Students create class for web design, coding

As the web design market expands, students start “Guerilla Web” class to learn code

Video produced by Tommy Lopez
Zoë Dehmer
Contributing Writer

A group of VCU Graphic Design students concerned that their curriculum won’t fully prepare them for the job market created their own web design class. The class, which meets once each week, is called Guerrilla Web.

The VCU Graphic Design Department, ranked first in the country by U.S. News and World Report, is known for teaching traditional, print-based design. But while students may benefit from a solid foundation in this type of instruction, some students say the program needs modernization in the form of more web design classes.

Junior Lance Barrera explained that one of the reasons they created a class outside of the normal curriculum was because of scheduling conflicts and a limited number of mandatory design classes they can take.

Guerrilla Web students work together to learn web design during their collaborative class sessions. The students come together weekly to teach themselves  web skills. Photo by Zoe Dehmer
Guerrilla Web students work together to learn web design during their collaborative class sessions. The students come together weekly to teach themselves web skills. Photo by Zoe Dehmer

“There are two classes that VCU offers but they are hard to sign up for and they conflict with a lot of schedules, including mandatory classes,” Barrera said.

“That’s kind of the reason why we brought this all together,” he said. “It’s really important in our field to have the experience in coding. We have to learn somehow.”

With the encouragement of David Shields, the graphic design department’s new chair, the students took the situation into their own hands. They started Guerrilla Web by creating a Facebook group and spreading the idea through word of mouth.

The class now meets once a week for two hours in room 321 of the Pollak Building, a classroom that Shields helped the students secure. Students treat the class like a workshop; they all help each other to learn the new material.

“We don’t have a teacher — we are the teacher,” Barrera said. “We come with our own projects and work on them every Friday as a group.”

The two classes that Guerrilla Web students were not able to secure a space in, Web Page Development 1 and Web Page Development 2, are limited to 14 students each and are only offered during the spring and summer semesters.

“I haven’t had the chance to take Web Development 1,” said Jeff Yang, a junior in the program. “Since it’s only offered in the spring and I’m a junior now, I won’t get a chance to take Web Development 2 … All of my knowledge of web is pretty much riding on the Guerrilla Web class.”

Shields explained that he is aware of the predicament the students find themselves in and agrees that changes need to be made.

“I’ve been hired specifically to reboot the curriculum, to look at everything specifically, and to bring it into the future,” Shields said.

According to Barrera, learning web coding and development “is like learning a foreign language … “Never mind the fact that the language is changing constantly,” he said.

Junior David Jones said that despite the challenge they have set for themselves, web design knowledge is essential for any graphic designer.

“Web design is the most up-and-coming thing with technology and the Internet,” Jones said. “Whenever I come across available internships or jobs, they always ask ‘Do you know HTML, CSS and web design?’ We need to know this now, for sure.”

In a meeting for graphic design students to address concerns, Shields encouraged students to take the reigns on their own education.

“What I’m trying to do with the schedule is kind of build in a place in the week where there’s a free block so that students can do things like this,” Shields said. “To encourage workshops like this, we can have classrooms available for them to engage in that way. When they get out in the (more real) world they’re going to have to start doing that on their own anyway,” he said.

Junior Chris Porter agrees that initiating Guerrilla Web has been a step in the right direction.

“This program is great because I see students taking ownership of their education, looking for ways to improve the curriculum, and actively making the most of their time at school.”

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