Whatever happened to …

… HTML as an essential 21st Century skill?

I remember when the web was young.  Creating websites was truly coding.  You would open a text editor – something that would save your content as pure ASCII characters instead of all the formatting and features of a word processor.  When you were done, you would make sure that it saved with a .html or .htm extension, make sure that any images or other things that were part of your web page were stored in the same directory and then you’d open your web browser, navigate to that directory, and then test it to make sure that it displayed what you wanted.  (Or, in my case at times, something that was close enough)  Then, you would use an FTP utility to upload everything to a web server.  Of course, you’d test it there to make sure that nothing went wrong and then you’d call it a day.

Crucial to this for me was a cheat sheet of the commonly used HTML tags.  No page was complete without a few <strong> references thrown in.  And, if you could master <table>, you could make your pages look less like a left justified document and somewhat more presentable.  When you learned about Cascading Style Sheets, you became the master.  Of course, you’d have to learn about RGB to make sure that you have the colours in your document that you wanted.  We didn’t need no stinking colour pickers.  Actually, they weren’t even around.

It took a special sort of person to stick it out and make sure that ultimately it did what you needed.  Things got pretty sophisticated when you started to make the page interactive with image maps and then other prompts from the web visitor to get the experience that you want.  You might even collect responses and thrown them into a database for collection.  Microsoft’s Access was nice and easy for that.

One of the programs that I was very proud of was our “Women in Technology Program” where we would pair women who were successful in the community with Grade 7/8 students and their ultimate goal was to create a website and show it off.  The big benefit of the day wasn’t necessarily getting the webpage to work but to have a successful woman as an elbow partner during the process and the discussions that ensued.  A regular at the event was our Director of Education and it made the students so pumped that she would make time in her schedule for the event.  We made things pretty easy using Netscape with its Communicator and Composer doing the work for us eliminating the step of editing in another separate program to just create the page.

A real step forward in Ontario Education happened when OSAPAC licensed the Dreamweaver product.  Now you could code web pages just like the pros.  I can remember that my own products really started to shine.  (at least according to the standards of the time)  When I taught myself how to create Flash objects, I was over the top.  It all integrated so nicely.  Along with many other educators, we figured that if it was a good skill for us, then it was a good skill for students.  Whole courses based upon learning HTML and other related technologies emerged.  This truly was the 21st Century Skill.  Every student should create their own web page.

Here we are 16 years later.

Our concept of 21st Century Skills have, arguably and thankfully, taken a different turn.  But simplistic tapping on an iPad isn’t one of them.  Most would argue that having a web presence is more important than ever.  Flash is a four letter word.  HTML got a total reboot as a result and HTML5 is our replacement.

And the tools have got a great deal better.

In the beginning, my first blog posts were written in HTML and a text editor.  To be honest, they were mostly a document within HTML tags and had a few <strong>s thrown in.  Now, I think I’d be hard pressed to create something like that.  

I use WordPress for this blog and most things, like this post, are written using the ScribeFire utility.  I have a wonderful menu of formatting and other options just above the content entry area.

When one of my editors finds fault with spelling or other things, I’ll flip into the WordPress editor to fix it up since the document is already posted.

Even things like inserting an image that used to be a challenge and made for a dive for the HTML cheat sheet are now a piece of cake with ScribeFire.

For the most part, my knowledge of HTML is just a fond-ish memory.

Except for one thing.

ScribeFire doesn’t have the ability to directly insert a line across the screen.  For those who are conversant in HTML, it’s called a Horizontal Rule and uses the tag <hr>.  Fortunately, most web editors have the ability to flip into HTML mode instead of the more friendly visible mode.  My knowledge of HTML from the past lets me read through the code to find just the spot where I need the tag (usually after a paragraph marker) and I insert it.

If I wasn’t so “me”, I could get along without it or write posts like my “This Week in Ontario Edublogs“.  But I like how it breaks things into sections and I make a point to go into the document and insert them manually.

Even the sentence above could have been written in HTML had I wanted…

<p style=”text-align: left;”>If I wasn’t so “me”, I could get along without it or write posts like my “<a href=”https://dougpete.wordpress.com/this-week-in-ontario-edublogs/”><strong>This Week in Ontario Edublogs</strong></a>”. 

But why bother when I have such a good editor?

It’s not just WordPress.  Blogger has the same abilities.  Ditto for Google Sites, PBWorks, and all online places where I post and create things these days.  Except for nostalgia or to insert a Horizontal Rule, I seldom even look at the HTML side of things these days.  There’s no denying that it’s crucial for the proper display on visitor’s screens but good people have done the background work for me.  In addition to the online editors, there are offline editors that do the work for you as well.  I’ve used, in addition to ScribeFire, Qumana and LiveWriter in the past.  They’re all absolutely excellent tools.

I’ll confess – my HTML skillset which I was so proud to have developed has languished.

For this week’s set of questions, please consider sharing your thoughts…

  • Have you ever coded a webpage/site/blog using HTML and a text editor?
  • Have you upgraded your knowledge of HTML to HTML5 for our new world?
  • What’s your favourite blog editor – online or offline?
  • Is HTML, now HTML5, still a crucial skill for all students or is a specialty skill for those who want to get a job as a web developer?

 

9 thoughts on “Whatever happened to …

  1. I learned HTML using a text editor, and I’m very familiar with the FTP workflow you described. I don’t miss it at all, because now I spend my time writing in WordPress instead of coding a page.

    Except that I *do* need HTML when WordPress has trouble formatting things the way I want (tables in particular). That’s only one in ten posts or so.

    I haven’t learned HTML5 yet. It’s on my “someday” list, but I’m too busy with other stuff for now.😦

    Essential? Yes, if you want to be a web developer you need all this stuff. You just want to write? Use Medium.🙂

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  2. I’ve been to a couple of HTML5 workshops at the CSTA Conference and it’s motivating to see how powerful it is. I get all excited for a few days and then, because I don’t have an immediate need, drop it. I feel badly. I haven’t tried out Medium myself although I’ve read some good stories there.

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  3. zamanskym says:

    I’ve used and continue to use HTML on a number of fronts but for blogging I generally use org-mode markup – mostly because Emacs is my tool of choice for so many things (programming, document preparation, blogging, email, calendaring and todo lists and more).

    I don’t know if it’s necessary for kids to learn but it can be useful — it demystifies the web and to a point how at least on aspect of computers and computing work and it opens the door to programatically generate HTML which can take kids down all sorts of wonderful paths.

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  4. We teach our freshmen a little bit of HTML in our explorations class. We feel it is useful for them to at least see some of the basics.
    As for myself I use Microsoft Expressions to maintain my personal web page and Open Live Writer to write my blog posts. Like you I bounce into source code to add the occasional tag to a blog post. And it is nice to know some HTML to do some occasional clean up the old fashioned way.

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  5. I remember Emacs. I used it a while back and got away from it. That might be worth a look again. Thanks for the memory jog. I like the term “demystifies”. In our “app for that” world, it’s easy to get away from the mechanics of what makes it all work.

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  6. I miss Live Writer. It was, as you know, one of the very best editors available. When it stopped working, I spent more time blogging in my browser with an extension. The best of all worlds for me would be if it somehow because an extension itself.

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