WaSP Interviews José Trudel
On teaching Web standards in multimedia and design
Interview conducted for 22 May 2006, by Stephanie Troeth of the Education Task Force.
José Trudel is a teacher in design at Cégep de Saint-Jérôme where he prepares students in the “technical” branch of the program. Unlike most programs in higher education, José teaches his students using Web standards and best practices. What issues are faced when changes in curriculum are implemented? What resources are used when teaching best practices? How does José ensure that the curriculum stays up-to-date? José shares his experiences in the interview.
This interview also available in French.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, José. Currently, you are teaching web design and multimedia classes at Cégep de Saint-Jérôme. Can you tell us a little more about the college and your role?
Cégep de St-Jérôme is a college located in the Laurentides that has been established for more than 35 years. I joined the Multimedia Integration Technique department at the Cégep as a teacher in January 2001.
As a teacher in design, it’s my job to teach students all the fundamental notions of design (visual balance, composition, graphic communication, etc.) that will allow them to master the visual “language” and adequately communicate through multimedia. We also place a lot of emphasis on the concepts of usability in interface design.
I also teach Web design, a course that is more technical where students learn how to use HTML and CSS to recreate all layout possibilities for Web pages.
The Cégep system is unique to Québec; can you explain to us what a student who graduates from Cégep (compared to university) is qualified to do?
There are two “branches” of study in the Cégep system: the “professonal” branch, also known as a “technical” branch, and the “pre-university” branch. The multimedia integration program is in the “professional” branch—it’s a three-year program designed to get students ready for the job market. In comparison, the “pre-university” branch, as the name implies, prepares the students for university. At the end of their technical program, students are able to conceive and create all kinds of multimedia applications. Even though the students are trained on all aspects of multimedia creation, emphasis is placed more on the technical side (integration, handling of media formats, programming). University programs are generally more oriented towards the conception and ideology of multimedia products. University creates thinkers and Cégep creates technicians; in our case: multimedia integrators.
Would there be any benefits for students to undertake a Bachelor’s degree at a University after Cégep studies in multimedia?
Although it’s not the main goal of a technical program, a student undertaking the multimedia integration program has a lot to gain by pursuing his education in university. By adding a bachelor’s degree in a related domain to his technical program—such as in story-boarding, design or communication—the student gets the best of both worlds: conceptual knowledge as well as a solid technical background. But I don’t believe it is useful for a student to follow up with the first cycle of a university degree in multimedia. Both programs cover a lot of the same ground (the university offers many technical classes even if it’s not their main focus). And, in all honesty, our students graduating from the multimedia integration program are likely to be better prepared in terms of technical skillsets than graduates from University.
Your students learn the latest Web integration techniques using XHTML/CSS. How do you ensure that your curriculum keeps up-to-date with current best practices?
That’s a tough one! There is no ideal way to make sure of this, but since we want to train students who can integrate well into the job market, we try our best to take into account what is currently being done in companies. To complete the program, students have to undertake work experience with a company for two months, and we pay careful attention to what is required of these students—what technologies they are required to use, what aptitudes they need to have. This work experience component benefits not only our students; they allow us —the teachers—to have a good overview on the current practices of the industry.
The problem with multimedia is that sometimes there turns out to be a long delay (2 or 3 years) between the moment where a student is taught something specific and the moment it is used within the industry. We must therefore try to predict which will be the best practices in 2 or 3 years. At this point in time, it’s really a judgement call. We communicate a lot between teachers to keep up-to-date and see upcoming trends and standards.
Naturally, observing directly what’s being published on the Web is also always an excellent way to keep track of what’s going on. The W3C web site is equally very useful. It’s the primary reference for XHTML/CSS standards and it gives us an idea of what is likely to come.
I think a technology will take hold only if it is useful and relevant (in the majority of cases, at least). A new technology is not necessarily good because it is new. So I try it, test it and evaluate it. If it fulfills all my requirements, and if it is an improvement over the previous version, I adopt it. If not, I wait.
What tips do you give to your students to keep up with the ever changing landscape of Web development after they graduate?
The best advice we can give them is to create and maintain a network of friends and acquaintances who, like them, are interested in the development of multimedia applications. It is very much in this exchange with others that we can keep ourselves up-to-date. Taking a look at specialized forums from time-to-time and see what is being done on the web is also an excellent way to stay on par.
But ultimately, we must ask the next question: what is the best way to serve the interest of my client? Is the technology I intend to use the best and most adapted to the task that’s entrusted to me? Is this technology trustworthy and universally compatible with my client’s infrastructure? Would there be another way that is more accessible and more efficient? In answering all these questions, we shall find the motivation to undertake the necessary research for us to keep abreast with changes.
You mentioned that ultimately we serve the interest of the client. But from time to time, we all have clients who insist on technologies that are not in their best interest, such as products that are non-standards conformant or have inherent inaccessibility and interoperability issues. How do you prepare your students for these situations?
We try to make our students understand that serving the best interests of the client doesn’t necessarily mean giving him exactly what he asks for. Serving the client’s best interests means giving him the best tools to achieve his corporate goals, such as boosting the company’s image or launching a product. The Web site is only one of the means to meet these needs. Therefore, we must always start by evaluating the client’s needs. Then, we elaborate on a strategy. Similarly, the choice of technology used to build the website in question should be solely based on its relevance and efficiency in meeting these needs. At this point, it’s all about communication. If we can’t convince the client of the need to use a particular technology (or not), then we are bound to fail!
What resources do you use for teaching best Web practices to your students?
I use little existing documentation, aside from references on the W3C site from time to time and a few articles from W3Schools. Printed manuals are rarely up to date and when they are, they rapidly become obsolete. So I conceive and write most of my material, based on my personal experience and on what I find interesting on the Internet. And again, my colleagues are an excellent resource.
What issues do you face when implementing changes to your curriculum? Do you have to convince your fellow staff members or others about such changes to your program?
To have a coherent teaching strategy throughout all three years, all elements have to come from a common unified strategy.
Ideally, every decision concerning the use of a new technology should be unanimously adopted by all teachers, because each class is based on what has been taught in previous classes. To have a coherent teaching strategy throughout all three years, all elements have to come from a common unified strategy. Each class is a link in a chain. If one of the links does not fit perfectly between the previous and the following one, the chain is broken and the students will miss crucial elements needed to realize a completely functional multimedia product adapted to the market. Fortunately, most of my colleagues share my point of view, and we have the utmost respect for each other, professionally and personally. Some discussions are a bit more intense, but in the end, we find a common ground. Multimedia is team work — as much in production as in teaching.
Again, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with us. We really appreciate your perspective on the issue of teaching multimedia and Web standards.
It was a real pleasure corresponding with you. I hope my contribution was of value to you.
José Trudel graduated from the Université du Québec à Montréal in 1995 with a bachelor’s degree in Graphic Design. He also has a Certificate in Advertising from the Université de Montréal. Upon graduation, he was hired by ABCD-ROM, a multimedia production company, where he was a creative director from 1995 to 1997. He later became a consultant and graphic designer for different companies within the multimedia and communications sector. José has been teaching Web design at the Cégep de St-Jérôme in the Multimedia Integration Technique department since 2001.
- CEGEP (Collège d’enseignement général et professionnel or College of General and Vocational Education)
The EduTF thanks Yanik Proulx profusely for helping us with the translation of this interview.
The Web Standards Project is a grassroots coalition fighting for standards which ensure simple, affordable access to web technologies for all.