U of A forces students to use ancient software

frontpage I’ve written many times before about my disappointment with the state of technology education at the University of Alberta, most recently here. My biggest complaint has usually been that they teach outdated or otherwise useless concepts in Computing Sciences and other fields, but the tools and technologies they choose and use are often just as bad (and these influence the concepts).

Here’s an example from my friend Eric, who is nearly finished his MIS degree at the School of Business:

Our latest project requires us to develop a single web page using Microsoft FrontPage that includes an Access database we created last week. This is worth 10% of our course mark.

Microsoft discontinued FrontPage in 2006, two years ago.

Technically the product was discontinued in 2006, but the last release was actually back in 2003. Yes, nearly five years ago.

I remember FrontPage with a very tiny amount of fondness. It was the first web page building tool I ever used, back when I was in junior high. It was so fun! Then I got a little older, a little smarter, and realized that FrontPage was absolute crap. Microsoft did too, and decided they’d give up on the application that they had originally purchased for about $130 million. It has since been replaced with SharePoint Designer and Expression Web.

Eric asked his professors why they are being forced to use FrontPage, and was told that the university has a contract for support until the end of the semester.

This is completely unacceptable. Students are being taught to use a tool they’ll never use in the real world. A tool that hinders development more than it helps (due to some very strange functionality, such as not keeping code and design views in sync). A tool that generates such terrible, invalid HTML that Microsoft felt it was better to start over.

That point about standards is particularly important, IMHO. By using FrontPage, the U of A is essentially teaching students that generating crappy code is okay. The garbage that FrontPage generates (and that IE used to support) is part of the reason for this mess. Microsoft has decided recently that IE8 will interpret pages in the most standards compliant way it can, a welcome change (even if it doesn’t completely pan out).

Eric finishes with:

You wouldn’t pay $468.60 for a math course using slide rules, so why should we pay to use outdated software?

It’s a good point, but more important than the tool is the concept. You wouldn’t pay $468.60 for an accounting course that taught you how to create non-standard balance sheets, so why should you pay for a technology course that teaches you to create non-standard web pages?

Read: Soliciting Fame

4 thoughts on “U of A forces students to use ancient software

  1. I totally agree with you, especially because Business is seen as a degree that is “useful”.

    However, teaching MIS has always been a problem at the School of Business. When I did my undergrad, MIS was considered “a waste of time” by most students and it was better to take it in the Spring, to get it over with. Furthermore, the School of Business had taken steps to “revamp” the major which meant constantly switching to a new textbook every semester for MIS 311 (the introductory course).

  2. I think other departments consider the MIS classes a waste of time too – we weren’t allowed to take them as part of our CS degree. I would think you could design some MIS courses in such a way that CS students would still find them useful, however.

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