LIS 390W1A - Philosophy


The purpose of this class is to provide students who do not have a strong technical background with a practical introduction to web technologies and techniques. In the past, this class has been taught primarily from a technology building point of view. However, recent developments in web technologies have created a need to look at assembling technologies as well. After a brief look at the history of the internet, we will focus in on the core of this class: learning HTML and CSS. However, we will complement this knowledge in the final weeks with a look at some newer technologies people are using to accomplish their goals: specifically wiki and blog technology. Throughout this course we will have a dual focus: mastering the use of technology, and developing skills to evaluate technology. The purpose of this course is to provide students with an assortment of tools which students can use outside of class in their personal projects.

Flexibility of the Course

Because this course is designed to meet students' practical needs, there is an inherent flexibility in the structure of this course. This means that as your instructor, I am not only open to your suggestions, but strongly encourage them. There is a vast amount of knowledge that one can have about web technologies, and it is impossible for us to cover everything in this course. Therefore, if you have suggestions or preferences, please let me know, either publicly or privately. I am more than happy to adjust the class to help meet your interests or practical goals. You must realize, however, that this means that the structure of the course is flexible, and thus our schedule, and even our assignments, may change over the course of the semester. This is not a class where the subject material is clearly bounded, and a certain set of concepts must be taught by the semester's end (e.g., like an introductory math or physics class). Therefore, do not expect that kind of rigid structure from this class.

Expected Attitude

Despite what some people may have told you, and despite some experiences you may have had here, the purpose of a university is to provide an environment where people can learn and develop better understandings of how the world works. However, such an environment cannot be established passively. Therefore, I expect you to actively participate in class, to actively engage with the material we are studying, and to bring in your own personal knowledge and perspectives into the class.

It is important to realize that everybody will be bringing different perspectives from different backgrounds into the classroom. I expect that those with specialized knowledge will willingly and actively share it with the rest of the class. Clearly, this applies in particular to the technology we will be studying: students who have a stronger technical background are expected to actively mentor students who do not. However, it also applies to other aspects of the class. For example, some students will have more knowledge about the hidden rules and tricks of academia than others (e.g., how to read instructors, how to make good impressions, what kinds of behavior are typically rewarded in the classroom, etc.). I expect students to be actively teaching those rules and tricks as well. In order for knowledge and understanding to be rewarded, we must work to create as level a playing field as possible. And yes, there are other areas of expertise besides technical knowledge and knowledge of academic hidden rules and tricks which are relevant to the class, not covered here. Any such contribution to your fellow students counts.

Grades, Grading, and Assignments

Grades are a part of the certification aspect of attending a university: a fundamentally necessary but secondary function. Thus, there are two common and diametrically opposed philosophies of grading. The first philosophy holds that grades ought to be accurate measures of achievement and accomplishment. This philosophy is often accompanied by a belief that high standards create strong motivation. The second philosophy holds that grades are social constructions students need in order to get a piece of paper which many kinds of employers require before being willing to offer the students jobs. As such, they are a distraction to the true purpose of academia, which is to engage in learning and understanding. Both philosophies have merit, and a degree of truth to them.

As a student, I much prefer to take classes from instructors who adhere to the second philosophy. Such instructors are unlikely to subject their students to arbitrary standards of evaluation in a misguided attempt to follow the first philosophy. But from my experiences in courses like those, all too often, not as much learning occurs as those who hold the second philosophy might hope. And from my background in cognitive science, I am aware of more structured empirical findings which back those experiences up. Therefore, I will be adhering to the first philosophy in this class.

Yes, that was a long-winded way of saying this is not a blow-off course.

However, the question of what, exactly, constitutes meaningful evaluation remains. In the real world, nobody cares about whether you remember the exact syntax of how to do comments properly in cascading style-sheets (CSS). If you don't remember, then look it up! People care if you can make a website. And they care if you can make a good website. Therefore, the evaluations in this course will be primarily outcomes-based. While there will inevitably be a subjective component to these evaluations, I will try to make my expectations as clear as possible by explicitly breaking down how points will be assigned within each assignment.

It is inevitable that some students will find the assignment of grades either unfair or arbitrary. If this is the case, please come see me, and bring examples of your points. All students are guaranteed that once they receive a grade, it will not decrease. So your friend who got a higher grade but did less work runs no risk of getting his or her grade lowered by allowing you to use it as an example. If I was careless in my grading, and I gave you points for doing something you did not do, then you luck out. The extra points are yours. The one exception to this rule is if I catch you cheating after I have given you a grade. In that case, your grade will be reduced to zero, and you will fail the course. As mentioned in other places on this website, I have zero tolerance for academic dishonesty.