Pano photo of Memphis river view
Last week I returned from the HigherEd Web Conference in Memphis, TN. This is one of my favorite conferences because the community is fantastic, the energy is high, the events are well-attended and create an inclusive atmosphere, and it’s just well-run. It’s also a very heavy Twitter user group . . . attendees love to tweet everything early and often, and each session is given its own hashtag so people can follow along. They also have a coveted award called the “Red Stapler” given for best in each track, culminating in a Best Of Conference award.
As if that wasn’t enough, the keynote speakers each year are amazing! This year, Kimberly Bryant of www.blackgirlscode.com was the first keynote. The community was so supportive of her organization’s work to bring computer science and code to young girls of color that people were donating money on the spot as she spoke, and tweeting it around to encourage others to keep the donations coming.
The final keynote was LeVar Burton. As the son of an educator, a Star Trek: The Next Generation actor, and Reading Rainbow creator, Mr. Burton is perfectly positioned to speak on the intersection of technology and education. He was funny, engaging, and accommodating. Plus he made everyone cry when talking about the important teachers in his life, and asked us to take a moment to reflect on ours. And kudos to the Reading Rainbow social media team, who were impressively following along with his talk and engaging via Twitter with the audience in real time.
This conference is mostly focused on implementers. It’s a conference of editors, designers, developers, admissions, and IT staff. This is a passionate group of people who want to do better by their schools via the school’s online presence, and I’m continually impressed by how creative the teams get within their limited resources (people, time and money). The smaller schools have the ability to be more nimble around internal politics and the lack of resources than larger institutions, but even the larger schools are making amazing things happen online.
Though this isn’t something that Palantir works in directly, schools and libraries are really getting savvy about social media. There were sessions on how schools were using Pinterest, the success around ways to text students (including admissions acceptances!), Snapchat (again . . . including admissions acceptances!), and more.
Schools are really looking about how to personalize and individualize the experience for students from a visual perspective, understanding that the younger generations are used to a personalized experience via Netflix, Spotify, and Amazon where recommendations can be made based on interests. Schools are responding to this by designing more around creating a “choose your own adventure” feel either through filtering majors and interests, or through messaging and branding in addition to social media.
I also learned a lot about the concerns that schools have in the areas of accessibility, crisis control, and rebuilding trust among faculty and administrators when past web projects either haven’t gone well, or due to internal power struggles over which content gets priority.
Between representing all the factions of a large organization, juggling the needs of multiple audiences, and having to keep up with the constantly changing workspace online, these small teams of web professionals have a lot to handle! And this annual meeting allows them to collaborate, learn from each other, compare notes, and celebrate their hard work.
Some Favorite Sessions
In addition to the Red Stapler winners, there were a lot of great sessions. Videos will be up on the schedule page eventually, but below are links to slides to some noteworthy ones:
- “Mike’s an Idiot” And Other Ways a Responsive Shop Changed Recruitment in 2016 by Beloit College: this is how they used SnapChat and social media to great effect.
- Defeating Content Zombies: What “The Walking Dead” Taught Me About Web Governance by Tim Nekritz from SUNY Oswego was a terrific way to describe how to get a handle on dead content and move forward with a plan.
- Share Human, a talk on authenticity by Dave Cameron of Ithaca College. This one had people in tears according to Twitter.
- Totally Topical Terrific Tutorial to Tag Manager by Michael Feinen. Additionally, he wrote this amazing blog post as a letter to higher ed administrators.
- One Size Fits None, Christopher Jones of North Central College. This is about redesigning your site to make it more personal.
My colleague Joe Allen-Black and I were able to give our presentation “Project Management: The Musical!” to this crowd as the last session on Monday. We added one more song since the last conference, and thankfully it all went smoothly without a full rehearsal! Considering the amounts of tweets there were related to the session and feedback we received in person, the attendees seemed to enjoy our musical take on how to get a project moving successfully from start to finish.
I learn so much from this conference every year about what the higher education community’s needs are for their online presence, what they are doing to solve those problems, and how we at Palantir can assist. HEW hosts regional conferences all over the country throughout the year, leading up to the big annual conference next October in Hartford, CT. I don’t yet know what my calendar holds for next year, but I look forward to being able to attend and see the great community of HEW often in 2017.