An aspiring web designer meets his foe: Internet Explorer

by Mr. Sheehy

The way I figure, if you have low expectations, it is easier not to be disappointed. The young man who does not expect that his parents will buy him ice cream will be elated when his parents do buy him ice cream, but not disappointed when they do not; the one who expects it will not only be disappointed when they do not, but he might not even be as excited when they do. Keep the expectations low or reasonable, and it is easier to appreciate what comes.

It’s a cute formula for me to declare, and it makes sense. A problem, however, is that it somehow assumes that a person has complete control over his expectations. That’s what I so often discover, anyway. I try to keep my expectations reasonable or even low, but then I find that this exercise does not change my expectations so much as hide them.

When I began graduate school in educational technology, I had not built up too many particular expectations. I had wanted a graduate degree, for sure, thinking it is the only way for my family to earn enough money to buy our very own cardboard box rather than pay rent for someone else’s. But I had not thought much about what I’d learn. I was adept at using technology in the classroom and it seemed like that degree would aptly describe some of the most notable characteristics of my teaching. And I was going to use a state school, rather than a place like Lesley University, as it was the most affordable solution.

But then when I looked at classes, I grew most excited about the hands-on, application content: multimedia, web design, digital presentations. These seemed like places where I’d learn more tools and toys, where I’d be able to expand the repertoire that had garnered me a reputation as a technology type. I may have attempted to keep expectations low, but in hidden places I surely built them higher. So when three of these application-focussed courses landed on my schedule this summer, I was thrilled.

And then in multimedia we did not use a single tool I had not already utilized extensively. I created a cool project, but I had not been exposed to anything new. In digital presentations, we learned applications that cost money and mostly crashed on my computer. The best one, Camtasia, I already used frequently. I was disappointed because I hadn’t been stretched much, and most of the disappointment came from the expectations I had quietly built and not acknowledged, even to myself.

The biggest disappointment, however, has been the web page design class. I did have expectations here: I wanted to learn CSS, and I wanted to redesign my classroom’s website to make it look totally cool. I had even admitted those expectations, which indicates how large they were. And when I saw the syllabus and that half the content was dedicated to CSS, I allowed those fairly latent desires to thrive, and I invested a heap of thought into how to design my page. Recruiting my wife’s assistance, I thought about every element of the design, prioritizing white space and simplicity, making room for the most popular elements of my old site.

I even decided it was worth it to attempt Dreamweaver, adding the learning curve of new software to the pile of things I had going (my old site is a Front Page creation). It would take too much time and would overshoot our class’s requirements, but I’d use it every day in the classroom and would beam with pride over it. Plus, if it went well, I knew I’d likely offer to replicate something like it for our church, which is in need of a new web design. And the more I design, who knows? Maybe the website my wife’s friend had designed for her business is something I could help retool. After all, I had lots of good ideas about it and thought with a bit of time, I could have done better than the designer she paid to create it.

So I pushed myself. I stayed up into the wee hours designing graphics and writing code. I tweaked its every detail and thought of every item I might want to add through the year. I made it just how I wanted it. It looked sharp.

website in firefox

In Firefox. When I previewed it in Internet Explorer, the center column had moved half a screen down and the outside columns crowded the top banner. It doesn’t look right – not even close to right. It’s a mess. I stayed up late trying fixes and re-figuring bits of code. I spent 45 minutes on the phone with my professor. I googled everything I could imagine. And it still does not work. At this point, I have no hope for a fix. From where would the additional knowledge come? I’ve sapped my resources.

Website in Explorer

This past week, meanwhile, I was teaching a class for teachers called Web Tools for Teaching, and after explaining wikis, a teacher asked me, “Why would teachers learn Dreamweaver or Front Page for designing a website when they could just have a wiki?” I answered her question by stating her question rhetorically and emphatically: “Why WOULD teachers learn Dreamweaver when they could just use a wiki?” Two days later, the subject resurfaced, and I told my nightmarish web design story as further proof of the point.

The hard part for me is that when I first answered the question, I left myself out: I was an exception. I knew the design programs and understood a bit of the coding and language. But now look at me. I just spent who knows how many hours designing a web site that will not display correctly in the world’s most prominent browser. Why would I spend all that time messing with Dreamweaver when I could just use my wiki?

I don’t know, I suppose. I’m a bit stubborn yet, and I haven’t developed a plan. I will, eventually, but I’m still reeling and tired (as evidenced by this Twitter statement: “Finished designing a dysfunctional website. Wanting all those hours of sleep back. What a waste.”). The hard part is dealing with those expectations. I had expected – actually, more than that, even – planned on designing a website for my classroom that would look as slick and work as well as my favorite sites. I have not met any of those expectations, and since the website isn’t going to flex to relieve my disappointment, I may have to adjust my expectations. That will take some time. Until then, I think I’ll take a nap.