By far the most interesting aspect of the recent Future of Web Design conference was the last thing to be said. The final panel was opened up to the floor and a question was put forward regarding the future of education in web design in face of the amazing pace of new developments in the field. Andy Clarke‘s reply was that if educational institutions cannot keep pace with developments then “perhaps we should see the death of institutionalised education” in web design.
The spontaneous applause which this got from the floor indicates the understanding of how far behind schools, colleges and even some universities are when compared to best industry practice. I can’t help but agree, but I know it will never happen.
As long as there are people wanting to learn web design there will be educators trying to deliver it, especially with changes to funding models in the UK making every place on a course important. The problem I can see is one of hard-pressed teachers trying to fit a technical and pretty abstract subject into a small slot in the timetable. Of course the easiest thing is to go for the easy win and get the kids using a tool like Dreamweaver or FrontPage to knock something up quickly with no thought of the code behind the scenes. At least that way they have something to stick in a portfolio at the end of the day. And lets not forget that most web design courses come under the auspices of the IT department, when to get the results we aspire to it should be a joint venture between IT, Art and even Humanities.
Teachers who commonly get landed with delivering a web design course typically are ill-equipped to do so at a level which will give their students an insight into the real work going on in the industry. Maybe this is where the industry should step in to help. We could produce lesson plans with accompanying teacher notes suitable for different lengths of course, just as they are available for other subjects. These could be updated with new technologies and changes to standards as unlike most subjects our industry is a fast-paced one which even full-time professionals sometimes have a hard time keeping up with, let alone hard-pressed teaching staff. We could produce some outstanding sample sites which could be broken down into their component parts complete with notes for use as teaching aids. We could even come up with a network of web design firms who would be open to have student placements or come into class for a guest speaker session. I’m sure that with a little effort the firms which put a bit of effort in could end up with an endless supply of new talent from these sources.
Of course it can’t be all one-way. We need the teachers to let us in. Just as we recognise their abilities when it comes to communicating an idea to young minds, they need to see that accepting help from us is not a threat to their teaching skills. It needs to be a partnership else we risk continuing on our current insane course where teachers are delivering outmoded classes to students who won’t know any different until they’re in the industry - if they ever make it that far.