Week 8: Intro to HTML & Web Design

In this week you have the opportunity to explore further the way the internet is structured and the ways in which it can be used to support teaching and learning. Specifically I hope you will take this opportunity to expand your knowledge and add some ability in HTML.

Why should an educator know HTML?

ccimage by Morten Wulff

Some people approach this question from the angle that you can be a better motorist if you understand the essential principles beind the internal combustion engine, your brakes and other systems in your car. This analogy fails because we don’t have the opportunity to create or substantially modify our cars the way we can with our web-based resources. Educators (and learners once they realize it) are able create new or modify existing media to suite specific needs with (relatively) little cost in either time or money.

When I first put a unit of learning on the internet for an online course I created a stand-alone website that included content, assignments, work examples and quizzes. The site was hosted on the school web server. This was also the practice at the Unviersity of Victoria before we started using a Learning Management System (like Blackboard or Moodle).

Today most educators don’t need to create web pages and sites to sit alone on a web server, they have one system or several to host the content, activities and assignments they want online – either provided by their host institution or available (often for free) on the web. HTML (and associated tools) can become important when we want to do something that has not been considered by the designers of whatever tool we happen to be using. In WordPress you will notice that your editing window includes an ‘HTML’ tab for those that want to create their page manually. Similar options exist in learning management systems like Moodle, Blackboard and Desire2Learn, as well as other blogging or content management systems like Drupal or Joomla. If you can’t ‘program’ your tool (ie. modify the way you use it with HTML) then you are being ‘programmed’ by it. This is of particular concern in education – imagine if you used Facebook as your primary online tool with your students (not a good idea in most instances), your online teaching would be held hostage to the frequent updates in look and feel and functionality.

What should an educator know about HTML?

An important component of professional competence in modern web design is knowing how to do the things you do often and knowing how to find out how to do the things you need to do infrequently.

What I hope you take away from this unit is first, a basic understanding of what HTML, CSS and JavaScript can do on a website, and second, an idea of where to go to learn more about these technologies and what scale of time investment might be needed to use them. To that end this unit presents opportunities to try out various HTML tags and to learn more about some of the dynamic and emerging web technologies. Optional resources have been provided to allow you to pursue your interests or needs in these topics, now or later. My final caution would be that these technologies are better learned when you are about to use them. It can be very difficult to recall technical topics when they haven’t bee applied in a practical setting.