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Web Fundamentals

I don’t know if I mentioned, here, that I was signed up to teach “Web Fundamentals” at Anchorage Programming Workshop (“APW,” or “that monthly workshop where women learn to code”), earlier this month. I remember wanting to write a whole post about it, because I was fretting pretty hard about what to include, what to exclude, etc. But then I didn’t, because I got overwhelmed by that and other projects. I always have the most things to write about when I have the least time to actually do the writing.

Anyway, it was supposed to be an hour-long (give or take) introduction to web terminology and concepts. In talking to myself, I worded my teaching goal as “get ‘non-techy’ people comfortable enough that they can look this stuff up on Wikipedia.” Andromeda Yelton, who was kind enough to go through my slides and offer suggestions (shout out to #libtechwomen, btw!), phrased it better: “help get them to where they know what questions to ask.” Here’s how I phrased it, when I was trying to sell the workshop to potential participants.

I asked people ahead of time what they wanted to learn. One person asked about IP addresses, one asked about DNS, one asked about web languages, and one asked about accessibility. So that gave me something to go on.

The idea for the talk—if not a lot of its execution—came from GirlDevelopIt‘s Web Concepts class. I had originally planned to borrow a lot more of my content from their version, because it’s pretty good, but I ended up going in a totally different direction, in part because of people’s questions, in part because we try to make APW interactive (keyword: “Workshop”), and in part because my style’s just different than that of the person who made GDI’s deck.

Don't worry, I explained "!="
Don’t worry, I explained “!=”

At this point, how about if I link you to my slides? I tried to make them useful and content-containing, even if you lose a lot of the value without the talk-track. (So many similes!) I played with the idea of making it into a YouTube video, but even without questions and without bouncing out of the deck to do the activities, it’s almost half an hour. That feels too long and boring, to me. I can’t imagine anyone would sit through it.

If you’re a techie (even semi-techie) and looking over the slides, you can kind of see why this was hard, right? You can see where I sacrificed precision to get [what I thought were] the important points across—and that was a hard call. Harder for me, because I used to get so mad at my engineering professors when they told us the simplified version of things at the beginning of the semester, and then came back later and said “Now, that’s not really how it works. Here’s the truth (or, usually, just a better approximation).” I didn’t want anyone to hate me for lying to them. But there was a lot of ground to cover, and I made sacrifices. (An example: Dale, who also looked over the slides for me, was bemused that I included IP and HTTP but left out TCP. He didn’t think it was the wrong call, just … kind of weird.)

As far as I can tell, the class went well. Only four people came to learn—two others had signed up but had to bow out, at the last minute. This is smaller than I eventually want us to be, but wasn’t too bad for only our second session ever. Since we are open to “women and friends,” Dale came along, I think mostly just to see how it went. And of course my co-host, Becky, was there and helped out a bunch with questions and hands-on activities. (She’s teaching our next class, part one of HTML/CSS. I like taking turns—it means I only have to come up with a new class every-other month or so.)

The class was probably too low-level for one of the attendees, though I think she still had an OK time and hope she learned something. As for the others, I had trouble reading how much was getting across to people and how much they already knew. It’s one of the simultaneous positives AND negatives of the environment we’re trying to cultivate: people are super nice and won’t show you when they’re feeling frustrated. But they will ask questions, and based on the questions we got—a smattering of topics, but a lot about CMSs, particularly WordPress, since that’s what I had easily available—I think folks were engaged and learning. At the very least, I don’t think I lost anyone.

One thing I need to work on is stopping the class and looking things up, more often. I said “I don’t know how many protocols there are, hundreds at least,” and I didn’t stop to look it up, because it was a comment, by me, not a question from the attendees. Someone else said something about IPv5, and although I didn’t interpret it as a question at the time (probably incorrectly), I should definitely have stopped and looked it up with them. More obvious questions were fine—I always stopped and answered those as we went along. For the less-obvious-to-me questions, Dale ended up looking them up and reporting back to the group; while that was nice of him, I think I let everyone down by not modeling “let’s find out!” better. Maybe I just need someone to write those things down, as they come up, and remind me at the end of the talk that I need to look them up. That might be the best way to keep the flow moving, deal with my natural obliviousness (:)), and still perform the “I don’t know, but here’s how I find out about things” function.

I’ll happily teach this class again, if we end up with a group of new people. I even have a few different examples in mind, in case I ever get a really library-heavy group who wants to take it. In the meantime, we’ll keep trucking on with HTML/CSS, and then we’ll do Python, unless people want JavaScript first. Eventually, I’m hoping we go from once a month to every-other week/twice a month, but we need to build up our curriculum first. We can probably pull together a new class each month for a long time, assuming we use the second time slot for classes we’ve already taught.

We’ve thrown APW’s name into the hat to run a booth at the (first ever!) Anchorage mini-Maker Faire, happening at the end of June. (So at least I have something fun to do, while ALA’s going on. :)) Dale thinks we need a banner, and he might be right. Now that I think about it, I realize I’ve never run a booth, so I’m sort of at a loss as to what we need to do. Becky’s thinking of doing something with NFC chips (making this iPhone user a little jealous). I’d love to come up with some other kind of hands-on thing, but nothing’s coming to mind. I’m interested in ideas, if anyone has them! :)

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