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This post is part of my ongoing research and writing project for Mozilla, looking into the need for better tools to teach Web building and HTML5.

The notes below are from my conversation with Glen Bull, Professor of Instructional Technology at the University of Virginia and someone who's been thinking about technology and education for a long time, working on ways to connect K-12 schools to the Internet since the 1980s.

On the subject of teaching HTML5

While "anyone can learn HTML," Prof. Bull noted that CSS is already a major hurdle for some people. "Most people hit the wall then."

There are lots of tools that appeal to programmers, but the trick is having an on-ramp to get people to that place. Too often learn-to-code tools are built by experts for experts and don't address some of the initial and important barriers to entry.

Ideally, the tool should make it possible for people to "do something right away."

What's the goal?

To what extent can you build a tool to "empower people to be creative"?

Is the goal of a "Scratch for HTML 5" 1) to let people create or 2) to teach programming? Those goals don't necessarily align.

Teaching/building for the open Web

Computers are increasingly black-boxed. Moreover, the Web is moving away from "open" to closed gardens such as Facebook. There's an emphasis on apps too, with tools being made to make it easier to develop native apps (although this is a pendulum which will perhaps swing back towards HTML5). As such there's a vested interest -- on the part of Apple and Google -- in app development, not in Web development.

There's also a vested interest on the part of other companies (like Adobe) to create rich development tools that are prohibitively expensive and are not open source. Even Flash, which was once fairly easy to work with, has become increasingly complex.  

Universities are often working on good tools, but they lack the polish.

Why haven't we built something like this already?

What elements of the history of the Web itself have made the emphasis more on viewing than on building websites? See: Tim Berners-Lee, Weaving the Web

What should a "Scratch for HTML5" do?

Is Wordpress a good model here -- something that has easy Web-building tools to get you "in the door"? But what next:  a tool would have to peel back the layers (as with Hackasaurus) and encourage people to learn more -- but it would have to be in a scaffolded way.

What about Web hosting and server space? (Again, like Wordpress.com)  This might be a requirement for creating a tool that would work in classrooms.

A tool ought to let you build locally too, particularly since in a lot of (school) settings there remains a lack of reliable Internet connectivity.

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Audrey Watters


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