Report from WDN 09: Educating the Next Generation of Web Professionals, II

Live blogging the second morning session . . .

Chris Mills listed the core competencies to teach about markup: basic functions of all the elements, good document structure, how and when to extend semantics, principles of accessibility, advantages of using standards, and SEO. Make markup sexy for students by giving them something personal to work on hands-on, get to the practical quickly.

Mills listed some books good for teaching markup, all of which are on my list of Recommended Books.

A validator in development that gives better error messages is validator.nu. This may be helpful in teaching students how to understand validation error messages. Some of these features are being added to the W3C validator. W3C has a semantic data extractor that may help students. Students also need to understand when it’s ok for a page not to validate. Keep in mind that validators check for errors, but not for semantics.

Dave Shea on CSS

Dave Shea was the next speaker. What fun, learning CSS from Dave Shea.

Start with semantic HTML. Then add CSS layout.

DaveValid HTML is esential for CSS. In CSS, semantics means using appropriate class names. CSS can style only HTML elements, id elements and class elements.

He explained the Cascade using some simple code examples that demonstrated what he meant by inheritance and specificity. An excellent way to teach it.

In terms of positioning, he talked about document flow and positioning. Positioning gives you the ability to selectively remove elements from the document flow. He used concrete examples to demo various positioning schemes.

He gave some examples of float and clear. Then he built a layout using floats to create a two column layout.

Shea said that display: table is on the way as a way to create layout. This has been around for almost 10 years, but it finally being supported. Something else coming is CSS3′s multi-column module. Neither is backwards-compatible and neither is supported in IE 6/7.

Design essentials Shea talked about were image replacement, sliding doors, faux columns, and CSS sprites (essentially, applied image replacement).

Teaching applications

Aarron came back to talk about some things in the assignment handout that relate to Dave’s talk. He said CSS empowers students, especially image replacement, but floats and positioning are a challenge.

Aarron suggests lab exercises to develop a sense of how floats and positioning work. He recommends positioniseverything.net. He also said that it’s a challenge to help students keep things simple when they start learning CSS because they want to keep adding things instead of going for simplicity. He says a good lab assignment is CSS Zen Garden, or a redesign of a small non-profit.

The books he mentioned as useful are all included on my Recommended Books page, except Andy Clark’s Transcending CSS.

Report from WDN 09: Educating the Next Generation of Web Professionals

Live blogging the first morning session . . .

ChrisThis is a full day workshop about educating web professionals. People involved in the presentation include Chris Mills, Stephanie Troeth, Aarron Walter, and Bill Cullifer. Others involved include Dave Shea, Derek Featherstone, Jeffrey Brown, Glenda Sims and Leslie Jensen-Inman.

Chris Mills from Opera explained that we are all here because we care about training web professionals. He’s the standards evangelist at Opera and was instrumental in developing the Opera Curriculum.

The speakers introduced themselves and then there was time spent finding out about the people attending and why they are here.

AarronSteph talked about the fact that although it’s easy to implement a web page, it’s difficult to do it well. Aarron mentioned that education needs help keeping up. Industry needs to reach out. Adequate and appropriate materials were also mentioned.

Available right now is the Opera Curriculum. Coming soon is WaSP Interact. This will be public March 16 and will be the WaSP Curriculum Framework. These two projects dovetail in that the courses are based on competencies, with related assignments and evaluation rubrics for each assignment.

They handed out a pamphlet full of example assignments from the WaSP Interact curriculum. There was a markup assignment, a presentation assignment, a scripting assignment and an accessibility assignment. Each assignment contained a description of the assignment requirements for the student’s use, and sample answers. There were other assignment ideas for related work, plus a list of books and articles to assign related to the assignment.

Mike Smith on Markup

Mike Smith talked about markup. Semantic markup is markup that encodes meaning into content. Semantic markup transforms a document into an information source. The information becomes usable in unanticipated ways when the structure is reusable. In addition, semantic markup is portable in the sense that it isn’t specific to a particular device but works across a range of devices and contexts. Accessible markup does not exclude users of any particular class. The same techniques that make markup semantic also make it accessible. He talked about using class names and id values well so that markup is maintainable.

Mike Smith from the W3CThere are two syntaxes for storing documents: text/html or XML syntax (XHTML). Don’t serve machine-generated XHTML with a text/html MIME type because it may not work in every situation. And, don’t use self-closing tags served as text/html. HTML doesn’t enforce much structure on documents. Therefore, authors need to build structure in consistent ways, e.g., make good use of heading elements and div elements. Use other structural elements such as microformats and RDFa. Do it earlier rather than later. Some examples of adding semantic meaning that might be useful include adding title attributes to <a> elements to help people decide whether or not to click on a link.

Smith talked about the controvery over the use of the alt attribute with the img element. He mentioned that an image can be used for different purposes, and the alt text should be appropriate for the purpose the image serves in a particular context. Good alt text writing is a major needed skill. He’s on the side of the argument that says alt text does not need to be a required part of the schema but that WCAG should list alt text as a requirement. Interesting way to approach the idea and one I need to ask him more about later.

Smith talked about definition lists. He said they are for associating ideas and don’t necessarily have to be lists, as such.

In HTML 5 <em> will be emphatic stress and <strong> will be strong importance, if the current draft becomes a reality. He also mentioned that in HTML 5 <i> and <b> may be given some sort of semantic meaning as opposed to the strictly presentational use they now have. This is not a done deal yet either. He said the HTML 4 spec that said to use <cite> for names of people is wrong and <cite> should not be used to markup names of people.

He said SVG is going to be massively important in the future.

Report from WDN 09: Web Professional Education Summit

Live blogged . . .

This session was led off by Bill Cullifer from WOW. He was joined by Leslie Jensen-Inman, an Assistant Professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Nick Fogler from Yahoo!, and Mike Smith from the W3C.

John Allsopp conference organizerJohn Allsopp introduced them by asking how we should be preparing web professionals of the future. Each of them will provide a different perspective.

Cullifer gave a high level look at where we stand in education. He mentioned the disconnect between education and industry needs. He pointed out that although educators say enrollment is down, industry people say jobs are empty and waiting.

Bill Cullifer from WOWWOW is a bridge between industry, education and government. Cullifer sees the cup as half full rather than half empty. There is progress in web design, development and buisiness. There are online AA degrees now. We still need university degrees. Lots of jobs are available, but we face competition from engineering, green industry, and other industries that are looking to recruit young students and workers.

The industry is so diverse, with so many skill sets and so much diversity of knowledge that it is a complex task to organize.

Leslie Jensen-Inman from academiaLeslie works in both academia and industry, so she has an interesting viewpoint. She looked at the needs of industry and compared that with what education is doing. She went looking for perspectives on web education. Her article in A List Apart talked about what she found. She surveyed on the question: how can colleges and universities keep content relevant? What she found made her realize that we really need to connect industry and education and talk to each other to stay relevant. Teachers need to find out how to attend more conferences and help each other keep up. She talked about Open Source Teaching, which means you build all your course materials and then give them all away. Even giving away all your course materials, you are still valuable because you still stand in front of the classroom and give your unique knowledge.

She showed a list of skills that need teaching – at least 60 skills – that was a pretty overwhelming list. Everyone needs to see that chart, I’ll try to find out if it’s online anywhere. [Addendum: the skills are listed in this Monograph.] She suggested having students subscribe to blogs that teach what we want them to learn. She  suggested having students keep blogs related to the course content. She suggested making interships part of required coursework, and having people from the real world come into the classroom.

Nick Fogler from YahooNext up was Nick Fogler. He talked about how Yahoo developed its own internal training programs. He talked about the core technologies needed for front end development and front end engineering. He mentioned that the skills are diverse and that makes planning a course of study difficult. He talked about how the dot com bust from 2001-2002 meant that people who should have entered the field in those years did not, creating a hole in the talent pipeline. The pace of technology is outpacing the supply of qualfied workers. Hence, Yahoo created 10 week training programs taught by Yahoo engineers to train people to do what they needed. Yahoo, in dealing with the new reality of the web today, needed application development. They found that the best people who came out of the training were people who had backgrounds in computer science and an understanding of objects. The successful trainees cared about visual design and attention to detail, and they had a passion for front end engineering. He showed a chart of the scope and sequence of what they taught from HTML to DOM, JS design patterns, performance, and accessibility. I didn’t actually get the URL for their training courses, but I think this is it: http://developer.yahoo.com/yos/. [Correction: developer.yahoo.com/yui/theater is the proper URL. Thanks, Nick.]

Mike Smith from the W3CFrom the W3C, Mike Smith was next. He came all the way from Tokyo. He was co-chair of the HTML WG for  6 months. He said he was the worst chair ever, but was the best at getting a great chair to replace him.

He talked about Do’s and Don’ts. Of course, he talked about the need for standards and semantic markup. His reason was that it facilitates unanticipated reuses of content. He talked about the difficulties of evolving technologies that aren’t perfect in the first place. He urged that you build as much semantic meaning into content as possible up front. Use device interoperable markup. Nice phrase that clearly defines accessibility.

The longer you wait to add semantic structure to content, the more it will cost.

He got a laugh when he said don’t use the name attribute on the <a> element, an old practice that causes all sorts of problems now. Stop thinking in presentational terms; his example was “click here” a phrase that is meaningless but also describes something that may not be true in all devices. When you create id values, think about how they would work as bookmarks and link destinations. Start learning about HTML5 now. He urged people to work in development versions of browsers as much as possible.

A lively discussion followed. An interesting point John Allsopp made during this time was that because the web is fast becoming out main means of communication, decisions made about education, training, and professionalism are incredibly important. It was a blessing to be in room with so many people who are passionately about the education of web professionals.

Web Directions North workshop for educators

A workshop about the education of web professionals. I’ve mentioned this event before, and I’ll probably mention it again. I just registered to attend today. The rooms at the venue are reasonable but going fast, so get moving. What am I talking about?

I’m talking about Web Directions North, to be held in Denver in early February. The education team at the Web Standards Project (WaSP) is putting on a full-day workshop at Web Directions North called Educating the next generation of web professionals. The workshop will be lead by Chris Mills, Stephanie Troeth, Aarron Walter, and feature web experts including Dave Shea, Derek Featherstone and Christian Heilmann.

If you are involved in developing or delivering education for web designers and developers, whether in the secondary, post secondary, vocational or the commercial sector, this day is for you.

The day is divided into the following four sessions

  • Session 1: HTML semantic markup and web content technologies
  • Session 2: Cascading style sheets and web presentation
  • Session 3: JavaScript and Ajax
  • Session 4: Accessibility and usability

Did I mention this point?

If you are involved in developing or delivering education for web designers and developers, whether in the secondary, post secondary, vocational or the commercial sector, this day is for you.

Oh, yeah, I mentioned that.

Here’s the thing: a bunch of members of WaSP are working on a full-blown curriculum for educating web professionals. The curriculum will be revealed to the public in March at SXSWi. Here’s your chance to get a bit of a preview into what’s going on, talk to the people involved, and maybe get involved yourself. If you are teaching anyone web design or development and suspect that your skills and methods are a bit out of date, this will be inspirational. Get inspired.

Web Directions North, of course, includes more than this one workshop, all of it worthwhile. If you are teaching web design and development courses, this event and SXSWi should both be written in stone in your travel budget.

See you there.