Putting the magic in the machine since 1980.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Web Applications: An Undergraduate Class

Yet nother semester of teaching web application development has passed. This time, finally, I had a significant number of students (30) signing up although, after it became clear this was a programming class, fewer (17) remained. This is to be expected as programming takes time and not everyone has the means.

A few interesting tidbits I found.

  1. Most undergraduates know little about web technologies. I kinda assumed that because they grew up with the web that they would know the difference between a GET and a POST, but no. There is a large knowledge gap to be filled in. Luckily, these are easy things for them to learn.
  2. There is a steep learning curve to developing modern web applications, and it keeps getting steeper every year. A lot of complex technologies that must be mastered: HTTP, HMTL, CSS, JavaScript, Databases, Ajax, jQuery, JSON, Cookies, Firebug, functional programming, REST, event handling, asynchronous lambda functions, the browser's loading orders, etc. (oh, and Python) One semester is only enough time to introduce a student to most of these, but not all, and mastery will require more time spent programming than is afforded. Still, a lot can be learned in one semester.
  3. I am sure some hated that we had 13 weekly homeworks, each one a significant programming project, but there really is no other way to learn all this stuff. It is one thing to read about Ajax, actually implementing a webapp that does it is a completely different matter.
  4. Its all about the JavaScript: Facebook moved to a JavaScript SDK in their platform, Google is using JavaScript as glue to for their 'apps enterprise', and node.js has gotten really popular. With jquery and firebug (or chrome developer tools), JavaScript is a lot of fun to learn and debug. However, its tricky to figure out the timing on how various parts of a page are loaded by the browser and, even harder, how to decide what code goes in the server or the browser, not to mention JavaScript's many many quirks.
  5. The google app engine works as a learning platform. It is minimal, reliable, and on the web (not on the student's laptop) so we all can see what we all have done.



Travis said...

Most won't master web technologies before they're off creating the next great app/blog.

jmvidal said...

Yes, as they should be. Web tech. moves so fast we gotta keep running just to stand still.