Sheri German provides lesson plans

Sheri German wrote the first of a series of standards-based lesson plans for Dreamweaver at Community MX. The Dreamweaver Web Standards Lesson Plan Series – Part One. She says,

There is a concern among educators that web design is often being taught poorly–even at the college level–and without regard for standards. In some cases it is because the instructor has not updated her skills since the turn of the century. In other cases it is because there is a perception that it is too hard to teach and learn CSS. Yes, it is true that one must go slowly, start simple, and build skills in a systematic way. Still, after some experimentation and a few of my own lessons learned the hard way, I came up with some beginning exercises that seem to instill the essential concepts without overwhelming the students. In this series I would like to share some of these lesson plans with my fellow educators who, like me, would like to start their students out with ‘best practices’.”

Keep an eye on this series for future lesson plans.

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Framing the web design experience

Dan Russell has a couple of posts on sense making over at Creating Passionate Users. Today’s post said something that stuck me as a key element in terms of teaching web design.

The point is that you need to frame things because the act of framing helps to focus on what to do next.

There’s a struggle involved in getting teachers who are used to teaching methods that began with Photoshop comps or tables based design moved over into a way of thinking that emphasizes semantics and interoperability. I think what we have here is a framing issue.

We need to reframe the whole notion of web design. Instead of thinking first about how we expect to make a site look, we need to think first about how we expect a site to be semantically organized. If we organize the content in a semantic manner, we achieve interoperability. Any design can be added to the structure we develop. Or as Mani Scheriar said in a previous post,

Let’s code our XHTML as if we plan to have 10 different designers apply their own unique layouts to it.

This is truly a change in thinking, a new frame for the whole idea of “designing a web site.” We can no longer assume that our web sites will be viewed on computer monitors. There are too many mobile devices out there. More, in fact, than computers. And at least 10 percent of your visitors will be using some sort of assistive device such as a screen reader to obtain your content. We have to think first about content and how it can be coded semantically in order to make our sites operable and accessible for any device. Once that goal is reached, we can think about creating a beautiful appearance for our content.

For those of you planning to attend SXSWi 2007, I invite you to attend my session on Sunday afternoon called “Best Practices in Teaching Web Design.” It’s a 25 minute power session with co-presenter Stephanie Troeth.

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Tips for faculty who use the Web, but aren’t about the Web

Plenty of instructors use the Web. Many require students to do the same for assignments and papers. But for the instructors who think about other things like History or English or motor development more than they think about web development, I have a few tips.

First, there’s that reference to in the student’s list of resources. A tinyurl is not actually a destination, it’s a way of writing the destination URL in a very tiny way. For example, leads, not to a place called tinyurl, but to an analysis of Shakespeare’s 55th sonnet. If the student quoted the actual URL, it would be Think of tinyurl not as a source, but as an abbreviation or shortcut.

Next, there’s Wikipedia. Students may think that if something can be found in this online encyclopedia, it must be accurate information. While that is often true, sometimes it is not accurate information. The reason lies in the very nature of a Wiki. A Wiki can be edited by anyone. Uh huh, anyone. Most contributors to Wikipedia do their best to be accurate, but sometimes someone with a bias or a particular spin on a topic can do some editing that makes the information less reliable than you might want in a source.

Finally, there are the blogs. It’s the nature of most blogs that the blogger is interpreting the news, not reporting it. The difference between hard news and opinions about hard news may need exploring, depending on what the students are trying to accomplish.

A direct exchange of course materials for teachers

I saw an ad for this site, – Helping Creative Minds Come Together, at the bottom of my daily Wordsmith mail today and clicked on it immediately. This site launched on April 2006 as a spot where educators can buy and sell original course materials. As of this morning they show 231 products available, but nothing is yet listed in the computer science category. Judging from the categories under University Discipline that is the most likely category for topics of interest to readers here, unless they intend to add more refined categories as they receive materials to sell.

I, for one, will keep an eye on this site and hope that promising materials that will help teachers with course work that teaches web design using standards and best practices begins to appear.

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Professional vs. Unprofessional web development practices

Le blog personnel de Joe Clark: Failed Redesigns Joe Clark tears into some sites who fail to redesign with the latest standards in mind. Instead they still contain tag soup, tables, or other design factors he labels unprofessional. He says the designers should have known better.

The question becomes, for me, Are we teaching students to know better? If your students leave your classroom thinking tables-based layouts and tag soup are the way to do things, then have you failed as a teacher? Have you turned people loose in the workplace who are less than professional? I think the answer is yes.

We need to work toward ensuring that college teachers meet professional standards so that students will reach the same levels of professionalism.