Course Content Policy White Paper
Course Content Policies
The Open Web Education Alliance's mission to help enhance and standardize the architecture of the World Wide Web by promoting web standards and industry best practices in education centers upon the evaluation and development of curricula materials. As such, OWEA must have clear policies regarding course materials, and strategies to either create pedagogical materials or evaluate and recommend them.
Strategies for Curricula
There are three primary strategies for course content management that the group considered:
- curriculum review system to accredit existing curricula
- curriculum best practices graded support system to guide schools in building curricula
- creating a standard curriculum or developing an existing curriculum
Option 1: Curriculum Review System
A curriculum review system would require a detailed evaluation of the content being taught in all web technology courses in schools seeking accreditation by OWEA. Such an accreditation would be seen as a "seal of approval" by a respected authority on web standards and best practices, and would be perceived by schools as a valuable way to recruit new students seeking to get relevant training that would prepare them for a successful career in the Web industry.
An accreditation system has three significant challenges that make it an unlikely option for OWEA to pursue. First, creating a detailed accreditation process would be complicated. Syllabi, assignments, lab exercises, and grading policies would have to be reviewed extensively, which requires specialized evaluation instruments that would be time consuming to produce.
Second, accreditation processes require a great deal of preparatory work on the part of the school being evaluated. Schools would need to assemble all of their teaching materials, and student work for the review committee to evaluate. It's a significant time and resource commitment that would have to be perceived as valuable enough to warrant the investment.
Lastly, OWEA itself would need to invest a great deal of time, money, and resources to the initiative as the review team would have to travel a great deal, be trained in accreditation practices, and perform regular reviews of schools during and after accreditation. This would take much time to achieve.
Option 2: Curriculum Best Practices Graded Support Guide
Rather than handling the evaluation of curricula itself, OWEA could develop a system that outlines best practices to be taught and a list of concepts and techniques that should be avoided. This system would serve as a guide for schools to evaluate their existing curricula and identify areas where changes should be made. This approach eliminates many of the resourcing challenges of an accreditation system, but is not without its own shortcomings.
A graded support system would need to specifically name technologies that are outside of the W3C web standards recommendations and the best practices in industry. Labeling certain technologies as inappropriate for the classroom could put significant strain upon the relationship of the members of OWEA when participating organizations are the originators of a proprietary technology being black listed.
A graded support system would require that schools interpret recommendations and create their own course material from it. Recommendations could easily be misinterpreted resulting in course content that is not inline with OWEA goals and industry needs.
Option 3: Create and/or Adopt an Existing Curriculum
There is a great deal of merit in establishing a curriculum inside of OWEA rather than evaluating external curricula being taught in schools. An OWEA curriculum would be more easily maintained by the educators and industry professionals in the group who are experts on the content. When technology changes in the industry, a central curriculum could be easily updated. This would be a particular selling point to faculty and staff who struggle to stay current with trends while trying to keep up with a normal teaching workload.
Though OWEA could certainly author a curriculum from scratch that fosters web standards and industry best practices, it is perhaps unwise as there are already a number of OWEA members working on curricula that could be integrated into a single, cohesive system. The WaSP InterAct curriculum (http://interact.webstandards.org), Opera Web Standards Curriculum (http://opera.com/wsc/), and select content from the Yahoo Juku training program are already being combined. Adobe has also created a wealth of valuable educational material that could be integrated into this curriculum collaborative. The WaSP InterAct curriculum already has a framework for content development and contributions of courses, assignments, and learning modules, making it strong option for OWEA to use as a foundation to build upon.
Curricula Strategy Recommendation
Though all options discussed have merit, adopting and expanding upon an existing curriculum like WaSP InterAct is perhaps the most practical of the three in terms of time and resources required to reach OWEA's goal of improving web education around the world. While the OWEA organizational structure is still being defined, the development of each of the above curriculum projects continues, thus giving OWEA a significant head start immediately upon official launch.
Pursuing the option to adopt an existing curriculum raises some challenges and concerns to be addressed.
Ownership of Curriculum Initiatives
As OWEA combines the curricula of its various members, issues of ownership will arise. In reference to Figure 2 below (Course Structure), it is recommended that any tool and technology-agnostic Core Course Content be either created directly within or donated to OWEA to provide a consistently-managed central core of curriculum. For content created by for-profit organizations which support OWEA principles while focusing on tool and/or technology-specific topics (i.e. Vendor-Specific Learning Modules), it is recommended that the content be hosted and maintained on the authoring organization's website, and linked to from within the OWEA curriculum.
In the case of The Web Standards Project's InterAct curriculum, the project's leadership is open to moving the initiative into OWEA within the W3C. Alternatively, InterAct could continue to operate outside of OWEA, and be guided by OWEA inputs.
Curriculum Content and Production
Above all, the OWEA curriculum should be practical and directly related to the needs of the web industry. In addition to teaching web standards, the curriculum should contain best practices in user science, professional practice, design as it relates to the web, and server-side technologies, as all of these sub-disciplines and their relationships must be understood in order for students to be successful in their careers. Though W3C technologies and their best practices would be the heart of an OWEA curriculum, they should be presented in a real-world context. Presenting web standards abstractly in a purely academic fashion would undermine the mission of OWEA, which seeks to promote the growth and sustainability of the Web by ensuring students graduate ready to innovate and succeed in industry careers.
All courses and supporting material would adhere to a strict structure and style guide. The WaSP InterAct curriculum already has a series of style guidelines and course content templates that would keep all contributions in a consistent form. These style guides would also be evaluated in real-world situations in schools around the world to ensure they are usable by educators.
Courses would be authored in teams of invited experts following a traditional publishing model. A domain expert from the industry would work in tandem with an educator to author a course. A technical editor would review course material as it is being developed. A production editor would guide course authors through issues of structure and form, and would manage the production schedule. An acquisitions editor would assemble the team and coordinate all efforts. See figure 1.
Production editors would be responsible for future review and revisions of courses to keep them up to date and relevant to industry needs. Courses will undergo a review annually and be updated accordingly by the course production editor, and an invited expert.
Each course would have a vendor neutral core consisting of competencies, readings, assignments, and exam questions. Learning modules would be created as guides to classroom instruction on topics defined in course competencies. Third parties could contribute learning modules that teach proprietary technologies while adhering to the core principles and best practices of the course. See figure 2.
In the case of courses that address important technologies that have divided support yet are centrally relevant to the industry such as server-side scripting, a core course that includes common competencies would be created. It can then be forked to address language-specific issues with additional competencies and learning modules, though assignments and even many exam questions can be shared. Patterns and frameworks research would be encouraged in such courses so students would be afforded the opportunity to critically review competing concepts.
Content Openness, localization, and External Contributions
Though the core of all courses would be developed inside of OWEA, educators and experts from around the world would be encouraged to develop assignments, exam questions, and learning modules for courses. Externally developed content would be reviewed by OWEA for content accuracy, fidelity to form, and appropriateness for the course before publication. Should contribution volume increase to a level difficult to manage, OWEA may consider a more general moderation system with user rating systems that allow quality content to float to the top.
Educators would also be encouraged to contribute teaching notes offering fellow educators guidance on pedagogy, classroom strategies, and how to address learning challenges. Open contributions to the OWEA curriculum affords the opportunity for educators around the world to solve localization issues that course authors may not have considered, and creates community and goodwill around the project.