Recently in Adult Ed Category

Last class

My two-semester foray into the world of teaching adult classes has finally come to an end. I will not be doing this again (at least not teaching hand-coding of HTML). Much like last semester, I ended with a class on web accessibility, the use of tools like Dreamweaver to complement hand coding, and blogging, of course.

One of my students, who was somewhat discouraged by her inability to keep up all semester, seemed quite excited by the idea of starting a site on Blogger so that she could ease into the world of site creation and practice what she has learned.

I also recommended the video tutorials at Lynda.com. The CD-ROMs and online learning library that Lynda Weinman’s company produces are brilliant, and, quite frankly, they would be a better investment for my former students than these classes. (Many of the Lynda.com tutorials have as much as a half hour of free video content online.)

With the accessibility thing, it often seems like I’m fighting a losing battle. It is so easy to make a web site compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), yet the level of apathy I encounter when it comes to this important human rights issue is appalling. At Princeton, it seems like for every webmaster I educate, or for every site that I help make accessible, another irresponsible hack comes along and creates yet another web site that is hostile to the disabled and flagrantly violates federal law. The ironic shame is that from a purely aesthetic perspective, these are some of the most attractively designed sites on the Princeton web. My attempt to give the “heads up” to one of his more recent clients fell on deaf ears, so now it looks like I will have to contact this designer directly.

BTW, if you are unaware of how to create an accessible web site, check out the Web Accessibility Initiative’s site, scroll to the bottom, watch the video, download the checklist, and then read some of the tutorials linked off of the main page.

Where did all my students go?

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Tomorrow is week six of my “Web Development with HTML” class; it should have been week seven, but a blustery forecast convinced the adult school to call a snow day two weeks ago.

Last week was the greatest disappointment of my short teaching career. I didn’t write about this at the time because there were too many other things that were gnawing at my psyche. Only two students showed up for class, one of them arrived a half hour late.

The enrollment for the class is twelve. On an average week about eight show up. I realize that these people have other obligations in their lives, but if I had paid $75 for twelve hours of instruction, I would make damn sure that I received twelve hours.

At least the two who showed up learned something (I hope). Ironically, it was probably the most important week of instruction. I introduced them to the world of cascading style sheets (CSS). Tomorrow’s hands-on exercise will draw heavily upon the previous week’s material.

I am somewhat torn. If only two show up again, I will probably be devastated. However, if the rest do show up, I will feel bad for my two faithful students because I will have to reteach much of last week’s lesson so that everyone can do the exercise.

The premise of the class, itself, is somewhat flawed. Hand-coding HTML pages is not really a skill for those who do not even possess basic Windows skills. However, in last semester’s class, eleven of the twelve stuck it out for all eight weeks, and I would like to believe that they walked away with at least a modicum of useful knowledge.

This semester, though, has left me wondering what I did wrong. Did I alienate my students in some way? Did I pace the class too slowly? Was it a mistake to post extensive materials on the web for those who legitimately could not make it to class?

At any rate, I will not be teaching this course (or any course) next semester. This seems to be just one more indicator that I need to move on to bigger and better things.

Spring semester

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Tomorrow begins the spring semester of my class at a local adult school, “Web Development With HTML.” The class has full enrollment, so it will be nice to get to know more than a dozen new faces over the next eight weeks.

Now I have to finish preparing my class materials. Fortunately, this time I can re-purpose much of the content from the last semester.

Last class

Tonight was session number eight of my eight-week “Web Development with HTML” class. I hope my students feel like they got their $75 worth. Obviously, I had no expectations that they would be web developers extraordinaires after just 12 hours of instruction. However, if they walked away from this class with some idea about web standards, separating structured content from presentation, accessibility issues, or even how Firefox is a much better browser than IE; I can declare this to have been a successful venture.

Because blogging has become such a large part of my life (even though it may have at times added certain complications to my life), I felt that devoting a third of my last class to a demonstration of Movable Type was a worthwhile exercise. The point I tried to make was that they need not have mastered everything that I taught in order to publish on the web. One can blog without any knowledge of HTML; however, even with just a basic understanding of HTML and CSS, one can create a visually engaging blog site.

The adult school invited me back to teach the same class next February, and I accepted. I figured that since I already spent so much unpaid time doing prep work for the fall session, I might as well reuse those materials in the spring.

So now that I have this small victory behind me, it is time for me to take a day for myself, temporarily forget about the huge queue of projects looming over my head, get out of the apartment, and do something wild and crazy….

Basic training

Basic training…given my background, one might assume that I am referring to basic combat training; however, this time I speak of basic Windows training. A failure to master the rudimentary skills related to manipulation of the operating system can be a significant obstacle to someone who wishes to expand the scope of his or her computing skill set.

Eleven of my twelve students returned this week; the twelfth had let me know ahead of time that she would have to miss the second session to attend a funeral. Last week was all lecture, but this week was mostly hands on. I had requested that access to Notepad be restored and for the library’s techs to install Mozilla Firefox. After wowing my students with the tremendously useful Web Developer extension for Firefox, we moved on to Notepad.

To speed things along, I had prepared an HTML document with the DOCTYPE, namespace, and character encoding already filled in. It never occurred to me that navigating to a web page and saving the linked file to the desktop would eat up more than fifteen minutes as I stepped them through the process twice and then had to walk around individually assisting the stragglers. Needless to say, we got less than halfway through my lesson plan. It may be a couple of weeks before we even get to CSS.

First class behind me

My first class was fun. The uncompensated prep time may prove to be a drag after a few weeks, but it is only two months. My students—six male and six female, with ages ranging from 30 to 60—all have little to no experience with web development. This is a good thing; no bad habits picked up during the Browser Wars. Standards compliance all the way, baby.

The facility is posh; twelve computers arranged in a flattened semicircle, a master computer with screen control software, and a 42-inch plasma screen up front. During class I pointed to a web page that I had mirrored up to the screen, and the cursor moved. “Hey, it’s a touch screen. Cool,” I blurted; my students chuckled.

I did have one major gripe, though. This is a class on web development using text editors, and Notepad was removed from the Start Menu of all of the lab’s computers (no Program Files access, of course). Figuring that there would be such hiccups, I had planned on saving the hands-on stuff for the next session anyway, so I lectured on the history of HTML; keeping properly structured content separate from presentation (CSS); and the basic elements of an XHTML document.

There were a few MEGO moments as I yammered on, but I think they all learned something.

First class tomorrow

My first “Web Development with HTML” class is tomorrow evening. The class has full enrollment, so I will have twelve students. I just hope that it still has full enrollment by next week. They are paying $75 to hear me blather on for 720 minutes over the course of eight weeks.

I’m prepping my handouts right now; nothing like the last minute. The nervousness sill hasn’t hit me yet; I’ll probably start getting butterflies around 5 PM tomorrow.

On a lark, I decided to let my beard grow out. It only takes a few days, and it most definitely is not permanent—beards itch; plus I like to keep my face kissably smooth (usually not too successful with that one). The facial fuzz does make me look slightly more professorial. I refuse, however, to dress unstylishly to complete the look.

“Web Development with HTML” is kind of a silly title (not my choice). Is there really any other kind? Next up we have “Carpentry with Wood” and “Needlepoint with Thread.”

Professor Michael

Well, not really… As the title implies, I have an upcoming teaching gig. It is not at the university where I draw my paycheck, but rather at a local adult school. Still, it promises to be an exciting experience (and a bit stressful, of course). The normal teacher is ill; they desperately searched for a replacement; and they ended up with me. Because people have already signed up for and paid for the course, the basic content of the course (description below) is mostly set in stone.

 This in-depth beginners’ course covers page design principles and understanding the document structure. It will cover HTML, HyperText Markup Language, and touch on XHTML, the eXtensible “ditto,” which are the fundamental technologies for creating web pages. However, emphasis is on the design aspects, with coding as the tool, not the substance. Learn how to deal with text, graphics, links, tables, lists, forms, JavaScript, and more. No knowledge of HTML or programming is necessary, but you should be completely comfortable using a browser and a text editor such as vi, Notepad, or SimpleText.

A few of my coworkers agreed that the description is “creepily geeky.” (Who does still design pages in vi?) Fortunately, they will give me some latitude to add subject matter that I feel is essential. Surprisingly, a few subjects near and dear to my heart as a web designer are missing; there is no mention of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), accessibility, or standards compliance in the course description. You cannot design a modern web page without them. Also, rather than “touch on XHTML,” I will focus on it.

Starting on September 30, the course will unfold over eight weeks, one ninety-minute session per week. Of course, the pay won’t even noticeably pad my wallet, but who teaches for the money…

As for the stress part, I just agreed to do this, so now I barely have a week to develop a rudimentary syllabus and the content and handouts for my first session. Ack.

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