High school and college instructors who teach poor web design standards are probably one of the things that I find the most frustrating in this industry right now. It truly is disturbing to think of how it is working, and sometimes it feels like the battle to getting standards fully understood is always uphill. I was browsing through various college catalogs for web design courses and was hoping to find some improvement over what I’ve seen in the last few years. Unfortunately, it still isn’t there.
So many of the course outlines talk about how to ‘properly’ organize your site using tables. Test outlines that include things like the <font> tag and how to properly embed sound and video into a website, or even worse… the web animation courses touting how to make a fully flash website. I cringe every time I think about how many people take these courses each semester, not knowing that it is actually going to put them at a job disadvantage. For those students who plan on being able to come out and get a job, for example, working on a government site – they’ll have a rude awakening when they realize that there are standards compliance rules they need to know how to follow and that they’ve not been prepared for it… and are not qualified for the job, no matter what their degree says.
Of course, who knows. One of the seminars I’m doing on accessibilty laws involved organizing invites to lots of government offices. I remember one day, going through their sites and checking their main pages. Of the 40+ I checked that day – only 2 were able to meet the generic 508 requirement. We have a long way to go.
For those few who know the general subject matter of the book I’m working on, they know it is to address this sort of problem. Having been very old-school myself, I know exactly how hard it is to un-learn what you think you know. Harder still, is finding some of that information. If you are friends with any techies, you’ll find that it’s often the case that they won’t even consider picking up a ‘beginners book’ (visualize their disdainful sneer) when they know it already. So many of them consider it ‘below them’ to go back to basics. In some ways, I have to agree that it is.
It’s not at all the same to teach a web developer standards, versus teaching a beginner. It’s ten times harder to teach someone who is experienced because they have to be willing to un-learn bad habits, and if you’ve never taught experienced developers, you’ll find that they are the ones most prone to argue and question nearly every thing you say. It’s never a bad thing to question – but many of those questions are rooted in a feeling of being attacked and getting defensive. You are telling them that they are (and have been) doing things wrong. So, many people don’t learn, don’t try to learn, and worse – too many web developers don’t even know about CSS and XHTML.
When talking about web developer teachers, it’s exactly the same, but even moreso. These are people who teach the subject, and therefore, often feel they are experts on their subject. That is what they are used to. They are often even -more- resistant to change or discovering that they may have been teaching it wrong. It’s a hard pill to swallow. The problem is that it becomes a vicious cycle, wherein we have new students coming out with the ill-formed idea that they make good websites.
All that does is give the web standards community more people that they have to educate otherwise. I try very hard to target people who are old-school web developers and teach them how to code to standards. I write, predominantly, for the people who develop sites already – but that’s not enough. In the end, it’s about whether or not a person can move past the fear of finding out they may have been wrong, and choose to learn more. It’s sad, but I’ve seen far too many educators choose to remain uneducated instead.