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Reflection

Name: Julie Yarnold
Student Number: 84123455

"The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low and achieving our mark." Michelangelo Buonarroti

Aims

My aims in this course were to explore and try out as many popular web technologies as possible, not necessarily to achieve a high level of expertise with any one or more of them, but to gain sufficient familiarity of how these technologies work and their synergies, in order to achieve a solid foundation from which to work should I need or wish to utilise these technologies at a more complex level. For assessment purposes, and personally, I wanted to be able to independently produce a functioning website using best practice methods. Realistically, I see my role in a digital media project team as one of co-ordination, with a focus on interaction and screen design and visual logic rather than building, coding or scripting.

Background

My background is in teaching and training use of office productivity and design-related computing applications, but have never achieved more than minimal coding ability with HTML, and almost none with CSS, beyond altering colour and font styles on a pre-prepared sheet! I have a design education, but rather than attempting a rich visual aesthetic, I aimed for visual logic, cohesiveness and clarity to allow me to focus almost exclusively on the technical aspects of building a website. I also refrained from an overload of interactivity, preferring to concentrate on simplicity and functionality in delivering informational content.

Variations from the Learning Proposal

My website was, above all, a vehicle for meeting my learning needs. I therefore considered all the types of content I could include, which resulted in a possibly ambitious list of technologies and deployment methodologies. If my son, Ben, felt he could use it, then that was a bonus.

In my Learning Proposal, I deliberately outlined functionalities beyond my core learning needs, so that if more time became available, I had a path for extending my knowledge and skill base with more complex functionalities. During preliminary research, I therefore researched and analysed all potential, as well as definite, inclusions outlined in my Proposal.

While plug-ins like the online booking system I found and blogged about could be included for completeness, we were expected to actively engage with the code and technology itself by writing or modifying code (with references) so online bookings with automated reminders, online payments, video library and a blog ultimately were not incorporated in the final website, as I did not manage to code or modify existing code for these inclusions myself, even with Jquery. I am confident of incorporating existing plugins, so did not use them for this project, as this would do little to extend my skills or meet my stated learning goals. Development of an app was shelved due to time constraints.

Researching and experimenting with these functionalities, however, has contributed greatly towards a broader understanding of technologies and their synergies beyond those demonstrated in the final site.

Technology Analysis

This exercise gave me the knowledge to make informed projections and decisions about what I would use and why, and the available alternatives.

I have not deviated from the decisions made in the technology analysis, though development was not as ‘easy’ as often stated in the literature (W3Schools, 2012), particularly in the case of JavaScript and PHP, though this could be due to my abilities being more closely aligned with structure, visuality and human processes and procedures than with programmer’s logic.

Variations from the System Plan

Before I designed the system, I believe I ironed out most possibilities for variations; hence, my final website hardly deviates from the final System Plan. The changes I implemented were decided before completing the final, up-to-date plan, and are noted below.

Structure

The Sessions/Programs and Schedule/Locations pages were amalgamated into one page called Training, as the information was closely related, and there was not a large amount of content.

Visual Design

The thumbnails for the Home page image gallery were moved below the main picture, to avoid a ‘top-heavy’ look.

Visual Design/Functionality

Thumbnails of the newsletters are arranged horizontally, rather than vertically, without a large image of the newsletter appearing at the centre of the page on mouseclick of a thumbnail, because I believe that a user wanting to read a newsletter would probably prefer to download or open it in a separate tab rather than open it on the page itself.

Achievements

Challenges (room for further development!)

My clear folder structure was partially thwarted because I did not build the more complex code myself. I sourced the Contact (PHP Contact Form Tutorial, 2012) and Newsletter (PHP/MySQL Contact Form with jQuery | Codrops, 2012) signup forms from online tutorials, modified a lot of the properties significantly (where I really learned plenty about coding and syntax) and styled them, but was not entirely successful in incorporating them into my folder structure, particularly with the Newsletter signup, which ceased to function if I moved or renamed files or removed fields. Three solid days of rechecking and redoing, resulted in my decision to deviate from my preferred structure, leaving some files in their original position and with their original names, in order to meet the deadline.

I am very aware (partly through my spammed Week 7 guestbook exercise) that validation is crucial. This is emphasised in my readings (Williams & Lane, 2002) and the various coding forums I searched for solutions, such as StackOverflow.com, and Daniweb.com. I can now competently code and style a form, and I already have a pretty good working knowledge of databases, but co-ordinating JavaScript/Jquery validation, PHP validation and database input proved problematic, hence my reliance on a tutorial with provided code. I had hoped to extend this to check if a user existed in the database, display an appropriate response, and email the user to confirm signup; however, hours of searching for scripts and experimenting did not prove successful.

Using independent external CSS files for some of the included objects (forms and slideshow) rather than incorporating every rule in the same general CSS for the site pages was logical and has proved successful, without creating unnecessary complexity.

Time management is often challenging. While the schedule I outlined in my System Plan largely held true, the actual time spent on the scheduled tasks was often longer than foreseen; for example, finding and fixing a glitch in code could take a frustratingly extended amount of time. Tools such as the W3C validators, and particularly Firebug and the ‘inspect element’ feature proved useful for debugging. All of my CSS rules are valid and working, but Firebug has pointed up some issues regarding inherited properties that are not affecting the site functionality, and I have identified this as a future learning activity so that I can achieve truly clean code.

Occasional slowness of my provider's server made the process time-consuming and tedious. On two evenings recently I couldn't work on my site because of server downtime. This would not have been a problem had I chosen to stick to client-side technologies only, but my use of PHP in meant that I often relied on working whilst connected to the server, particularly in the final stages of development.

The Journey and the Outcome

Having started with minimal skill and familiarity with digital media technologies, I believe the achievement of my learning goals is demonstrated by my production of a functioning website. This has raised my skills to a point that will allow informed continuation of skill building. I achieved this by completing the weekly exercises, and applying my new skills to the assignment documents and exercise files, and practising with online tutorials and books as outlined in my Learning Proposal (Yarnold, Final Learning Proposal, 2012). Reading my classmates' blogs and feedback also contributed. I believe I am now familiar enough with web development technologies, and can discuss them with enough knowledge, to effectively co-ordinate, participate in, and/or lead a project team.

Bibliography

DaniWeb - Technology Publication Meets Social Media viewed 22 May 2012, <http://www.daniweb.com/>.

PHP Contact Form Tutorial 2012, viewed 15 May 2012, , <http://www.html-form-guide.com/contact-form/php-contact-form-tutorial.html>.

PHP/MySQL Contact Form with jQuery | Codrops viewed 20 May 2012, <http://tympanus.net/codrops/2010/03/12/php-mysql-contact-form-with-jquery/>.

Stack Overflow viewed 22 May 2012, <http://stackoverflow.com/>.

Buonarotti, M.,The greater danger for most of ... at BrainyQuoteviewed 2 June 2012, <http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/michelange108779.html>.

Williams, H.E. & Lane, D., 2002, Ch 7 - Validation on the Server and Client, Web Database Applications with PHP & MySQL (online) viewed 22 May 2012, <http://docstore.mik.ua/orelly/webprog/webdb/ch07_01.htm>.

Yarnold, J., Julie - Final Learning Proposal. Final Learning Proposal. viewed 30 May 2012, <http://www.julie.id.au/DMT/Julie-Learning-Proposal-Final.html>.

Yarnold, J., Julie - Technology Analysis. Julie DMT Project - Technology Analysis. viewed 30 May 2012, <http://www.julie.id.au/DMT/Julie-Technology-Analysis-Final.html>.


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