Friday, October 10, 2014

Teaching an upper-level Web Development course

We're half way through the fall semester, and the spring semester will be here before we know it. Every spring I teach an upper-level Web Development 2 elective which builds on the Web Dev 1 course that I teach every semester. The Web Dev 1 course covers the fundamentals: HTTP, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, Ajax, and PHP.

The goal of Web Dev 2 is to give students more breadth and depth in web development, focusing on both client and server-side technologies. I try to choose technologies that are widely used so my students will be more marketable after graduation, and in the past I've taught a variety of technologies: advanced JavaScript, jQuery, Java servlets and JSPs, ASP.NET Web Forms, ASP.NET MVC, and creating web services with ASP.NET and JAX-RS. Of course you can't cover everything in 16 weeks, so I have to put a lot of thought into what can be adequately covered in a limited amount of time.

This summer I did some development work at Flatirons Solutions using AngularJS and web services with Spring. It got me wondering if my Web Dev 2 course should focus more on JavaScript frameworks. One of my developer friends this summer tried to convince me that JavaScript was also taking over the server and that I should be teaching Node.js instead of Java.

It can be a struggle for computing professors to ensure our courses remain relevant when technologies are always changing. Fortunately I've got a lot of Facebook friends who are developers and Harding CS alumni, so I decided to ask their opinion:

If you were in college and could take an advanced Web Development course, what topics would you like it to cover?
This elicited quite a few responses which I'll summarize here:

  1. JavaScript frameworks like AngularJS, Ember, Knockout
  2. ASP.NET MVC and Web API
  3. Node.js
  4. Python and Django
  5. Ruby on Rails
  6. LESS
  7. Web services
  8. Web security
  9. Single Page Applications (SPAs)
  10. Automated web testing, A/B testing, UI testing
  11. Understanding HTTP
  12. Picking the right data store (relational, NoSQL, Map/Reduce, etc.)
  13. Caching and latency issues
  14. Teams that implement the same project on different platforms
  15. Git
  16. Web architecture - focusing less on development and more on architecture

There may have been a few things I left off, but these received the most mentions. (Thank you for your input, guys!) I'm still making up my mind, but this is what I'm leaning toward teaching this spring:

  1. JavaScript - The more JavaScript you are exposed to, the better. I'd like my students to be familiar with a number of advanced JavaScript features and some popular libraries like Underscore.js.
  2. jQuery- Everyone needs to know the most popular JavaScript library in use.
  3. Node.js and Express - Although I have little experience with Node, I think it would be helpful for my students to apply their JavaScript skills on the server as well as the client. I will probably tie in MongoDB which will give them experience with a NoSQL database. We will likely create a web service and consume it with an app written with...
  4. AngularJS - Very popular JavaScript framework with strong job demand. Plus I got some experience with it this summer. We will write unit tests using Jasmine and use Karma for integration testing.

My students will work in pairs on their projects and use GitHub to house their code like they do in my GUI course. We'll use the WebStorm IDE which I came to love this summer. I'll inject other topics like security where they are applicable.

A weakness of this plan is that my students will not get to use Java or ASP.NET which are very popular server-side technologies. However, they will leave this class fluent in JavaScript.

Now... need to find time in my schedule to learn Node.js, prepare all new quizzes, assignments, and projects, and also prepare for my Game Programming course.