Ruby, Objective-C, Lua, Python…so many languages, so little time. After the UMaine New Media Department decided to teach code across the curriculum, its faculty needed to choose baseline language with an easy learning curve and broad applicability. Their choice? HTML5.

When you think HTML, you may just be thinking about text markup–but it’s rare to hear someone mention “HTML5″ these days without implicitly or explicitly invoking its partners-in-crime, Cascading Stylesheets (CSS) and JavaScript.

And that makes all the difference, as the chart below sums up nicely.

U-Me New Media | Why We Chose HTML5

Following a curricular review begun in 2011, the University of Maine’s New Media Department chose to encourage technical depth across all its students by adopting a baseline programming language, a department-wide standard for technical development that appears in multiple courses. The department introduces this language over a three-semester arc of foundation courses, emulating the course-by-course integration pioneered by “Writing across the Curriculum” programs. Skills learned in this arc are then reinforced by lessons in upper-level courses that apply those skills to subjects like digital storytelling, mobile applications, and physical computing.

But what language to teach?

In 2012-13 we chose for our baseline the suite of languages known as HTML5, as they apply to a number of needs across multiple sequences, including support for text, video, and graphics as well as the ability to deploy on the Web and mobile devices. By no means should a baseline language preclude training in other languages such as objective-C, Flash, or Max/MSP. Rather, consistently using one technology will provide experience that can be translated to other technologies later….

Cross Platform Languages Annotated

As this chart summarizes, HTML5 boasts clear advantages in easy learning curve and broad compatibility across diverse platforms, including some that are likely to appeal to the less technical student.

Using HTML5, a writer can edit ebooks. A designer can supercharge Photoshop or Illustrator, using JavaScript loops and random processes to generate imagery that would be impossibly time-intensive to create by hand. A gamer can build virtual worlds and gameplay with Unity; a filmmaker can make an interactive video with Popcorn.js; an entrepreneur with an idea for a mobile app can go from assignment to App Store in five months thanks to PhoneGap. 

And all of them can use HTML5 to build all the moving parts of today’s Web, from static pages to dynamic interfaces, from AJAX to JSON, from bookmarklets to browser extensions.

Perhaps most importantly, HTML5 is inherently an open language, making it easy for peers to learn from each other in collaborative environments like The Pool.

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