University Web Developers

University Web Developers

This week A List Apart published a thought-provoking article called "Elevate Web Design at the University Level". The following quote hit the nail on the head for me: "I've yet to see anyone come out of a university program knowing what they need to know in order for us to hire them".

I've been thinking about this issue for over a decade. I've hired numerous people over the years and not one gained the skills they need from formal education. I've watched members of my staff get graduate degrees and listened to them express their complete frustration over how inadequate and inappropriate the curriculum was. I've taught graduate level classes and as an instructor, found the experience to be very frustrating.

As higher education web professionals, we are in a position to understand the issue and work with our institutions to improve it. So how do we move forward?

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I've thought about this as well after taking multiple web classes and all of them were strictly "Front Page" classes. The problem, at least at the institution that I was at, was that the instructors used that product to do their web pages so that's what was taught.

I am going to have to follow the advice of the article and send a letter to the dean of the college to see if there is anything that can be done, which I believe is the point of the article:) Get involved, especially if it is at university.
There are a lot of contributing factors, but I believe this comes from two key causes:

1 - Instructors can't or don't keep up with the industry. They're teaching what they know, or what they've picked up from a Learn ____ in 21 Days! book. At Notre Dame, we have a program that has hired adjunct instructors to teach a few courses - web standards, Javascript (he's going to teach them about prototype and jquery!), etc. They're great - because they're working on the bleeding-edge and their skills are sharp.

2 - Students don't really care. Web design and development aren't necessarily attractive as a career. It's highly competitive and that's driving salaries down. I'm also coming to realize that we give students far too much credit for their tech-savvy. In the classes these adjunct profs teach, none of the students use feed readers and only one kid uses Twitter. One.
The thing that I think is critical is that this isn't a web specific problem, but one that is across the board in programs. Here's my thinking:
1: The addition of computers to so many non-tech fields have sped things up everywhere, forcing traditionally static or slow moving industries to become more dynamic. Higher ed included. We are notoriously slow in almost everything we do, including adapting to the changing working world around us.
2: In part due to the economy, but also due to the climate of higher ed in general, we don't draw upper echelon teachers. Unless you're someone like MIT. If you are really good in your field, odds are you are simply better off and making more money doing what you do well. Therefore the people teaching are not the most qualified in their fields, though we want to think so. This disparity is growing due to point 1. Not to mention the instructors that think they know it all in the first place, and don't like being told they don't or that they are wrong. You know the ones I'm talking about.
3: The University Model is no longer effective. Higher Ed is clinging to legacy mentality similar to the RIAA. We don't want to change, and we aren't adapting to our environment. Our university PRIDES itself on having an enormous percentage of it's enrolled base attending classes on campus. The reality is that that is very expensive, and increasingly students don't care about that. Administration likes it because it is a legacy value, but one that is increasingly losing value among our potential clients. The more online options you offer, the more they like it.
4: Higher Ed is going to get beat out by trade schools and specializations. For instance, would you rather hire a 22 year old CS graduate with a BS in something sort of similar to networking, or hire the guy who never went to college but has a CCIE? The CCIE is far superior to the value of the college degree. And the knowledge to get it comes straight from the industry and partner responsible, not from teachers. Therefore after getting it you are ABSOLUTELY equipped to work in the field. That's not true with degrees. We have an EXCELLENT nursing program, but it isn't the nursing degree that makes the difference, it's the certifications the students get while there that are the difference makers.

Our business is changing, and this is one of the effects. I think one reason we are poised to make the biggest impact is that because of our web ties, we are acutely tuned into the pace of things and the trends that are taking place. We understand how dynamic things really are. We can see The Matrix for what it is, so-to-speak.
This is an interesting question. Is higher ed the best place for people to learn the tools of our trade?
I think it *can* be, given the right conditions and factors. I, for one, am interested in teaching a night course based on the Opera framework, and have been talking with a couple people about it a little. I figure that's as good a way as any to help. Plus it'd be a little extra cash, heh. But now, no, it's not. I'm not sure I can name a single normal university that is known for its web design program. Heck, even if most of us WANTED to teach, we get run so ragged during the day with normal stuff, why would we want to?
Could be with the right curriculum.

Take a look at the other article that was published at the same time as the one you mentioned. http://www.alistapart.com/articles/brighterhorizonsforwebeducation and it mentions the WaSP Education Task Force. This seems like a great start. Now the only issue is getting universities to use this curriculum.
Not really.

If you were to sit down and develop a degree program that would train someone in ALL aspects of web development it would need to be a 4 year degree without any gen ed classes. And by the 4th year most of the stuff from the first year or two would be outdated.
Mark I'd have to say at the most elemental level it works. I've spoken with graduates from our college and they all expressed frustration with the level of "talent" teaching-wise here at the school. I've even seen it myself. The "web" teacher has a tough time building a basic element in flash.

Is college the best place to teach the latest trends? No. Ground rules regarding accessibility standards and common design "rules" are taught. Not industry leading apps. I feel that those are learned via in a working situation or the tinkerer at who continues via trial and error.

Some faculty and (sadly) IT staff here are still in the dark-ages...literally.
I think it's a practical area where at institutions that have robust people on the team, drawing from institutional resources to lend a hand would be smart. I think most practitioners probably don't want to teach and it's hard to find such people in rural areas or such alike. I think it's just an area that'll continue to flesh itself over time, but really, short of being more vocal opponents to departments that we think might lack relevance in regards to their coursework...there probably isn't much we can do practically without causing some major problems and possible resentment.

I think it probably depends on the institution and the willingness to listen and seek out alternatives.
Oh, and just for the sake of argument, and to emphasize the points: I got what was basically the top web job for the university with a BA in Communications.

My emphasis was theatre.
Ha. I was a Japanese major. I learned everything about what I do from teaching myself.
Exactly. I got where I am on my own work, and my own portfolio of past work. What I could show was what made the difference. And generally speaking, just showing some stuff or assignments from classes won't cut it. You need real world experience to get anywhere, and the best way is to just go and do it.

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