I'm teaching a intro survey course for MA students and wondering if I should spend a lot of time on HTML or move directly into XML. I'm torn on this. On the one hand starting with HTML allows me to ease students into understanding the web. On the other hand so many youth learn HTML in high school. Is it time to move on?
Should we still be teaching HTML?(11 posts) (11 voices)
For me the question is not should we be teaching HTML but rather, should we be teaching XML. I realize that in some circles this is egregious heresy, but I think there's been a renewed shift away from the text-centric middle of digital humanities, and that calls into question the importance of XML. Sure, it can be useful for all kinds of projects, even ones that aren't text-centric, but there are other data formats that may be just as useful and pervasive, such as relational databases – just think of how many DH projects are PHP+MySQL...
I'm actually a fan of teaching HTML because you can use it to describe many of the important concepts of markup, especially if you do XHTML. More importantly in many cases (but of course not all), familiarity with HTML may actually be more relevant for students during their studies or when they graduate. My experience is that teaching XML, even TEI, always feels a bit vague and hypothetical to students (compared to HTML), but maybe I'm just teaching it badly :)
I agree about teaching XHTML. Even if students come in with some knowledge of HTML, there's always a risk of students coming in using <FONT> and other not-so-pleasing HTML.
If you are planning to get to XML no matter what, though, I'd suggest starting with XML, then going from there to HTML. When I've taught XML in the past, one of the first exercises I had my students do was to take one of our universities brochure and ask them in small groups to identify as many different types of content as they could (images, text, quotations, logos, etc.) -- essentially having them start thinking of a schema almost immediately -- though I never used the word "schema".
The ways different groups named the elements was a really interesting comparison, and it lead nicely into, "See, different XML vocabs do the same thing, but with different goals and purposes. Here's how XHTML did it. Here's how TEI did it. Etc." over the next several class periods.
Interesting question -- I'm sure there will be many insights into it!
While XML (and specifically TEI) encoding can teach us many things about the materiality of objects and helps us reflect on the process of marking important aspects of a cultural artifact (or its representation), I'm not sure it helps us learn a tremendous amount about the web. Certainly we regularly produce and consume web services that use XML, but as an interchange format for applications (like JSON, which most of us would be unlikely to teach, I think). With HTML5, XML-valid syntax is no longer required (or, surprisingly, even recommended for documents delivered as text/html), which may lessen the importance of teaching XHTML as a subset of XML.
What is the desired learning outcome here? I can't quite manage to answer the question until I know more about what students are expected to learn, or be able to do, via a given course.
I just dropped HTML, XML, and CSS from my intro to library tech course, but only because I was told they're getting it in the intro course they're all required to take.
I have to agree with the others that teaching XHTML is still the way to go. I've taught the intro to web studies at my institution for 4 years now and am continually surprised at how few students come in <i>really</i> knowing XHTML or other web authoring languages.
I certainly agree with the nuance dsalo added to the discussion—it's impossible for me to answer the question (or even think about it) without knowing the desired outcomes. Or the class, for that matter. Unless I'm teaching a class specifically on data formats or programming (actual programming, not display markup), I don't see teaching XML at all—like Stefan said, it can feel vague and hypothetical...unless they're actually using it. So if I were teaching something that involved parsing data from APIs, and it wasn't JSON and was XML, then I'd teach XML.
If I were teaching a class that was oriented toward web design, or interface design in any way, it would be XHTML moving toward HTML5. But honestly, like Kathie noted re: her students, I don't think more than 2% of students I've had ever learned markup language in high school or before the class in which I was teaching it (if I was).
There's the additional question - what version of HTML do we teach. When do we start to teach HTML 5?
Replying to @Stéfan Sinclair's post:
To give an alternative perspective on where XHTML, XML, and perhaps TEI might fit into some kinds of teaching (and following up on Dorothea's desire to pin down the teaching goals more precisely), I think there are cases where the goal of teaching XHTML (or some kind of markup language) is not to teach the language itself, but to introduce students to the idea of information models and how they shape our digital representations and what they can do. TEI on its own is not intrinsically interesting, but an in-class exercise where you ask students to take an artifact of interest (textual or not) and think about how to represent it in digital form can be very illuminating and exciting for students. To give a concrete example: in an American Civilization class a few years ago I had the class look at a few manuscript letters from a Brown University collection connected with the slave trade. In our discussion, as we examined these objects, we thought about what information they seemed to contain intrinsically (textual features like paragraphing and addresses; content features like financial information, instructions to employees, names of people concerned) and also about what information we would want to associate with them (e.g. biographical information about people named, etc) to make them into viable research objects. With those ideas in mind, we then sketched some different approaches to modeling the data: we used XML because it's human-readable and intelligible even when it's not "in operation", and it was a quick way to get students to think about associations between different pieces of information, levels of granularity, etc.
With a bit more time, and with that single class session as a foundation, we could have then moved on to think about existing markup languages and what they're optimized for, and also about representing this same information in a database-driven system. Even if the next step were simply to use our rudimentary data model as a guide to putting this artifact into Omeka, I think we would have inevitably had some very interesting discussions about what information might be lost (and what functionality gained) by using a flatter, less text-centric representational system. As a final learning outcome, students would have some sense of how artifacts of this kind circulate as information, and of how that information is created, in addition to any specific knowledge of a particular markup language or database system like XHTML/TEI/Drupal/Omeka/whatever. It seems to me that for some audiences, that contextual knowledge is ultimately more valuable (and dates less quickly) than language-specific knowledge, and it also makes it easier to learn any actual markup language that one comes to need. But this approach is clearly best aimed at graduate students and highly motivated undergraduates; in a class where the goal is to teach a practical skill, this would be a somewhat roundabout approach!
Digital humanities curricula, in my opinion, should be about teaching students (and professors, even) about the technologies that exist that are relevant to their own fields of study. Art historians may benefit more by taking a course on technological applications in art history than a watered down TEI markup class (TEI takes years to become competent in). Polynomial texture mapping is going to be more relevant to some scholars (http://www.hpl.hp.com/research/ptm/).
So in my opinion, an intro to DH course should include web applications and XML metadata as only 3-5 weeks of a 15 week semester.
First of all, speaking as the parent of a high schooler and professor in the humanities, very, very few students are going to be learning html in high school, and even fewer in these days of Web 2.0.
Without, as DSalo points out, a context for the students' learning - - What kind of class? What discipline? What kind of goals? etc. - - the question is pretty hard to answer, 'tho valuable maybe as all the replies indicate as a heuristic.
More fundamentally, I'm in agreement with Ethan's point: there is an important disciplinary angle to the question - - and agreed also that one incarnation of digital humanities does seem "to conflate digital humanities with digital publishing" (I'd go a bit further and say not "publishing" but "archiving" - - as publishing itself is a diffuse and various practice). Academic roles and labor are much broader and complicated than this.
I'm savoring Julia's response because it seems to address a much deeper issue about/in "digital humanities" -- - .e.g. to what extent does the "humanities" get lost in the "digital"? Julia's "manuscript" example offers a really productive way of thinking about this relation - - as the "digital" becomes a way to think about the "humanities." I.e. thinking about how how documents might be represented as data can open up some very important questions about the value and meaning of documents, and about how "digital" representation and de-familiarization can engage students and scholars with big questions about humanistic knowledge.
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