iAlja's blog

Click. Learn. Share.

Do E-business Students Need to Learn HTML?

Until now I’ve worked as an online tutor in the course E-business, which is an elective course for the students at our faculty. The course is mostly delivered online, though there are also a five face-to-face meetings during the semester. In the course students learn about E-business and their project work involves the making of a business plan for an e-business company they think of in small group (4 to 6 students). At the end they also have to make a prototype of an e-business company’s website and present their ideas to fellow students in a final meeting.

Now, when it comes to making a website, most students get afraid and convince themselves that making a web page is an extremely difficult task. The course teacher provides students with links to various resources on the HTML language and a link to Front Page Express. In theory it sounds pretty well, but in the two years I’ve been working with students on this course I’ve noticed that groups create websites according to two scenarios:
  1. One member of the group already has some knowledge of HTML, website design or even dynamic web programming knowledge. The already skilled member of the group makes the website for the group, while the rest limit their efforts to commenting the final products. The website usually looks good or even great - the experience of the author are clear. Everybody in the group gets marks that are assigned to the website.
  2. There are no group members with prior knowledge of HTML and website design. In this case one or two brave souls decide to venture in the world of page making, the rest of the group usually cheers the brave members of the group. The result? Well, don’t we all remember our first websites? Hello world, lots of images (don’t forget the background image of course!), possibly a background midi sound, lots of happy colors and fonts (that are not necessarily related), and oh! don’t forget the frames! Yeah, usually the style is what I like to call “so 95” (meaning the year 1995 in which we all tried to make “pretty” personal websites). But of course - the effort of the authors is visible, and in most cases pretty good for a first website ever made.
So, after the websites are made and proudly published on the web (groups that work under the b scenario usually use free host providers that even add ads to the site - oh yeah, the cherry on the top indeed!) and it’s time to grade the work, give the marks. And now comes the big dilemma - of course the sites from groups under a are much better, more eye friendly, but one can’t punish groups under b with a lower grade just because they had no expert on the group, right? And it isn’t really fair to give all groups the same grade just for the sake of the effort that was invested? Sites from groups under a ARE in fact better. This year we in a way solved the problem by making a list of fairly neutral criteria that mainly focused on the appearance and content of the sites and tried to leave aside the technical characteristics. But still: most of the sites made by newbies were not as visually appealing as sites made by those with some experience - after all, we all learn a lot from mistakes and clumsy first attempts. And so it was that some groups under b were not completely satisfied with the given grade as they thought their effort should be worth more. As the person in charge of the criteria and grading I of course didn’t feel right about the situation, and the teacher also agreed the system isn’t really far… The question is what can be done? Do our students really need to learn HTML and to make websites? How are they going to learn if they think it’s a task greater than them?

After much thought the solution (hopefully a good one for the students) presented itself during the reflection on my personal usage of the web. I don’t have a personal website, but I have started my own blog. If I need an information one of my first stops is Wikipedia, and to keep track of the news I use RSS feeds (I admit - I am too lazy to check n sites a day and scroll through them; I prefer to rely on RSS because Safari lets me know of new entries and it takes fewer clicks to get to the news).

Evolving these thought further, I realized that our students probably won’t ever have to make websites from scratch in either their professional or personal life. If they want to make a personal website they can use blogs; when their company needs a site they hire professionals to do it or use CMS products - and the employees mostly just to have fill in forms and frankly give a damn about HTML or any other web languages. And that is why I think that it is more important that we show our students the variety of CMS that they can use to publish content on the web. Even in Moodle the students don’t need to know HTML to publish for example forum posts - they just fill in the text, if they want to make it pretty they use the WYSIWYG editor and click - their thoughts are published.

Now finally, what is my solution for the E-business course? We need to show students how to use blogs, wikis and RSS feeds. And in case they do want to make their own website they can use for example Google Page Creator or Apple’s iWeb - and again, both solutions don’t require HTML knowledge. Just pick a template, fill in the content, add some pictures… click, click, click = done! I think the most important thing is to make students aware of the technologies, teach them about the principles of hypertext, maybe some basic HTML tags (like bold, italics etc) and then let them use the CMS they most prefer. Also, by teaching about the available solutions they will be able to include them in the e-business plans their companies make - and if that happens I think we as educators have managed to give them something useful.

This solution still has to be developed in terms of lessons plans and course materials, but hopefully we will be able to use it in the summer semester in this academic year. I sure hope I will be then able to write some positive reports about it :)

(Btw - an interesting article I came across today: Why Wikis Are Conquering The Enterprise.)

Originally published at http://ialja.blogspot.com/2006/10/do-e-business-students-need-to-learn.html