Have digital tools made your dreams come true?

I found this wonderful video among PBS’s Digital Nation videos. Charlotte Ashurst McDaniel explains how digital tools have changed her life for the better.

I suspect that many of us have stories about how digital tools have changed our lives.

This blog changed my life. In the late 1990s and early in the current century, I was teaching basic HTML and web page creation with Dreamweaver in a community college. I couldn’t find a book I liked. In those years, now familiar concepts such as web standards, symantic HTML, using CSS to create the appearance of a web page, and accessibility were all under heated discussion. I became a believer early on—partly because of my frequent attendance at SXSW Interactive where I sat at the feet of people like Eric Meyer, Molly Holzschlag, and Jeffrey Zeldman while they talked about what they were doing.

Being a believer and trying to teach that way were almost incompatible in those days. The books at the time were still teaching table-based layouts, font-tag appearance controls and other not so wonderful techniques. I decided that I needed to go public with my complaints about the books that were available, and I started this blog. That was in about 2001.

The book reviews I post now are generally fairly positive. The wheel has turned. But for several years after  2001, they were very negative. I began to hear from publishers and writers. I was asked to look at tables of contents, to review chapters, to comment on proposed work. I was asked to write teacher’s editions. I did all those things and soon realized I’d made contacts within the world of computing book publishers.

I used those contacts to find out where to submit a proposal for a book of my own. I had this crazy idea that books should teach HTML and CSS at the same time. When a student learned a tag, they also learned  how to present it with CSS.  I truly did not want to make students learn a whole lot of useless HTML (like font tags) for the first half of a semester and then be told to forget all about it at the end of the semester when CSS was introduced. Learn both at once. I found a publisher–Sybex–who accepted the proposal. Sybex came up with the idea of calling it “Integrated” HTML and CSS.

I wrote the book from a teacher’s perspective. I’m not a computer science person—I’m not a programmer. I pulled together the best ideas for teaching I could and applied it to learning HTML and CSS.

So I had my own book, thanks to my blog. Publishers asked me to do more jobs: tech edit other people’s books. Write a second edition of my own book. Help other writers with their Dreamweaver books. Be the writer for a Dreamweaver book. In my own small way, I put the best web standards based material I can out into the world.

Then, a couple of years ago at SXSW, I met Aarron Walter. He talked about the notion that the Web Standards Project Education Task Force should get some volunteers together to work on a web standards based curriculum. I got involved in that. It seems to me now that this is where I was headed all the time. Because that involvement, that project, that group of people, may make a big difference in web education. The WaSP Edu Task force created a curriculum and called it InterAct. At this time, the first round of courses for the InterAct Curriculum are online. More courses are in development. The core group from InterAct have expanded to include business, education and schools in a  just-forming group at the W3C called The Open Web Education Alliance (OWEA). OWEA will bring industry and education together in pilot projects, education projects, outreach projects and in many other ways that will impact the education of web professionals in the future. One of those projects is the Web Education Rocks tours, which bring web standards professional educators to a location near you for training.

My blog changed my life. Dreams I didn’t even know I had are part of my life, part of many lives, part of the future of web education.

How has digital technology changed your life? I know you have a story. Please share it.

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8 thoughts on “Have digital tools made your dreams come true?”

  1. Even though I had always been hopeless at science or anything related, I found that I was rather good at surfing the Internet and even managed to get myself hired to create and keep an academic website.
    Then, digital tools somehow helped me through radiation therapy after I had cancer. That’s when I started blogging at Blogging in Paris, and also, in French, when I kept a journal of my radiotherapy sessions. It was quite therapeutic as it got my anger and frustrations out 😛
    I don’t know if you can include digital photography in digital tools, but that also changed my life. Light weight cameras are so wonderful. And after radiation therapy, I felt I couldn’t play golf any longer and replaced my long golf sessions (I was hopeless anyway but enjoyed the walking part) with photographic walks. That’s when I discovered flickr.
    Also, thanks to my blogs, I have formed new relationships, with people I would never have met otherwise. And the friends of before are so much closer thanks to emails, photos, skype and other amenities!
    Last of all, I find that there’s some sort of problem solving approach to most Internet stuff, finding the solution, something related to other activities I like, like sudoky or crossword puzzles… There, you made me write it! And writing is not my favourite activity at all!

  2. One thing I forgot, I have also taken to reading on my iPhone, this is brand new, and I hope I can find more books to download. The main reason being that I hate carrying heavy stuff, which books are and I find that Stanza on the iPhone does a good job of displaying the text. However, it’s difficult to find books in English that are not “geographically restricted” :'(
    And the Kindle is not available in France and even if I managed to get one –easy enough with friends in the States, I couldn’t download books…

  3. Claude, Thanks for your comments. I definitely consider digital photography a life-changing digital tool.

    A lot of people who can’t get the Kindle are really liking the Sony Reader. They announced yesterday that a whole lot more material will be available for Sony. And I have both an eReader and Kindle reader on my iPhone. Have you looked at what you can get using eReader?

  4. Same stuff as on Stanza. Heavy books that I’m not willing to carry around like Elizabeth George Careless in Red or humongous “World Without End” by Ken Follett are geographically restricted. And I love reading in English, don’t want translations. I’ll have to look into the Sony Reader because I think it’ll be available in France, BUT, doesn’t have much of a Mac Interface and I am definitely a Mac person…

  5. OK this is totally off topic so I apologise in advance… but about teaching HTML and CSS together.

    In my school, I’ve been fighting to introduce CSS at all. As you may know, even in my bravemouse.com tutorials I first introduce HTML font tags, tables and all, then how to rather style with CSS.
    I feel very conflicted about this. OK – I dont teach font tags and tables for a semester and then switch. I teach it only for two or three days. I then concentrate on CSS positioning etc for the rest of the year.
    Its a compromise I make with our curriculum, as I’m not really supposed to be teaching CSS positioning at all. :'(

    But I’m also not sure if I feel comfortable introducing both systems at once to a new student. They are still getting used to the idea of markup language, then I throw the idea of style sheets at them in the same lesson?

    I’m very curious what you think of that. For example, in bravemouse.com. Should I have gotten rid of the whole font tags and tables thing completely? I find it a convenient quick way to show how HTML works before (swiftly) moving on to how you really should do it. Not ideal, I know. 🙁

    Then on topic – my husband is a musician. He played the viola from age 6, and as a result severely damaged his neck and shoulder. The act of playing the instrument without being taught the correct posture cause the injury. As an adult he had to give up playing. Very tough. But he discovered that he could carry on composing by making music with computers. These days he plays the mandolin, which does not hurt his shoulder, but he still creates digital music. Both are equally important.

  6. Masha, There is some value in knowing how to use font tags and table-based layout. For example, if you use HTML in email, you need it. If you are taking over an older web site you’ll need to understand what you’re dealing with. I think if you approach it as background learning, or perhaps legacy learning, to help students understand the totality of what exists on the web, you can make it work.

    With nearly every modern browser understanding how to use the CSS display: table property now, the web is going to undergo another big transition in how CSS is used to layout pages. (See these two articles: CSS Tables and Adapting Dreamweaver CSS Layouts to display: tables Rules.

    And we have HTML 5 working its controversial way into the mix.

    I think the best we can do as teachers is try to keep up with best practices and not stagnate.

  7. P.S. You are not alone in your struggle to bring CSS into a curriculum where it is not sanctioned from above. Many teachers face this obstacle. The WaSP teams hears these stories far too often.

  8. So true. Thanks for those links.
    What I do at the moment is to teach them a bit of the old way, a bit of the new way, and then ask them – so – which do you think is better? What are the advantages of doing x as opposed to y?

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