Web & multimedia courses should start teaching HTML5

Last week I had a meeting with one of my old teachers, on the roadmap of the course and the direction they are going. In short, they brought down the course to two segments: interaction design and multimedia-design. Respectively the planning / design stages before implementation and the design / coding stages during development. A big improvement to before.

During our two hour talk, just about any server side and client side scripting language was referenced, from Ruby to AS3, as well as popular frameworks like jQuery. Then, when mark-up came around, I posed the question “What about HTML5?” What should be the stance on HTML5 when teaching web-design now? While talking, a few points popped up in my head on why HTML5 should be included into the curriculum as soon as possible.

It’s the future

This one is pretty simple. HTML5 is the future of the web and not taking it up in your curriculum is a big mistake. It’s not a fluke, much of the HTML5 W3 spec is as good as final. More importantly, your students will enter the professional environment in a few years – eons in internet-time – which means HTML5 has only zoomed closer at warp speed, and will be used more and more.

Controlled environment

The beauty of teaching in a forwards thinking fashion is that you have the one thing the ‘world’ doesn’t: a controlled environment. You can set guidelines like a list modern browsers to support.

This way students can easily create a web site or application with modern technologies, without having to go through the pains of supporting awful browsers. By restricting browser support to Gecko (Firefox et al.) and WebKit (Safari, Chrome, etc.) you can do a lot of very awesome stuff without headaches. Leave out Gecko and you can go even fancier, even easier.

The most important part in this is to show students what the web is capable of, but also make them realize that there will be speed bumps in the professional world, like browser-capability support and the creation of fallbacks.

Forwards thinking is backwards compatible

The beauty of a lot on the mark-up side of HTML5 is that teaching the use of new elements like <section> is not bad practice. It’s not like you’re teaching sculpting to someone who eventually will end up as a painter. It’s more like a different kind of paint, or a different canvas (tee hee). Students that have learnt HTML5 will also be able to write XHTML1 or HTML4 mark-up.

The Big Kahuna: Understanding

The most important of all is not which language, though. The most important thing is creating an understanding of how to write proper mark-up. To be able to use the different elements to their best possible use.

This is where HTML5 excels, in my opinion. There will be less discussions on divitis and classitis, because there are a good amount of new useful tags. No more div to wrap a navigation, to wrap an article or to split an article into sections. No more <div class="article"> or a translation of the word ‘article’ in this context. The rules are tighter, the reasoning is more effective.

And when the understanding in using the proper elements in the proper situations is present, it’s not hard to teach them a fallback per new element.

I think teachers of these courses should immediately start learning about HTML5 and the meaning of the different mark-up elements. These courses lag behind in just about every aspect, whilst they could be executed in a forward-oriented manner. I know that last statement is easier said than done, but they will have to start somewhere. And HTML5 is a very solid start.