So if you didn’t already know, I volunteer some time and advice to the local Oxford School District’s Information Technology Advisory Board. It is a collection of local business owners in the IT related industry that meet semi-annually with faculty and students from Oxford High School. The district is looking to us for guidance in their web design, programming, and graphic design curriculum to make sure they are teaching students things relevant to current trends in business.
The past couple meetings have been interesting, to say the least. Turnover at the faculty level has some programs in a state of flux — one person’s interest focus isn’t necessarily jiving with the new person’s interest. That, coupled with the State of Michigan handing down pre-requisites for certain classes and class programs that simply are “close to impossible to carry out” (quoted from one teacher in the web design program).
Now keep in mind this is the high school level we’re talking about, not college. These kids aren’t meant to be prepping for their first internship quite yet. However, the program is impressive, and I wish I had something like it when I was in school back in the 80’s (you kids have no idea how good you have it! I was taught COBOL!).
The problem with the State-pushed curriculum is that there simply isn’t enough hours in the day or days in a marking period to teach what they want to be taught, in the order they dictate. So the problem isn’t necessarily that the school is out of step with industry trends, it’s that the school wants to be in step with industry. But their hands are tied by the State. It’s the government that is out of step with industry trends.
An example: OHS has a Web Design I, Web Design II, and Webmasters classes. Students would obviously sign up for the first, and if interest is peaked, they would continue through the other two classes. Sign-ups for the first are typically double that of the second class, and the third half again. That’s to be expected of any curriculum.
With new State requirements, OHS has had to drop the Webmasters class (even though there are several students that were looking forward to enrolling) in favor of a watered-down version of Webdesign I and II classes to accommodate those students looking to “check a box” for an elective-type class they need to take but have no interest in.
So the teachers were actually asking us if it would make sense — since their new program has less time — to teach the kids a web design tool like Wix and not teach the fundamentals of HTML and CSS. I couldn’t believe what I heard.
Wix, Squarespace, Oh My!
Don’t get me wrong, there is a place in industry for tools like Wix, or Squarespace. Hell, page and site builder plugins for WordPress are all the rage and do make building websites a lot easier.
That said, teachers have no business teaching a tool and not raw HTML and pseudo-code logic. That puts the students at a huge disadvantage. For those students that are genuinely interested in a computer science degree in college, they will be behind in knowledge when it comes to the basics of logic and reason for setting up a computer program or website.
What happens when the company behind the tool goes out of business, or stops supporting the tool? Or a different, better, tool comes along that has a different learning curve comes out? You can see, again, how the student would be left behind.
I voiced a strong opinion against such direction, and thankfully other business leaders felt the same way. The idea was dropped, ultimately, but the problem remained. How to realign the courses to make it worthwhile for the students?
A Better Way
When I was in EDS Tech Training in the 90’s, our two-month class consisted of a mock-live project. We pretended we were meeting with a real client who hired us to make a website. We documented requirements, made a project plan, etc.
We then made up wire-frames and documented visitor flows. Each section of the site was laid out with specific template elements. We then moved into design and used Photoshop-like tools to create graphics, logos, etc for the design.
Finally, we moved on to actual programming. Each page was coded to specifications, and tested for quality assurance and adherence to the original project requirements. At the end of the class — our last week — we had to present our deliverable to the instructors (the business client).
All of this demonstrated business skills (talking with clients to gather requirements), project management skills (writing up a plan, wire-frames, etc), design skills (using tools like Photoshop), and HTML skills (programming the site).
We did all of this in 2 months. The kids at Oxford High school have two years. I think it’s possible.
This was my recommendation to the faculty there, and it was astonishing and encouraging at the same time to see their eyes go wide with awe and excitement at the thought of implementing my idea.
I hope they go through with it, because even though it’s been over 20 years, I still remember my experience at Tech Training and the lessons learned. Imagine what these high school kids would learn.