The State of Things and What it Means for Web Education


Several interesting things have come up in the last week or so that I think need to be connected.

Who’s Not Online?

Pew Internet did a study on Who’s Not Online and Why. They found that 15% of American adults do not use the internet at all, and another 9% of adults use the internet but not at home.

As to who those non-Internet users are, Pew found this:

Internet use remains strongly correlated with age, educational attainment, and household income. One of the strongest patterns in the data on internet use is by age group: 44% of Americans ages 65 and older do not use the internet, and these older Americans make up almost half (49%) of non-internet users overall.

That hardly seems like earth shaking news, but Pew reports it as if it is. As for why they are not using the Internet, there were many reasons given. 34% of non-users said they just weren’t interested and didn’t consider it relevant to their daily lives. 32% cited usability issues, learning issues, and worries about privacy or spam. 19% cited price, and 7% said it wasn’t available where they lived.

A similar report that was written about in The NY Times prompted this letter and post from disability lawyer Lainey Feingold about the digital divide and disability.

The Mobile-Born

Kobe drawing
After reading about the non-Internet using elderly and poor, I saw this TechCrunch post on The Rise of the Mobile Born. This post by Paul Holland talks about The Mobile Born, which he describes as,

A generation of kids that have been raised while literally gnawing on the equivalent of a supercomputer — otherwise known as mom’s smartphone.

Holland says that companies are embracing mobility and transforming their business practices and work arrangements through mobility. He predicts changes in office processes, organizational structures, consumer engagement and young people who have never known any kind of interaction other than that which we create on mobile devices.

What Does That Mean for Teaching Web Design

As a web educator, I look at trends like those reported above from Pew Internet and TechCrunch, and think about what all that means to me in the classroom.

At Smashing Magazine, Jen Kramer wrote about Teaching Web Design to New Students in Higher Education. I think it’s worth taking a look at her suggestions and how they will help us meet the changing world that surrounds us.
It's rough out there for a web designer.

Kramer first talks about the classes where students are taught to build a “comp.” An image from Photoshop or Fireworks that somehow will get translated into a web page. Her ideas on making this type of class more useful are excellent. She suggests:

  • Build a design in 12 evenly-sized columns.
    This is a great time to explain about grids and how they work. Have students build designs based on this grid to demonstrate their understanding.
  • Show versions of the design.
    If the design looks one way at 960 pixels, how does it look at 1200 pixels? 320? 767? Have students use the same content in their designs, rearranged for these different screen environments. Be sure to ask about transitions — what happens as the design moves from 767 to 320 pixels?
  • Ask questions about photos.
    What does that big photo banner stretching so beautifully across the top of the page at 960 pixels look like at 767 pixels? What happens between 960 and 767 pixels?
  • Encourage students to think about touch.
    This is particularly important at smaller screen dimensions, but desktops and laptops are trending towards touch as well. Encourage students to build navigation suitable for fat fingers, for example.
  • Deemphasize slicing.
    Rather than thinking about the comp as the source of imagery for a website, consider it its own prototype. Slicing may not be required at all, because images may need to be generated in several sizes for different screen dimensions. Even background graphics can be generated in their own independent documents. By deemphasizing slicing, you also deemphasize the centrality of this comp for the website’s design. With responsive design, the comp sets a goal or a direction, but tweaking is required to accomodate the space between 320, 767 and 960 pixels and beyond.

Kramer also has some great ideas about teaching HTML and CSS.

  • Standardize in one browser.
    I’d recommend working with Firefox or Chrome as the standard browser in class, because they’re available on Mac and PC and are the most standards-compliant. Tell students that this is the only browser that matters for the purpose of this class. Cross-browser issues should be dealt with later, once students understand how HTML and CSS work completely in this browser. When cross-browser problems are introduced too soon, students get confused, unclear whether a particular problem is due to the browser or just badly formed code.
  • Teach HTML5.
    Students should learn how to mark up documents with sections, asides, navigation, headers and footers from the start.
  • Teach CSS3 and all types of selectors.
    Make sure students understand media queries as soon as they are able to. Introduce adjacent sibling selectors, child selectors, universal selectors, various pseudo-classes and so forth. Again, worry less about browser support, because these students have years before graduation.
  • Incorporate grid-based thinking early on.
    Even if students can’t code their own grid yet, they could certainly build layouts while thinking about 12 columns, using em and/or percentage widths and sizes. Have students code standard shapes of pages, such as two- and three-column layouts, with or without headers, footers and horizontal navigation, rather than leaving students open to code any type of layout. Understanding the trade-offs between design and code is important, so always address those.
  • As soon as students grasp floats and positioning, teach how to code a grid.
    Because students have been thinking about Web design with grid-based principles, this transition should be fairly quick for them.
  • Responsive design is now a short lecture, not a long one.
    Students are now able to pull together grid-based layouts and media queries. They’ve likely encountered image-resizing issues along the way, but if not, this is the time to discuss them.
  • Now is the time to discuss browser compatibility.
    Now that students have mastered valid, standards-compliant, responsive code, it’s time to think about browser compatibility. One way to introduce this is to work with poorly supported HTML5 tags or CSS3 elements such as rounded corners.
  • CSS preprocessing is a hot topic.
    Centralizing CSS variables is a great idea and is bound to be a core CSS skill, required by employers, in the next year or two. (Some say it’s already here.) Some LESS and Sass concepts, such as centralized variables and logic, also offer a smooth transition to a course on JavaScript and jQuery, in which similar concepts would be important.
  • Covering responsive design frameworks is not a bad idea.
    If there’s time left in class, this is a great topic to explore. I’d recommend covering Bootstrap if you’ve taught LESS, or Foundation if you’ve taught Sass. Students will learn how to read someone else’s code (an important skill!) and how to read documentation; they will also learn new technology, as well as explore the positives and negatives of using a documented, open-source framework. Finally, they will learn to customize this code for their own purpose.

We all know that things are going to continue to condense, grow smaller and more mobile. Remember Moore’s Law? Just as we once relied on floated divs to create columns, and now we rely on grid systems with media queries to create responsive designs, there will be a future web design and development trend for even smaller and more mobile displays. Surely Google Glass is not as small as it’s going to get. Teaching students how to design for this future is challenging indeed.

I applaud Jen Kramer for her excellent teaching ideas. But I encourage you to keep thinking smaller and smaller, more mobile and wearable, and completely wireless as the direction web education must take.

What the World Needs Now . . .

. . . is an app to give site owners a readout on their carbon footprint.

Did you read James Christie’s post Sustainable Web Design at A List Apart yesterday? Go, read it.

Everything Christie had to say speaks to my environmentalist heart. We tech lovers, we web designers, we gadget freaks – we are adding to the planet’s carbon footprint.

We can do something about it. Christie lists ways to lighten your site’s load on the environment. And that’s good. But it’s complicated for people to get a reading on their particular site – where it is now, and the measurable difference changes could make.

If there was an app that would give you a readout on a site it would be so useful. You could figure out how you’re doing and track the progress you made toward goals to reduce your site’s carbon footprint.

Somebody build this app. Please.


James Christie responded to my tweet about this post with a link. Check it out.

Millennial Quiz gives you a score based on how open you are to change

The Pew Research Center has done a study on millennials and the millennial generation. As they put it, this generation is “confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and receptive to new ideas and ways of living.”

Pew developed a millennial quiz, using the results of their study called How Millennial Are You? By birth, I am as far from a millennial as I can get, but on the quiz I come out somewhere between a Gen Xer and a millennial.

My results:

millinneal quiz results

The study breaks the data down into all sorts of categories and looks at the information in many different ways. There’s much more to the study than the quiz.

I found the quiz particularly interesting, however. I never fit any of the measures of my generation, and this is just one more example of the kind of oddball I am. I am an elder in a world full of young techies and often feel like a time traveler.

Is there some thing about education that can make people open to new experiences and willing to change with technology as it develops? Or is it strictly a matter of personality? Is it nature or nurture? Because if education can be used to train people to be open and willing to consider new ideas, I would like to know how it’s done!

If you take the quiz, I’d love to know your score and how that compares with where you sit on the generation spectrum in terms of actual years.

Binge Viewing, the Second Screen, and the Future

This is how I watch TV

I read an excellent article by Neicole Crepeau called Re-thinking the future of TV in the Age of Binge. The article made some interesting points about binge viewing and also about the increasing use of a second screen.

Since the readers of this blog are the people who make the web sites and apps that constitute the second screen, I think this topic is of importance to web educators and web developers.

My Binge Watching Habits

I love binge watching. I do it all the time via Netflix or On Demand. Recently I’ve watched season one of The Fall – twice. I also watched season one of Orphan Black – twice.

In case you aren’t familiar with either of these series, The Fall is a mystery drama starring Gillian Anderson as a police detective and Jamie Dornan as a serial killer. It’s subtle and nuanced and rich with detail. It’s like reading a good mystery instead of watching a TV series. The two main characters are mirror images of one another – one good, one evil – both meticulously obsessed with what they are doing. The performances are brilliant, the characters fascinating.

Orphan Black is a sci fi story about clones, with an underlying theme of nature vs. nurture. Tatiana Maslany plays the clones – 7 of them so far in season one – in an amazing performance that is truly a master work. She should get every acting award for her performance(s) as the various clones. The technical trickery that goes on so that she can be on screen as two or three different characters at one time is pretty impressive, too.

So I’m loving the characters, I’m loving the story lines, I’m loving the fact that I can watch every episode of a series in a matter of hours or days. I love binge watching.

What else am I doing while watching?

With these two particular programs I’m looking at for more information about the actors and writers and directors. I’m pursuing lines of thought like – Matt Frewer, bet he’s the bad guy, and hmmm, he was just in Eureka, and, yeah, he was Max Headroom. This division of attention probably explains why I’ve watched both these series twice. I miss things while I’m off interacting with the second screen.

Not all the second screen action happens during an episode. Between episodes, I might go to YouTube and look for interviews with the actors. I might read reviews of the shows. I might go to the web site of the network hosting the show and look for behind the scenes video or photos or interviews.

The App Connection

I mentioned the SyFy app a few days back. I use it when watching shows on the SyFy channel. One of the shows (Defiance) that the app syncs with also has an online game that ties in with the show.

I’ve seen other shows advertising their apps and urging viewers to download the app and sync in for more behind the scenes info while watching. I think this is going to be more and more common to the point where every network is going to feel the need for an app that lets viewers interact in real time with what’s on the screen.

Second Screen Conversation

Twitter, of course, has always been the go-to spot for sharing comments about what you’re watching. Now the apps are providing access to this kind of interaction built-in. It might include Twitter and other sources. The app might filter for specific parts of a conversation, such as tweets from the actors. The point is, a conversation is encouraged and there’s an attempt to keep it in the silo of the app or the game or the website.

The Future of Web Education

All this change in the way we experience TV means a huge job market for anyone who can develop apps, or games, or auxiliary materials on a web site to complement a TV program. And that means web education needs to be on-the-spot with instructions for building apps, building connections, building all the complementary information that can help promote a TV show.

And what about the people making the ads and producing the ad content? What about the marketing people who need to be able to talk intelligently with app makers or web developers about how to make ads work in this new environment? What about all those social media experts who will be needed? That sounds like a whole lot of new job opportunities.

Yes, things are changing. Are web educators preparing students for the future? I hope we are.

When everyone is a journalist, editor, and social media curator, should they become judge and jury as well?

When a big event occurs, Twitter has become the go-to source for up to date information. I see two problems with relying on Twitter in such situations.

The Sensitivity Issue

There is always someone who feels obliged to monitor other people’s tweets for “sensitivity” to an event. Often someone will berate a tweeter for tweeting something that is unrelated to the hot topic of the day as if it was a social gaffe.

It’s as if a news event is the only thing anyone can be thinking about. Bombings, explosions, tornadoes, shootings, deaths, protests – yes, those things are important. There are people who hang on to TV news, read every tweet, and generally dwell for hours inside the drama during an event. And they tweet and retweet everything they see about the news of the day.

The problem is when they demand that everyone else do exactly the same thing.

A culture has grown around this phenomenon of single-mindedness during a breaking news event. That culture dictates that you shouldn’t show an interest in anything but the event or you will be branded insensitive, unaware, uncool, and out of touch. People respond to this social ostracism by shutting down scheduled tweets, keeping silent about whatever normal life they are living in deference to the news, and not tweeting except retweets of the day’s news.

I think this culture of “sensitivity” is a problem. Sometimes the news is so painful (for example, the Newtown shootings) that even thinking about it, much less obsessively tweeting and retweeting about it, is damaging to the soul. Tuning out and attending to normal life is a defense against the pain. People should be allowed to respond to horrific events this way, and should not be labeled idiots for tweeting about something unrelated. There’s no one right way to react to news.

The Misinformation Issue

It’s human to be interested in dramatic events. On Twitter, it’s human to retweet things that relate to an ongoing event.

We end up with a flood of tweets, many unverified and unchecked, that spread misinformation with the remarkable power of the retweet.

I’m not suggesting that people on the scene with real information should not tweet. I’m not suggesting that early reports such as “there was an explosion during the Boston Marathon” should not be retweeted. I am suggesting that retweeting everything without evaluating whether or not it is true is a problem.

Indiscriminate retweeting overwhelms people who are trying to sift out the truth from a flood of rumors, errors, and misinformation. Even worse,  rumors and errors get picked up by major media – TV and radio news mention these things as if they were actual news. Granted, major media is acting no better that a Twitter user who retweets without vetting information in this situation. There may be thousands of tweets per second during big news events. Think of the manpower needed by a news organization or police department to sift through all those tweets trying to verify the truth, or find the right lead.

What I am suggesting is that concentrating exclusively on dramatic news events creates issues with an overwhelming flood of bad information among the valuable information.

If you don’t really know what’s going on, why retweet as if you do? Why not keep silent about the event instead? Why not (gasp) tweet about your normal life even in the midst of the media circus?

The Twitter culture of framing anyone who isn’t “sensitive” to the news as an idiot or a fool needs to stop. Judging others is akin to bullying and isn’t the business of the Twitter culture police.

Useful Links: Up to Date, Responsive Radio, Syfy app

How to Keep Up To Date on Front End Technologies is a new site with suggestions for Twitter lists and websites that can help keep you up to date.

Web pages that respond to the device is now a mantra in the web dev world. How about radio broadcasts that respond to the user’s situation and location? Check out The BBC shows off “perceptive radio” that can alter scripts. Here’s a working demo, which they suggest works best in Chrome from locations inside the UK.

Defiance Image from

In a similar vein to the BBC experiments, I am here to sing the praises of the Syfy app. I’m a fan of several shows on the Syfy channel, including the currently running Defiance and Warehouse 13. With a sync feature, the app pings you periodically with information about what’s happening on the screen – simple things like the name of a song in the background or something about the scene or actors. Here’s the really cool part. If you record the show to watch at a different time from the original air time, the app still knows where you are in the story and the information it feeds to you matches your personal viewing schedule.

A Quieter Internet

Did you read In Defense of Filters and a Quieter Internet by Brad McCarty at TNW? The author talked about how he filters out noise from Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sites. He uses a system of groups, lists, blockers, and keyword blocks.

In addition to those sources of noise, I am required to read a lot of email pitches and dozens of RSS feeds every day.

Years ago I took a speed reading class, and I still read fast. Plus, I’m a good skimmer. Those two skills help me with the daily onslaught.

I don’t block much of anything on Twitter. Instead, I skim through my main feed every once in a while looking for gems. I do have Twitter lists that help me track the voices I really want to hear. I’ve talked before about how much I like seeing everything collected for me from my Women in Web Education list into a format. is a great way to deal with lists.

In Facebook, I have a very limited set of friends, and only occasionally do I have to block some type of post there.

In email, I can hit the Delete button faster than you can blink. In my RSS feeds, I click that Read All button after a fast skim through the new post titles for the day. I may actually read 20% of what comes in each day as new in my RSS feeds.

Sometimes I just step away for a period of time. After the bombing in Boston, it was clear that no one really knew what was going on the the immediate aftermath – a good time to step away and let the information gel. I avoided Twitter, the TV, and the radio for a while.

I don’t let things go or avoid looking through all the information that we get fed each day. I just deal with it a way that is efficient for me. How are you dealing with the information overload we have in our connected lives these days?