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Late Week 4 Synopsis

February 27, 2010
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Note this post is categorized under both “weekly roundup” and  “get off my lawn” which means I’m feeling cranky like an old man with bunions wearing too-tight shoes.

For the most part the student work is truly first rate; many received > 10 points and quite few scored > 11 points. A brief rundown: I gave extra credit for usable internal navigation like “top” links, having all valid pages, all valid CSS, using images for bullet points, doing way more than the assignment called for, and many made me lol while grading.

The reason for this exercise in CSS was twofold:

  1. to get the student to try many different things (turn  dials, twist knobs, flip switches, etc.)
  2. help the student understand how hard it is to make attractive sites by seeing how ugly it can get

More than one student named classes and ids “ugly” and even left comments promising never to create something so unappealing again. In terms of web design, less is more, and I believe this holds true for most of the visual arts. I can’t stand rococo/baroque painting, but love the music; Bach rocks. My preference in web design definitely leans to the ascetic, check out Paul Graham’s site–one of my favorites in both content and presentation. But then again he’s a billionaire and doesn’t need to have ads on his site.

There were some things we need to cover from a time management POV. Do not attempt to do the extra credit until you’ve got the basics done. This goes for everyone and it follows a well-documented process for success in this type of work: iterative development. Which means simply do and finish and test one thing at a time, and start at the beginning. My alter ego Rod made a post last semester that gives a good idea of how granular the student needs to be in addressing process. Although this post reflects week 5, it could easily be used to describe week 4; we add layers onto code and check after each layer is added and ask, ‘does it work, is it valid, does it look right?’

A couple of OFIs (opportunities for improvement):

  • don’t “hotlink” to content on other sites; download images to your machine and then upload to senna, this is considered rude in the Internet world; bandwidth costs money, when you use content from another site, that site owner pays for it to be delivered
  • use the CSS validator, it really is a good one and is generally human readable
  • never use flashing text on a real site, and please not again after week 4, many did this 😯
  • <style> elements have to be a child of a <head> element and nowhere else
  • id and class “names/identifiers” (the part inside the double-quotes) can contain no spaces which create “single token” errors when validating
  • don’t break your template! note how I validated frequently during week 5 lecture; I teach this course and still managed to insert bad code; there is no shortcut to being meticulous, everyone makes typos, everyone, this is why we have validators: code is hard to read
  • I showed elaborate <li> element styling: ul li ol li ul li, …it works to use: ul ol ul li

Now is the time I want every student to start eliminating special character errors. These are the ones we don’t want to see in the markup but are OK as part of the code:

  1. ‘ single-quote
  2. ” double-quote
  3. & ampersand
  4. < less than
  5. > greater than

This is good: <p class=”blue”>This is an ampersand: &amp;</p>

This is bad: <p class=”blue”>This is an ampersand: &</p>

Note we don’t have to use the entity for the double-quotes that are part of the code, but we do when a reserved character appears in our markup (content) like the ampersand.

OK, now we get to the cranky old man who is continually mystified by his student charges. I’ve been here before and am still shocked every time it happens. Here it is: I get many emails that are evidence my students have not read the discussion boards, the emails, or the lecture materials, or all of the above.  When I said all students should subscribe to the discussion boards, that means not only subscribe, but read the posts and stay up with the current discussion. I pretty much read it everyday and get a dozen or so emails keeping me up to date on the state of the class. I expect each student to do the same.

The larger issue is one of professionalism; I used to work for the phone company back when ma-bell still existed. Everything was in code when it came to careers and advancement: blunders were OFIs, serious miscues were Career Limiting Moves which meant you were labeled by the organization as un-promotable. The phone company never fired anybody, but could keep a person in the same job forever. Now that I work in a library system and for the university I can say both environments are much like the phone company.

“Why is this important?” one might ask. An MLIS student is making a statement that she or he wants to move onward in the field. Graduate school is a test run for the actual world of work. Your instructors are like your supervisor (I write letters of recommendation for students who ask; this is the same as a work reference). Asking for answers to questions which have been publicly answered is a Career Limiting Move. In essence, it says you are not listening to your boss, deleting emails, or disregarding memos. Fortunately, I am not your boss and I am not your typical instructor at the graduate level. I’ll come right out and say what I just said because I believe many individuals never get this kind of feedback until the work world stymies ambition. By then it’s too late and the only way up is to go to another organization.

Happily, my rant has no effect on my grading or perspective on students. I am a parent and note social savvy is hard to teach and harder still to “tell” to a person. Part of graduate school is to learn how to “be” in a professional environment as a professional, not simply an employee. The odd thing is this is seldom taught; it wasn’t until I was in business school that the subject of how to manage ones career from an organizational behavior POV was brought to my attention. At USC it was a mandatory class in the first semester of the masters program–that and finance. We took personality tests, targeted ideal organizations/industries which fit our personal profile and then set specific goals for our entire careers–up until retirement. In my case it was an amazingly prescient activity in that it predicted a “spiral” career path with me changing industries and occupations regularly (as opposed to an “arrow” where the person stays in one industry and caps a career as CEO–like Dr. Haycock becoming Director of SJSU SLIS after a long and distinguished career in education). SLIS offers LIBR 286 but it’s not required and I don’t think it is as explicit as it should be: learn to communicate or don’t get the job you really want.

To reiterate, this is pointed at no one student. I received a bunch of emails which basically communicated that the sender hadn’t been paying attention to me, or to the class commons (the boards, emails). I want everyone to succeed and I want every student to come away from my course with real, workable knowledge. Learning how to be a professional is far more valuable than learning to write valid xhtml. Not having the former makes the later relatively worthless.

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