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Last month I was invited down to Stark State College of Technology as a member of the Stark State College Information Technology Advisory Committee. Say that three times fast.
Kidding aside, this is a great endeavor that puts the Stark State IT faculty in direct contact with professionals in the field, letting them compare what they're teaching with what's being done in the real world. In short – making sure their graduates are as prepared as possible for the "real world."
We all know by now how fast technology advances (and it's even faster on the Web), and what was considered standard industry practice four years ago may be antiquated today. By tapping into what companies like us are doing, and expecting of new hires, Stark State can adjust their curriculum to make sure what they're teaching is relevant.
So, what do we talk about?
Last year, the biggest discussion (for the web design/development group at least) was Theory vs. Software. While of course you need to learn both, there isn't enough time in a semester for everything and you need to lean one way or the other.
For professional web design, it is absolutely necessary to know how to code valid (x)html and CSS. And there are countless of software packages out there that help you do this. Here at Aztek we use Dreamweaver, but at previous jobs I've used other software packages, on different platforms.
Obviously, it is more vital to a student to be able to know how to code than it would be to just know one program. So in this case, the emphasis should be less on software and more on coding practices and technique.
But on the flip side, one thing the Stark State faculty was researching was moving to GIMP, a free image editor instead of Photoshop. Because many of their students do not have the financial means to afford Photoshop, they were trying to ease the burden a bit by not requiring students to purchase a $600+ piece of software (on top of tuition and other costs) when there are cheaper/free alternatives available (which is highly commendable, considering what I remember paying for books and materials in college).
The problem is, hardly anyone uses anything but Photoshop for graphic editing in the professional world. Like it or not, it is the industry standard. And it is absolutely vital to be proficient with Photoshop if you're out looking for a web design job.
While composition and design theory is undoubtedly important, learning how to practice it through Photoshop is almost just as important to web design.
By running questions like these through the Advisory Committee first, the good folks at Stark State ensured that their students have tools necessary for the workforce.
And while all this may sound a bit (ok a lot) geeky, it's pretty cool to be a part of that.