to our Class and School group members.
As we wrote them, we got better at introducing more interactivity into the exercises, which meant going back to the earlier ones and revising them based on our newer knowledge.
As a consequence, there may not be many of them yet, but as the number increases so does their usefulness.
The other consequence of this, and of finding solutions for some problematic behaviour associated with the increasingly popular chrome browser, was that we needed to review some of the older Test Centre pages.
We are currently undergoing a systematic review and update of all the resources.
This process will take us through to 2012 ...
2014: Ads Appear
Originally, we wanted AUS-e-TUTE to be "ad-free".
Firstly because we didn't want you, our audience, to be distracted by intrusive ads.
Second, because we really didn't have time to spend chasing up possible sponsors and advertisers.
Well, improvements to google ads made it easy, and worthwhile, to incorporate ads on our pages.
Did we feel guilty about adding ads?
Well, maybe a bit.
On the other hand, there is no such thing as "free", someone always has to pay.
For the most part we have had to pay, by devoting large amounts of our time to producing resources, including "free" tutorials.
And our Members have paid, so they have been subsidising the people who want to get the "free" stuff on the website.
Implementing ads on our "free" pages will help address this imbalance.
2015 : The Surprise(s)
The Australian National Curriculum was revised into a document that, if not as interesting as the draft, at least would be teachable.
And it was going to be implemented!
Indeed, a couple of Autralian states/territories actually wrote new chemistry syllabi based on the new, revised, National Curriculum.
So we had to write some new syllabus study guides ...
2016 - 2018 : Screwed by Google
Google is the most popular search engine.
The results you get from a search engine are based on lots of things including the content of a webpage and its popularity.
Because these algorithms are frequently changed, sometimes your search results will be based mostly on popularity, sometimes mostly on content, or even quality of sites linking to the webpage.
When popularity is king, your top search results can include links to webpages that are inaccurate.
Just try searching for the pH of water to see what I mean.
When popularity is king, the first 10s of pages will be filled with webpages telling you the pH of water is 7 (without qualification) and you know that that is inaccurate (to say the least).
If you really want a scare, try searching for "neutral pH" and watch the results roll in, even though this is a misconception brought about by telescoping two entirely different concepts, pH and neutrality, into one!
When content is king, you still get these pages with inaccuracies, but you will also get results for pages with better content in the first 10s of pages of search results.
AUS-e-TUTE pages had always ranked well in search engines because we always aim to produce the most useful webpages we could, that is, good content that good sites would want to link to.
But all that changed...
Google announced that its algorithm would also reflect how well the webpage was rendered on different devices.
In short, the webpage needed to be able to respond well to different sized screens, from small mobile phones to tablets to laptops to large desktop monitors, maybe even minuscule "smart watch" screens.
If a webpage looked great on a laptop, but the text became too small (as defined by google) on a mobile phone, or the clickable links got too close together on a mobile phone, then your webpage plummeted in the search engine results.
Neither content nor popularity was king anymore.
Your webpage would rank well if it was responsive, even if it had poor content and was not popular.
Webmasters that reacted quickly and got their webpages to be responsive saw an immediate improvement in their search engine results, and the first page of search results would now include links to pages you couldn't even access!
Pages of results for examples of worked solutions to chemistry questions provided links to webpages that were just an advertisement for a service you needed to join or pay for before you could see whatever it was that google had indexed and served up to you as a search result.
Links to webpages that you could actually access, but did not meet google's "repsonsive" criteria, were buried behind pages and pages of useless search results.
AUS-e-TUTE is made up of thousands of pages, several hundred of which are "free-to-view", and all of which would have to be redesigned to be responsive!
Which is what we started to do ... a massive overhaul of webpages, starting with those that are indexed by google.
Shock number 2 ... google announced changes to the search algorithm that made it virtually compulsory for your website to be "secure", even if there was no reason for your website to have to be "secure" (that is, the page does not ask for personal information nor for payment).
Out with http://www.ausetute.com.au
In with https://www.ausetute.com.au
One problem solved ....
But the "responsive" website will take time...
The page you are reading is the last of our free webpages to be made truly "responsive".
We'll be monitoring the impact this has on our search engine result rankings ... but it will be a long haul back to the heady days of 2014