Jeffrey Zeldman Presents The Daily Report After judging the college student entries in the May 1st Reboot 2005, Zeldman had some interesting comments. The comment I found most powerful is his assertion, “I am not worried about these mostly very talented designers; I am worried about what the schools are teaching them, and even more about what they are not teaching them. If schools can teach graphic design, mathematics, music, medicine, filmmaking and even rocket science, why is it so hard to teach web design as it really practiced?”
I have some first-hand observations about what the problem may be. Many people teaching web design classes are actually teaching Fireworks or Photoshop. Necessary skills, but not the best way to make a web site. Many people teaching web design classes have no real-world experience as web designers. Many people teaching web design classes don’t understand accessibility and/or web standards. I’m heaping up lots of condemnation here, so let me add that many people teaching web design are doing a great job and are teaching the skills that will be needed in the real practice of web design.
Colleges are often hamstrung in who they can hire because of regulations and various degrees of accountability. They may have problems trying to hire an experienced web designer instead of asking an existing approved instructor who teaches something related like digital imaging, computer science or visual communication to do the job. They may understand that they don’t have the best person for the job, but are held in regulatory strictures. In other words, they may want to to do a better job, and know how to do a better job, but for various reasons they are unable to do a better job.
No instructor goes into a classroom thinking they want to be inadequate. Perhaps they rely overmuch on a text that is outdated or not up to standards. Sometimes the texts that make life easiest for the instructor are wonderful on the surface, but underneath they are teaching deprecated code, table-based layouts, and offer no assistance with usablility, accessibility, or standards. How does an instructor select a proper text book? (I try to review textbooks every chance I get.) If instructors are looking for attractive completed projects to assign with lots of supporting materials in the way of CDs, slides, quizzes, etc., then they may be heading for a book that is outdated and does not provide real-world examples.
My opinion, as you may know, is that teachers should start with HTML and CSS and create assignments and projects out of that basic knowledge. My opinion does not express a majority opinion at most colleges, however. Who is right? Someone like me or some governmental overseer of colleges and universities? Maybe the two groups should be talking to each other a lot more.