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Technology Tip of the Month

May, 1996: The Web Offline

by Deborah Healey
If you're relatively new to using the Web, check the vocabulary items.

The pressure is on... you'd like your students to see a great resource on the World Wide Web, but it's hard to get connected at the right time or to stay connected. Sometimes you get frustrated because you've put together a wonderful lesson plan based on a Web site, but you go to the Web site to find it's changed or moved since the last time you looked at it (maybe even yesterday).

What to do?

No Connection While having the freedom to navigate anywhere is a wonderful thing, it is also possible to use the Web in a more constrained way. You don't need to be online (connected to the Internet) to view Web pages and related graphics.

Creating an Offline Web site

An offline Web site is one that students can use without any Internet connection. It can have all the hypertext features of a regular Web site--graphics, text, sound, and video--but you control where students can navigate and what they can see. The advantages are that you can tailor the learning and the lesson plan to a known quantity and that you're not at the mercy of your connection. The disadvantage is that spontaneity is lost, since students can only go where you've planned. Still, if you are working with low-proficiency-level students, this may provide them a taste of the Web that still offers comprehensible input.

How Do You Do It?

If you want to use something that already exists online, your first step is to get permission from the copyright holder to download the files and run the site offline. Check the bottom of the Web page that you want to use to see if a contact person is listed there. You may need to follow some links on the page to find the contact person.

Next, view the source (it's usually a menu choice) to be sure the page doesn't use a special "cgi" program. If you see anything with "cgi" in the name, you won't be able to use that feature of the page when you're offline. (CGI programs might do things like grade an online quiz or let students fill in blanks on a worksheet.)

Once you have permission from the copyright holder, you can use a program like WebWhacker that automates the downloading process. You'll need to make a note of the name of the primary file--the main page you're downloading--so that you can open it later.

While the text files are usually not large, graphics can take a lot of space on your drive when you download them. The bigger the picture, the more space it will take. If there are sound files, these can take a great deal of space on your drive. As an example, if you were to download this page and its links, you'd need less than 100KB of free space on your drive -- small graphics and no sound or video files keep this page and its links small.

If you don't have WebWhacker or a similar program, you can download the files one by one to your computer. If the page has frames or forms, this will be rather painful. If the page doesn't have frames, it's pretty simple. With Netscape, just select Edit Page, then save the page to your disk. With Internet Explorer, select Save As... from the File menu, then choose "Web page, complete" to get all the graphics. If you have version 3 or older of these browsers, saving to disk is not so simple. Tell me how to do it anyway.

Run Your Web Browser

If you're using a Mac or current versions of Windows, just open the browser. If you've got an older version of Windows, you'll need to open Winsock (just don't connect to anything), then your Web browser. (Thanks to Judith Graves on TESLCA-L for this tip.)

Be sure to set the browser to open with a blank page. In Netscape, you do this from Preferences under the Edit menu. With Internet Explorer, select Internet Options under the Tools menu. Opening with a blank page stops the browser from trying to make a connection when you want to run it offline.

Choose "Open file" or the equivalent, and type in the name of the primary file that you downloaded. It will look just like it does on the Web! You'll be able to click on the links and go to any that you downloaded. (Hint: if the links don't work, check the source to make sure that the names are the same.)

One More Idea

You can also write your own Web pages and run them offline as hypertext. I like Hot Potatoes as a teacher-friendly way to create interactive pages; download a copy from Using a commercial authoring program like HyperStudio, Director, or Authorware will create more complex and often lovelier programs for your students. However, it may take you much longer to create hypertext with one of those programs than if you use Hot Potatoes or a generic Web authoring tool like Netscape Composer, FrontPage, DreamWeaver, PageMill, Home Page, or Arachnid and just run the files offline. Some Web authoring tools.

Good luck!

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If you have questions, comments, or for more information, contact Deborah Healey, dhealey AT uoregon DOT edu
Last updated 26 June, 2009