Wednesday, 22 September 2010

New Google

My interest in information retrieval means that subscribing to search engine blogs (among other things) is essential. The most active blog to which I subscribe is the Official Google Blog. According to Google, the OGB provides "insights from Googlers into our products, technology, and the Google culture". More simply, the OGB is the place to look for developments in search, particularly those which Google wants to shout about.

There was a time (probably around two years ago) when updates to the OGB occurred every other week, and often the receipt of the RSS feed would compel me to post to this blog, such were the gravity of OGB announcements (see this, this and this, for example). However, in the past six months the OGB has been in overdrive. Almost every day a huge Google announcement is made on the OGB, whether it's the announcement of Google Instant or significant developments to Google Docs. Enter Google New, a new dedicated website to find all things new from Google. Here's the rationale from Google as published – yup, you guessed it – on the OGB:

"If it seems to you like every day Google releases a new product or feature, well, it seems like that to us too. The central place we tell you about most of these is through the official Google Blog Network [...] But if you want to keep up just with what’s new (or even just what Google does besides search), you’ll want to know about Google New. A few of us had a 20 percent project idea: create a single destination called Google New where people could find the latest product and feature launches from Google. It’s designed to pull in just those posts from various blogs."

Makes sense I suppose, eh?

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Web Teaching Day - 6 Sep 2010

On Monday, 6 Sept 2010 I attended a Web Teaching Day organised by Richard Eskins from Manchester Metropolitan University (his blog). We do a fair amount of web teaching in this group so I thought it would be useful to go along. Web teaching is undertaken by the Computing Department or the Art / Design department in most Universities and our courses tend to be very business orientated.

In many ways the conversations I had reminded me of those we have regarding Information Systems at John Moores. There's a problem relating to the range of skills required from basic technical skills, through design skills to high level inter personal skills. Our aim is to produce a "hybrid" graduate combining business with systems / technical skills. There's huge demand in industry for these graduates and our best students command very high salaries but students find the work hard and it difficult to recruit good students.

Web design / development courses have very similar aims.

Some of the highlights of the day:

Chris Mills from Opera talked about the Opera Web Standards Curriculum. He's been producing teaching material for students all of which is freely available on the internet. He also talked about Mozilla's P2PU (Peer to Peer University) programme - School of Webcraft which is aimed at delivering and assessing these skills. He's co-author on Interact with Web Standards: A Holistic Approach to Web Design (Voices That Matter).

David Watson from Greenwich University talked about the course he designed and runs - MA in Web Design and Content Planning. They've produced their own site to support the course. One interesting point he made is that he reckoned that this site had increased applicants to the course significantly, they now have 60 applicants for 20 places whereas before they struggled for numbers. He published his presentation here. He had some interesting observations on setting up and running the course. In particular don't depend on the University to market and recruit students to your course, you may end up with no students.

Christopher Murphy and Nik Persson (also known as the Web Standardistas) talked about their course BSc (Hons) Interactive Multimedia Design at Ulster University and the issues involved in delivering to undergraduates. I particularly liked their use of the nerd (Bill Gates) - designer (Steve Jobs) continuum to describe the difficulties of being a web builder and how you need so many disparate skills along this path. Here are some of the tools they recommend. Their book is HTML and CSS Web Standards Solutions: A Web Standardistas' Approach.

Aesha Zafar from the BBC talked about the new developments in Manchester and, in particular, the jobs that will be created there and Nicola Critchlow talked about the gap between industry's needs and graduates being produced by Universities (which is large and getting larger, nothing new there).

Finally, Andy Clarke, a freelance designer led a group discussion and chat at the end.

So what skills does a graduate from a web design / development course need? This is my list based on the nerd - designer continuum:

  • databases
  • server side programming languages (PHP seems to be in vogue though there are others)
  • Javascript
  • CSS
  • HTML including web development tools
  • graphics
  • design
  • people skills

It was an excellent day with lots of really inspiring speakers and it really got me fired up about the possibilities of delivering a web design / development course at John Moores. I don't believe that the course I want to offer exists here (though that's based on absolutely no research whatsoever!).

Our team has really strong skills in databases, programming, HTML, CSS and Javascript and we teach most of these skills at various levels. The people skills elements are taught throughout all our courses and is embedded in all JMU programmes via the World of Work (WoW) programme.

Our weakness is in design / graphics, however, Liverpool School of Art & Design has huge experience in areas such as graphic design and digital media.

So, here's a great opportunity to collaborate on a new course in an area that is growing in popularity.