Frequently Heard In My Beginning Front-End Web Development Class — Smashing Magazine

What could we learn from entry-level students in front-end web development? As seasoned professionals, you might think you’ve seen it all, but the truth is that the newcomers are asking the most intriguing questions and making connections that those of us who have spent years on the front end may have never considered.

I felt uninspired for a spell in 2019 and decided to enroll in a beginning-level community college course on web development as a way to “spice” things up, sort of like going backwards in order to move forwards. I had no interest in being an old dog learning new tricks; what I wanted was to look at front-end development through the eyes of a beginner in 2019 after having been a beginner in 2003.

Fast-forward five years, and I’m now teaching that class for the same college, as well as three others. What I gained by reprising my student status is an obsession with “a-ha!” moments. It’s the look in a student’s eyes when something “clicks” and new knowledge is developed. With the barrier to learning web development seemingly getting higher all the time, here I am, making merry with the basics. (That linked post to Rachel’s blog is what spurred me to go back to school.)

With several years of teaching under my belt, I have plenty of opinions about the learning landscape for web development. But what I am more interested in continues to be vicarious living through the eyes of my entry-level students and the consistent sparks of knowledge they make.

Questions are often the precursor to an “a-ha!” moment. And my students ask some pretty darn interesting questions every term, without fail, questions that have forced me to reconsider not only how I approach curriculum and instruction but also how other people think about The Web™ as a whole.

I’ve made a practice of collecting handfuls of student questions and comments. That way, I can reflect on how I might respond or answer them for future students and reference them as I write and update my lesson plans. I thought I’d share a few of them because, I hope, it will give you an idea of what those getting into the field are curious about. I think you’ll find that as many of us debate and decry the value of JavaScript frameworks, Core Web Vitals, AI, and whether Typescript is a necessary evil, the people cracking into web development are asking the most interesting questions in the field and are making way different connections than those of us who have spent forever on the front end.

These are pulled straight from students in the current Spring term. We’re only three weeks into the semester, but check out what sorts of things are already swirling around their minds as we discuss semantics, accessibility, and writing modes.

“I really never thought of this; however, code could be inclusive, and how coding could express empathy. While reading this portion of the context, I was thinking about my Kindle and how the Kindle can have audio, change my font style, larger/smaller font, and lighting. All of this helps me to read and navigate my books better depending on my surroundings and how much accessibility I will need. For example, when I am driving, I love my audiobooks, and at night, I use my dim setting and change font size because it’s the end of the day, and my eyes don’t want to do too much work reading smaller text. It’s really fascinating that coding can do all of this.”

“If we are confused about our coding and it doesn’t make sense to us, it will definitely confuse the readers, which is the opposite of our end goal, accessibility. There are also times when we might want to use

where we could use merit badge, the best way to learn the web — and make people excited about it — is still the simple “a-ha!” moment that happens when someone combines HTML with CSS for the first time in a static file.

“I can confidently say that among all the courses I’ve taken, this is the first one where I thoroughly read all the content and watched all the videos in detail because it is so well-structured. Despite the complexity of the subject, you made this course seem surprisingly easy to grasp.”

“Man, I’ve learned so much in this class this semester, and it’s finally over. This final project has given me more confidence and ability to troubleshoot and achieve my vision.”

“Even though I did not pass, I still truly did enjoy your class. It made me feel smart because coding had felt like an impossible task before.”

“I especially appreciate Geoff’s enthusiasm for multiple reasons. I am hoping to change careers, and the classes are helping me get closer to that reality.”

These are new people entering the field for the first time who are armed with a solid understanding of the basics and a level of curiosity and excitement that easily could clear the height of Mount Elbert.

Isn’t that what we want? What would the web look like if we treat the next wave of web developers like first-class citizens by lowering the barriers to entry and rolling out the red carpet for them to crack into a career in front-end? The web is still a big place, and there is room for everyone to find their own groove. Some things tend to flourish when we democratize them, and many of us experienced that first-hand when we first sat down and wrote HTML for the very first time without the benefit of organized courses, bootcamps, YouTube channels, or frameworks to lean on. The same magic that sparked us is still there to spark others after all this time, even if we fail to see it.

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