What are we teaching?

At The Web Standards Project, their blog contains a very interesting dicussion about New Professionalism and what colleges are currently teaching web design and development students. A quote: “University Web design courses are an ideal time to start young developers thinking in terms of separation of content from aesthetics and behavior, but unfortunately, this is rarely the case. If the correspondence I receive from students in higher education Web design courses is a true barometer, academia is not keeping up with the Web’s progression. Students often complain of being taught development practices circa 1998, at best. Photoshop slicing and table-based layouts rule the day in most courses and the Web suffers for it.”

I’ve talked about some of the issues discussed in this article on a number of occasions right here on these pages. I urge you to take a look at this piece by Holly Marie Koltz.

Why colleges should stop teaching Fireworks as a primary web design tool

Here’s a recurring scenario in my life. Someone who took some college classes to learn to make web sites has decided to try to implement CSS and to make their sites accessible. The classes taught them to make web sites by using Fireworks to slice an image and to export the resulting table-based HTML to Dreamweaver. Now this person, who–I admit–does beautiful graphics in Fireworks, comes to me or to some discussion list I participate in and asks for help in making their Fireworks generated HTML work with CSS or fulfill some accessibility need. This question is like asking how to get a tricycle to go from zero to 60 in under 6 seconds—it demonstrates a gap in the basic knowledge of what is involved.

Some college has given this poor person a difficult handicap to overcome. That handicap is the belief that what they are doing is a best practice that will adapt to every requirement. Yes, Fireworks can generate HTML. No, learning to generate HTML with Fireworks is not the best way to learn to make web sites.

In terms of best practice, students should be learning how to structure an HTML document intelligently so that it can be presented with CSS based enhancements (including, perhaps, lovely images created in Fireworks). An intelligently structured HTML document can adapt to every requirement: CSS/accessibility for screen, print, handheld, etc.

A sliced image exported from Fireworks as a table full of empty cells, spacer gifs, images and almost no text is not the web design solution that some college classes lead students to believe it is. Classes should teach HTML, CSS, and then how to apply that knowledge with a tool like Dreamweaver.

Fireworks does have its place: to create graphics. It should be taught as a graphics design tool, not as a web design tool. Students who use Fireworks to create exportable HTML should know how to adapt it in Dreamweaver to make it meet their other requirements.

There are many options available to an instructor who wants to teach students to think in terms of building structure with HTML that will support CSS and accessibility. My own book is written in these terms, and other books I have reviewed here such as Web Standards Solutions by Dan Cederholm are as well.

Software Review: Macromedia Breeze

Macromedia Breeze appears to be a product a teacher can love. I haven’t actually touched the software, but I have participated in seminars presented with Breeze, and don’t think Macromedia’s tagline for this product, “Collaborate, communicate and train online with ease,” is off the mark or overstated.

Breeze takes presentations prepared in Microsoft Powerpoint and converts them to Flash, where they are combined with the ability to use video streams, chat, phone conferencing, surveys, and tracking to communicate in both directions between teacher and students.

If you are required to do any or all of your interacting with students online, this product is worth checking out. It also screams “guest expert” to me, because teachers could easily prepare Breeze presentations by guests or outside experts to augment class materials.

Admittedly, I’m coming at this review from a student’s perspective, never having tried out the software. I think students will love the results. And, in my opinion, it would be worth your time to get your local Macromedia representative to come to your campus and give you and your colleagues a hands-on look at this software.