Technical and Conceptual Learning as a Vehicle for Change

With more than half a semester’s worth of learning and work behind me, it is safe to say that I have a great deal more knowledge now than when I began English 340 in January. The scope of skills and concepts I learned about and learned from is extremely wide. Indeed, from learning the basics of the open-source code editor application, Atom, to using the command line on my virtual machine to generate a program that creates journal entries in Atom, I have made great strides in my knowledge of computers, computing, and coding. However, I believe that the most interesting, most life-altering thing I have learned in English 340 is how to understand, write, and utilize HTML.

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language and is the building block of most websites and web applications. When I first learned about HTML in class, I was very daunted by the prospect of working with it and was skeptical that I would ever be able to understand HTML well enough to use it properly. However, Dr. Schacht’s instructions assuaged my fears and facilitated learning, and by the end of the class period, I had created my very own web-page in Atom. By learning about and using the HTML tags <html>, which indicates what type of document is being created, the <body> tag, which indicates where the content of the document is held, and other tags such as <strong>, which bolds words, <ul>, which produces unordered lists, <p>, which produces a paragraph, and <img> which embeds images. The content of my page was quite insignificant, simply discussing my excitement at the prospect of trying vegan meatballs for dinner (unfortunately, they did not taste very good) and a picture of vegan meatballs, embedded with the <img> tag. Nevertheless, the practice of creating the page and the skills I learned in the process have proven extremely useful and life-changing.

While learning HTML involved developing technical skills, such as understanding what each tag is and what it does, learning HTML also provided me with a significant amount of conceptual knowledge as well. For example, my newfound understanding of the technical aspects of HTML has opened my eyes to the inner workings of the internet and demonstrated to me that it is a place that I can interact with and influence. Though the world wide web has always existed during my lifetime, I feel as though the internet grew up alongside me. I witnessed the so-called explosion of the internet, characterized by the development of social media, the production of thousands of new computer applications, and the creation of millions upon millions of websites. These products of the internet grew up around me like wildflowers, I did not know who planted them, and they seemed entirely natural, as though they had been formed through spontaneous generation rather than months of cultivated gardening. Learning HTML opened my eyes to the fact that these things, the sites, apps, and facets of the internet had not just popped up seemingly out of nowhere like daffodils in spring, but had been made by a human hand, just like mine, using a technology and language I was just beginning to familiarize myself with.

Realizing this was extremely empowering since the internet, though arguably a non-physical entity, has found an integral place in our corporeal world and lives. Indeed, with a working knowledge of HTML, I began to feel as though I could make a dent and a difference in the online world that I am, whether I like it or not, a part of. Not only was this knowledge empowering insofar as that I realized that, with practice, I too could change the face of the internet (though who knows if I actually will), it also endowed me with a resurgence of confidence in myself as a coder and as a student. Though I took Kirk Anne’s programming course in my sophomore year, I struggled consistently to learn and use Python, the course’s chosen coding language, throughout the semester. My self-perceived failure in this course caused me to believe that coding and that working intimately with computers simply was not for me. However, learning HTML and realizing that I could understand it and utilize it, instilled confidence within me, and showed me that I could learn new tricks, even though I had “failed” in the past.

Indeed, the knowledge of HTML that this course has given me, as well as the confidence this knowledge has fostered, encouraged me to apply for an on-campus job working for Geneseo’s CIT department. The responsibilities of the job include fixing various errors on the SUNY Geneseo website that impact the accessibility of the website. For example, if an individual is visually impaired, they may rely on a screen reader. Screen readers are dependent upon HTML, thus the code must be written properly to ensure that a screen reader reads the web-page correctly. Often, I must use my technical knowledge of HTML to correct issues such as no <h1> (Heading One) tags being present, as each page must include one and only one <h1> tag.

At the same time, I employ the conceptual knowledge that learning HTML in Dr.Schacht’s class has given me, as I now understand that I am capable of making a difference on the internet and in the lives of others who will go on to interact with the corner of the internet that I have changed, particularly those who may not be able to use the internet in the ways that neurotypical or able-bodied people do. Indeed, the internet is not an immutable entity, and while it may feel that it at times controls my life, I am able to control it and make it a better place for all through the knowledge Dr. Schacht has taught me and through my job at CIT.

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