All too often, however, university curricula don’t reflect these new trends. For example, many universities are still teaching Dreamweaver as the tool to build websites instead of open source content management systems, a technology that’s been mainstream and affordable since at least 2005. Recently, a colleague pointed out an active syllabus where “DHTML” was to be taught. DHTML was cutting edge around 2000 and has been abandoned since then.
Simultaneously, there has been an explosion in tutorials and documentation available to those who want to learn about website design. Google searches turn up endless blogs, videos, books, courses, and more, many of which are free.
Why would an engaged, motivated student want to go to a university andpay huge sums of money in exchange for learning outdated information via outdated methods?
Universities, in my experience, are behind the times for several reasons:
- It’s difficult to keep up with a rapidly changing field. Web design changes so fast, it’s difficult to stay up with the latest trends unless you’re actively building websites every day. Full-time faculty members may not realize how rapidly the field has changed from year to year and may not update their lecture notes accordingly. Indeed, many lectures are updated only when the next version of Dreamweaver is released.
- Adjusting an existing class is difficult. At large institutions, where several sections of a class may be offered, it’s difficult to change the syllabus, since so many instructors are affected by the changes. Universities feel a uniform experience is more important than presenting the most recent technologies.
- Adding new classes is even more difficult. Adding a new class requires drawing up a course proposal and getting approval from faculty members, approval of the university, and incorporation into the latest course catalog, a process which can take a year or more. This process means that once an emerging topic is identified, it can take a year or two for the course to appear in the curriculum, and years more before it becomesa required course.
- The publishing industry has been undergoing some radical changes lately, meaning that there may not be a book available encompassing a course that covers the latest topics. Rather than covering a chapter per week in a book and having students complete the exercises specified at the end of the chapter, instructors must search for information on the web, pulling together a database of Internet resources for students to learn from (ironically, this research process is a valuable skill for students to learn, since it is how they must keep up with the field after graduation).
- Inter-departmental collaboration is difficult. Web design concentrations, when offered well, will draw from courses offered through the art, computer science, marketing, and business departments. This interdisciplinary requirement means that faculty must collaborate across departments to ensure a cohesive message is delivered to students. Faculty must also know a bit about each course offered within the web design program, courses that may be outside their areas of individual expertise. It can certainly be uncomfortable for a computer science professor to sit in on an art class, or for an art instructor to sit in on a computer science lecture, but it’s worth knowing a bit about all of the courses offered in the degree program. In the business world, web designers know a bit about search engine optimization, project management, and graphic design, even if HTML and CSS are their primary skillset, and likewise, university instructors should be fluent in other areas outside their expertise.