Do we need teachers of web design

The number of incredible learning resources being generated by professional web designers never ceases to amaze me. Over the past few years, the wealth of professional web development blogs and resources has literally redefined my role as a “teacher”. Whether it’s knowing what questions you might be asked in a web development job interview (or a second sample of interview questions) or providing excellent html and css tutorials for a learner, I cannot compete with the myriad of professionals out there to create better tutorials or resources for learners in our course. But nor do I need to…

As a recent example, just yesterday one of the largest media conferences finished up in Texas, SXSW. Anyone wanting to learn can watch, for example, the full 1hr video of a discussion with two prominent web developers called How to bluff your way in Web2.0 (and print or view the 100+ page slideshow from one of the presenters’ blogs)!
Another panel presentation at the same conference was all about getting some insight into the work habits of 20 top professionals:

Design Workflows @ Work

Have you ever wondered how the top designers work their magic? What is their workflow? What tools and techniques work best for them as they create compelling and inspiring designs?

But you didn’t have to be there – the presenters created a website and anyone who’s interested can read for themselves how twenty-six (yes, 26) current professional web designers get their jobs done on Design Workflows@work.

These resources are better than anything I could create for my students on my own… imagine the time involved for me to create a video about Web2.0 or interview 20+ professionals to find out how they get their jobs done, or even just create a list of common interview questions my students might be asked when applying for a job. I’d have no time left to spend with students in class!

So what then is my role in our learning group? How should I be spending my time in the classroom? What can I provide learners with that they can’t get from professionals on the net? Rather than answer that with my own thoughts, I’m keen to hear your thoughts… lemme know!

18 comments to Do we need teachers of web design

  • You are the glue, the provoker, the questioner, the guide, the inspiraton, the teacher. I agree there are brilliant resources out there and they are more accessible than ever. There is also lot of crap out there, part of your role is to guide learners to be discerning, to apply filters. There have always been an abundance of resources around for those who have the motivation, skills, knowledge and discipline to learn alone. In some ways your role is more important because there is more to filter. From personal experience I have to say you do it rather well.

  • Its simple Mike. Your role is to filter and aggregate this information and build trust and good feeling with your group so that they will develop passion for the topic, and therefore be willing to look into these things. You are there on 24/7 call to provide interpretation, support, a shoulder to cry on, and endorsement of your student’s work. You are there to map the way between information and relevance and application. You are there to negotiate the pain of TAFE admin and to make sure your students don’t get needlessly caught up in that. Its simple :)

    And just because you gave me an opening Teaching is dead, long live learning ;)

  • angel

    Michael, I think we definately need teachers of web design.
    I wouldn’t get nearly as much out of reading the professional’s input on the web, as i would having a great teacher like you, teaching me in person.
    I honestly think you have best teaching methods i have ever come across in my learning life! And i dont mean to sound like im sucking up or anything, but you are a tops person too.

    I hope this is the kind of response you were looking for.
    Thanks michael.

  • So Jude – you reckon that helping learners to filter and find the information is one of the most important roles of a facilitator? Connecting people with the great professional content that’s out there and giving it some structure – or creating a pathway through it?

    Leigh, great points! I agree… developing the trust and passion of the group is soo important… but do you reckon facilitators are trained to do that? Maybe it’s just something that teachers/facilitators are meant to pick-up via osmosis.

    Angel, I’m really glad that you’re finding the learning in class helpful! I guess I’m keen to know how you think we can improve the way we spend our time in class… what can we, the facilitators, do to make better use of your time. For example, do we spend too much time in the call off room. Do you wish that you had more group work, more practical activities, etc. What can we provide you with in class to help you learn more effectively and have more fun doing it!

  • Jesse

    The web is great for seeing what can be done, but I don’t think I would be able to learn this stuff without the help of a teacher. The problem is there is often too much info available online and it can be hard to know where to start and where to go next. I know I would like to jump straight into the deep end, but then I would certainly drown.
    Also because there are so many different ways to make a website it can get confusing and we could end up doing it the wrong way. Having a teacher helps structure the learning so we can progress as we develop an understanding of the material.
    Learning in a class also helps us develop people skills and teamwork which is something you can’t get while your locked up in your bedroom, learning to code in the middle of the night talking to your computer like its your precious…
    Teachers help make the process fun and I generally learn quicker.

  • warren

    We will always need teachers its just a matter of how best to deliver and ensure a uniform standard in the industry.

  • Hi Jesse – everyone.

    When I’m locked up in my bedroom trying to learn code (or what ever) I usually have an Instant Message window open with quite a number of people who I have connected with and who can help me. I’m also writing email and comments to blogs – trying not to offend, trying to help out. So I think online has a large amount of people skills that being locked up in a classroom prevents you from learning. :) Unless you’re in Mike’s classroom that is – where he tries to connect you with people online as much as you are willing to.

  • Jen

    Sometimes I sit down to my computer and think ‘what can i look at’…. and a lot of the time I can never think of anything and end up doing something else (watching a movie…). There is so much out there and sometimes it’s all to much. Having a teacher, and being in a learning environment, where everyone is looking for the most helpful and affecting information is vital, for me anyway. Having a teacher allows for a structured approach to the web, less confronting.
    Mikes tops!!

  • Jesse

    haha, yeah if you can connect with other people online thats great. I wasn’t serious as you may have guessed with the little lord of the rings reference. I personally didn’t start all that until Michael set us up with an email group and blogs etc, and even in a classroom it is very useful.
    I don’t get to use the internet that much at home so I would be that guy talking to the computer. lol.
    Its great that there is heaps of info online, but I probably wouldn’t have found it without Michaels help. Thanks, teachers are tops.

  • Geez you are a stirrer Michael, you stimulate and engage us so that even when we are attempting to escape the computer we come back to put our two bob on!
    I like the points from Jesse and Leigh about independent learning with the wonderful array of online support that is out there, and yes Michael does teach how to access the support, to become more indepently resourceful.
    Leigh, just incase you are not aware I must tell you Jesse is the author of the “Dinoursaur flying saucer” animation that was successful in getting a screening at North Sydney TAFE a couple of years ago. Sorry Jesse I have forgotten what it was called. leigh taught animation at Blue Mountains after your class and your animation was my claim to fame!!! (Yep I know, I had very little input!!!).
    Yes Michael, it seems we are taught to be trainers and learn to be educators through osmosis.

  • Jude said:

    Yes Michael, it seems we are taught to be trainers and learn to be educators through osmosis.

    Well put Jude!

    The feeling I get from the conversation (and tell me if I’m wrong!) is that (initially at least) filtering information for learners is one of the most important things a facilitator can do (Jen, Jesse, Leigh and Jude). Here’s a few related quotes:


    You are there to map the way between information and relevance and application.


    it can be hard to know where to start and where to go next

    or Jen’s comment that:

    Having a teacher allows for a structured approach to the web, less confronting

    So filtering and structuring the great professional resources out there into ‘bite-sized chunks’ of learning that don’t overwhelm the learner seem to be important points.

    At the same time, I think Jude, Leigh and Jen are also identifying that it’s important that we all learn this skill of filtering relevant information for each other:

    Jenn said:

    There is so much out there and sometimes it’s all to much. Having a teacher, and being in a learning environment, where everyone is looking for the most helpful and affecting information is vital, for me anyway.

    Jude said:

    There is also lot of crap out there, part of your role is to guide learners to be discerning, to apply filters.

    So, so far we’ve got that the most important tasks for a ‘teacher’ or ‘facilitator’ (or whatever you want to call them) of a web design class (or any class) are:

    • Filtering and structuring learning into bite-sized, relevant, consumable chunks (and I’d add: chunks that are consumable for each individual), and
    • Helping learners to learn and practise the first point above for each other.

    And for my 2c worth, I reckon the best way to help learners to learn how to filter and structure their own learning is by Living what we teach and modelling learning ourselves.

    Next, from Jude, Leigh, Angel and Jesse I get the feeling that it is just as important that we all foster a fun, social, accepting, encouraging and supportive learning environment (That’s the bit that Jude mentioned we’re meant to learn by osmosis!)

    Warren said:

    We will always need teachers its just a matter of how best to deliver…

    I’d be keen to know what we will need teachers for in your view Warren – were you thinking along the lines outlined above by the others? (BTW: It was great to see you being the teacher in class today a number of times – helping one person solve their CSS problem, and filter relevant information for us with the news of new broadband plans for Australia in the political arena!)

    Have I summarised peoples thoughts accurately? Does anyone have other points that they think a web facilitator can provide to a network of learners that can’t be provided by the excellent professional resources out there on the net?

  • Have you come across the zone of proximal development before Mike? It is from the work of Vygotsky – a Russian theorist from the early 20th Century. The idea is basically the knack of being able to identify with a learner and where THEY are up to, and selecting information and activities that are appropriate to develop that existing knowledge and understanding further. Its a simple to understand idea, and one that most people don’t need to know much more about. But when teaching relatively new subjects like web design, I think it is important to keep it in mind and to look for ideas on how to identify and respond to a person’s zone of proximal development.

  • Yeah, Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of proximal development has been a big influence on me over the past few years as we’ve tried to enable people to learn at their own level and pace…

    The hardest thing I find is learning how far that zone extends from our current skills without being overwhelming/frustrating. Learning when to intervene – even occasionally (very occasionally) “give the right answer” – so as to avoid too much frustration has been a key issue for me.

    I think how far that zone extends from our current skills is a very individual thing – dependent on a whole bunch of factors such as our confidence, how we deal with anger/frustration, previous bad experiences, our ability to shake of mistakes and keep going etc… which is why it’s so important to get to know each other as we learn.

  • Yeah, finding that zone is the real challenge hey!! I guess that’s back to the osmosis bit :)

  • Genie

    Sorry I joined this so late…but love the points raised. Especially the ones about the different ways that people learn. Here’s something to add to the mix.
    As people all learn in different ways, as educators [I am uncomfortable calling us trainers]we need to cater to all the ways that people learn.
    Some of us are very adept at reading the information and absorbing it- whether it is on the screen or not. Others [here, here, I am one] begin to glaze over on the second sentence. I actually had to concentrate REALLY hard to get the whole of all that was being written about on your site Michael. So we need aural and visual stimulation.
    Yes, one of our functions in the teaching game is to filter out the enormous amount of information out there so that it is accessible and manageable, but how do we actually know what is the right amount? Or what types of information are the most useful? The borders keep changing for me on that one….
    For me, teaching is a dynamic exchange of energy that we lovingly call learning…and I want to be one of the learners in the classroom situation. For me, it means exchanging knowledge and techniques so that I am constantly building up the bank of information I need. Sort of like keeping the tutorial lines open on my computer while I am working on my own stuff.

  • Emma

    Like Genie, I am a little late… We are all teachers of Web Design. It’s a little bit of give and take; it’s amazing what we can learn from one another. Like Jen said “There is so much out there..” learning how to filter and sort all the information is a skill I am developing. I have been very impressed by the Flexibility of the course and the ability to track your one’s own learning, if the course wasn’t this way I wouldn’t be able to attend. So thank you! There are several different ways we learn, I think with our course the challenge is that we have several different mediums to use. We just have to work out what works for us, and don’t be afraid to try something new – you never know what you might learn!

  • [...] content on the internet (both good and bad). One of our web students puts it like this (in a comment on Do we need teachers of web design): There is so much out there and sometimes it’s all to much. Having a teacher, and being in a [...]

  • [...] high-school science texts project is an incredible example of that), but I believe they will also change the way we facilitate the learning of the next generations (from my edu-focus blog). Educators in schools and universities are already adapting to new mediums [...]

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