O'Reilly School of Technology - JavaScript 1 Course

O'Reilly School of Technology - JavaScript 1 Course
I recently had the opportunity to take JavaScript 1: Introduction to JavaScript through the O'Reilly School of Technology (previously O'Reilly Learning.) This is an online course where you work at your own pace. The course provides CEU's from the University of Illinois (UIUC) Office of Continuing Education and applies toward their Certificates of Professional Development in Web Programming and Client-Side Web Programming. This course is aimed at people who may not have any programming experience but do have a good understanding of html and css. I did not exactly fall in the target audience because I have a strong scripting background, including JavaScript. My main interest in the course was to fill in my patchy background due to having picked up bits and pieces from reading other people's code rather than ever specifically studying JavaScript.

I found the beginning of the course to be a little slow. We didn't actually start writing code until the 5th lesson. However, for complete beginners, this is probably about right, particularly since some of this time is spent learning to copy and adapt freely available scripts into your own projects. As much as I value actual understanding, in real life, finding and reusing appropriate existing code is probably more important. Since the course was self-paced, there is nothing to stop more experienced students from working through these lessons quickly. The course covers the core basics of JavaScript (or any programming language) – variables, functions, decision making. Each new concept is practiced by writing one or two simple programs and short quizzes, which are turned in to the instructor for checking. The instructor was very good about correcting my work quickly, usually the next business day. I was a little disappointed by the general lack of feedback on correct answers, but I think that is probably the trade-off for quick turn-around. The instructor is also available to answer questions via email, although I was generally able to figure out any problems from the provided references. While the programs we wrote were not generally useful (except for the final project), I could see how they could be expanded on to make something useful.

There were a few things that I thought could have done better. I would have liked to see more information on web standards and best practices, particularly with regard to accessibility. JavaScript can be a great tool to make web pages more understandable and accessible for everyone, but it also makes it extremely easy to make a page unusable when using a screen reader. I would have liked some guidance on this. The course refers to some excellent web-based references and tutorials, so much so, that at times I wondered why I was working through this course rather than one of them. Realistically, the course format and having to turn in exercises and quizzes for each lesson helped me with discipline and motivation.

I think this course is definitely worthwhile, as long as you have realistic expectations. I think it was a good use of my time and money. You will come out with a good basic understanding of JavaScript and, more importantly, with the ability and resources to learn more on your own. You will also have a credential from two respected organizations in the information technology field – O'Reilly and UIUC. You are not going to come out of this course prepared to be a professional JavaScript programmer, but programming is not something you can just learn from any course. No book or class will help if you don't keep practicing and learning. Like any art, programming takes time and practice to become a professional. This course puts you in a good position to do so.

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