W3C Proposal

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This is a loose plan with some details on why the W3C is a good home for a Web Education curriculum, and how certain aspects of W3C's stewardship might work. It is a slightly modified and expanded version of an email sent to WaSP EduTF members.

Disclaimer: There are so many aspects to this topic that it's hard to summarize neatly, and this document is neither brief, organized, nor comprehensive.

(Note that if you are interested in the meat of the proposal, you should skip to Sustainable Curriculum)

Integration with W3C

Besides the organizational framework for maintaining a living curriculum, W3C can also integrate the curriculum materials directly into our site. Currently, we link to the WaSP InterAct curriculum. In addition to such links, we can host the existing curriculum materials, and link to different parts from our topic pages and tutorial pages, as well as from our Validator (think of topical hints for specific errors). This can increase the general awareness about these materials for people visiting the W3C site... and that's quite a lot; we get around 10,000,000 hits/day on www.w3.org, and if even 0.0001 percent of those hits are people are looking for help on Web development, that would be 1,000 hits per day exposed to the curriculum. We do get many requests for more developer and designer friendly material, so the interest is there.

As far as the organizational options, there are two likely ways that the curriculum project could be integrated into W3C organizationally:

  1. Working Group
  2. Activity

Working Group

Forming a Web Eduction Working Group is the simpler option.

There is some precedent in the Education & Outreach Working Group (EOWG), part of the W3C Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) domain. EOWG is chartered, among other things, to do:

  • developing and maintaining a variety of online and hard-copy education and outreach resources to promote awareness of web accessibility and encourage implementation of WAI guidelines/standards and specifications, and also prioritizing translations of these resources. These materials include presentation materials and sample presentations, conference handouts, demonstrations materials, and a range of web documents and new media resources
  • promoting harmonization of web accessibility standards.
  • Promotion of WCAG 2.0 and development of material to help organizations, developers, designers, policy makers, and others transition from WCAG 1.0 to WCAG 2.0

That’s not too dissimilar to some of the goals laid out in the OWEA white paper. In the past when I have mentioned this, the reaction was that people felt that Web Education should be its own activity, with a broader scope and membership/participation model than a traditional working group, but if the sentiment has changed, we could pursue creating a WG. Perhaps that could even be the first step toward a more concerted effort to increase Web education focus within W3C.

A working group uses some team resources, such as a Team Contact (anywhere from 0.1 to 0.5 FTE of an existing staff member), but is not as intensive a resource cost as a full dedicated FTE (who would have to be a new hire), and so would not require as much scrutiny to start up as a whole activity.

Chartering Process

If the OWEA XG decides to go this route first, I can write a charter for such a group. At the very least, writing a charter might be a useful exercise to see if people feel that a Web Education WG would be a useful next step, and to focus our attention on some specific goals.

One of the critical parts of writing a charter and starting a working group is establishing the groups’ deliverables. What is the group expected to produce in order to track its progress and judge the success of the group? Perhaps a curriculum itself, or a framework, or a peer-review process, or all of these, could be desirable deliverables. The deliverables should be crafted to demonstrate benefit to the larger Web community and to our members.

Another key aspect of a WG is deciding on chairs; we are all aware of how important the right person is in moving something forward, and the chair or chairs of a WG are tasked with focusing and driving the production of the deliverables, and on making sure everything proceeds in a fair manner. While everyone who attends the OWEA telcons has demonstrated real dedication, some of you have really put forth enormous energy and time, and if I were to guess who might be able to pour out the effort and leadership required to chair, I would probably nominate Leslie and Ben as co-chairs. That might be simply because I have talked most to them, and I would not doubt the ability of anyone in this group to step up to the plate. But that’s a decision for you all to make, should you decide to move forward with the idea of forming a WG.

Review and Approval

Regarding the specific review process and timeframe, once we have a charter we agree on, we would take that to W3C Management, where they make an initial assessment on whether to put this charter proposal forward to the membership; I wouldn’t expect them to object to such a group. Then, it would go to our Advisory Committee, made up of one representative from each member company, who review it, suggest changes and provide feedback, and voice either approval or disapproval of forming the group (since they are footing the bill for the partial FTE); I don’t expect much resistance there either, and could even see increased interest in participation. After 4 weeks of AC review, we integrate the suggested changes, and W3C Management make a final determination on whether to form the working group.

Finally, we start to work on the deliverables.

That’s the process in a nutshell.

Activity

An Activity at W3C is a higher level of organization, and can exercise more discretion and autonomy in deciding its own processes. It would have its own budget, and a full-time staff person.

Working Groups are chartered for a set period of time, while Activities are intended as a more sustained effort, and may contain Working Groups, if that is appropriate to the goals and processes of the Activity.

The section on Sustainable Curriculum focuses on the idea of Web Education as an Activity, but parts of it may apply to either an Working Group or an Activity.


Sustainable Curriculum

There are 2 main aspects to any sustainable curriculum effort:

  1. Community Participation
  2. Funding

Community Participation

This covers a lot of things we've all been talking about, including collecting requirements from industry about what they need their future employees to learn, getting teaching institutions to buy in and use the materials, and so on. But the real crux of it is individuals; without specific, strong-willed, passionate, patient people, people who are there to work and not to grandstand, this effort simply will not work. These people have to be visionary, because we have a long way to go to get there, and they need to be able to imagine the future of being there and plan ahead.

But in addition to the leaders, we will eventually need many more (perhaps thousands more) people participating than we have now. They will contribute in small ways and large; some will start small and become major contributors; some will have big ideas, do a little, then disappear; some will come and go as they can; some will be steady and quiet; all of them will have something to contribute.

Attribution

To get people to participate, we need to motivate them.

Part of motivation is the attribution we've talked about (CC-BY with fine granularity), both as an incentive to start contributing, and to stop the risk of demotivating and demoralizing them; at W3C, we have dealt with this a lot, because fundamentally, we are driven by volunteers, some of whom are paid, but who have to be motivated to do standards work rather than, say, programming (we can talk about some of the intricacies there, if you're interested in details). This is part of W3C culture.

For all of our courses, reference material, curricula, etc., everything would be freely available on the W3C site under a CC-BY license, which would be attributed to the specific individuals who wrote (or contributed to) the material, any originating organization or company or project, and W3C; we would also link back to other sites (such as WaSP InterAct) as one aspect of the attribution, to encourage mutual collaboration, and acknowledge specific branding efforts.

Provenance is important not only to give credit where credit is due, but so people know the perspective and potential bias of the source of the material, to better make judgments on it. We might repurpose and repackage the content to serve different communities, including self-teaching and reference and for distribution to schools (as Moodle or Blackboard content, with test questions, review materials, examples, running code, etc.). The format and location and manner of attribution is an implementation detail that we would be open to; we don't want to harm the clarity and usability of the materials, but still want to give prominent credit.

By way of example, let me relate an anecdote; skip this if you are skimming.

At the top of each of our specifications, we have a list of editors and/or authors of the spec; 
in the status section, we have a link to the page of the Working Group that created the spec, from 
which we link to the list of participants, and their company affiliation; at the end of our specs, 
in the acknowledgments section, we list individuals and organizations who have helped the development 
of the spec by reviewing it, commenting on it, or otherwise contributing.  You can see an example as 
the recent touch interface spec I've been editing:
* https://dvcs.w3.org/hg/webevents/raw-file/tip/touchevents.html

During the recent W3C site redesign, our Comm team tried to emphasize the technical aspects of the 
specs, and downplay the W3C working group structure (they perceived it as confusing to newbies); as an 
experiment, they used a style sheet to move the group link, and the editors and authors away from the 
top to a less prominent place in the document.  As you might expect, our community of contributors were 
outraged.  It was not enough to simply be acknowledged, they felt —rightly so— that they deserved 
prominent credit, and were demotivated by anything less.  The specs were fixed in a day.  
Attribution matters.

And as you can see, this is all happening at a very large scale... 1,500+ official participants in 
60+ Groups, with 32,000+ people contributing through our mailing lists.

Compensation

Another way of motivating people is to pay them, or to help them build their business. There are a number of ways we can do this, from getting grants, to soliciting materials from employees of our member organizations who see value in having training materials available, to whatever other mechanism is suggested. One of the ways I am trying to formulate is adapting W3C's online training courses.

Online Training

I have a plan to generate a small amount of revenue (all of which will be put back into the education effort to bootstrap it) by having low-cost online courses taught through W3C. W3C has already been doing this for a few years (we've offered a few different courses so far), but I want to expand it by having some W3C member companies offer even more training, in HTML5, CSS3, and so forth. We would share the revenue, and we will have accomplished a few goals all at once:

  • we will have new curriculum materials developed by the trainer, available under CC-BY
  • we can spread the knowledge directly to people who wouldn't necessarily go back to school
  • we can refine and vet the materials through review by the teacher and the students
  • the trainer can increase their reputation, and maybe build leads for future work
  • the trainer is somewhat compensated for developing the materials and doing the training
  • W3C gets some money, which will go to improve our efforts around education

Ultimately, W3C doesn't want to do the training ourselves, which is why we want our members to do it... we want other people to use the materials; this is just a means to an end. From the courses we have taught already, this does not seem to be a viable revenue stream for W3C on the whole, though it could just pay for itself (according to the past trainers), but it does accomplish offsetting some of the effort invested in developing and vetting materials; the primary motivation by everyone involved will still have to be the satisfaction of having contributed material to Web education and society.

Note that this is somewhat orthogonal to W3C's relationship to the InterAct curriculum, and is more aimed at existing developers than at teachers. I just took an existing mechanism at W3C and thought of ways it could relate to and directly benefit the curriculum, but mostly as a way to help fund its maintenance. We will likely do this training regardless of the status of the curriculum, and will use the training materials as much as tutorials themselves as abstracting them into curricula.

Reduce Disincentives

We should always make sure that any training W3C does doesn't threaten other training organizations, or decrease their inclination to use the curriculum materials. The whole goal of having this curriculum is to serve as a vendor-neutral repository, and offering competitive or comprehensive training at W3C would subvert that goal. In fact, if we play it right, we can use it as a mechanism to give training organizations incentive to donate materials to the curriculum, because then they would get the link-karma and attribution.

In point of fact, any W3C training wouldn't scale to meet the demands, and would not be a certification program itself.... these would largely be classes to "top off" the skills of existing developers. W3C's main goal is the creation of Web standards and technical specifications, and we would always limit the number and variety of courses; right now, we do 2-3 a year, and I'd like to see that double, but more than that would decrease the effectiveness of the goal of dissemination, and take up too much time of the person in charge of the education curriculum, because of all the administrative overhead. Still, we would need to communicate that effectively so that trainers don't feel threatened.

Process and Infrastructure

When you are talking about active participation from as many people as this will take over the time span it will take, you need to consider both the processes and the infrastructure.

How do we build up the curriculum, and maintain it? How do we review it, and how do we resolve difference of opinion? How do we indicate the maturity of materials, and the freshness? How do we know what needs to be updated? How do we tell when something important is being underutilized by teachers? How do we know when a particular lesson or idea isn't being understood by students? There are a thousand other questions like this.

Tools can help us, and having forums and modding/karma will be a big help in rating and categorizing and building the curriculum. That's the infrastructure, and it needs some money to build and maintain it.

But the larger issue is the process.

W3C started with almost no process, and moved quickly from version after version of specs, but ran into lots of problems with patents and contribution, and quality of specs, and revision and maintenance, and irreconcilable differences of opinion on technical details, so we developed a reasonable and robust specification development process that includes public feedback and accountability. I don't think that our established process is quite the right one for developing the curriculum, but the culture about sticking to process and resolving issues is there, and can help guide the development and application of a new, dedicated process optimized for curriculum development; that said, I would expect the real innovation and motivation around the process to come from individuals, again.

I envision a peer-review process, partly through review and forum discussions, partly through direct experience in online training.

Planning for the Long Term

Over time, if we are successful, this will take on a life of its own, and will last long after we as individuals have moved on; we need to plan for that, and to plan for the transition. This really hit home for me when I realized everyone we've already lost: Steph Troeth, Jeff Brown, Glenda Simms, Aarron Walter, and others. I hope we don't lose other key players, but even if we don't, we have only a few particularly active people, and it will be so much more than any small group can (or should) do.

W3C has found that openness is an important part of enfranchising stakeholders. It's relatively easy to work in private, but it doesn't scale; the true test of an accountable process and organization is how well it operates when there are many participants.

Building curriculum materials will be a major effort, and as you know, it's more than just writing tutorials. W3C has been building up our own Team-generated reference material for years, which is happening by different people in various parts of W3C; here are a couple of good contrasts that show the range of our approaches: the internationalization tutorials and the HTML5 wiki reference. These are quite different styles, but both are useful.

There are many more things like that scattered throughout W3C, but they are hard for people to find. If we do start a Web education activity, as I am working toward, we could supply a framework within which to build upon what we already have, and get new material from the community, and present it in a way that is easy to find, well-organized, and available in a variety of formats and materials, and with a rubric or curriculum structure that meets the needs of busy teachers.

I've been having conversations with some people in US federal and local government through W3C's eGov activity, and we discussing how we might be able to serve each others' agendas; they want to establish best practices documents for their Web development departments, and local education systems. While I don't believe there is funding for W3C or a Web Education curriculum there, since the government is tightening its belt, that might be even more motivation for them to rely on external efforts and free, high-quality training materials to meet some of their goals.

Building and maintaining the curriculum is only the first step in making it successful; deploying it is just as important. W3C is composed not only of the 3 hosts (MIT in the US, Keio University in Japan, and ERCIM in France), but also of 18 affiliate offices around the world; each of the offices represents a specific country, and they do outreach and localization activities, local government relations, and education (most of them are universities). I have talked with some of the office heads about the Web education curriculum, and they are likely to be interested in using and contributing to the curriculum, especially in the form of translations.

Ultimately, what a sustainable, living curriculum needs is someone to help oversee it, to promote it, to facilitate collaborate and do community maintenance. And that person needs to be paid, which means financial investment.

Funding

Basically, I am currently looking for funding for a full-time staff person to take over education, training, and curriculum efforts at W3C.

This is the rough prospective budget I would put forward, projected costs per year for at least 3 years:

  • One full-time staff member (1 FTE): $150K (including MIT overhead and benefits)
  • Travel budget, conference fees, other expenses: $60K
  • Technical infrastructure (server, Moodle, etc.): $20K
  • Part-time technical staff (0.25 FTE): $20K

Here is the job description I worked up, when I was pitching for funding from W3C Management:

It's possible we can cut corners on this, or find ways to get around some of the overhead, but that's a general projection that I think is realistic.

As you know, Ben and I are trying to do some joint AIGA-W3C fund-raising to get some of that money for the Web education activity; grants and charitable donations are tight these days, but if we do find anything, it would go directly into our education efforts. If we get some money, but not enough for the full-time staffer, my plan is to put that money toward hiring a part-time person who would bootstrap the effort by dedicating time to get the next, larger round of funding; I'm open to consider other options and suggestions, however.

I have other ideas and leads for funding (and for building curriculum), and while I'm not absolutely certain we can pull it off, I'm reasonably confident. We also have some funding possibilities through our members (perhaps as part of promoting HTML5 et al); we can also engage the browser vendors about getting serious in helping build up long-term developer resources, which are not a substitute for curricula, but are directly related.

Organization Structural

For perspective on how this might work at W3C, the activity in W3C that most closely resembles the potential Web education activity is WAI (the Web Accessibility Initiative). This is not funded at all by W3C member fees, but is self-funding, largely though charitable grants and government accessibility initiatives (if I understand it correctly). WAI has been a success story, and there are parallels with what we would do:

  • they don't develop technical specs (usually), but instead create guidelines and accessibility education materials
  • they work with governments to enact legislation to benefit Web accessibility
  • they do lots of outreach

Being self-funding, they are also self-guiding, and have a seat at the W3C management table; they spend their own money as they see fit, and handle their own outreach and communications. This is similar to how I see the Web education activity running, though I hope to have even more community participation.

Revenue

Frankly, while I see money in this for plenty of people (doing training, repackaging the curriculum, decreasing costs, etc.), I don't see this as as a revenue stream for W3C; I do think it can be self-sustaining, and even grow to meet community needs, but I don't believe it could (or should) ever pay for any activities in W3C outside itself.

While this isn't intended to generate direct revenue for W3C, I do believe it is the right thing to do, and I think W3C is the right place to do it. And I think W3C would be a better organization for it, so it would be a win-win.

(For what it's worth, I don't see myself as the one running any of this, though I'd like to stay involved in this as well as developing specs; I'm sure there are lots of great people we could find, yourselves included.)

Conclusion

Obviously, I've only given a high-level summary, with an emphasis on the big picture and why I think W3C is a responsible and useful organization to build, promote, and shepherd the curriculum to the next level and beyond. For more details at a different level, here is the executive summary I wrote for the original pitch to W3C Management:

I based it on some parts of the OWEA wiki:

As shown in that wiki, the goal of OWEA from very early on was directed at bringing the curriculum (and other curricula) to W3C, to make a sustainable community effort. I'd like to help bring that to fruition.

Why Collaborate?

Given the aforementioned funding opportunities, connections with browser vendors and government, existing tutorials, infrastructure, and so on, and since the InterAct curriculum is meant to be free for anyone (including W3C) to use for free anyway, the question may arise: Why am I making the argument for the official repository and maintenance to be at W3C, rather than moving ahead at W3C independently? Two reasons:

  1. The structure, the rubrics, the curricula, the framework, is really where I see the extra value to what WaSP InterAct has done. I want us to build on that. And it's already there, a tangible and provable body of work to show potential funders that we aren't starting from scratch, and to point in the direction we plan to go.
  2. Trust and community. I don't want there to be competing efforts, because there will be bad feelings, and missed opportunities, and divided communities. Even if what W3C and InterAct do start off differently, with different focus, it risks growing to have overlaps, and it doesn't take advantage of potential synergy. And ultimately, I want your energy and vision to help drive this forward. As educators, your experience and expertise are going to be critical.

This is why we formed OWEA in the first place... there were different efforts going on from lots of different people, and we wanted to combine our efforts; InterAct was only one of many similar initiatives, even if it is one of the best and most open. I think that W3C's strength lies in being a community-driven consortium, a place where browser vendors and users and authors and authoring tool vendors and governments and universities and all the other stakeholders can come together to design royalty-free Web technology specifications, and it's a neutral and natural place for a Web education community as well.

Finally, I don't see this as conflicting with any of the goals I've heard from WaSP participants. The worst-case scenario is that, for whatever reason, it just doesn't take off at W3C; we would still have any additional curriculum materials that were developed during the attempt, available under a CC-BY license for anyone to build a different effort, with the lessons learned from an honest effort, funded by sources that probably wouldn't have be acquired otherwise. I won't deny that there may be some opportunity costs, but I think that operating as part of W3C will also bring benefits that WaSP wouldn't have as a smaller effort.

As for the roles that everyone in WaSP plays, that is largely up to you. I don't want to impose any artificial constraints on how this would be organized to best effect. Working Groups are given wide latitude within their charter to accomplish their goals how they see fit, as long as it doesn't violate the W3C process and it meets expectation for quality and consensus.

Other Relationships

There may be a preference to keep a separate project going within WaSP, with its own processes and branding. Bringing the curriculum to W3C in no way precludes that, since all the materials would be licensed under CC-BY (Creative Commons Attribution). Ideally, we could have a complementary process, where each organization mutually integrates material developed by the other.

If another kind of relationship, with different goals, is preferred, W3C is open to discussing that as well.