Things I Learn from My Students

I’m teaching a beginning Dreamweaver class at UNM Continuing Ed this week. In Continuing Ed classes, it’s common to have adults who want to learn something new in hopes of improving their job chances. In web education classes of any kind, it’s common to have someone who’s been working in print and wants to transition over to the web. This class is no exception.

I’ve had students like that for all of the 15+ years that I’ve been teaching classes of this kind.

In class, we put a couple of rules in a style sheet to set up some font choices. We set a sans-serif font rule up for the body selector. Then we went through the heading selectors and picked a serif font. I explained a little about how everything in the body would display the sans-serif font. Then I gave a couple of minutes explanation of how the stylesheet placement of the rule for h1, h2, h3 etc. in the cascade would over rule the font set in the rule for body.

Then we moved on to something else. While the students were doing an exercise and I was walking around the room answering questions, one student told me she didn’t understand what was body text and how to style it. I reviewed what was in an HTML document body and told her we’d styled all the text with our rule for body. Then she said something that no one transitioning from print had ever said to me before. She said, “Oh, in print we always have a style for body text.”

Years of working with students who created a class called .bodytext in their style sheets and applied it to every single paragraph on a page suddenly made sense. Years of frustration telling students they didn’t need to do that because a single rule in a stylesheet took care of it flashed before my eyes. And I remembered other class names that students applied to headings and other elements that clearly were a print habit that didn’t translate cleanly to the web.

If only I had know that simple thing 15 years ago. It would make helping people transition from print to web so much easier. It gives me a more effective way to approach explaining how selectors work for those students used to print.

So I want to thank that student for removing the blinders from my eyes and helping me understand something that’s troubled me for years.

Leave a Reply