Help me develop a curriculum for an HTML course
August 9, 2010 10:07 PM   Subscribe

You are learning HTML on the internet via a set of instructional videos. What do you expect to be taught? How do you expect to be taught it? What useless things do you hope will be left out? What great things do you hope are included?

I've recently been hired to create an online HTML course for Educator. There's a video of me, but mostly a big screen where I can have slides, code, browsers and whatnot. I'm creating the curriculum from scratch, so I'm interested in what various people would expect.

P.S., It might also help me if you indicate your level of expertise with computers/web development.
posted by brenton to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I would have loved for someone to have integrated CSS and HTML from the beginning. When I started learning, like the third thing I learned was layouts with tables which are complete garbage compared to divs. THis is going to get really important when internet explorer starts supporting HTML5.

Also, I never really understood the point of the html, head, and body tags until like a year in.
posted by wayland at 10:42 PM on August 9, 2010

I think it's important for students to understand exactly what HTML is; that it's a mark-up and a way to structure but not a way to format. I formatted by nesting tables for a long time before I figured out that CSS was the better way to do that. So, explaining class tags should probably come in early, IMO.
FYI, I am completely incompetent at putting together anything beyond a very simple landing page for my personal links.
posted by Gilbert at 11:06 PM on August 9, 2010

Easily printable cheat-sheets, because learning how to use a tag is easy. Remembering the name of the particular tag and/or its syntax always has me running for notes or reference. A cheat-sheet you can print out that has it all within glancing-distance is great.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:32 PM on August 9, 2010

Response by poster: Good tips, thanks. It is sort of driving me crazy that I am teaching the HTML course and the CSS course separately, but probably less so than if I was teaching a combined course. :D

wayland: I'm interested in what you mean, exactly, about not understanding the point of the html, head, and body tags. Do you mean on a higher level, or just in terms of the fact that you put metadata in the head and content in the body?
posted by brenton at 12:38 AM on August 10, 2010

I wasn't ever really sure what head was for and usually stuck title somewhere at the beginning of the page or something. I don't think I ever really used body tags either... heh.

Looking back, that seems really obvious, but it was confusing then.
posted by wayland at 12:58 AM on August 10, 2010

Agree totally that combining html and css from the start is vital and for me personally, creating a live project from the start made far more sense than learning the basic code in isolation. Bonus points if the goal page is visually attractive (there's at least one otherwise excellent book on css that provides great instruction but the designs you're building are uninspiring to say the least).

I just completed the SitePoint HTML5 course which apart from a few captioning issues was excellent (it's a different model, it combines video tutorials with articles and a busy forum) but after the opening "what's html5 all about" video, from day 2 the goal was to be creating valid html5 markup in a "real" site.

Similarly, Jeffrey Way's Photoshop to HTML ebook + screencast set is superb in walking you through creating a design, write standards-compliant markup then css to produce an attractive site.

I think the added value of a video course is to get students opening up an editor to follow along and actually coding - it's easy to find any number of really good books and online print tutorials but if you can show the creation of a web page/site from scratch with accompanying written materials (including cheat sheets as -harlequin- says) I think you're on to a winner.
posted by ceri richard at 2:31 AM on August 10, 2010

If anything, it's probably far easier to teach HTML now than it was ten years ago. In the bad old days you'd code up a web page in pure HTML, with no CSS, which meant that your HTML document was 99% table and image tags.

In the absence of CSS and Javascript, HTML is fairly straightforward, to the point where it's rarely discussed apart from CSS.

However, I think a pure focus on HTML is actually a pretty wise choice. People need to know what the doctype is for, what a meta tag is, how to close an image tag properly, and so on. They need to know about the semantics of HTML tags, when they should use a table or an ordered list, and so on. People who learn HTML and CSS hand-in-hand often over-rely on the all-purpose box that is the DIV, and don't treat the DIV and its inline cousin the SPAN as the last resorts they really ought to be.

So use this as an opportunity to teach your students how to structure a document in a logical way, because that's the only thing HTML was ever meant to do.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 2:42 AM on August 10, 2010


1. Get them validating from the start

2. Get it right in Firefox then correct for IE (a lot of newbies are only vaguely aware that browsers other than IE exist)

3. If you're aiming this at beginners it might also be an idea to have them install something like the Aardvark Firefox extension rather than Chris Pederick's Web Developer toolbar or Firebug, both of which are a little overwhelming for new students. The Aardvark extension lets you hover over a page to see the code

4. Where to get help after the course, good forums, etc.

5. A good book/article list for further study

6. Take a look at a few forums (like css-d) to see questions and problems that come up again and again
posted by ceri richard at 2:46 AM on August 10, 2010

If you can, touch on a scripting language (or the concept of) at some point in the course so they know there's a better solution than hand-editing when they need to change something in a number of files.
posted by yerfatma at 5:18 AM on August 10, 2010

I've been teaching myself web design and have mostly found lots of courses unhelpful. In High School it was straight HTML. Ok, fine I get how to make tables and font colors, this isn't very helpful in designing a website. Then in college was HTML, and in the last month or two "hey, here's this CSS thing". Any advanced web-language classes were taught in a CS department that only allowed majors or minors to take classes (and I wasn't interested in the 15 hours of C++, Java and calculus pre-requs. )

More or less, I felt like these classes were structured in a way that punished students for not needing to learn web design in the bad old days. Oooh, it's awesome that beveled table borders were cutting edge in 1999. No one learning web design today even needs to care about it.

Further, I'm not convinced whomever writes the course descriptions for web design courses fully understands the futility of separating HTML and CSS— as if CSS is somehow more advanced, or needs skills developed with first understanding straight HTML.

Whats even more frustrating is how some wall seems to exist after basic introductory HTML classes, there are no intermediary or advanced courses. It's like teaching someone french vocabulary, but never how to write or speak in sentences.

So my advice would be to have some introduction to the history of web design, why HTML was the way it was, why it was abused for so long, and how to do it correctly. I also, at first, didn't understand why everything varied so much from browser to browser. I expected there to be one correct way to do things; I didn't understand that web design was fluid and evolving constantly. Efforts to create central dogma are entirely dependent on users and browsers to strive for compliance. But ultimately, as a designer you need to write for browsers, not ideal specs. Hopefully in another 5 years, these political things can be left out of introductory courses as well.

They will need some time to acclimate to understanding tags and syntax, but push them through that, and get into creating useful examples. It's not going to do any good, nor will they retain any information, if you teach them what a div tag is, but not how to use it.
posted by fontophilic at 8:00 AM on August 10, 2010

Response by poster: These responses have been really helpful! If anyone is still reading this thread, I'd be interested to hear from people who are still new to HTML or who don't really know anything about it at all. Thanks so much for all the answers so far--every single one is fantastic and helpful to me!
posted by brenton at 8:55 AM on August 10, 2010

Response by poster: Hey, so I finished the course and it's up and running now! Thanks for the help everyone! Sorry most of it is behind a paywall but I thought y'all might be interested in seeing at least some of the results.
posted by brenton at 10:02 PM on September 22, 2010

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