Question

How can colleges and universities keep web design and/or development curriculum current and relevant?

James Archer

Honestly, I don’t know if they can. 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. I know many good people are trying, but I’ve yet to see anyone come out of a university program knowing what they’d need to know in order for us to hire them. Most of the time, they’ve been brought a long way down the wrong path.

I hate to be cynical-I genuinely do want this to work, since we need more talent to hire-but that’s the current consensus around these parts.

Andy Budd

By teaching core skills rather than focussing on transitional things like the latest application or programming language.

Joe Clark

Stop hiring losers as teachers.

Andy Clarke

By calling on thought leaders and practitioners in the web design and development areas to teach and pass on current thinking. Colleges and college staff, professional educators, should rarely teach themselves but should instead act as conduits to enable students to interact directly with those in the outside world who are living these areas.

Jeff Croft

There’s only one way: hire instructors that are relevant. By and large, they’re not doing this. One of the reasons they’re not doing this is education requirements. I was contacted by a large University about teaching web design and was quite interested. Then they found out I had no graduate-level degree. So instead, they hired some retired Java programmer—to teach “web design.” Huh?

Most of the relevant folks in the industry today don’t have graduate-level degrees in web design or development. Why? Because web design and development programs didn’t exist when we came through school. Most of us stopped going to school as soon as we realized the schools weren’t teaching us anything relevant.

In order to get back to relevancy, colleges and universities are going to have to get over their accreditation standards and hire the people doing great work on the web today to teach. That’s really the only way. They can’t keep giving the same old dude that’s been teaching PASCAL for 25 years a Dreamweaver book and call it “web development.” It doesn’t work. Likewise, they can’t expect the same folks that have been teaching graphic design for 30 years to really be competent web design teachers. They need new blood—people that really understand this stuff and are passionate about it.

Mike Davidson

Make sure that these classes are taught by people who aren’t very far removed from the business of web design and development. Someone who has done nothing but teach design and development for ten years probably isn’t super relevant at the end of that ten years. Stuff just changes too quickly. The way people write Javascript has changed 3 or 4 times in the last 3 or 4 years and anyone who doesn’t have both ears to the ground at all times is likely to miss that stuff.

A fresh look at the curricula every single year is a necessity. I imagine you couldn’t teach the same Flash Scripting class for more than about two years before you’d have to radically change the lesson plan.

Rob Goodlatte

Several strategies come to mind. Teaching professors must update curriculum every semester to remain current with the field. Guest lecturers from the field could be brought in to inspire students to pursue specific topics. Finally, professors should be active members of the Web design and development community, keeping up to date and making contributions as well.

John Gruber

I think by teaching fundamental concepts (which change very slowly) rather than specific technologies (which change constantly), and by emphasizing building actual working web sites for student projects. Students should be encouraged to build web sites they would actually use, and perhaps which they will continue to maintain after their courses have finished. The fundamental concepts remain the same, but the application of these concepts changes.

Aaron Gustafson

By engaging with organizations that want to help (such as the Web Standards Project’s Education Task Force) and getting involved with the local and national web communities (which tend to be very open). Professors should also be following trends on the blogs and not just the industry rags.

Jon Hicks

Talking with the industry, inviting active designers and developers in for discussions and presentations, or by being active members themselves (I know that’s a tall order!).

Molly E. Holzschlag

Again, this is a difficult issue. The rapid change and fundamental interdisciplinary nature of the Web makes creating curriculum very difficult. We really need a great deal of change within educational environments to allow for this interdisciplinary kind of skill.

Shaun Inman

That’s the challenge isn’t it? Professors, as well as, students need to engage the web design/development community and figure out where the action is happening relative to their area of interest. Professors can reach out to committed peers in the field for starting points (which feeds to subscribe to, etc). Maintaining (and I mean really maintaining, not just setting up and then forgetting about) a shared OPML (a list of feeds, most feed readers can export them) or even a static HTML/Wordpress page of links to relevant online magazines and personal sites is really important. Encouraging discussion both in and outside the classroom.

Jeremy Keith

This is tricky. Traditionally, colleges and universities don’t need to move too fast: a curriculum gets established and is then taught for the next few years with only minor tweaks along the way. The web moves too fast for that.

Using the tools of the Web could help a lot. Rather than relying on books and other written material (which get out of date quickly), blogs, wikis and mailing lists are more suitable for staying up-to-date with the latest in web design and development. This means that colleges and universities need to be willing to be less insular and have a more direct connection to the world outside their campus. There also needs to be an understanding that knowledge flowing in from the outside needs to be evaluated, rather than accepted at face value. In the age of Wikipedia, that is true of all disciplines.

Geert Leyseele and Veerle Pieters

I think by staying on top on what is happening on the Internet. That’s one of the best ways to stay current. The teachers should have the passion that drives us and if they can bring that feeling over to the students it would be an added bonus. I strongly believe that the lack of passion is one of the poisons that ruin today’s web designers. I think there are a lot of people stuck in what they know now and have no interest in updating there skill set if the paycheck is there at the end of the month. The future web designer should be taught passion. Most people are also lazy and don’t use the means that are out there. We see that enough in the daily amount of email. They don’t do research and expect that you solve it.

Cindy Li

Maybe one idea is to recruit business professionals for an advisory panel like they do on corporations.

Dan Mall

I think it’s important to have faculty that not only teaches, but still currently works in the field, or at least has some way to stay current.. With the fast-changing pace of web field , it’s very easy to become outdated. A teacher that isn’t up to date with the latest standard can very easily be teaching old techniques without even being aware of it.

Eric A. Meyer

The faculty has to practice what they teach and keep plugged into what’s going on. One way to do that would be to have the faculty (re)build a site for a local non-profit organization, one per school year (on summer break, say). And also be involved in the school’s own web presence, either as contributors or advisors (but only advisors, not directors or vetoers).

Chris Mills

By talking to real employers about what is current, and looking at up to date courses. It would be great to set up some kind of university liaison taskforce, to help universities stay current.

Cameron Moll

I hope would hope at some point in the future collegiate programs have some sort of built-in regimen for keeping their technology staff current, but right the responsibility for staying current seems to rest solely in the individual faculty member.

Keith Robinson

This one is tricky. I think the faculty could start by becoming solidly and deeply involved in the web professional community. Ideally students would learn from teachers who are practicing and keeping up to date with real projects in some form or another as well. Keeping relevant is hard in such an ever-changing area, and to do it you really need to be in the middle of it. Keeping up with other professionals, getting your hands dirty, etc.

Josiah Roe

Good internship program. Professors given the time to spend doing the research and work they need to stay up to speed on contemporary web design/developmenet trends. I think this is a unique industry in that profs really need the time to do side work and research just to stay up to speed.

Dan Rubin

the challenge is more on the development side of things, and I think the only answer is for institutions to require that their professors stay up to date. The best way to do this is to hire people who are active in the industry on a professional level (e.g. as adjuncts, etc.) for the higher-level courses (anything that’s likely to require changes or updates each semester). This is a tall order, but even non-professionals would be able to keep up with these changes if it is required for their course, especially if the institutions provide for continued education (budgets for conferences, books, workshops, etc. are of primary importance here). Perhaps a series of courses and workshops tailored specifically for educators would be one good solution?

Gareth Rushgrove

Involve individuals (stress individuals rather than companies) from the local community. This might be guest lectures, trips to medium agencies, open days, reading materials or syllabus review.

Richard Rutter

The main thing is to teach more fundamental skills - the kind of things that don’t go out of date (design theory etc). Universities need to be outward facing, with the students work exhibited. Tutors need to be in touch with developments on the cutting edge of web design (reading A List Apart and the right blogs is a start) and be able to tailor and improve their courses on an annual basis.

Daniel Ryan

While there are some seminal texts for each of the areas I've outlined here, the best resource a web worker has is the web itself. I'd would like to see at least 1/3 if not 1/2 of the texts used for any given course come from best of breed sites dealing with the focus of the course. This could be a tough sell to the curriculum approval committee, but to stay competitive the students will spend the rest of their careers researching for themselves; only by having the courses stay flexible in the texts used can an institution hope that its program remain relevant. In addition to the university keeping itself abreast of the latest trends and best practices, it should be teaching, in every course, how students can do this for themselves as well. The portfolio course I outlined earlier should be the last class a student takes with part of the grade being based on how well the student has incorporated trends, techniques, and skills that have emerged in the years since they began the program.

Jason Santa Maria

It’s very tough, things change so quickly and curriculums have to be organized far in advance. This leaves little time for classes to adapt to current trends and conditions. The best way I’ve seen this done is by having classes that involve themselves well in what’s currently going on, either by hiring people currently working in the field to teach the class, or at least guest lecture, as well as having a curriculum that is constantly looking at what’s happening at the moment and how that reflects on what they are learning. I guess what it comes down to is teachers who are less about teaching what’s in a book, and more about teaching current principles.

Christopher Schmitt

They need to have a school system that supports updating computer equipment or put the onus on students to buy their own, up-to-date technology. (A decked out MacBook Pro could be a standard piece of equipment that students need to buy.)

Also sending professors to conferences and require them to get certified from everything to Adobe products to programming languages as they become mature enough to warrant certification.

Glenda Sims

Isn’t that a great question. I think this is a huge challenge. I think the faculty need to be involved in the day-to-day real world of the web, and not just stuck in their ivory tower teaching out of 5 year old text books. Perhaps the answer is, to have leaders in the fields of web design and development be guest lecturers, just as we see in major business schools.

Greg Storey

Schools should invite industry peers to discuss current and upcoming trends in the web industry and how that might have an impact on what’s being taught.

Khoi Vinh

That I’m not sure I know the answer to, as I’ve never taught. I think it would require understanding what makes colleges and universities stagnant in this area, to begin with. But if I had to guess, I would say a programs like this need strong integration with the working world. In fact, an ideal program would partner with a small number of studios to tightly integrate an internship with coursework. I’m not sure exactly how it would be done, but it would be the right general idea, I think.

Aarron Walter

I think it might be helpful for a curriculum should have special topics courses where contemporary topics can be explored in detail. Having these sorts of expansion joint courses can let a curriculum adapt as the industry and technologies change. Departments need to create a culture of learning that requires faculty to stay abreast of new topics. Schools should make it a priority to send faculty to conferences and training programs to ensure they’re not falling behind.

Rob Weychert

Hire faculty that are motivated to maintain their own continuing self-education (just as many of us in the work force do, largely via the blogosphere), and have schools fund it whenever possible (conferences, workshops, seminars, etc.). I hear too many horror stories about schools teaching sorely outdated practices. As much as I’m sure budget constraints are a problem, I can’t get my head around the idea of hiring professors who lack the curiosity to keep up with what’s going on in the web design/development world. It moves too fast. Hire people willing to keep up with it.