The '58 sound

Beat a drum

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Education, Education, Education. Much of the buzz filtering back through Twitter from this year’s South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW) surrounded the launch of the Web Standards Project’s InterAct Curriculum.  It builds on the efforts of Chris Mills and colleagues at Opera in developing their Web Standards Curriculum, and, while it’s still work in progress it looks – from a first glance – like it will grow to be an excellent set of resources to promote the teaching of best practice in web design.

These initiatives are all evidence of a brighter horizon, the product of efforts by web standards advocates to improve the quality of web design education, and thus the skillset of people entering the web design industry. This follows criticism of the standard of web design education, particularly at university level.

Web standards and accessibility have a very close relationship, so I wanted to talk a little about efforts being made here at Dundee University to promote accessibility and best practice in web design across all areas of education. We do this on a number of fronts, some of which I’m more involved in than others. (Oh – and please read the following as a case study rather than a blatant piece of marketing!)

Web design and accessibility/inclusive design is of course taught as part of the School of Computing’s undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses (Applied Computing, E-commerce Computing, Interactive Media Design, Design Ethnography to name a few), and I give the odd lecture here and there. Accessibility and inclusive design is pervasive from the start and throughout the degree programme, so is taught to all students – even those who don’t continue to Honours level in a Computing-related course.

A couple of examples:

We’ve been doing this for many, many years, and we think all this is a unique and very effective way of giving graduates a greater awareness of user diversity and the skills to develop software that takes this into account. I was asked to talk about our approach at an event held last year focusing on best practice in teaching inclusive design across the EU.

Beyond formal taught programmes, web design education takes place on many other levels here at the university, and my role as co-ordinator of the University’s Web Accessibility Support service sees me participating in some of these activities:

So, as you can see, we’re trying to spread the message to many different audiences, with different backgrounds, different roles, different aspirations, different levels of technical expertise. Inspiration comes from other Higher Education-based or focused organisations and initiatives, such as TechDis in the UK and  WebAIM and Stanford’s Online Accessibility Programme in the US.

It’s an ongoing task – there’s lots more I and others here want to do without the time to do it; but I hope this gives some reassurance that (at least!) some universities are indeed trying to promote and foster understanding of current and future best practice in web design.

I’ll shortly be blogging in more detail about the aims and activities of the University’s Web Accessibility Service, but I’d love to hear more about other approaches to promoting accessibility and web standards to diverse audiences, especially in an educational setting.

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