Train the trainers

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Think Web :: Raising Awareness of Web Standards and Best Practices Among Educators

The idea behind this resource, which has been sitting on Chris Mills' hard drive for a year or so, is an advocacy guide for developers, designers, and other members of the web community to use to deliver training and advocacy about web standards and best practices to educators and school/college administrators. A kind of "do it yourself" advocacy guide, as it were.

Background

There is a major skill shortage in the web industry. More individuals and organizations than ever before want web sites, but there are not enough web professionals out there with the up to date knowledge required to create good quality web sites, which are built using open web standards and associated best practices, and created to be accessible and usable by diverse groups of users.

The root of the problem really is education — educational institutions more often than not teach either no web-related courses, or web-related courses that are out of date and substandard, and therefore do not provide students with the real-world knowledge they need to get a job in the web industry. Therefore, bad web design habits and practices continue to be propagated, and we continue to see more inaccessible, low quality web sites every year.

Something needs to be done to put educators back on the right track: as a community we can work together to help with, by taking part in schemes like this one.

Purpose

This resource, provided by the Web Education Community Group, is an advocacy guide for developers, designers, and other members of the web community to use to deliver training and advocacy about web standards and best practices to educators and school/college administrators. The process is as follows:

  • Identify a local college, school or university to advocate web standards and best practices to
  • Find out the relevant person or people to talk to about their technical/web-related courses
  • Send them our questionnaire to fill in, so you can learn a bit more about these courses
  • Form a relationship with them, and start to talk about the modern web industry and what they ought to be teaching
  • Go in to meet them, and deliver a couple of hours of training on the high-level concepts they should teach using the materials OWEA has provided

The Web Ed CG will then send both you and the educators you’ve talked to a follow-up questionnaire to see how it went from your point of view and what you think the next step should be with those particular educators, and to see how it went from the educator’s point of view, and what help they would like next.

All we are asking for is around 2-4 hours of your time every month, every 3 months, every 6 months, however much time you can offer basically.

The benefit to you

There are a number of benefits to you and/or your company of taking part in such an activity. Many of us are passionate about advocating web standards, plus it will improve your reputation in the web community, and give your work more validity. In addition, forging links with local educators can lead to more sources of work.

If you need to convince your company to allow you to spend the time doing this, keep reiterating the PR/Corporate Social Responsibility benefits. It will make them into an investor in education and innovation, and give them good links with educators will provide sources of interns/work placements, which can be a useful resource to have available.

Finding someone to reach out to

First consult your local web community (eg, geek mailing lists, forums, meetups, user groups, etc.), tell them what you are doing, and see if you can get anyone else interested in helping you. Also see if they have got any useful contacts at local educational institutions that could use to reach the relevant people to your cause.

The next step is to choose a local school, college or university and contact them in whatever way is easiest to you. When you find a relevant person, explain what you are trying to do, and send them our initial contact questionnaire. When they have filled this in, use the information they provide to tailor further correspondence and any advice you give them about their courses.

Look at the course information and try to get a feel for what kind of web development and design is taught. Does it look like they are teaching:

  • Good modern web standards and best practices
  • Bad practice old school web design and development
  • No web design and development at all

Write a short summary of what is good and bad about the courses. Note that the university department web sites may give no reflection of how good their courses are — they may have a very good web faculty that has no control over their web sites.

[WRITE QUESTIONNAIRE]

Bear in mind that you are very unlikely in most institutions to find a course that exactly fits the needs of a modern web designer or developer; more likely it will be a related course with some kind of web module. You are looking for technical courses like computer science, software engineering, ICT, but also more artistic disciplines like graphic design and multimedia. If you are really not sure what department to approach, it might be worth contacting the main office and telling them what you are looking for, to see if they can help.

Making a move

When you’ve studied the questionnaire and got an idea of what knowledge the educator has about web standards and best practices, what state their curricula are in, and what help they really need, it is time to set up a face to face meeting so you can give them that help and guidance, via the presentational resources we have made available.

Get in touch with your contacts and schedule a time that works for both of you. Tell them you need about 2 hours of their time. In general, you want to come across as professional and serious, and you also want to make it very clear what direct benefits they will get from listening to you, and how it will benefit their department.

Language to use

Teachers are interested in results — better, more employable graduates is a mark of success. You should therefore get over to them in very clear terms that web standards and best practices is how it is done in the industry right now, it is what is asked for in most job ads for web developers, etc. Teachers should also be interested in equal opportunities, so will likely also be interested to know about how open web standards can provide a completely inclusive content delivery mechanism if done right.

School administrators are also interested in results, and are also very useful to get involved in the conversation. They don’t teach the kids directly, but they do hold the purse strings to teacher training, hiring, and course updates, so you should definitely get them on side.

The face to face meeting

the Resources section at the end of the document contains links to the materials you will need to deliver the presentations — notes and slides — plus additional materials you can give your audience to look at outside the presentation, such as code examples and further resources. The idea is that we want to give the educators a 1-2 hour presentation (ball park figure - yours may differ) covering the high level concepts they should be teaching in web design and development courses. We are not aiming to be exhaustive here - we can show a few code examples to get points across and point to further resources for more information.

There is no right and wrong way to give a presentation - different people's presenting styles can differ greatly, and you should pick the delivery mechanism that you are most comfortable with. Some of us think nothing of standing up in front of an audience to deliver a talk, whereas others find the very thought of public presenting terrifying, so would definitely be more effective when sitting down with one or two educators and showing them slides and examples, or even just having an informal chat.

Think about what works best for you. There are some good things to do, regardless of how you present. Here are some tips to follow:

  • Look at your audience while presenting
  • Speak clearly, and at a steady pace, pausing between each section to take a sip of water.
  • Don't just read the slides or the notes — learn to tell a story around the material that uses the materials as a basis. It will sounds so much more natural.
  • Prepare. Do research, and make sure you practice it a few times before you give the presentation.
  • Keep reiterating the important points, enough times so they sink in, but not so much that it gets repetitive and boring.
  • Get straight to the point, and do not talk about yourself and give your life history.

Andy Budd has written a really good blog post offering further tips: 7 ways to improve your public speaking

Continuing the conversation

After you've delivered a presentation at a school, let OWEA know. OWEA will give the school the educators’ post-presentation appraisal survey to fill in, and you should sit down yourself and fill in the webbie’s post-presentation appraisal survey. These will both go back to OWEA and provide valuable feedback on what worked and what didn’t, so the process can be improved next time. You and the educator will both get feedback to tell them what the outcomes are (recommendations for improvement, further steps, etc.)

[WRITE QUESTIONNAIRES]

Keep in touch with them, and give them your details so they can ask you for further advice. E-mail them to see how they are getting on, and ask if they need any more help. See how else you/the Web Ed CG can get involved:

  • Get guest lecture slots
  • Give feedback on curricula
  • Give feedback on web sites
  • Provide work experience slots for students
  • Provide mentoring for students

In return, the educators can provide you with work placements and more recognition within the community/industry. You might well get some more work out of it.

Resources

LINKS TO SLIDES, SLIDE NOTES, FURTHER READING LISTS AND CODE SAMPLES WILL GO HERE.