Jenni B. Baker
Jenni B. Baker is a online content manager working for a large U.S. nonprofit, where she focuses on optimizing user engagement through the marriage of great content and web design. She is also one of the organization’s lead storytellers, using online, audio and video tools as a megaphone for the voices of the people they serve. She often speaks on content marketing for practitioners and brands, including most recently at the New York Press Club.
She is also the founder, editor-in-chief and de facto webmaster for The Found Poetry Review, the first literary and online journal dedicated exclusively to the experimental art of found and erasure poetry.
Five years ago, I first discovered I had super powers.
As intern and resident “young person” at the tiny nonprofit where I dedicated ten hours per week, I was tasked with starting the organization’s blog. Having eked out my transformative college years blogging on Xanga (RIP), I knew I could learn just about any content management system — including the WordPress.com site I’d reserved since web hosting wasn’t in the budget.
Unfortunately, I found out that the only way to change the site’s look and feel was by editing the main stylesheet. Never having used CSS (or HTML for that matter), I approached the process like a bomb detonator — gently manipulating the code and hoping I didn’t blow up the entire site with my initial editing attempts.
After nearly an hour spent determining which hex code to update, I saved my change and refreshed the page through squinted eyes, afraid to look. And then it happened — through my eyelid slits, I saw the cream background change to maroon.
Never mind that it was an edit that traditionally takes someone less than a minute to find and make. Never mind that I could have looked it up in a book. I figured it out on my own, and from that point on I was invested with MAGIC INTERNET POWERS. I even called a friend to show him this tremendous feat I’d just accomplished.
From that point forward, my web design education was marked with hours of hunting and pecking followed by victory dances at my desk. Because I controlled my own learning, I celebrated my successes and my desire to learn more only grew. I became proficient at HTML and CSS without ever cracking open a book or stepping inside of a classroom.
It’s this type of experience our web design and programming courses are so sorely lacking. We’ve stripped away ownership, discovery and delight in favor of tedious, nearly unintelligible textbook readings and homework assignments apropos of nothing pertinent to the learner’s life.
Web design and programming education has become transactional instead of transformational. We’re creating robots instead of wizards.
What would happen if we put learners in a room and gave them an hour to figure out how to accomplish a specific design or program task? If we used textbooks not as main sources, but as resources for learning? If we allowed learners to build projects that mattered to them?
We’re approaching a point in our culture — and our job market — when web skills are going to be seen just as crucial as the writing, reading and arithmetic curriculum prevalent in schools today. We need to rethink how we empower learners of all ages to build their design and programming skills.
After all, who wouldn’t want an Internet managed by wizards?