Thoughts at the end… (part 3, or, one down, two to go)

I was up later than I would have preferred last night so I could finish posting the grades for English 444, Writing for the World Wide Web. This was the third time I’ve taught this class and it was easily the most successful of my efforts to date. I thought this version of the class went as well as it did because of the students. I suppose that’s true for my other classes too, but I have to say this was especially the case with this group. As I was figuring out the grades last night, I realized again that I was darn lucky because I really did have an excellent combination of graduate and undergraduate students, and they were just across the board really diligent and hard-working. When you have students who come into the class already enthusiastic for the subject (and who else would voluntarily sign up for a class called “Writing for the World Wide Web?”), it makes the teacher’s job pretty easy.

Though I thought I did a pretty good job, too.

Things I learned (and will hopefully remember the next time I teach this course):

  • For reasons too complicated to explain here, the main project of the class ended up being a collaborative revision of the web site that is supposed to provide information about graduate studies in the EMU English department. I’m not sure if I would do this again or not. For one thing, I’m not sure an opportunity for a “real” collaborative project will drop in my lap again. For another, the assignment took a lot of time and I had to cancel some of the other projects I had planned for the class. On the other hand, I think the sites and reports that groups created for this project were excellent, and the feedback I’ve gotten from students so far suggest they got a lot out of this activity. So I don’t know; we’ll see.
  • The Lynch and Horton book Web Style Guide is excellent and I will most certainly use it again. I hope they come out with a new edition. On the other hand, I certainly would not use the Nico Macdonald book What is Web Design? again. I picked it pretty much “blind” as the result of a recommendation from a mailing list. But this turned out to be bad advice; personally, I wouldn’t recommend this book for much of anything.
  • As I wrote about way back in December and again a bit in January, I’ve always had a conflict, perhaps just a personal one, between the “technology” part of things and the “writing” part of things with this class. This semester, I put these concerns aside and I assigned Eric Meyer’s book, Cascading Style Sheets: The Definitive Guide. Now, I’m glad I finally really learned more than the basics of CSS and I think the Meyer book is an essential resource for anyone interested in this, but I don’t think I’ll teach this book again. We ended up spending two weeks on the Meyer book, which I think was about a week too much. Next time around, I think I’ll look for more of an introductory book or web resource.

    On the other hand, I think it’s fair to say that knowing some basics about CSS turned out to be very important for everyone, including me. I also think that the order I did this helped a lot. We spent over the first month of class on these sorts of “computer geek” activities: basic and not so basic HTML, file transfer, basic photoshop and image manipulation, and CSS. Once we got a handle on the tools, we moved to issues of design, and this semester has convinced me that this is definitely the way to go. The design issues make a heck of a lot more sense when you know a bit about the tools you’re designing with.

  • I probably will have some kind of assignment next time where students will have to individually create style sheets for a common page, something along the lines of the CSS Zen Garden project.
  • Next time, I’ll probably have more readings/discussions about blogs and content management systems like drupal, but I don’t think I’ll use a collaborative blog set-up again. Maybe I just need to figure out for myself how to do this correctly, but once again, I really wish I had set up a mailing list for the class; it would made basic communication a lot easier.
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