XML in Schools – Is Now the Time?

The other day I was chatting online with a good friend of mine. Dave was a teacher but has gone back to industry. He's a SharePoint consultant these days. Its been a real learning experience for him and he seems to be enjoying it. But one of the things he told me is that he thinks schools need to teach XML. On a day to day basis he's using that quite a bit. It is the language that applications use to share information. It is used for customization in SharePoint and other important applications and tools. It is also used within programs to comment code to automatically generate all sorts of things from Intellisense to documentation. In short, XML is showing up in a lot of places.

Now I have to confess that I have probably not been paying enough attention to XML. Oh sure I know its out there and I see it around. I know that it is the way LINQ queries return data for example and that is something high on my list of things to know more about. But I haven't really moved it to the top of my "things to learn" queue. After chatting with Dave I'm rethinking that.

There are a couple of questions that you my readers can help me with. For those of you in industry, just how important is XML these days? And if it is very important what do you think students should be learning? Just the basics because implementations are all over the place or are there specific tools or applications that are so critical that everyone knows them? What do you wish you had learned about XML before you entered the workforce?

And for those of you in education (especially at the university level), are you teaching XML and if so how, when and where in the curriculum? I'd really like to know where the logical place in curriculum is for XML.

Opinions of all sorts are welcome. Let's have a conversation.

Comments (7)

  1. Tom says:

    XML is extremely important in industry.  I work in automotive development tools, and I use XML daily.  In our industry, most proprietary file formats are slowly converging on XML implementations.

    Should students learn XML before entering the workplace?  Absolutely.  But I don’t think it’s necessary to get too carried away with it.  The basics of XML are very simple and can be taught very quickly.  In my opinion, going beyond that would be unnecessary.

  2. Joe says:

    It was time, along time ago in my opinion!!

  3. burrowsuw says:

    I teach at the University level and also consult. XML is very important — not only with web applications, but all applications (because of the use of XML in configuration files, etc.

    Understanding the basic structure of XML, the basic rules for valid XML, and a bit on XML schemas is a must before entering the job market. BTW, VB 9.0, with its XML literals, is a great way to play with the basic concepts.

    One note; LINQ does not necessarily return data in XML format — it does with LINQ to XML, but the other flavors of LINQ return other data types (as appropriate).

    bill burrows

  4. Luciano says:

    … and to avoid it’s ABUSE!!!

  5. Ben Chun says:

    I think it’s important for students to understand the concept of markup languages and the concept of structured, declarative syntax in general.  So teaching them HTML, teaching them the DOM, comparing HTML to XHTML, and having them create their own XML data structures and trivially parse them, that would be enough.  Those experiences are also good for their overall understanding.  It doesn’t have to be a huge deal, and you can break up those topics and stick a few of them into a web development class that isn’t even really about programming.

    I think the biggest problem with XML is that it sounds like a big deal. It’s been made it sound like a big deal. So people talk about it and those who haven’t worked with it a lot get intimidated, or feel like it’s some kind of bizarre cult.  It’s not really that massive of a topic or concept.  What it comes down to is that structured data is more useful because it makes it easy to rigorously define interchange formats and you can reuse parsing/construction tools.

  6. JSON is a very important data interchange format too, for what that’s worth. A lot of web services allow data to be returned in various formats, including XML or JSON.

  7. raymond etornam says:

    I think xml should be taught in school.i am a 3rd year undergraduate student from Ghana and i spent my time working on an Xml Editor for fun. I learnt i lot of things about xml that i didn’t know before.I think xml is becoming very important in the way we exchange data between systems daily and the more people know about it the better it would become.

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