A few days ago I received an email from a teacher in New Zealand. After answering his technical question, I noticed that he mentioned he was not only a teacher, but a ColdFusion teacher for a high school. I know that folks in the community have discussed how Adobe can make inroads into education, and here was someone actually doing it. I don't do interviews myself very often, and I've never actually interviewed someone myself (that I remember anyway), but I thought I'd talk a bit with him and share it with my readers. So without further adieu, here is my interview with Rob Wood.
Q: Thanks for taking the time to talk with me Rob. Can you give my readers a brief introduction to who you are and what you do?
A: I have 2 parts to my job; teaching computing/web design and managing the IT at our school Bayfield High School. I think you (US folk) would call me an instructional technologist. Part of my job involves managing an intranet Baynet where we have developed a LMS (Learning Management System) that combines cfm pages with MySQL, active directory and our SMS (Student Management System).
For the teaching part of my job I have 2 classes each year of 16 - 17 year old students. The first year we learn html and css - the second MySQL and cfm. What I teach continues to evolve. Tables for example where dropped in favor of css a couple of years ago - with cfm we now try to look at complete structured applications rather than individual pages. After learning a basic skill set students are expected to source a commercial project and work in a commercial manner with their client.
Our education system is not, perhaps as prescriptive of that in the US - I have a lot of freedom as to what I can teach the kids and I can choose what to assess. A successful high school student in NZ completes what is known as the Nation Certificate of Education Achievement. this certificate requires the kids to attain 80 credits. Each subject teacher would provide 18 or 20 of those credits from a huge list of possible assessments - including "interactive web pages".
Q: What inspired you to bring ColdFusion into the classroom?
A: I started using the wizards in DW, about 6 years ago, to make asp/MS Access pages for the school's intranet. I found ASP to hard to learn/maintain and looked for an alternative. An $800 educational copy of CF hit the spot. At that time I didn't have the knowledge or confidence to teach CF. I have been teaching CF for just 3 years. The reason for starting I guess is seeing the evolving ubiquitous nature of the web and the students inclination to things web - why not teach them to build their own rather than use something made by someone else? This year for example we have be making blogging applications rather than using blogging applications. Students learning CF are highly engaged in what they are doing - I contrast this with what I see in other high schools where kids are learning about Excel and Word - really dull for both kids and teachers.
Computing teachers don't have to have computing degrees here - so few do. I'm self taught off the web and from CFWACK. I also get support from Matthew Walker - the lead CF programmer of Cabbage Tree Creative in Christchurch, a nearby city.
Q: Are you given free reign over what software to train your students on? In other words - did anyone object to you using ColdFusion (or MySQL) for the class?
A: No objections - being the network manager has its advantages. In NZ each school is funded by central government and is not responsible to a district administrator. I don't know of any other schools using CF (probably because of the $800 cost). I do know of 2 where php is taught. As for MySQL - well it's free and with the query browser is great to manage. The kids have their own database with full control of just that one database.
Q: What do your students use for editing their work?
A: They use Dreamweaver 2004 in code view. They hand code everything as it's quicker than trying to sort out wizards and deal with the inconsistencies of a visual editing environment. We have tried CFEclipse this year but still prefer DW. The teaching goal is well structured, commented code that is maintainable. I don't teach a framework (eg Fusebox). This is the first year we have been using cfcs.
Q: Have any of your students continued on in web development?
A: Yes they do continue - I have one Alan for example, who is into year 2 of a Com Sci Degree who supports himself by writing CF for a local business. I estimate 50%+ of my students go in to university and a Com Sci degree - though not all continue down the web development path.
Q: Do you think other schools would benefit from a program like yours?
A: Absolutely, would you rather have bored or engaged students. But how do would they get to where we are? I'm very lucky to be involved with learning technology in the wider sense and I don't have a full teaching load. Our school management has recognized the need to push to a web based learning environment as a supplement to F2F teaching.
Q: Is there anything Adobe could do - or the community, to help?
A: That's a tricky one - you (someone who might help the students) has to have the knowledge we need to learn but also the teaching skills to get that knowledge in a sequential and progressive manner. I subscribe to Jedi and Nadel which is great but most of the conversation is above where I'm (and the students) are at. Over the course of a year we really only have time to get the basics of CF - and no time for Flex or whatever. On the other hand we're not newbies either. Not sure where we fit in the community. A copy of CFWACK 8 would be nice! - signed would be better!!
Rob then hooked me up with a few of his students. The next few questions were answered by Jacob, Ben, and Daryl.
Q) Before taking Mr. Wood's class, did you have any previous computer experience? If so - what kind?
All: We have all taken computing classes since year 9 (2003), and also had home computers where we first learned to use computers. We also had some computing classes during primary school and intermediate.
Q) What did you think of ColdFusion (it's ok, be brutally honest!)?
Jacob: It is user friendly and easy to learn but it does not produce xhtml(self closing tags). I also liked the Coldfusion help file.
Darryl: Having not learned any other programming language, Coldfusion makes compete sense, but apparently PHP is very similar to other programing languages, so if/when I learn other languages my opinion might change.
Q) Do you think you will do more in ColdFusion?
Jacob: Probably but I am currently getting into php.
Ben: Probably not, I'm heading towards the social sciences area (Politics, history) rather than computing, and the coding I will be doing for our business will be in PHP.
Darryl: I would like to just do some stuff for my self, put depending on time next year, this might not be possible.
Q) Anything you wish ColdFusion would do better?
Darryl: We have been using CF MX7, so I wish it could do image resizing and have a WYSIWYG, which I have heard CF8 does have now.
So there ya go. Pretty interesting I think. I'm curious why all the kids seemed to be moving to PHP. It didn't seem like they found anything wrong with ColdFusion, but were pulled towards PHP instead. I'd be very curious to see if they return to ColdFusion after experiencing PHP and realizing how much better ColdFusion is (of course, I may be a bit biased!)