Scenes from the Monkey House: Interesting In-Service

notepadThis week was the first class of my PD course AND the first class that I attended of a PD class that is being run concurrently that sounded like it might be interesting.  The course that I am attending is about helping teachers learn how to design websites for their classes.  The course that I am teaching is similar, though more constrained in its scope.  

I should note at the outset that the course that I am attending is well below my own particular blend of internet chops.  The reason that I am enrolled in the class is because I originally believed that I would need to attend the course to get the final credit necessary to move to the final lateral column on the salary scale (the fabled MA+75 category—the final leveling up 100 in the RPG that is my professional life).  As it so happened, I didn’t need to take the course at all, but a particular contractual wrinkle in my district does not allow the instructor of a course to get paid to run it if less than 10 people take the class, and I was the tenth enrollee in this class.  Etiquette dictated my perseverance.

The course is run by a quality principal in the district, about whom I had heard only good things, but with whom I had never had a meatspace conversation.  We have bantered back and forth about particular items via the district e-mail, but I had never actually spoken a word to her prior to Wednesday evening when I walked in to the class.  I will note that the impression that I had been given seems to be accurate:  She is a capable and knowledgeable individual and as an educator I enjoy watching her teach the class that I am in.  I also enjoy the company of my fellow students, all of whom I have known for years.  Both of these things are major plusses in my book.

From a subject matter standpoint, things are not quite as rosy.  The course is a basic introduction to creating web sites from scratch.  With the exception of me and the instructor, prior to this class, no person in it has had any experience coding html (I don’t even think we’ll broach css), and as such I find myself squarely back in time in a land of beginner web programming.  This isn’t a problem outside of the fact that the teacher in me wants to jump in at almost every juncture to interject a different mode of operation than the one being taught in the class.  I don’t presume to suggest that my preferred alternatives would be any better than the ones being taught, only that they would be mine, and as such, more comfortable to me.  

It could have been a terrible situation, the kind that might send me fleeing far away.  But I have to admit that the teacher is good enough that such a situation didn’t occur.   I really only took issue with one particular choice made by the instructor:  The first thing that we did in class was to go to a remarkably unimpressive website being curated by a teacher in a far away state and take the code of the page for our own use.  Fine.  No problems here.  It’s certainly a common approach.  What seemed silly to me was our pasting of the code in to Notepad for the purpose of editing.  Notepad sucks.  It is not designed to allow for efficient code editing of any stripe, html included.  One might be able to make a case for Nordpad if Dreamweaver CS3 were not sitting on the self-same desktops we were using (though really, why isn’t anyone on Windows not using Notepad++ for any and all coding?).  I hopped over to Adobe’s comfy environment as fast as I could find it and spent some of my remaining time getting some of my more savvy classmates to do the same.  The rest of my time was spend blowing newbie minds with my tag knowledge (“hey, that image looks great—want it to have a border?”)  

I suppose a case could be made for having people learn html on a plain text editor, but I don’t really buy it.  Learning to code is difficult in the best of environments, and teachers are not code monkeys.  I wonder why it should be made any harder by using a program that both sucks and blows to do it?  Even if there was a philosophical issue with using a costly editor for the purpose, there are certainly plenty of free options for Windows that will at least color-code tags.  Then again, the state of the computer lab that I was working in was easily the worst that I have seen in my district:  Each row of old, blurry, CRT monitors is hooked up to a single PC that is working at full speed to serve as a virtual client for all four monitors in the row.  It’s awful.  Given that, perhaps there are more important fish to fry first, before we start getting picky about our editors.  Still, Dreamweaver is on the computers (!)

Of  course, I am the only student who realizes what a silly situation this is.  The other folks are too busy doing their best sponge impressions, sopping up the mass of html learning that is flying at them, to really pay any attention to the editor they are using.  They don’t even know enough to know how silly it is.  The difficulty of coding html for the first time is married to the difficulty of the programming environment so closely that they can’t tell the difference.  

So, I guess I should just shut up and be glad that at least a few of my colleagues are interested in getting a bit more fluent in a technology that will actually make them more computer literate.  Dreamweaver or Notepad, what does it really matter if you are still learning to close your tags?

Next week, we’re going to learn how to put files in our web pages….