You probably are working harder and longer

Pete Ross, talking about Bernie and other countries that spend more domestically:

“That way no one has to live in fear of losing out in the lottery of life. That’s what social democracy is, and those of us who live in them recognize that what we have is pretty damn great.”

This sort of thinking is common outside America, and one that Bernie supporters hang their hat on. They’re not wrong insisting that instead of spending money on foreign matters we should spend it here. But a guy in Australia doesn’t get to claim a high horse for that country’s high domestic spending. The reality is Australia and other nations get to have high domestic spending precisely because the United States is picking up the tab for their defense. Canada, for instance, would be a much different place if they knew we weren’t here. Just as Indianapolis would be a much different place if Carmel would just pay for all our police officers.

This behavior is so pervasive even Barack Obama is pissed, urging NATO allies to increase their funding for defense based on their GDP (which is a really dumb measure: on what planet does it make sense to say “I must spend X% of my income on Y”? That’s like walking into a car dealership and saying, “I must spend $25,000.”)

Anyway, I was recently reading about the research of economists Mark Aguiar and Erik Hurst, “Measuring Trends in Leisure [PDF]”. They measured the stuff Americans do from day to day between 1965 and 2005.

“Aguiar and Hurst document what they call an increase in “leisure” that primarily affected men with low education. In the first survey, in 1965-66, men with college degrees and men who had not completed high school had nearly the same amount of leisure time per week, with just a two-hour difference. They were only an hour apart in 1985. Then something changed. “Between 1985 and 2005…men who had not completed high school increased their leisure time by eight hours per week, while men who had completed college decreased their leisure time by six hours per week.”

In other words, if you’re sitting around feeling like you’re doing a lot more work and others are doing quite the opposite, you’re probably right. More Americans, particularly low-educated men, are just plain spending more time goofing off. This research indicates college-educated people are working more hours and producing more, while the bottom has gone the other way. On a chart it almost looks like half the country is working twice as hard to make up for the opposite decrease on the other end.

And here in America, where our culture derives from four virtues of honesty, industriousness, family, and religiosity, goofing off pisses people off in the “industriousness” virtue and part of the “honesty” virtue. No one wants to work all day just so some other guy can coast along. That feeling is so pervasive a lot of people can’t get past the fact our own uncle is drowning in medical issues. This is why Trump/Cruz supporters are so mad, even if they’re the ones most likely goofing off the most.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m aware a lot of people don’t goof off and just have a hard time in life. But it doesn’t change the fact most people know more people who are plain lazy than people who have been bankrupted through medical bills or student loans. I say that as someone who lost a mother to a $2 million tumor.

And to be clear: this kind of leisure activity people are doing isn’t even what you could describe as active leisure, like reading a book or exercising. It’s mostly watching TV.

We’ve found ourselves in a cultural deadlock between not wanting to support lazy people and caring about the truly unfortunate. But apparently we spend all our time working to support a big military so every other country can have high domestic spending. This is a tough nut to crack in either direction for Bernie or Trump/Cruz.

And this increase in useless leisure on the low end and the decrease in available time on the high end probably leads us to a lot more problems, like low civic engagement, low community involvement, and less time building worthwhile relationships.

Maybe the Republicans are on to something by eliminating the DOE

I was playing with an interesting mental riddle the other day: is higher education a regressive tax particularly harming the poor? I think maybe so.

To noodle with this question, consider this: who are the people most likely to attend publicly-funded universities in Indiana? These are largely middle and upper-income households. The people least likely to attend these universities are much lower incomes.

Despite Pell Grants and other aid, low income students aren’t being admitted into Indiana universities at a huge rate. In fact, IU and Purdue both rank in the top 10 of universities nationally that admit far fewer low-income students than they could be. They cite lack of state funding that forces them to look at out-of-state and other more lucrative students to keep budgets in check. More on that in a minute.

Also consider this notable impact: nearly half of the students who graduate from an in-state public university in Indiana will be gone within 5 years. We’re spending about 12% of our annual budget on higher education now, almost tied with state healthcare spending. K-12 represents almost half of all budget expenditures in Indiana as of the last budget. And millions are being spent on out-migrating people.

So students who attend an Indiana university are likely able to access loans and credit to borrow now on the promise of future income. And they are most likely to leave in 5 years, excepting some professions (law students stay in Indiana to the tune of about 70%).

This means the richest Hoosiers gets the benefit and the poorest see almost none of it. Half of those wealthier individuals will leave. Which can be for a lot of reasons, but one big one is lack of job access in their chosen degree program. The poorest among Hoosiers are paying taxes into a system with doors they cannot unlock.

Everyone who wants to take part in higher education should be able to do so. Keeping with our recent theme on conservatism for progressiveness, Republicans are lacking a vision here. Democrats can very clearly say, again, “We’ll just cover that for you”, through taxation on higher income brackets distributed down to lower income brackets. That continues to rely, however, on the idea that schools will rise to the task of admitting lower-income students, as I mentioned earlier.

Anecdotally, that seems unlikely. Schools operate like quasi-business/nonprofit/government operations with all the benefits of all three and the downsides of none. Their competitiveness for more research, more facilities, and more prestige is admirable, but is an unrelenting burden on Hoosier accessibility and incomes.

IU Bloomington and IUPUI have repeatedly called for more facility funding. To which Sen. Luke Kenley has rightly said in Ways and Means, “It’s awfully hard to justify giving you more money for buildings when they all sit empty in the morning, on Fridays, and weekends.” School officials have responded by basically saying “students don’t come to class” in those times, so they don’t bother.

Well bless their hearts. Perhaps we can take the opportunity to educate young adults that professional adults get up every morning, including Fridays, and show up presentable before 9 am.

At Ivy Tech, the situation is more dire in that they’re building buildings with a dismally low graduation rate. Here, IU and Ivy Tech are getting the benefit of government funding, but not the downsides of their business performance. Again, all the benefits of being a business, a nonprofit, and a government operation, with the downsides of none. This raises public costs, decreases accessibility for students (maybe I do want to take a class at 6 am, and again at 6 pm, and get done twice as fast), and improves nothing.

There’s no political will to get funding completely removed from public universities. But there’s not enough money to fully fund them (certainly at the state level) for everyone either.

This strikes me as a real turd of a system like healthcare where we’re dancing between two extremes so much so it doesn’t work very well at all for anyone. Like I’ve said for healthcare: either go full-free-market or fully-subsidized single payer. We’re dancing in a muddy no-mans land there and in education.

The Republican vision on this should be clear: universities have the duty and responsibility to educate young adults across all income levels in Indiana, without placing a regressive tax on anyone. Students should attend schools that they can actually afford. To get there, we should encourage schools to act on their own and remove at least one of their three protected provisions. Instead of being a business/nonprofit/government operation, remove the government portion that comes from additional funding. The 12% line-item in the budget for higher education could be used, instead, for quality-of-life improvements Indiana so desperately needs. Things like trails, conservation, streetscape improvements, and blight removal.

Or, keep the 12% line-item and lets encourage competition in the market for universities in Indiana by instead funding students, at percentage levels based on income (so that, say, students in households earning $100,000 a year aren’t getting additional funding), like we do with the Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP), which is seeing interesting and promising early results in controlling costs and buy-in. Even the Obama Administration is looking at HIP as an experiment worth having.

This is also where Republicans should be more clear about their intentions in removing federal regulation. Claims to “eliminate the Department of Education” isn’t just a move to remove a line item from the federal budget. It’s about letting states set their own standards. Foregoing discussion at the K-12 level for now and sticking to higher education, if a state such as Indiana wanted to create a curriculum for, say, bio-sciences or agri-business, it should be able to do so. The result is a mechanism where curriculum can be tailored to a state’s own strategic plans and strengths with the intended result of lowering out-migration and improving business effectiveness. Letting states and schools build market-driven programs around their own needs can help them attract and retain talent.

Like federal DOE requirements, funding would also need modified at the federal level. Schools currently have a seemingly endless bucket of money to pull from each year have little motivation and cause to lower and check their spending, further ballooning costs. Again, we’re dancing in the murky middle. Either go full-subsidy for everyone (with obvious questions of where that money could possibly come from) or go full-free-market.

Republicans should be articulating that with their vision money follows students (like it does in K-12), students have buy-in to some extent (like with HIP), Indiana could create high-quality programs tailored for its own workforce and attract talent, and reduce brain drain while improving access and fairness in public costs.

Indiana needs a huge tax credit for actually living here

I wrote not long ago that the best way to grow a society and economy is to invest in the people that live there and by treating them as not only people, but as assets more vital than roads or any other infrastructure. One such idea I had recently was a tax credit for actually deciding to live here.

When we think of brain drain, we think of a young kid who goes to college, graduates, and looks around and thinks, “I don’t want to be here anymore”, and so they leave to someplace else, presumably the coasts or Chicago or some other large city. Which means that a state pays taxes into a university system to subsidize the cost of educating someone who then just picks up and leaves with that good (the education). We get all the expense and none of the benefit.

People assume that this happens because the kinds of jobs a person could or would want aren’t available in the state. For example, someone that wants to be an anthropologist isn’t going to go out to the anthropology factory and get a job in Indiana. And don’t just say people need to work in more in-demand fields. If that were the case no one would ever major in anything but healthcare, law, and technology. There’s more to a society than that. The world needs writers, content creators, artists, teachers, police officers, etc.

But I think there’s a bigger reason people leave, and that’s because Indiana is a generally terrible place to live. The weather sucks, there’s not much to look at most of the time, and if you’re college educated, you probably went through school and your “opinions about things” have changed because that’s what happens when you spend a bunch of time around diverse people who don’t think or look or behave the same way you and your family and your friends did back home. So when you graduate and pop out into the world a lot think, “These people are the biggest bunch of backwater yokels I’ve ever met.” In a lot of cases, they’re right, and people’s feelings and opinions evolve to the point that their past self just seems downright mean. Doug Masson wrote about his evolving opinions on one such topic.

So you have a chicken-and-egg problem. You want graduates to stay, but you have nothing to keep them here and in fact, you’re probably repelling a lot of them away. Enter the Republican’s favorite stick:  a tax credit!

If a person lives in Indiana all or most of their life, they go to a school in Indiana, and graduate, why not say, “Hey! That’s great! From now until the next 15 years we’re going to give you a tax credit of 10% of your income up to $250,000. So, a college graduate earning the state’s average salary of $47,500 a year would save $4,750. Maybe it doesn’t have to be 10%, we can debate the number. But it needs to be a hearty chunk of change.

This serves a lot of purposes people universally like: it keeps more money in the hands of people, it incentivizes people to go back to school and gives them a clear-cut guaranteed benefit in earnings (something that’s hard to guarantee now), it also incentivizes people to earn more money and advance themselves, and it provides a huge carrot for people to come out of school, see the savings, and stay put. It can reverse brain drain problems, keeps our investments here in-state, and as we catch up and exceed other states for college graduates employers will inevitably take notice.

How can we pay for it? Perhaps those companies that see all of our educated individuals might be willing to pay a premium for access to that? It’s treating people like the assets they are, not the sort of misfit expense a lot of people see others as today. People are what gives a place its values, and an increase in diverse assets in Indiana would be a good thing for everyone.

You’re f*cked

I once sat at a restaurant, by myself, in the corner at about 9:30. The restaurant was going to close in about half an hour. As I finished my meal, a waitress hobbled around wiping tables. She was at least 65 years old. She was hunched over, shaking, struggling to walk and sported the gray hair you’d only see on the most stereotypical grandmother ever. I sat there and watched her and wondered, “Why is she working?” “I do not want to live in a country where we tell people at that age and status they have to go pick napkins off a floor.” That woman was working, no doubt, because she had to pay something. Maybe medicines, a medical bill, a prior bill from year’s past. Maybe she just had no other income and did not have enough money to pay for heat. Or maybe she just wanted to work, that’s entirely possible. But she didn’t seem like she was enjoying herself. No, she was totally fucked.

I ordered a pizza a year or so ago and the delivery driver was old enough to be my grandfather. I wilted at the door. “Why is that man working. Lord know’s he old enough to have probably fought in a war. Or two. Maybe.” Whatever his reason, he was working for the paltry handouts of a couple bucks a pizza for something. I’m sure it wasn’t the desire to drive his crummy car around town slinging pizzas to people. That guy was totally fucked.

The other day I decided to do something I hadn’t done before: I rode the bus. An IndyGo bus, no doubt. I keep a 10-trip pass in my wallet in case my bike crumbles to pieces and I’m royally stuck somewhere. I hadn’t used it for months, so I decided to check it out. My experience with the bus was fine — it was more technically advanced than I expected, announcing locations and the like. The driver seemed nice enough and it didn’t take that long to get where I was going (once it showed up), bike and all.

But that’s not what I want to write about. No, the problem I saw was the people that were riding the bus.

I hopped on the route 14 bus Downtown after I ate lunch Saturday. The folks waiting around for the bus were generally pleasant and friendly. One lady asked me what I thought of the bike trails around town as she saw my bike and helmet, one guy commented that the wind was the worst this season.

When I got on the bus, we approached a stop near Fountain Square where a woman almost missed it. She was walking around a corner and waving her hands at the driver, who just so happened to catch a glimpse in his mirror and stopped a few feet past the stop just as he was about to roll away. The woman was unnaturally short, struggled to walk and was probably in her upper 50’s or in her 60’s.

I don’t know what that woman did for a living, but her clothes were visibly in poor quality with tears and patches (not the stylish kind, mind you). She may not even have a living. And then it hit me: that woman is totally fucked.

She’s not “old”, but she’s far enough along. She can barely walk, who knows why. She obviously can’t afford clothes, let alone a car. When she got on the bus, she thanked the driver for waiting. She was out of breath, stuttering, shy and embarrassed, and had an audible speech difficulty. She may have other mental problems, too. So when people say, “What we need is jobs!” No, we don’t. I don’t believe that anymore.

That woman is emphatically fucked. “She should go back to school and get a desk job!” You say. Really? How’s she supposed to do that? You think she has the mental capacity anymore to handle school? How on earth is she even supposed to pay for it — no bank is going to give her a student loan at her age. Ask yourself this: “Would you hire her?”

No. No you would not. She can’t speak well, so even operating a phone is probably an issue. She can barely move, she’s not “smart”, she can’t get around town easily and is tied to the whims of a deplorable bus system that’s barely scraping by, which puts her at risk of being constantly late. She is, without a doubt, 100% royally fucked. Her life is, and probably has been for a long time, shitty. She exists in this world and struggles from the moment she wakes up to the moment she goes to bed. If she even has a bed.

Then tonight, after meeting with a friend to discuss some business at the Starbucks on Indiana Ave., I was biking back through Downtown near the Statehouse on Capitol. A slew of busses stop along there. As I biked along, a bus had just parked up the street. A guy was sitting on the bench and got up the moment the bus pulled around the corner. He was older, probably in his 50’s. He had a white beard and thinning gray hair on his head. He wasn’t totally out of shape, but he wasn’t able to move too quickly. The bus driver, assuming all the passengers were on and off, started to roll away. This man, now “running” as fast as he could, was yelling at the top of his lungs, “Stop! Stop! Wait! Wait!” The driver, obviously, couldn’t hear him, and he was too far away for him to be visible in the dark in the driver’s mirror. The bus rolled on and the man became physically irate. He was stomping, cursing and screaming at the bus. He kept yelling until he almost sounded like he was about to cry.

That bus wasn’t coming back for another hour at least. He had just been robbed of an hour of his life. What’s worse is that as I stopped at a light, I looked at him and said, “I’m sorry. I’m sure the driver just simply couldn’t see you.” He turned to me and said, “All I wanted to do was get to my daughter’s play.” When I asked further, he said his daughter was performing in a play this evening about St. Valentine. He wanted to be there to watch her and that bus was his only hope to get there. He was robbed of a moment that any good parent would absolutely be there for. His daughter was subsequently robbed of having her dad (or maybe step dad, who knows), there, too. Who knows why that guy doesn’t have a license or a car. Maybe he got a DUI and did some terrible thing that you can point at to say, “See! It’s his own fault!” Or maybe the guy has a bum eye either from birth or a work accident and can’t pass a vision test. Maybe he has a sincere mental inability to read or ever learn to read and he can’t take the driver’s exam (there is no oral exam, by the way. You must be able to read to pass. Otherwise, you’re just blindly filling in bubbles.)

Whatever the reason, that guy is totally fucked. His daughter is, too, in no doubt many cases.

That’s just two random people I’ve encountered over the last few days. It occurs to me that most people are royally fucked from the get-go.

A kid goes to a shitty school because the school can’t afford to pay teachers a competitive salary, so the best and brightest go elsewhere. A guy gets hurt at his job and can’t walk or move his arms much afterwards, limiting his abilities and covering him with medical debt. A woman is born and raised with a mind that just doesn’t function as well as yours or most of the population. They’re all fucked.

So, it occurs to me now, that saying “Get a job”, “Go back to school”, or “Work harder” isn’t just wrong, it’s downright insulting.

I wrote a story at another site a while back that I’m semi-starting, about the homeless people that sit Downtown. It’s well worth a read if you haven’t seen it. It changed my opinion on a lot of things about them.

Are there people that could go to school, but don’t? Are there people that screwed up in their life in a way that was completely within their control? Are there people who are just lazy and want a free ride? Absolutely. But I sincerely believe those people are in the minority — a very small minority of probably 1-2%, if the drug test results of Florida’s unemployment program is any indication. Which means that the vast majority of this country is just fucked and they keep getting it handed to them every day by people who were lucky enough in the evolutionary chain to get just the right genes, just the right kind of brain power, just the right kind of body. They had just the right kind of situation that they found a way to get through school and/or get a really good job.

Jobs are not the answer. We have plenty of jobs. When employers say, “I can’t find people to do this job.” They’re right. They can’t. Because the pool of people who would ever be capable of such a job isn’t just “the whole country”. It’s a very small chunk of people.

I think we have to recognize that some people are just handed a steaming pile of crap at birth and they are never going anywhere. And most people don’t even recognize it. In a lot of cases, people flat refuse to accept even the notion that some people are just not very good at anything, and they never will be. So, society says, “Work harder, waitress at Cracker Barrel! Enjoy your job, now bring me my coffee!”

The safety net serves a purpose — welfare, food stamps, etc. They absolutely serve a purpose, especially for children, to at least give them some fighting chance. But I think there’s another net, a “cushiony net”, if you will, that exists around other services: like clean air and water, food regulations that don’t call pizza a vegetable, transit options that work better than a “bus an hour that if missed through nearly no fault of your own robs you of important moments in your own daughter’s life.” It includes schools with an army of tutors (which, by the way, would be my #1 recommendation for schools based on my own observations teaching and tutoring. Why education schools don’t send an army of upcoming grads into schools to tutor day and night is beyond me).

It includes the ability to not perpetually be one paycheck away from default because a system is in place to help the banks help you, or being one slip on the ice or a trip down the stairs away from a medical bill that sends you into financial oblivion. I don’t care who you are, you can’t make $20,000 a year and afford to simultaneously pay rent that’s never lower than $500 a month, water/electric/gas at $200 a month, afford decent food that’s not Velveeta cheese and Ramen, and still manage to save for a rainy day, health insurance and your retirement years. You can’t even begin to do that well unless you make at least $40,000 a year and you know it. And that’s $40,000 Indiana dollars. God forbid you have the audacity to be born someplace like California or New York or Boston, you lazy bastard, being born where you were at the age of 0.

Most people in this world are completely fucked. And we’re all turning against each other, bickering about birth control for women of all things, while the whole place goes to hell.

It’s time to stop fucking people over.

My Approach to Teaching Web Design

In early June I was granted the opportunity to teach a 3-credit hour course in basic website design and development at Vincennes University. I’ve taught classes before, or at least been involved in other classes, but always with a catch. Either the class was an hour a week, had no software or was an optional “extracurricular” activity. This was my first time teaching in a true academic capacity.

My students were high school age, though they were enrolled in a college-level program, so that’s the course they got. I wouldn’t have made it any different if they were middle schoolers, high school honor students or special needs or if they were college students or adults. Teaching a web course is either done right or it’s not.

My course was condensed into two weeks, but it was the same amount of time in any standard college-level semester.

My approach would have been different if we didn’t have a client to work for, but in this case, we did. Red Skelton, the famous comedian and clown from the early days of television is from Vincennes. He has a museum and foundation in his honor and the foundation was in need of a website redesign.

Here’s the site we ended up with:

How we did it

My students had no prior experience in web development. No grounding in color theory, design theory, typography, etc. They had no understanding of CSS or DIVs or semantic markup, either.

To start, I ran the projector from the instructor’s machine and we talked about the site. We talked about what we did and didn’t like and they had a lot of productive comments on this matter. We talked with the client at one point about what they did and didn’t like and the students took notes on that information. We looked at other museum websites for inspiration and each student spent some time looking up sites that fit what we were trying to do.

Next, we walked through the process of sketching the site. I had each student come up to the board and sketch an idea in general terms where the navigation should go, where the logo should go, etc. This allowed us to have discussions and sometimes heated debates about whether or not the navigation should go across the top or down the left side of the page. My goal throughout this process was to play the devil’s advocate and mention the downsides to all the suggestions they offered.

Why just the downsides? Because it gets them thinking about the problems they may run into later. It allows them to think out into the future and make more appropriate plans now. It also let them understand, first-hand, the importance of planning in a large scale project. That’s something I didn’t appreciate when I was their age, probably because the projects we worked on in school were so simplistic that planning just took a few minutes.

Eventually, the students took the good ideas they liked from each other’s sketches and merged them into one. I did nothing more but stand in the back and question their motives to keep them thinking.

After they had all agreed on a sketch with a basic premise of content placement, it was time to mockup the site. We used Fireworks in my class because I’m most comfortable with it and I believe its the best product available for mocking up sites. However, you could have just as easily used Photoshop or Illustrator, if you prefer.

Everyone in the class mocked up the site along with me, as I drove the instructor’s machine. This was for a couple reasons. One, it keeps the students engaged and clicking in the software first-hand, as opposed to my driving and leaving them to sit and watch a lecture. Second, it ensures I have “the master copy” of the mockup to hand to the client. Keeping in mind they were expecting something usable out of this endeavor, they needed some assurance of a quality product. My maintaining the same files as the students ensured things were done well enough. Some students may have missed a step here or there resulting in slightly different mockups for each, but they were all “similar enough”.

The mockups were done similarly to the sketches, where students voiced input on things like the color scheme, typography, content placement, navigation hierarchy and more. It was during this time that took up the most of the class time. This is where we discussed things like color theory and cool vs. warm colors, we talked about serif, sans-serif and script fonts and we talked about grids, layout techniques and content architecture. The students were quite adept at recognizing redundancy in site content (i.e. a “Feedback” page and a “Contact” page present on the current site).

The most difficult part of the mockups came in the color choices. This was extremely difficult because each student had a distinct opinion and colors are hard to get right anyway, even for professionals. The color choices ranged from stark blacks to hot pinks. We made use of Adobe’s Kuler app, which helped and opened a dialogue about colors that are analogous, complementary, triad, etc.

Once we got past those issues and we all agreed on the layout of the homepage, I emailed all of my students my master mockup so we could all be precisely the same. I knew that working with pixel dimensions as we coded the site would cause confusion if my square was 905 pixels tall and the student’s was 895 pixels tall.

We proceeded into Dreamweaver where I spared no time. I had the students walk through, with me, the basics of inserting a DIV and a Class, inserting images, modifying font colors and text and explained the various parts of the page like the <head> and <body> tags. While I could have used HTML5, we used XHTML as the software we were using, Creative Suite 4, has less support for HTML5 than does the CS5 edition. This period allowed me to explain the parts of the pages, what we used to do with tables and what we do now with DIVs. I also explained ALT tags and why we use them. One student actually had a grandfather that used a screenreader, which made the explanation much easier. We also had a discussion about how Google and other search engines work, both with text and images. This led us into discussing Heading tags, too, and how a good webpage is modeled closely after a well written book.

The actual website code

After we messed around for an afternoon in Dreamweaver making up a simple page layout, I launched right into making the client site. We didn’t have time to waste making simple “About Me” pages that are so prevalent in web instruction and anything that wasn’t covered in the hour-long demo of the basics could get covered as we went along.

Students struggled the most here, as I imagined. They all coded the site right alongside me and the variations were vast. Some students handily picked up the material, some did not. Some students thought they had it, moved ahead, but realized they made mistakes along the way and that caused more trouble later. In retrospect, keeping students engaged here is hard because as soon as one student has a problem, you end up spending a few minutes looking for the missing comma or semicolon or closing tag, which is almost always the case. For me, it’s like finding a needle in a haystack multiple times in a row day after day and other students stop or slow down when you’re not actively talking.

The alternative, however, is more simplistic sites that are slower to produce, one-line-at-a-time, alongside the instructor. I preferred my students make mistakes because after a few missed semicolons that caused them several minutes of frustration on their own, they were more apt to remember it next time.

We went along for almost a week coding the site. We discussed all matter around links, tags, headings, page titles, SEO, semantics, syntax, and more. Students found it frustrating at times and became visibly disgruntled at their progress because they could not get a DIV positioned where they wanted it or, more likely, because it appeared different in Firefox than Internet Explorer or another browser. This resulted in an explanation of browsers, rendering engines and how they differ and why they differ the way they do. Sometimes this involved very politically incorrect responses like, “Apple doesn’t want to support such-n-such technology from Microsoft, so they do it another way.”

After 3.5 days of coding the students had developed their own copy of the homepage and each had been assigned to one of the pages we agreed as a class needed to be in the site, like an About, Contact, Donate, etc.

Finishing up

After the students wrapped up their work, which by this point was self-driven by them without my guidance beyond assisting with troubleshooting, I invited the client back in to see the site. Ordinarily we would have involved them after the mockups were created, but our time was too minimal.

I had explained to the students that the client will likely have a lot of changes, and they did. My goal was to prepare them to not be upset or take it personally. Likewise, before the clients arrived, I took them outside and prepared them on what to expect. I even told the client about specific areas I knew were weak or sub-par and asked them to make mention of those items. For example, one student decided to layout some text on her page in a different font and style than the other pages. Her reasoning was that it would “make the page unique compared to the others”. Even after discussing matters of consistency and having the other students agree with me (the other students are your secret weapon to persuade one or two people one way or another), she stood her ground. I respected her opinion, but knew it wasn’t in the best interest of the site, it was her trying to make her mark on the site.

The clients peppered the students with question after question for nearly 40 minutes. After which, the students were a little stunned so much of their work was called out, including some of the things I helped them lay out, such as the page templates.

This is where I spent time explaining some of my experiences with clients in the past. I told them about a client who demanded all the text on her site be blue and not black because she used to work in Hospice care and thought black was “too somber”. I told them about a client who once asked me to lay out a website based, precisely, on the mockups they did in Word. The students laughed at these and, to an extent, realized that clients have their wishes and demands and its up to as the problem solvers to balance those demands with what’s best for the industry and end users.

The last few days of the class were spent fixing up the pages they worked on and preparing them for publication. This was done by having all students send me their HTML and CSS for their page and I included them into the “Master Site” I was maintaining.

In retrospect

In all, the clients were 90% pleased with the work they had received. The students were proud of their work, too, and happy to see their names in the footer of each page. The 10% of problems from the client came from a lack of expectation management on my part. I needed to prepare them that some things they wanted, like a store and an interactive timeline, are beyond the scope of my 100-level class.

I told the students that the work they had done in my class was more intense than three and four hundred level courses I had taken at IU on similar subject matter.

I’d argue with anyone that believes website development isn’t an “academic” course and is instead a “technical” course that they’re only about 50% wrong. The students learned a great deal of user experience psychology, content hierarchy and web writing skills, advanced artistic appreciation, how to research online in addition to the technical matters they seem to think is “beneath” a “real” college course.

For anyone teaching a similar course in the future, I would encourage you to have “break activities”, too. At times students needed a break from the work at hand, but rather than letting them play games and check Facebook, I instead had them working on Photoshop tutorials, Illustrator tutorials and more. They may work on those individually or we may do them as a group, such as when I walked the students through an Illustrator tutorial to re-create Homer Simpson (a visually simple character to draw digitally). I noticed, too, that students most enjoyed working in Photoshop modifying pictures they had of themselves in their Facebook galleries. The trick for me was finding online tutorials that helped them make use of those photos.

The work was hard for me as an instructor, because it wasn’t as simple as opening a textbook and having them read the instructions. Doing that just teaches people how to use instructions and most of life does not come with a manual. Instead, I assigned no text book, nor did I give tests or quizzes. I quizzed students orally at random times by identifying a student and asking, “We’re using what kind of font here?” and awaiting the response of “serif” or “sans-serif” and other quick quiz-like questions. Their grades were based on participation, 10% a day for the 10 days we were together. My deal was simple on day one: “I won’t give you a test or stuff to study so long as you come in here and give 100% every day.” As a result, I think the students were more engaged and learned more.

If and when I do this again, developing ways of making this more real-world may be beneficial. Such as requiring time tracking, invoicing and other “business” matters. The students are always more excited at the prospect of learning something that can translate into real-world value, and when explained well, web development can be that for them.