A Web Design Education In Calgary? Wednesday January 28, 2009

Adam Kahtava pointed me to a fantastic article by A List Apart entitled Elevating Web Design at the University Level.

If you’ve been reading c.t.overdrive since the beginning, you’ll know that I have no formal web design training or education. I don’t even have a diploma or any sort of paper that says I’m a web designer. Truth of the matter, is my University Degree pretty much entitles me to write wordy papers detailing why Blade Runner was a good movie (Urban Studies BA) and then I might be able to help you hang some paintings in a Gallery (My Art Minor). Hell, I probably spent more time as a faux engineer or hungover management student in University, then I have at the UofC’s or SAIT’s so called Web Design Courses.

But from the time I did waste trying to earn SAIT’s Web Design Certificate I can tell you that the Web Design Curriculum in the Calgary is laughable and outdated at best. This really isn’t a secret (like the article details) as many of the people I’ve met at previous SXSW conferences are all self taught. Instead they’ve all learned how I did; through trail and error, time and a few google searches.

So Why Overdrive are These Curriculum Useless?

To steal a quote from the ALA article:

The culture of large educational institutions has, in my experience, consistently proven itself unable to cope with the demands of such a varied and fast-moving industry.

A quick look at either the UofC or SAIt’s programs reveals that they are barely catching up to what industry standards are for 2006, let alone 2009. While HTML/CSS, Javascript, Photoshop and Illustrator courses are inarguable essential courses. No where on that curriculum does it mention things like WordPress CMS implementation (Setting up a blog) or even how to optimize web sites for Search Engine Optimization. At $350 bones a course, you better tell me how to slice up a Photoshop web site Mock-up and incorporate that sucker in to a HTML Style sheet. Because unfortunately I need some ROI and clients want you to build them the latest web site, not something from 2002.

The current institutions in this city are too focuses on the basics and have not adapted to the changing industry standards. The fault for this lies in the bureaucracy of Educational Institutions. I’ll pull another quote from the article, to reinforce this point.

We … need to let go of the idea that professors in these disciplines must hold a master’s degree. The reality is that many web professionals are self-taught. A person with solid experience and a proven track record should be considered an appropriate candidate to teach web design and development in higher education.

The current curriculum in Calgary, is taught and qualified by professors with 10 years of experience in their subject. Which should not be discounted, because you need someone with a concise grasp of the basics. But unfortunately, the latest techniques and tactics haven’t been around for 10 years. Most have only been available for only a couple of years, some even a couple of months. So you won’t find someone with 5-10 years of experience in this field to teach a course on the subject.

More importantly someone focused solely on teaching HTML or Javascript, isn’t going to be able to tell you how to incorporate that into a CSS Style sheet. (Please forgive me the rest of this rant might be a bit technical). Better yet that same prof won’t be able to tell you how to take the same HTML/CSS Style sheet combo you created and transfer that into a WordPress Theme or better yet how to install WordPress and set-up a MySQL database on server. Which is something that is actually applicable to your career. While they do a great job of covering the basics (Probably a bit more on the overkill side than anything) they are not teaching you how to actually apply it today’s market.

So What’s your Answer?

One of the best parts of the ALA article is that even though it points out the flaws in Higher Education, it also challenges us to give back and to help the Institutions catch-up.

So with that in mind if you are at all interested in building web sites, my first piece of advise is to buy Simple Bit’s Web Standards Solutions. This book gave me the standards to start Armadillo Studios and start building web sites. It costs 44.00 CDN, but will save you 900 dollars worth of SAIT and UofC courses.

The next step, mind you this is the brainstorming stages, is that a small group of #yyc twits might be getting together to share ideas and expertise on Web Design. If you are at all interested in coming together to learn some techniques etc, send me an email (or follow me on twitter @ctoverdrive) and I’ll provide details when things come together.

Categories: The-Calgary-Vibe, Want-To-Be-A-Web-Designer, The Soapbox

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