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College web design courses fail with bosses

Web site development experts said in a recent survey that colleges and universities lag behind in using the latest in web design technology and ignore foundational lessons that would produce college graduates ready for the rapidly changing profession.

The survey, called "Teach the Web," was released Jan. 20 and includes opinion and advice from 32 web design professionals who are considered some of the most knowledgeable and respected in the world.

James Archer, an executive at Phoenix-based Forty Agency, a marketing company, said in the survey that campus bureaucracies move slowly when approving new curriculum, while the web design industry "moves fast enough that the curriculum is obsolete by the time they get around to committee approval."

Forty Agency does not hire graduates of university web development programs, Archer said.

"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," Archer said. "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."

Leslie Jensen-Inman, an assistant professor at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, where she teaches design, business, and technology, wrote the "Teach the Web" survey and said web design college instructors should embrace the business’s harsh realities.

"Let’s face it. Technology moves fast; academia doesn’t," Jensen-Inman, a member of the Web Standards Project Education Task Force, wrote in the survey’s introduction.

She said campus officials should build relationships with leaders in the web design industry and use their advice to shape faculty approaches and college courses.

"As the people who will hire our students, they should have input about what type of students we are producing," Jensen-Inman wrote.

Several experts said slow-moving changes in university curriculum result in students learning about program such as Photoshop that will be considered outdated by the time they graduate and apply for jobs.

Because web design firms see constant change and updates to technology, some experts said students should develop basic knowledge to attract employers.

Molly Holzschlag, an author and web standards advocate, said "general awareness of the web, social networking and culture, strong spoken and written language skills, [and] enthusiasm and commitment to life-long learning" would signal to employers that a recent college graduate is capable of keeping up with ever-changing technology.

"Everything else can be taught, and will be taught, over and over as time goes on," said Holzschlag, who has written more than 30 books on web design. "Therefore, it’s the broadly educated, open-minded, and self-motivated individuals who would get my attention."

Cindy Li, director of content for Scrapblog, a site that markets multimedia scrapbooks, said college web development classes should incorporate design techniques that will make the internet more accessible to people with disabilities. Li said her mother is legally blind, adding that she uses a magnifying computer tool to view web sites. She said students should learn how to build web-based platforms that would allow legally blind web users to see a site without the magnifying tool.

"I think, especially in the USA, we’re so focused on the perfect youth we forget about the people who have disabilities but still want to experience the web," Li said in the "Teach the Web" survey.

Colleges should consider assembling a committee of web design veterans who could act as "an advisory panel like they do for corporations," she said.


"Teach the Web" survey


University of Tennessee at Chattanooga

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