I had an absolutely fabulous time at Web Directions North in Denver this month and got to meet and talk with some really interesting people. In this photo, you see Denver just waking up with the sun just touching the tops of the buildings.
Then I returned to reality and wrote some stuff ‘n things for eHow.
Shared Passion by Derek Featherstone shows that I’m not the only person who had a great time at Web Directions North 2009. He comments,
The premise was simple: bring together educators, web professionals and industry representatives to create a kind of think tank on improving the quality of education for the next generation of web professionals.
I just got home from Web Directions North, a conference for web professionals. This year it was in Denver. The conference was founded in Australia in 2004, by Maxine Sherrin and John Allsopp the creators of Style Master software. The goal of Web Directions is to bring together, educate, and inspire the web industry’s leading experts from around the world.
I didn’t attend the actual conference, but went to a pre-conference workshop day titled Educating the Next Generation of Web Professionals that featured a group of industry and academic people who are working to close the gap between what industry needs from web professionals and what education is producing in web programs. I also went to a Web Professional Education Summit the evening before the workshop.
There were fewer people at the session I attended than the number attending on the main conference days. I asked a few of the people I ran into to submit to a brief interview so I could give you a peek, a bit of flavor, regarding the people in attendance. I didn’t actually go there to meet men (really!) but these are some of the men I met. (For a report on the women I met, see this post at BlogHer.)
John Allsopp, the conference organizer. He has a software company in Australia. He said he and business partner Maxine Sherrin started doing confernces to help people who were involved in the web meet each other face to face. They produce conferences in Australia, Japan and the US. He talked about how he thinks web technologies can help people remember and interact with each other. John is the mastermind behind the education of web professionals focus in the preconference days that he hopes will bring the right people together to create some change.
Bill Cullifer is here to present as part of the Web Professional Education Summit. He’s the Executive Director of WOW. WOW works to promote community, support education, and provide certification. He said web professional education is needed, but limited. It’s a new profession and moving target. Teachers are not up to speed, but it isn’t fair them blame them for situations that aren’t their fault. He works a lot with teachers in the community college system (actually, all kinds of teachers) and in helping them get the information and training they need.
Jeffrey Brown is from Damascus High School in Damascus, Maryland. He’s here to meet the WaSP crew that he worked with on the WaSP Interact project and to speak in the open panel talking about experiences. He’s representing the high school education viewpoint in that panel. He plans to attend all the sessions and hopes to meet everyone. He said his interest in best practices is starting to rub off on all the people around him: he recently heard his wife, a Spanish teacher, telling someone the value of web standards.
Jared Smith from WebAIM came primarily for the networking and the contacts. He also came to learn. As head of WebAIM, he attends many conferences in a year as a speaker or presenter. He gets to choose a conference to attend now and then just because it’s a great place to learn. For him, this is one of these conferences he is attending simply out of interest in what he can get out of it.
Aarron Walter came to present at the Ed Directions sessions at John Allsopp’s request. Aarron is an educator and heads up the WaSP Interact curriculum project. He came to have an open discussion with educators about the disconnect between education and industry and make sure we get the right learning materials to educators. He’s also hoping to create evangelists for educating with best practices.
I didn’t head for the airport until about 11 AM the morning that the main conference sessions started, so I got to talk to a couple of people who were there for the main event. (I felt a little guilty getting on an easy one hour flight back to Albuquerque when there were people in attendance who had come from Japan, Korea, Norway, the UK, Australia, Canada and lots of other places.) Here are two of the non-education crowd I managed to talk with.
Stanley Grabowski is from Manufacturing Works. He does all the website front end development for this Wyoming comapny. He came to Web Directions North to help himself keep up, to network and to be around other people who do this type of work. He attended a mix of the design and development sessions during the main conference days.
Brian Rehbein is from Hide Sato, a software products company. In his day job, he’s a programmer working for Cobank. Cobank company gave him money for training so he picked WDN09 because there is good usability information information to learn. He wants to know about user testing and usability. He attended the Educating the Next Generation of Web Professionalst workshop because he’s the one guy in his organization for web standards, usability and best practices. However, he was mainly attending for the regular conference sessions in both the design and development track.
WebAIM’s Screen Reader Survey results are available now. A main overall finding was that screen reader users are a diverse lot. They made a few recommendations based on their findings, but concluded
In general, these results suggest that following accessibility guidelines and standards, using technologies that support high levels of accessibility, and providing users with options is of the highest importance.
Px to Em can help you take that font measurement you can visualize perfectly at 36px and covert the measurement to ems. Then it gives you the CSS and even tells you a bit about why ems are such nice and loveable units.
This session was a conversation with the audience and a group of people in the trenches who had helpful ideas on how to talk to peers and create change in academia.
The panel included Glenda the goodwitch Sims, Jeff Brown, Leslie Jensen-Inman, Nick Fogler and Bill Cullifer. Steph Troeth facilitated. They began by focusing on success stories.
Glenda mentioned having competitions around accessibility. Jeff mentioned having final exams. Leslie talked about teaching best practices every day. Bill told about web design contests for community college and high school students. WOW is now giving nine $20,000 scholarships each year to students who succeed in creating the best accessible web sites.
Steph asked how we determine which technologies are long lasting and which are trends. Nick said he thinks the battle to accept web standards has been won, and now the question is how do we professionalize the profession. Bill said that introducing this into middle and junior high school would be good. Make it digestible skill development. Jeff said we should teach non-vendor specific technology: the concepts transcend. Leslie talked about teaching students how to teach themselves. Glenda talked about getting advisory boards of customers who want students after they graduate. Bill pointed out that most web professionals work for small business and advisors can add a lot when they describe what kind of training they need.
There was discussion about whether or not there should be certification. Interesting but nothing close to universal agreement on the issue.
The accessibility session
Derek Featherstone lead this session. He began by playing the audio from a screen reader reading a web page at full pace. A powerful demonstration for someone who had never heard a screen reader before, which included quite a few people in the room.
He showed a slide of a sign for deafblind literacy that demonstrated concepts of best practices such as high contrast lettering, the angle of the plate that the braille was on, the raised lettering on the words. Every aspect of how people might use the sign had been taken into consideration. Accessibility isn’t just about the web site. It’s about every other aspect of that business: the support line, customer service and everything else. Accessibility isn’t just about screen readers.
He showed some low vision magnifiers and keyboards. He showed someone typing one character at a time with a head wand. A good teaching idea related to the keyboards was to show students a particular type of keyboard or headset or switch and ask them who would use it and how. What does the hardware tell you about the person’s disability?
The spectrum of disability includes visual, hearing, motor, speech and cognitive.
He talked about Universal Design. If things are better for people with disabilities, they are more useful for everyone.
Outdated techniques that are no longer needed: access keys, tab index, place-holder characters in text boxes, text-only versions, use onkeypress with onclick.
Testing techniques: expert review, automated testing, technical testing with assistive technology and other tools, user testing. Do them all if you can.
Talk to students about the legislation around accessibility. Legislation is good motiviation.
Steph Troeth did the education applications follow up about accessibility. She discussed the education challenges in getting across the message that accessibility isn’t just one thing, and that it benefits many people.
Glenda Sims talked about the Target accessibility case.
Steph outlined the core competencies: understand various disabilities, understand issues around assistive technologies, learn how to evaluate accessibility compliance, identify tools used by disabled people.
Problems: there’s not security in JS. You can’t expect JS to be enabled in the users browser. There’s no official accreditation for JS.
Best practices are progressive enhancement, maintainability and modularity. Remove the random browser element.
The market needs good JS developers because scripting is where the future is going. So education needs to focus on quality-oriented JS developers.
A teaching tip he showed is to connect the syntax of CSS and the syntax of JS. Put them together side by side and show how to get to all elements of a certain kind in CSS and how to get to all elements of a certain kind in JS.