Improving Web-Ed

One topic that I have been interested in for quite some time now is secondary education when it comes to web development and design. It is a very unfortunate truth that when it comes to web development, the curriculum is in serious need of some help.

As a recently graduated student, I can reflect on both my training and the training of other people my age who attended other colleges for web development that I interacted with. Unfortunately, the majority of the people I’ve communicated with stated the same thing: standards based development was not presented as a priority. CSS was glossed over and there was little to no mention of the DOM and unobtrusive scripting techniques in the Javascript courses.

Why Colleges Can’t Keep Up

A large part of this is due to the fact that our industry moves so quickly. Progress is made at such an incredible pace and new technologies soon emerge while old ones fade away. In contrast, changing the curriculum at a college usually takes awhile, making it very difficult for schools to keep up.

Another issue is that some of the best candidates for taking on the role of instructor in these courses are overlooked due to a lack of degree. It would be great to have industry-tested professionals teach the courses…who better to teach a class about the techniques and tools that will be necessary in the field than those who are doing it, and have been doing it for some time.

That is not meant to be a criticism of all current instructors. As always, there are exceptions to the rule. There are industry professionals who have no place standing in front of a class and teaching technique, and likewise there are instructors who do a fantastic job of presenting their classes with quality information. And many of the other instructors simply have their hands tied by what the college allows them to do and not do.

One thing I do like seeing is that a few instructors who are pushing standards-based development forward in their courses have published their class information. Daniel Mall and William Craft are just two examples of people who are pushing forward with standards based development instruction and then sharing with others what they are doing. This opens the door for critiquing from industry professionals and provides an example of what other instructors might consider basing their coursework around.

How Do We Fix It

So what needs to be done? Universities and colleges need to adjust. Traditional methods of updating curriculum simply do not work when it comes to such a fast-paced industry. These institutions need to be making a concerted effort to keep their curriculum up to date with current industry standards, and as a result, the curriculum should be re-evaluated on a very regular basis.

In the mean time, a temporary fix may be to implement some sort of a rotating course, a generic web development study course. The course could be used to highlight emerging industry standards and could rotate on a semester basis. Again, just a temporary fix, but at least it provides a small level of attention to the techniques that the students will be needing.

I’d also like to see a few schools start taking a look at allowing existing professionals to instruct more courses, regardless of higher-education degree status. There is a lot of insight they can offer and it’s a shame that schools are not tapping into that.

Of course, that door swings both ways. I’d love to see us as professionals get more involved in helping colleges to evaluate and update their curriculum. I applaud Opera and the people behind their new Web Standards Curriculum. If you haven’t seen it yet, take a look. They are putting together a series of 50 articles or so highlighting areas in web design and development. This is exactly the kind of thing that can really help colleges by providing a guideline for what to build their new curriculum around.

Let Me Hear Your Thoughts

This is a topic that interests me very much. Eventually I would love to start teaching a bit myself…I love sharing what I’ve learned with others and find the teaching experience to be very rewarding. That is why I pay attention to what the current colleges are doing to try and stay ahead of the game a bit. I would love to hear any input you might have on the topic. Trying to improve web education in colleges is not an easy task and I think getting more opinions and discussion on the matter are exactly what is needed to come up with a better way to help get colleges up to speed and keep them there.