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How we delivered immersive workshops for budding web designers

Designing a modern web course

Last year, I started working with New College Nottingham (NCN) to redefine the web modules of their multimedia course. The first-year unit is mandatory, so we made it accessible and fun for students — who may specialise in different disciplines — to explore the web as a medium for creativity and communication. We taught the basic concepts and skills, but mostly wanted students to enjoy the subject and take-up the optional second-year unit.

A small group of students made that choice; this year they’ve been learning about project process, storytelling, interactivity, psychology, advanced coding and more. The second-year syllabus demonstrates the various hats a modern web designer wears every day at a professional level.

Creating an immersive experience

When devising the year two syllabus, there were several important topics that either couldn’t fit into the schedule or wouldn’t work in the usual the classroom setting. We felt these were too important to leave out completely, so JH offered to run a series of top-up workshops that could support and enhance the core teaching.

I combined our view of the course with input from the students and their tutor to select the six workshops we would focus on. In the selection, I tried to provide a broad taste of professional practice, exposing the students to the skills and theory we use in our daily work.

Presenting this diverse content required us to devise an appropriate format for each week of the programme, doing so expanded our teaching skills and allowed us to use methods that would take the students away from their typical classroom exercises.

To take a physical step away from the college, we hosted the workshops at the JH office. This let the students experience our work environment and culture, and allowed them to work alongside the rest of the business, creating a truly immersive experience.

Dwayne Codling, the course organiser at ncn, explains the beneficial impact a change of learning environment can have on students:

“The classroom is not the real world, it’s a protective environment where students have a crutch and sometimes lack the self-motivation to become independent learners. At the workshops, students experienced first-hand what is required to get into the industry. They saw clearly how hard they will have to work and the time they need to put into their education.”

The six-week programme

Here’s an overview of the topics and activities we covered in six one-hour sessions:

Interaction design: starting with a simple problem, we explored use cases; system constraints and actions to design a flowchart that described the critical path and edge cases.

Interface design: with a brief for a rock band’s website, we used personas and note-and-vote exercises to quickly brainstorm ideas, then sketched and critiqued possible layouts.

Design process: we demonstrated an end-to-end design process, stopping to explain the purpose of deliverables, technical tips and project management.

Git and Github: students got a hands-on introduction to terminal and Git, followed by an introduction to Github and open source projects

Career paths: members of JH had a round-table discussion about the different roles in a web agency; their day-to-day work and how to follow each career path.

Next steps: we discussed how get into the web industry by developing a portfolio; building a personal brand and pursuing self-directed learning.

Our report card

Designing and delivering a web course takes time. Everyone involved has given up office hours and evenings to help ncn — but you couldn’t buy the opportunities the collaboration has provided.

We’ve helped the college modernise their web modules by aligning with professional methodology. We’ve learnt to plan and teach effective lessons for a range of content and ability. Most importantly, we’ve been able to directly advise and inspire a group of young people, creating excitement for the subject. They called it “a priceless experience”.

The greatest endorsement of our efforts was hearing all second-year students share their intention to pursue a career in the web industry. We gave the students a pathway and Dwayne has already observed the effects:

“I can see how my students have matured. Their level of work has improved, as has the amount of work they have produced, to strengthen their portfolio. They are now highly motivated, never missing lessons — always there before lessons even start; coming in on off-days and working outside the designated teacher contact hours.”

Finally, by collaborating with Dwayne, his understanding of cutting-edge practices has improved, empowering him to take knowledge beyond our workshops and into his other web classes at ncn.

Ideas for improving the programme

With feedback from everyone involved and greater teaching experience, there’s a few tweaks we’ll be making to strengthen the workshops for the next academic year. I’m also considering ways to broaden the content and experience we offer:

A longer programme: more class time would allow us to cover additional topics and break down complex ones that need more than an hour.

More developer topics: the two-year syllabus centers on design and front-end, but the workshops could introduce back-end topics and strengthen coding skills.

Standalone training days: having a whole day would allow us to deep-dive on a subject, or demonstrate the flow of a longer process.

Touring other agencies: thinking further ahead, we’d love to give students the insights and experiences from professionals across the city.

Taking responsibility for our future

The last idea will require even more generosity and organisation. Thankfully, I know Nottingham has a thriving web/creative community which simply needs its openness and enthusiasm directed at education. Making this investment is critical to the future of our industry. By taking an active role in education, we can set the standard of teaching and improve the quality of graduates — our potential employees — and the next generation of web design.