Review: HTML5 via edX


edx content screen

HTML5. Big, scary acronym. But here’s what you need to know: it is a big reason why the web feels way more efficient than it did a few years ago. Did you notice that around 2014, a bunch of websites began integrating superior videos, graphics, maps, and sign-in features? These bells and whistles are largely enabled through HTML5, the most recent iteration of what Tim Berners-Lee created for his fellow scientists at CERN 35 years ago. This version builds on the principle of rapid navigability, but with neat little interoperability features like sticking geolocation on your once humdrum e-commerce site.

edX, an emerging e-learning site, offers an HTML5 MOOC taught by some esteemed computer scientists at the agency that regulates HTML5, W3C. The upshot: this is an excellent course for those familiar with HTML/CSS functionality but not up-to-date with the guiding principles behind universal markup design, accessibility standards, authoring features, and interoperability constraints.

For the sake of objective measure, we’ll assess the course using the Quality Matters rubric, a standard of e-learning evaluation. Here are four criteria we’ll look at, with analysis to follow:

  1. Course Overview and Introduction
  2. Learning Objectives (Competencies)
  3. Assessment and Measurement
  4. Instructional Materials

Course Overview and Introduction

Videos are a great way to get to know your instructors in an asynchronous environment, and edX capitalizes on this capability in this HTML5 course as well as in their recent Implementation and Evaluation of Education Technology course. The instructors conduct personal, video-based introductions, but also present bite-sized background knowledge pieces that prime the remote learner’s mental model; the user doesn’t have to guess at the format and tone going forward. This bodes well for user confidence.

Furthermore, edX leverages DemoX, a mini-course that walks users through the edX experience and resolves most barriers to entry for first-timer MOOC users.

Learning Objectives

Here is a look at the week zero introduction module:


The introductory week does a nice job of not only presenting overarching content and learning goals, but also expounds upon contextualization of skills – exactly how the competencies in the course play into web development as a whole. Web IT terminology is notoriously amorphous, so giving concrete contexts really helps the learner to frame how concepts will formulate within the course as well as sketching out likely scenarios for application thereafter.

One weakness, per the Quality Matter rubric, is the lack of clear learning outcome statements. While these are presented within the syllabus in lucid, learner-centered language, objectives are rather inaccessible for the rest of the course, mainly referred to in indirect introductory statements or nested within the lesson at large.

Assessment and Measurement

Each module has a formative assessment evaluating learned terminology and skills. While not robust, the model scores well as an authentic assessment, as questions are framed within a real world context:

formative assessment

Somewhat lacking is the spiraling of competencies – there is not as much incorporation of previous concepts as is merited within a field like programming, one that requires compounding and synthesizing little nibbles of knowledge you consume along the way. Alignment with course objectives is strong, but objectives could be more explicitly presented when introducing the scope and sequence of each new module.

Instructional Materials

As this course was devised by W3C, the authority of web standardization, the instructional materials are current and are optimally relevant. Every nook is scoured for applicable content – there is pertinent content for beginning and intermediate web designers, and the instructors examine each concept thoroughly through case studies.

This case study approach is an excellent way to build an intrinsic investment towards using best practices. Once you see and experience precisely why the crappy code is a harsh user experience, one’s empathy overrides any “meh, it’s good enough” impulses. The below code is the third method for polyfills, and the instructor takes pains to explain exactly why this method is best for usability:

instructional materials example


So there we go. Yes, only 4 of the 8 Quality Matters criteria were cited, but you get the gist. HTML5 took over a decade to standardize and ship, but the partnership with W3C and the edX platform promises an acceleration in adoption. W3C and edX clearly form a force for good in spreading web standards beyond the niches of Stack Overflow, and it doesn’t hurt that the content is made broadly accessible via solid scaffolding of concepts and a streamlined platform experience.

I look forward to exploring more edX pieces in the future, and perhaps you should, too; they are an up-and-coming producer of web development tutorials at a beginner and intermediate level, and one which scales nicely to advanced concepts.


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