Grok Academy’s Web.Comp is an annual web competition that invites students to create a functional website while learning about the principles of HTML, CSS and web design along the way.
Web design is an area of study that unites information and communication, STEM, and the principles of design, including graphics and layouts, colour theory and typography.
Teaching children about web design is an important part of preparing them for a future working in the digital economy and developing 21st century learning skills such as critical thinking and creative problem-solving abilities. The Australian Government’s Labour Market insights report outlines the importance of the four Cs (Care, Computing, Cognitive ability and Communication) as key skills for the future and the demand for web developers is expected to increase by 13 percent by 2026, as citied from the NSC report State of Australia’s Skills 2021: Now and into the future.
As part of the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies (AC:DT), Grok Academy offers several learning resources for incorporating web design into the curriculum, including its Web.Comp, an online competition hosted annually that’s open to participants of all ages and skills levels, from novice to virtuoso.
The benefits of learning about web design from as early as the primary school level are manifold, according to Ms Courtney Weaver, Lead Educator at Grok Academy. “When we talk about introducing the Digital Technologies curriculum, learning to code and understanding how algorithms work are always big topics of conversation. But if you look at the Digital Technologies Curriculum, the algorithms and implementation of code are only two concepts out of the bigger picture of about 10 core concepts,” she says.
“I think that the larger and more important concept that we want students to gain an understanding of is that Digital Technologies are about problem solving. Technology exists to solve problems and that’s where the design process becomes really important because design is what makes a technology solution accessible to people. We can have all of the coding and the algorithms in the world to solve a problem, but if somebody can’t use that effectively, then it’s pointless – that’s where web design comes in.”
Learning about creative problem solving
Designing and building a website requires practising logical thinking and breaking down complex systems into smaller more manageable tasks, making it an ideal way to introduce students to computer programming concepts and other STEM-related subjects, explains Ms Weaver. “By learning about web design, students can develop a keen eye for aesthetics and visual communication in the digital world which are skills that are transferrable across a number of other disciplines.”
Before learning to code, web design starts with creative problem solving. “Learning how to approach and solve a problem creatively is key to learning the fundamentals of web design. This doesn’t require any coding HTML or CSS and is accessible curriculum for younger students,” says Ms Weaver.
The artistic nature of how things are presented and how they look, as well as the human and usability aspects, are central to good web design, she explains. After defining a problem, students are encouraged to think from the perspective of their users’ needs and address those needs through design elements.
“When we’re looking at teaching web design skills, it’s about empathy and the ability to think about people who have additional needs when considering how they would like to use something to make websites inclusive and accessible to everyone,” says Ms Weaver.
“As a personal example, my aunt is blind and has 10 percent of her vision, so I grew up with somebody who was differently abled in my family. When computers became a part of everyday life, I saw how she had to use a screen reader to interact with her computer. She needs a high-contrast screen and the ability to increase the screen size to use her devices. I was really fascinated by finding ways to make things more accessible for her in the physical world.”
Teaching web design to primary aged students
The first step to introducing web design into the primary curriculum is getting students to use some websites and start thinking about which ones they like and don’t like and why, according to Ms Weaver.
“Teaching web design concepts to children starts with getting them to study what the building blocks of a website are and the conventions and consistent features that most websites have such as a homepage and a menu that clicks out from the top corner,” she says. “Examples of fun web design assignments teachers can give students include giving them a topic to design a layout for or giving them an audience to design for and challenging them to think about the design from the perspective of who will be using the website.”
This could entail using simple paper wireframes without using a computer and asking students to place things into a layout, she explains. Alternatively, students can mockup websites in PowerPoint, or Keynote, which is an easy way for them to design something where they can practise using the hyperlinking function to move to different slides. It’s also a great way to create a working prototype for a website they want to create, while building up a foundation for digital literacy skills and learning about the design process.
“By giving students an opportunity to learn about the principles of design and create an aesthetic, functional website that can be used in the real world, they are empowered to navigate digital spaces with greater confidence and become contributors to the world of digital technology, rather than passive observers,” Ms Weaver concludes.
Grok Academy Web.Comp 2023
Grok Academy’s Web.Comp is an annual web design competition open to school students that teaches HTML and CSS, as well as the building blocks needed to build a website from scratch. The competition has two components: Learn (Beginner or Intermediate level) and Tournament.
Learn is a four-week series of challenges where students learn as they go. Each week, Grok releases interactive notes with the information students will need to complete the week’s web design challenges. Students earn points for completing problems and claim a place on the leaderboard and participants will receive certificates for their results in this competition. The Learn competition starts 23 October.
Meanwhile, Tournament is a week-long competition where students can design their own web pages and submit their creations to compete against designs from other students. They can also vote for their favourites. The Tournament begins on 20 November.