Andy Clarke, Web Teaching Day

These are just my notes, there may be inaccuracies. I share them because they’re more useful on the web than sitting in Google Docs. Thoughts, corrections etc, please put them in the comments.

This was the last presentation from yesterday’s Web Teaching Day that Richard Eskins (Lecturer in the Department of Information & Communications) so generously organised at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Andy hasn’t been involved in education since he left trent polytechnic in 1985. He’s unqualified in talking about education. He’s also famously unemployable so knows nothing about what corporations want.

He wants to facilitate a discussion. His son Alex has just got into university. When he was younger he’d completed an IT course with web design as a part. The teacher took them through to FrontPage. The teacher was convinced tables are were the way to do it. Alex took issue with this. He failed the class.

Andy’s general impression is that curriculums take ages to create, e.g. success criteria etc, and particularly in this industry the knowledge is moving a lot faster. We need to refocus education away from the measurement criteria, tools and technologies and on to best practice and ways in which we can teach students to be self sufficient.

Most people don’t study what they end up doing. Their final job often doesn’t reflect this. Andy feels lucky that he got himself onto an unstructured fine art course. Most people find that incredibly intimidating, a lot of the other students spent a huge amount of time in the life drawing class because they couldn’t deal with finding their own ideas and finding their own path.

This taught him how to stay motivated. We often accept somebody else telling us what to do. We need to refocus on how to learn, how to question and do things that are not part of convention.

In 1997 he was working in an ad agency in London. He then moved to North Wales and at that time he wanted to work for a local design group in the area. However, he got into the internet and he felt completely unqualified, he still does. He doesn’t think it’s about qualifications, it’s about attitude.

At a later conference he heard for the first time about web accessibility. He started a programme for 6 months where he taught himself good coding and CSS for layout. There were very few resources around so he spent months learning it for himself.

Over the course of the next couple of years there was a huge rise in blogging on such experiments. The stuff they did changed the face of the industry, they published it, they got it out there for free. Lots of people couldn’t understand why you’d spend months figuring something out and then give it out for free. That process of participation is what he wants to encourage in institutions. Let’s get them to create their own content, let’s get them to participate.

The people that are starting their journey now as students need to be participating in the industry, contributing to W3C working groups for example.

In his book Transcending CSS he mostly talked about attitudes to CSS and HTML. A lot of people said he doesn’t understand the real world. Over the fours years since then some of those ideas have become more mainstream. Two years ago, he wrote an article about fonts in IE6. It lead on to his new book, people said he’s barmy. He’s now getting emails saying he’s right (it’s all about websites looking different in different browsers).

Conventions guide us, but they shouldn’t limit our creativity. It’s about having an attitude and being able to question what you’re being told. How can we foster that? He wants people to push boundaries and question what they’re being taught. It’s less about what the industry wants, because all they want it what affects them now. Its about the wider community. It’s about getting the conversation started.


There was a general Q&A, Andy didn’t necessarily supply these answers, they mostly came from the group.

Q. Whats the difference between web designer and web developer?
A. The distinction is blurred. They’re not polar opposites, just because you’re backend doesn’t mean you’re not designing, you could be designing a beautiful object in code.

Q. How much of this is instinctive and how much can it be taught?
A. Some of it is about just inspiring people. Mentoring. but how do you pay for the teacher’s time? E.g. Jeffery Zeldman did a website critique session at An Event Apart conference. Even people in industry can mentor each other.

Posted on Tuesday 7 September 2010.

Posted in education, wtd2010 | 1 comment »

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