Chris Mills, 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 first presentation, by¬†Chris Mills. It’s from¬†Monday’s Web Teaching Day that Richard Eskins (Lecturer in the Department of Information & Communications) so generously organised at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Some teaching of frontend practices are bad. Tables for layout, inline JavaScript. Accessibility doesn’t normally come as a priority. Often educational establishments are only interested in the backend code. Sometimes students get taught an odd mix of skills. Example, he has a friend who learnt XHTML and eCommerce together. In another example assessment, students were asked to design a schematic for a webpage… in PowerPoint!

Why does this situation exist?

HTML was created around 1990 but wasn’t standardised before the middle of the decade. Browser support was all over the place, standards didn’t do much to make things harmonious. Tables for layout were the only way to get consistency on a website. In those days we also weren’t thinking about progressive enhancement and accessibility. A lot of the courses that exist today may well have been written around that time. We need real accessibility a.k.a inclusive design, universal design or design for all.

Courses need to have proper production skills, workflows, testing, teamwork – students are not taught all of these elements of web design. Also, web designs don’t need to look the same in every browser. Is this a utopian dream?

Things we need to get rid of, tables for layout, books in uni libraries that talk about Netscape 3 and DHTML (Chris admitted that he once spec’ed out a book on “IE DHTML and Netscape DHTML”).

He wants to get rid of courses that want to run before they can crawl. He also wants to get rid of dumb sys’ admin’ mentality of “I know IE therefore no other browser can be installed”.

The web is a problem that doesn’t have a natural home in one university department.

In a lot of university departments there seems to be lack of web experience. He knows an example of a student being marked down for using CSS for layout because the curriculum demanded tables. Is there a lack of support from departments? Are teachers being trained properly?

The solution

Chris wants to get rid of the excuses. Lots of educators say they don’t have the resources to keep up. He wants to create these resources. He wants to ‘evangelise’ (although don’t use that word – we had a few discussions about alternatives during the day), in order to mold better web developers.

Chris has created the Opera Web Standards Curriculum. 60 articles to teach you the basics. these are being released under Creative Commons. Educators need to find industry people to advise them on what’s needed, educators need industry people for placements, educators can ask industry for guest lecturers for where they may have a knowledge gap.


This has a curriculum. Interact with Web Standards was produced for educators to have it all in one place. it tries to be an holistic view of web design.

Mozilla collaboration with P2P School of Webcraft

P2P School of Webcraft.

Students build a real web project that is assessed by people in the industry, the project is then put up online as a portfolio site. It’s good because it works outside the university structure.

Open Web Education Alliance

OWEA. Supposed to be an umbrella scheme, to stop people standing on each others toes.

Outreach activities

He’s trying to get the whole community to do outreach. OWEA is only 10 – 15 people, they want to collaborate with other practitioners in Russia or African countries, i.e. not everyone wanting to learn speaks English. He has a resource called “Train the Trainers” which isn’t out yet. University tours by Opera. Meetup events called “WE Rock” (Web Education Rocks) to get non-technical people involved.

We also need to educate administrators at universities since they release funding. He sees this working with web professionals at the centre. He shows a diagram of the cycle of education as it revolves around professionals.

Government and international outreach

What about getting legislation in Government? Chris has a project underway on that.


Q. Accreditation, it’s an important issue, how do you see it happening?
A. OWEA thinks it’s a red-herring at this stage in the process. He wants to leave it to universities. He thinks it’s not easy to set up a professional body. But he’s working on it. When Chris starts talking about this with existing web professionals he finds they’re worried that suddenly they’ll be up against people with a web qualification.

Q. What about student expectations of wanting to learn the software? Chris from Oxford Brookes says that’s what he gets.
A. In Chris’ experience he usually recommends people can use whatever software they want but they must start form the fundamental principles.

Q. Is there a need for a portfolio based qualification? But also, for the questioner, it’s the soft skills that come with being a developer that he finds are missing from some graduates, isn’t this something worth teaching?
A. Chris is trying to tell educators to run projects in as real-world way as possible. His book shows how to interact on the web, showing mature social interactions. Questioner wants an NVQ style qualification.

Q. This reminds the questioner of Alan Cooper’s The Inmates Are Running The Asylum. How do we wrestle control back from the techies?
A. We need marketers and other stakeholders to get involved. It’s a difficult question.

Q. What’s his experience of the strengths of those who have learnt it for themselves?
A. Chris has seen great home schooled people, also not so good university graduates. He knows a fair few kids who have purposefully dropped out of a course because they weren’t being taught the right stuff.

Posted on Sunday 12 September 2010.

Posted in education, wtd2010 | 1 comment »

One Response to “Chris Mills, Web Teaching Day”

  1. Thanks for doing this Nick. Have linked from the Web Teaching Day website. Hope that is ok.

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