#heweb16: a reflection

I just returned from the annual conference of the Higher Education Web Professionals Association, held this year in Memphis. It was my fifth national conference for this organization in six years, with a handful of smaller regional events in Michigan scattered amongst the same timeframe, and the third conference where I’ve been involved in helping to choose presenters and keep the show running during the week.

In the course of those years, I’ve noticed that there are a few words or phrases that you tend to hear a lot over the course of HighEdWeb, and I’m not talking about acronyms, buzzwords, or terms of art. I’m talking about phrases like “I’ve found my people.” Even LeVar Burton (of Roots/Reading Rainbow and Star Trek fame), who presented a powerfully moving keynote on Wednesday, said it. But what exactly does that mean? Attendees at HighEdWeb tend to be fairly widely distributed in terms of their job functions — they are writers, programmers, videographers, designers, social media managers, marketers, and more (sometimes all at once). What brings us together, I think, are three things:

  • an fascination with and curiosity about this incredibly quickly-evolving meta-medium we call “the web;”
  • a commitment to higher education, despite the fact that most of us could probably be making a lot more money in the private sector;
  • a belief that, if you’re going to be spending eight-plus hours a day doing it, then damn it, work should be fun.

Another word that one hears frequently at HighEdWeb, often half (but only half) jokingly is “therapy.” Many of us work in places where we are one of just a handful (if we’re lucky) of web workers, where the people around us don’t understand the strategy, resources, and sweat that are needed to go into building and maintaining a website that effectively serves the students who are our primary audience. Our work is often thought of as some sort of arcane magic, or, worse, something that pixel-pushing and button-mashing trained monkeys could do. To be surrounded by 800 other people who understand the joys and frustrations of the work we do, and to learn that every school has pretty much the same problems, can be a powerful experience, one that truly makes you feel like you are less alone in the world than you might have thought.

Particularly among the group of people who volunteer many hours of their lives toward putting together this event, those first two concepts—”finding one’s people” and “therapy”—seem to coalesce into another word that I heard a lot this year: family. It’s a family that I’m glad to have been adopted into, and one that I look forward to sharing many memories with in the years to come.

#heweb15 or bust

This coming week, I’ll be attending the Annual Conference of the Higher Education Web Professionals’ Association (aka HighEdWeb) in Milwaukee. This is the fourth national HighEdWeb I’ve attended, and the second year I’ve co-chaired the Management and Professional Development track. I thought I was getting off easy this year, as it was supposed to be my first not putting on some sort of presentation (assuming you count the Johnny Cash cover band in Austin back in 2011), but as it turns out I’m also a late addition to a discussion panel during the Leadership Academy on Sunday.

If you’ll be there, please come up and say hi; if you’ve never been, but think three days of web nerdery, karaoke, Cards Against Humanity, and finding your tribe sounds like fun, start saving up those professional development dollars. You won’t find a more welcoming bunch of introverts in the Western hemisphere.

The Serial Effect: Audio Content #casemmw

Notes for “The Serial Effect: Audio-Based Content,” presented at the 2015 CASE Multimedia Workshop in Washington, DC on June 19, 2015.

Podcasts/Audio cited:

Interactive and video cited:

Articles cited:

Additional reading and listening:

And, of course, don’t forget the Serial Effect Spotify Playlist:

What Does the Web Say? #confabEDU edition

I’ll be once again presenting “What Does the Web Say? Thinking about Sound on the Internet” at Confab Higher Ed in Atlanta tomorrow, November 13.

Audio (and video) used in the presentation:

Additional sites to explore:

Making #heweb14 Sausage (Not a Sandwich)

On Thursday, I returned from the Higher Education Web Professionals Association (or “HighEdWeb” if you’re more into the brevity thing) 2014 Annual Conference (#heweb14) in Portland, OR. This was my third HighEdWeb, after getting the band together at #heweb11 and a twofer of presenting at #heweb12 (see my wrap-ups here and here), and, along with presenting this year in the Usability, Accessibility, and Design track, I helped cochair the Management and Professional Development track with Henderson State’s Tonya Oaks Smith (with whom I also had the pleasure of presenting a talk back at #heweb12). From great sessions, even better social events (shout-out to Karaoke from Hell), and a final keynote with Chris Hardwick that brought the house down, #heweb14 was probably the most consistently awesome conference I’ve ever attended.

This was my first time being on the other side of a conference, and I have to say that, despite the fact that I have frequently hung out with the organizers of conferences I’ve attended, I had no clue how much coordinated effort goes into putting on an event of this size. Between the conference and program committees, there were a couple dozen of us involved, all ably captained by Conference Chair Sara Clark of Missouri State. It really is amazing that something with so many moving parts, all of whom are volunteers, manages to run as smoothly as these things do every year. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, consider the fact that from the week before the conference until the day after, the committee sent over 1200 text messages to each other. Not a few of these were just us goofing around with each other, but they also included everything from “Does anyone have a key to the office?” to “My presenter isn’t here yet, what do I do?” Somehow, though, this is all seamless to the attendees.

At the wrap-up, debriefing dinner, Sara asked us to share three things about the conference: something we thought was positive, something that could be improved, and something that we’d overheard from the audience (or “OH,” in Twitterspeak). I can’t think of a better way of summing up my experience then repeating what I said there.

Positive: I think that what sets HighEdWeb apart from any other conference I’ve been to is the fact that it is put together by people who are really there for the right reason, they are having so much fun and are so enthusiastic about what they’re doing, and that is infectious for the attendees.

Improvement: All of those moving parts make for a lot of confusion if you’re not familiar with the processes, so I felt a little bewildered and overwhelmed occasionally. I’m sure that if I’m lucky enough to be involved in next year’s conference, though, that feeling would lessen.

Overheard: I spent much of the sessions in the MPD track monitoring the backchannel on Twitter, and what struck me — and I think this was borne out by Dave Cameron‘s “Human at Work” presentation winning best-in-conference — was how many of the talks that had little to do with the web itself were really resonating with attendees. A conference that was ostensibly about technology turned out to really be about nurturing peoples’ humanity.

At various points in the conference several attendees, some of whom I’d never met, made a point to come up and thank me and my fellow organizers for everything we did to make the conference happen. Really, though, it’s the organizers who should be thanking the attendees for giving us the opportunity to get so deeply involved in something so incredible.

“What Does the Web Say?” Redux #heweb14

I’ll be presenting “What Does the Web Say? Thinking about Sound on the Internet” at the annual HighEdWeb conference in Portland on October 20.

If you’ll be at #heweb14 and we don’t already have plans to meet up, drop me a line… and if you won’t be there, you still have the chance to come see me present this talk at Confab Higher Ed in Atlanta on November 13.

Audio (and video) used in the presentation:

Additional sites to explore:

Notes for “What Does the Web Say?” #hewebMI

I’ll be presenting “What Does the Web Say? Thinking about Sound on the Internet” at HighEdWeb Michigan in Ann Arbor on May 22. Here are the supplementary materials for that presentation.

Download my “audio slides.”

Audio used in the presentation:

Additional sites to explore:

A #ConfabEDU Wrap-up

I just returned from the first ever Confab Higher Ed, in Atlanta. I’ve been to a number of conferences over the years, but this is the first one I’ve attended that focused specifically on the content side of web work. I’d always heard that Confab events are very well-organized and the talks well-curated, and this was certainly borne out in Atlanta; a hearty congrats on job well-done to the Confab folks and to Georgy and Rick from MeetContent.

Just about all of the sessions I attended left me with something to chew on, but my favorite single session was probably Felicia Pride’s “Transmedia in Higher Education.” Of course, it’s hard not to win over the recovering comparative mythologist in me when you’re talking about storytelling and technology, but I found Felicia’s discussion of using complementary content in different channels to be a fascinating reminder that the “Create once, publish everywhere” model that has become the content strategy mantra is not the only way to think about the content we’re producing.

One of the social needs that conferences seems to fulfill is commiseration, the acknowledgement that all of us gathered in this place face a number of common challenges, and there was certainly no lack of that at #ConfabEDU. My (somewhat, but *only* somewhat) tongue-in-cheek contribution to the #confabfeelings hashtag going around the conference was “Verging on despair at all the barriers in the way of doing good work.” It is really, really, hard to do strategic work when you are constantly putting out (often imaginary) fires or doing time-consuming projects for the sake of, say, a faculty member’s vanity. When strategy is something you have to sneak in around the edges, instead of the guiding force of everything you do, it’s not much of a strategy. I would loooove to have an institutional message architecture (as defined by Margot Bloomstein, “a hierarchy of communication goals that reflects a common vocabulary. Concrete, shared terminology, not abstract concepts.”) written on the wall of the office, and when someone asks us to, say, design a poster that no one will ever see, be able to point to the wall and ask them how this project fits in that architecture.

The golden nugget that I came away with is this: content strategy is really people strategy. The person planning how the content will fit together and be distributed is rarely also the the one creating or maintaining that content. If you can’t get buy-in from the folks who actually own the content, can’t get them to take ownership of and pride in that content, your website — and your users — are going to suffer.

Higher Ed Live Video Recap of #hewebMI

Instead of my usual post-conference round-up, after last week’s HighEdWeb Michigan I had the chance to be on the Higher Ed Live video recap with a couple of the organizers and some of my fellow attendees. Aside from the ADD-inducing nature of watching real-time feedback flowing in over Twitter, and attempting to talk and tweet at the same time while never having any idea whether I was “on-camera” or not, it was a fun experience… almost as fun as hanging out with all these great colleagues in real life. Video of the recap is embedded below.