Although I think I managed to keep my tweets to a minimum, I spent the last three days at the Higher Education Web Professionals annual conference in Milwaukee. It sure is convenient that they held the conference about 15 minutes from my house!
The conference wasn’t exactly what I expected. I thought I would come away with some web developer knowledge and the ability to understand code just a little bit more (full disclosure: I am by no means a web developer). Instead, I came away thinking about content, sharing, accessibility, and professional identity.
The first memorable presentation I attended was the keynote by Adam Savage (yeah, the guy from Myth Busters). He spoke and answered questions for almost two hours, and managed to hold the audience’s attention the entire time. He spoke about the quest for expertise, the similarities between art and science, and professional relationships. It’s clear that he’s a man of many varied interests and talents, and I hope I can continue to diversify my skills as he has throughout his career. What he said that really stood out to me was (paraphrased):
You become successful by being dynamic, but the trappings of success encourage you to become static in order to continue to capitalize on your success. You must continually remind yourself to be dynamic, and refuse to believe your own bullshit.
His talk was a great reminder to continue to try new things, not hesitate to dig deeper into my interests and passions, and to continually check myself, particularly when I’m encountering success.
I attended Web Accessibility: 30 Tips in 45 Minutes on a whim when I saw great tweets coming out just a few minutes into the session. I have a page-long list of accessibility-related items I need to review on our website. I felt incredibly inadequate in this session, and after speaking with colleagues at much larger schools with large web development teams, I found that I’m not alone. In my novice opinion, higher education is failing at creating accessible websites (although there are a few institutions that seem to be excelling). The presenter, Terril Thompson from the University of Washington, seemed super knowledgeable. Check out his blog for more information.
I’m in charge of our campus website, and I’ve gotta say—I don’t really like it. I inherited it and had no say in the design whatsoever. After listening to various presentations and speaking with colleagues, I realized that I’ve become distracted by our design. Yeah, it’s not the best, but I know a redesign is on the horizon and I like what I’ve seen so far. What I need to focus on in the meantime (and all the time, really) is content. I can improve our existing content and ready that and future content for migration to the new CMS. Our design isn’t hindering that many people from using our website, but a lack of a content strategy may be. I have a feeling the Meet Content blog is going to become a frequently consulted resource.
Donna Talarico from Elizabethtown College presented an excellent session about sharing content. By sharing her experience, she gave me a few ideas for new tactics I can implement on campus. She also made me think more intentionally about how I share content across various media (print, website, social, etc.). I already do this, but I don’t do it with much intentionality. I want to work with my team to create content that’s shareable, but also put more energy into finding student and faculty created content that’s worthy of being shared. A quick tip from Donna:
Content is begging to be shared if it is: compelling, useful, memorable, emotional, funny, entertaining, sharing good news, or expressing pride.
HighEdWeb is not just web professionals anymore. A lot of marketing and PR folks (like me) have started to attend the conference. Now that we’ve shown interest, I think it’s time for the conference to include more relevant content for this group. The conference schedule was full of technical sessions that included code I couldn’t understand (great for the web pros), but often I felt the Marketing, Content and Social Media track was at the elementary level. I’d love to see more presentations on measuring effectiveness of all this content and sharing (analytics, KPIs, dashboards, etc.) or more nuts and bolts demos of how a project was pulled of from start to finish (like #UWRightNow), or more sessions about strategy and good practice that happens offline to create great content online (like Amanda Costello‘s session on working with faculty, which won the Best in Conference award).
I enjoyed HighEdWeb, and was very thankful that the convenient location allowed me to attend for minimal cost. The networking was invaluable, and I plan to follow up on quite a few connections I made. What will tip the scales regarding attendance at next year’s conference in Buffalo is the content. If I see new and exciting things on the program, it will definitely be on my radar.
If you attended HighEdWeb, what were your key takeaways (feel free to link to a blog post if you’ve got one)? If you’ve never attended, would you consider attending a future national or regional conference?