Working together for standards The Web Standards Project

On Quality Education

By Holly Marie Koltz | May 24th, 2006 | Filed in Education, Education TF, General

“What college or university has a good program for Web Development (or Design)?” is a question frequently encountered on mailing lists, in forums, or in conversations with others. Many would like to know the answer.

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Where Do I Go?

Finding a quality program is a challenge. Prospective students often ask about educational program choices or options. Those looking for a course of study frequently find they need to rely on information about the experiences of others. Comments from those with educational experience are commonly filled with less than positive recommendations for many institutions. In most cases and even today, students will need to learn about working with web standards and best practices on their own and not through their educational or degree program. It also seems that many institutions are even discouraging students to use standards and best practices on their work, assignments, or projects.

This is broken, this is wrong.

Lars Gunther: An Advocate for Educational Change

In recent months, Lars Gunther has been communicating with the WaSP EduTF and working on a letter for Skolverket, the Swedish National Agency for education. This letter is directed at Gymnasium. Gymnasium is a level of school similar to high school education in the United States, or pre college/university educational years. The letter document is available in Swedish and English versions and an effort to persuade or convince those involved with the education process to include instruction about best practices and web standards. Lars also sent a press release (in Swedish) out to about 20 Swedish magazines that write about the Internet and or education.

Roger Johansson of 456 Berea Street writes about Lars and the document at: A letter from WASP-EduTF to Skolverket. The comments following the entry are not uncommon but worth reading with many relating the inability of programs to teach quality web subject matter. One that caught my attention, Robert dM:

Things are no better in Belgium I’m afraid. I considered a php-course recently, but got put off when I saw that they also offered html-courses and were still advocating “building a site with frames” and “building a site with tables” in the course, no mention of CSS. So I coudn’t help but wonder about the quality of the php-course on offer and gracefully declined.

Another commenter mentioned that he did not think his instructor knew what the W3C is, and a another commenter recalls an interaction with his own instructor:

Finally, the site was finished, and i sort of hoped for a higher grade due to the code of this site because it was kind of a big project. And what´s his comment? “I don´t know if I can give you the higher grade. Your HMTL is kind of strange, and where is all the code”, he said. I explained that I wanted to seperate structure from presentation and thereby the other “code” is in the CSS-document. “Hmm, unnecessary that you have to keep two windows (the HTML and CSS) open all the time”, he said. And before this he was the last teacher I still had some respect for…

We need to help promote change.

Students, What you could do?

Whether you are looking for a program, are in a program, or have finished a program, you may still be able to have an effect on the institution:

  • Let all of the key people involved at institutions know why you are not choosing to enroll in their programs and why you are looking elsewhere.
  • For those completing a course that was outdated and or discouraging the use of web best practices and standards: Fill out those course and instructor evaluations and let the institution and instructors know what you think.
  • For those receiving lower grades for using standards on assignments, tests, or projects … discuss or debate for a change in those grades. You deserve the better grade and the program administrator and or department heads need to know where they are falling behind. The other option is to follow what they want you to do, and know that you will do otherwise when you leave the program or course.

If you know of good quality programs, do spread the word, and let the WaSP EduTF know, too.

What Educational Institutions Should Know

As more students become aware of web standards and web best practices before they enter a college or a university program, they are going to start looking closely at your programs and will also look at educational options. If your institution does not offer what they want or need, they may enroll elsewhere. Students have already been asking about good choices on mailing lists and forums for several years. The standards web community is well aware of the substandard educational issues. It is the year 2006 and there is no reason to be instructing practices and methods of 1996, or backwards and outdated materials. Students who are paying for a degree and education should receive a quality education.

A student bound for a medical studies, engineering, fine arts, or many other degrees will look at colleges and universities and will prefer to attend those that are well-known for their quality programs, or respected by those in the hiring fields. Would a medical school instruct its students with outdated materials and outdated practices, or would any other field or career program?

Educators need to update their knowledge and skills, and those educators who have updated need to have the ability to make changes in programs or update the learning material. Administration and departments should support and encourage these changes. Institutions should help instructors update.

Employers Could Also Help.

It is no surprise that many job listings show a stronger emphasis on acquired knowledge, skills, and experience, than on education or degrees in the associated subject matter. This could also be a reflection on the educational system as it is, and those hiring may also be aware that many education programs are lacking.

Employers working with student interns or hiring students could also take the time to let the associated educational institutions know that knowledge, skills, or topics are lacking and or what is missing from their programs.

A Few Final Thoughts

Finding or recommending educational institutions with quality education remains a challenge. We all need to get involved. We need to let the institutions know what we think — whether we are students applying or enrolling, whether we have finished a course or program, whether we are hiring or training interns, and or what we are recommending to others who ask. Until institutions start getting a stronger message or feedback from students and others, the current situation may continue.

It was Lars Gunther’s frustration which motivated his letter to Skolverket in Sweden, and the EduTF agrees with what he had to say:

But it is of utmost importance that the education provides a foundation, from which the students do not need to un-train and re-educate themselves, because they have been taught the wrong methods. The school should be an onramp to highway of the future, not a dead-end street into the past.

When schools like Gymnasium in Sweden start instructing web standards and best practices, students who will continue their education will need choices of good quality programs available at a universities or colleges. It would be great if many options existed — students should not have to un-learn web standards and best practices in order to get better grades or a degree.

Your Replies

#1 On May 24th, 2006 2:41 pm alan g replied:

There is the assumption that one must attend college to learn Web Development. Perhaps one only need to learn on one’s own, or to take a course or two at a specialized web design school.

#2 On May 24th, 2006 3:44 pm Mark replied:

I wouldn’t necessarily say the assumption is that one must go to college to learn web development, but that, these days, one is certainly more employable and competitve with a degree…Any degree. If one is interested in pursuing a career involving web dev and one is at an age to acquire their degree, it would be a nice option.

It’s really the practical/real world vs. theoretical question that ALWAYS comes up around college curriculum.

Now, if you’re implying that the best candidates for a successful career in web development are self-motivated and self-taught outside the classroom, I’d wholeheartedly agree, but it would certainly be nice if while they were pursuing those interests they could be enrolled in a related curriculum that would make them even more attractive in these days of database resume searches.

#3 On May 24th, 2006 5:04 pm Blake Elshire replied:

I know my personal experience where I have gone to school (The Art Institute of Dallas) has been great. This is the school that introduced me to web standards development. While the front end aspect HTML/CSS is taught through a web standards perspective focusing on seperation of content, and style. I’m afraid the JavaScript portion of the curriculum is still stuck in 1997 and not teaching up to date information.

I also notice that while the HTML/CSS teaching is up to par in the standards development it doesn’t always stick with the students. I still see some table based layouts, extremely bad uses of Flash, etc. in the graduating portfolio’s at my school. I think this happens at my school because of the varying faculty some are quite “old school” and are almost at the “I have arrived” mentality and don’t like to learn new things. The HTML/CSS classes are all taught by forward thinking persons, but when you get into a Javascript class and possibly run up against a problem in your CSS the teacher just says to throw it in a table and it works and is easier than sitting through an hour of debugging the CSS. So students loose the resolve of learning the correct way of doing things and fall back to the easy way of doing things.

Luckily I and other students have been able to convince the faculty and staff to start moving the program forward, and with the development of a bachelors degree that focuses more on standards and the combination of technologies. I think our program is a good one right now but could be a really excellent one in the near future if the changes that are talked about actually happen.

#4 On May 25th, 2006 8:00 am Jules replied:

Derek Featherstone wrote an article months ago entitled Growing Up with Web Standards. In it, he comments that there is a limited amount of quality teaching resources. Cheryl Colan (Phoenix College), who read and commented on this article, is one of those teachers that we need more of: she wanted to teach using web standards and was going to embark on writing her own books until she found one that seemed to meet her needs.

I have convinced my publisher that I do not want to write any more books that do not use web standards and accessibility and since my books are geared toward the college/university market, perhaps I will help this along.

#5 On May 25th, 2006 10:24 am Krista Stevens replied:

I can say that in Winnipeg, Canada, Web design education is woefully inadequate. Two examples from my recent experience underscore the fact.

The Dreamweaver course I was required to take teaches layout with tables and spacer .gif shims. I voiced my concern about the fact the techniques being taught were severely outdated and the instructor passed the buck, saying the college pays instructors to teach the course, but not to develop the course curriculum.

In the XML course I took, CSS was required. The assignment instructions stated that students were to use CSS shorthand wherever possible. Imagine my surprise at losing marks for color declations such as #ccc. The instructor was completely unaware of this fundamental best practice. After making my case, the marks were granted, but it left me wondering about the qualifications of the instructor.

I’ve written the college numerous times on these experience, not to mention the outdated course list, but my suggestions have been ignored to date. Unfortunately, I must take this program as my employer insists on it. They’re paying for it – more the futility.

#6 On May 25th, 2006 12:10 pm Mark replied:

And with no offense to a multitude of valued teaching professionals out there, let’s not forget: Those who can, do; those who can’t teach. Someone qualified to teach cutting edge web development stands to make much more money doing cutting edge web development…or writing books on the topic, which is where you should turn while outside the classroom.

#7 On May 25th, 2006 2:37 pm WaSP Member hmkoltz replied:

@mark, you wrote:

Those who can, do; those who can’t teach.

Some are of the group of teachers who ‘teach and do’
Others, teach for the love of teaching and the profession.

Not all programs, universities, colleges, and or teachers are inadequate on these topics, though we do realize that many are, and the EduTF hopes to find ways to help change this.


#8 On May 26th, 2006 1:35 am chris hernandez replied:

While I cannot fully agree with: Those who can, do; those who can’t teach, it does seem to happen more (rather than less) of the time. The only web design class I took was in high school, a senior class. We would get worse grades for doing more, so that other students didn’t feel like they were left out. I kept being told “but this is a beginning class”. Honestly, if i had been in a beginners class in high school that taugh the importance of separation of content & presentation, it would have been sooo much easier to learn HTML –AND– CSS. The worst thing you can do is introduce someone to web design by teaching dreamweaver or tables-based layouts.

#9 On May 26th, 2006 4:34 am Roberto Castaldo - IWA/HWG replied:

I fully agree with the problem’s analisys you are proposing; actually university programs (i live in Italy, but it seems to be the same all over the world) are generally antiquated and inadequate. Something is moving in high schools, but there’s a general point of reference shortage about educational paths on Web standards application. That’s why IWA/HWG (I’m the coordinator of educational activities in Italy) started and publishing CWP-WAS about Web accessibility; it’s an approach useful for students (now they know what they have to learn to be considered professionals), for enterprises (who need to find good professionals and too often don’t know how to evaluate people) but also for education agencies who can base their training offerings on a world wide training project. In this way, in few years the sholw Web will be able to count on a new generation of web professionals who share ethical values and technical competences about Web standards.

#10 On May 26th, 2006 9:49 am Lars Gunther replied:

Seeing the comments I think there are two issues:

1. How can one find a quality education?

2. How can education find quality?

From my Swedish perspective it is the second question that is most troublesome. There is teaching going on on both pre-university and university level that is not always good. And in many cases students do not have much of a choice, nor the ability to know that they are being taught bad methods.

It is possible to make a page that looks good in a few browsers using tag-soup, proprietary invalid HTML. That’s enough for many customers. Bad taught students become bad developers – and bad customers. Today so many apps are web-based that one cannot afford to have an IT-department where noone knows about web standards.

Look at the following page from my home town, used by students to choose education at the “gymnasium” level – even though it’s in Swedish there are a few things all can see:

Drag your mouse across the whitespace in the bottom. Oops! It was not whitespace at all. It’s white text on white background. DEBUG for the developers, sometimes including SQL used by the app. Security? Professionalism? Who cares! The buyer might have learned some “web design” at school, but not enough to spot this.

#11 On June 1st, 2006 2:52 pm Bill Genereux replied:

After being away from the field of web design for several years, it has taken me a while to get up to speed. Each semester I learn a bit more and incorporate more standards based web development into our web curriculum at K-State Salina.

I’m happy to say that we teach XHTML in my beginning web class, and standards will be included more and more as I continue to gain expertise.

#12 On June 6th, 2006 6:13 pm Dave McFarland replied:

I’ve taught at many different educational institutions here in the US, including major universities, private art colleges, and “professional development” programs offering certification in Web design and production. I have to agree that, in general, the level of knowledge among instructors in many of these programs isn’t up to what you’d call “industry standards.” But it’s really not much of surprise; most educational institutions pay far below what an experienced Web developer would make actually building Web sites professionally; many instructors learned Web design five or six years ago when everybody used tables and frames, and “standards” was not something you commonly heard about.

Many instructors are too bogged down by their daily routine of teaching, grading, supervising, to really spend much time researching, learning and expanding their own skill sets. Most schools don’t pay for curriculum development, so for instructors to stay on top of current trends, they have to spend lots of unpaid time researching and preparing.

I’d say that curriculum development is one of the biggest stumbling blocks in achieving good instruction. Fortunately, many of the HTML/CSS/JavaScript books being published now are much more attuned to standards and advocate best practices like seperating presentation from structure, validating code and building accessible Web sites. One step the WASP can make in helping foster quality education would be to develop some good, standards based curricula. This could be as simple as a list of recommended readings, or sample syllabi covering the common topics covered in Web education: HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Accessibility, and so on. I think that if most instructors had access to good instructional material, they’d use it.

#13 On June 6th, 2006 11:09 pm Alisha Gray replied:

I have been a basic web designer for over 6 years, and have designed all of my own sites. I am currently a C.I.S transfer student at the Art Institute of California-San Francisco, and agree with the student above regarding the teaching of HTML. The methods are non-existent for CSS and HTML 3.2. Forget about 4.0, that is just a dream. I have been posting to my professor and other classmates regarding this matter, because frankly, they are issuing assignments that are using almost all ‘backward compatibility’. I see the point with learning table tags..but why are we still using them to create web pages, and why did my assignment last week say to make the size of the table within a site set to pixels instead of percentage. Perhaps the professor is teaching this method because the books states to do so. But it seems incredibly wrong to spend six weeks learning all of the wrong methods.

#14 On June 7th, 2006 8:21 am Erin Moore replied:

I’ve been using the internet since before the days of the Web and began making web pages back in the (very) early nineties and remember well the early zeal for keeping pages accessible to everyone.

However, I dropped out of web design as an active participant when we were in the midst of the jungle of proprietary tags, competing technologies and the trend toward less and less accessibility and more and more complication. At the time I decided to just wait until the dust settled and somebody won or two or three definite paths were discernable. I hate creating something that I know has a good chance of not working for a percentage of the users.

I am primarily an artist and instructor, so I was able to hide my head in the sand and focus on other things. Kudos to those who did not.

I am concientious, however. I have kept my hand in well enough to know that the Web has been changing and as I’ve had opportunity to teach html or Dreamweaver courses, I’ve made my students aware of what I perceived to be the new trends.

Last semester, though I was asked to teach a credit-side, semester-long course in web design. (All of the other web classes had been taught in a non-credit Training format of a day or two) Prepping for the class was difficult. I could not find a book that I felt actually taught current best practices. Instead I wracked the internet for every resource I could find with up-to-date information and put together a list which I used to teach from and had the students print out and make their own web-design binder. In the process I, of course, learned as much as the students as I realized the profound change that was in the air and the sheer number of good people out there working to make it happen.

Luckily there are some good books available now, and more all of the time. In April Sitepoint published a book by Ian Lloyd that I plan to use on future beginning courses called “HTML and CSS: An Absolute Beginner’s Guide”. This is truly the book I wish I had been able to find. It is absolutely clear. (I have to like it, right? All of the resources that I so painstakingly discovered for my students are already scattered throughout the book with reccommendations to go and learn more.)

Some teachers must order only from their educational publisher (or it’s just easier). Efforts made to bring the publishers inline with best practices is crucial to getting the bulk of instructors to teach the newer methods.

#15 On June 8th, 2006 4:59 am Bestessaytips replied:

I guess that many problems in current education stem from the fact that few institutions are privatized in Europe; if educational institutions were privatized, the quality of education would increase tremendously.

#16 On June 8th, 2006 12:51 pm Jorge Pinon replied:

I’m a web design teacher (and do-er as well, thank you) at the Memphis College of Art and have found since I started teaching that most beginning web design books, even recent ones, sadly still have large sections that discuss table-based layout, frames, even deprecated tags (like ). Suggestion to writers: avoid even mentioning deprecated tags because they’re, well, deprecated, and you’re book will be outdated as soon as they glue the cover on it.

I have looked at the table of contents in Ian Lloyd’s book. It looks good and I’ll probably be switching to it, but I only wish it focussed more on design (XHTML and CSS) and less maybe on adding a blog or getting your site on-line. In that regard it’s more of a how-to than a text book, if that makes sense. It makes me have to also use something like Stylin’ With CSS to supplement it, thus requiring my students to spend more money.

I still haven’t found that one killer book, maybe the EduTF’s work will encourage someone to put one together.

#17 On June 8th, 2006 12:52 pm Jorge Pinon replied:

That was supposed to say “(like the font tag)” above.

#18 On June 27th, 2006 10:36 am Brendan replied:

I go to school at University of Hartford and they teach up to web standands there. I’m in a program called Interactive Information Technology and I’ve learned so much, its a great school.

#19 On July 6th, 2006 3:44 am Dheeraj Mehrotra replied:

Quality Education is necessary tool for the time today. One must have an access of all the tools of learning, imparting must be done using these TOOLS particularly the IT Tools as it is now mandatory to carry your own image in the cyberspace. Be literate IT literacy is compulsory. Happy Computing.
CMS, Lucknow, INDIA

#20 On July 6th, 2006 3:45 am Dheeraj Mehrotra replied:

Get to the Quality IT Literacy for All.

Access to this IT Tool today. THE IT LITERACY (The Complete IT Newspaper for All)

#21 On July 17th, 2006 5:14 am Ivan replied:

Quality education is necessary tool and all educational institutions should be privatized to increase the quality of education – speaking of Europe countries.

#22 On July 26th, 2006 2:46 am chima ugwulashi replied:

quality education is solution to the technological challenges of the 21st century to be planned along school quality.

#23 On August 28th, 2006 6:02 pm RD2 Blog : Blake, You Are So Money! - RD2 replied:

[...] Blake Elshire first caught the attention of EduTF via his comment to our Buzz On Quality Education. We invited him to tell us a little more about his experience as a student in interactive media design. Read the interview“ [...]

#24 On August 29th, 2006 2:59 am Hemebond replied:

I’m happy to say that we teach XHTML in my beginning web class, and standards will be included more and more as I continue to gain expertise.

Does this mean we’re going to have even more web coders filling the web with XHTML served as tag-soup HTML?

#25 On January 12th, 2007 9:31 am Maria Design replied:

I so far haven’t found a college or university that provides quality program for Web Development or Graphic Design. Or at least one that will make you a professional.
This is bad but it is true. My personal experience shows me that self education in this field is much better that spending years in a college that will show you only the basis. Moreover, nowadays you can find so many professional and most importantly up-to-date courses and tutorials online, some of which are worth even more than a university degree.
Sadly, usually paper books are being published with a bit of delay and it turns out that the web is the right solution if you want to be up-to-date with the current trends and standards.
My advice to those who really want to become professional web designers and developers is to bet on self-improving and constantly search the web for new articles/books/tutorials/useful forums. It is far better than take a university degree and stop your education there.

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