#hewebSYR 2012

What do you get when you mix Web programmers and Web content creators in one HighEdWeb conference on one day in one room with only one track? A lot of learning (and a little bit of disco ball).

HighEdWeb Syracuse brought Web professionals from across five states and three countries to the iSchool at Syracuse University on Monday, June 25, for a packed day of sessions covering everything from crisis communications and student social media ambassadors to WordPress plug-ins and mobile learning. And as one of the conference organizers, I think I would say that what was initially a bit of a concern – She’s a Web developer. He’s a social media coordinator. Can they get along in the suburbs?! – turned out to be one of the biggest strengths of the Syracuse regional. With only one track to choose from, the Web marketers in the room got a chance to see what a really smart developer can help them achieve, and the Web developers in the room got a chance to see what really smart communications professionals and educators can do to advance the missions of our schools with online tools.

The conference also featured a new format for a HighEdWeb event: a one-hour “lightning round” of 10-minute talks. We scheduled these talks for right after lunch, and I think the change of pace and the energy level of the speakers in these sessions really worked well to kick the conference back into high-gear after our afternoon trip to Chipotle.

By way of summary, then, a quick re-cap of the sessions from HighEdWeb Syracuse:

Keynote Address: Jill Hurst-Wahl, Director, Library and Information Science Program at the iSchool

The main takeaway from Jill’s keynote was one of the first things she said ( and for me it became a theme for the rest of the conference): when it comes to all the devices and technology people carry about with them, Jill said: “Sadly, we recognize the ease and ignore the complexity.” On the surface, it seems easy to go to the iTunes store and download an app. Or to multitask on our laptops and phones. But issues of digital literacy, accessibility, and access still remain and cannot be ignored.

Tonya Oaks Smith: We’re Going to Need a Bigger Boat: Web Communication Before, During, and After a Crisis

How do you know when a real crisis has struck your university community? Here’s a hint: “If it’s a real crisis, an email ain’t gonna cut it.” A real crisis requires relationship building before, open and early communication during, and renewal and rebuilding after. Tonya provided a step-by-step guide to crisis communication, using the mayor from Jaws as a case study on what not to do.

Marcello Prattico – Going Mobile at SU

The mobile web vs. native app debate continues, and at Syracuse University the decision was made to launch an iOS app this past fall semester. The approach as Marcello described it was pretty interesting: in-house developers basically created a set of HTML5 Web “apps,” and an outside vendor was brought in to create the iOS “wrapper” for the iPhone.

Curtiss Grymala – The Ten-Minute WordPress Shortcode

Talk about recognizing the ease while ignoring the complexity! For those of us who love WordPress as a simple-to-use, almost infinitely flexible Web platform, Curtiss’s presentation demonstrated the real work that goes in making the system do its thing. Curtiss built a Wordpress shortcode and an associated widget in real-time, filling the backchannel with many immature code puns and much respect for developers who Build Good Stuff.

Ashley Hennigan and Tanner Newcomb – This is Not a Facebook Session

The student ambassador program at RIT takes social media waaaaay beyond the Facebook fan page and “class of” group, and I think it’s a model that most admissions office can learn a great deal from. Ashley Hennigan and one of her student “rock stars” Tanner Newcomb described their approach at RIT. I had two big takeways from this session. First, I love how the RIT students tweet and blog as themselves, not as an institutional account. They are each given their own iPod Touches that they use as their own, not as a “work” device. Tanner tweets as @RIT_Tanner (a name the definitely needs to be embroidered on a jacket, Ashley!) And secondly, to those who may be worried about giving over so much public control of your school’s message to students, Ashley reminds us that the most important point of contact prospective students have with an institution is the campus tour. And who gives those? Unsupervised students. Why can’t we trust those same students – the students who love the place – to tweet?

Robin Smail – Shotgunning Teh Awesome

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I find the most valuable piece of information I get from a conference session is something that wasn’t even the main point of the session, but was instead some little tool the presenter used or mentioned during the talk that I soon become addicted to. It’s how I first heard about Evernote, Gliffy, and Gimme Bar. Well in the first of the lightning talks, Robin crammed in – man, I can’t even remember how many! – of these awesome tools: What the Font, ifttt, Eventifier, Webpage Screenshot, and many, many more. It was like making a meal of the appetizers!

Chris McCarthy – Developing Content and Department Focus with Google AdWords

A recent graduate of SUNY-ESF, Chris used his 10 minutes to deliver a pretty funny and student-focused rant about departmental website content. A couple of his techniques were especially interesting to me. First, use Google search results and AdWord performance to convince your faculty of the importance of meaningful, crisp content. If you can show them that the new program they care so much about is underperforming in search results because of the overly formalized way they insist on describing it, that can be powerful. And secondly, when discussing departmental Web content with faculty, bring a student worker or other representative with you. Their arguments might – might – hold more sway.

Sven Aas – Archiving Web News: A Case Study

Sven’s lighting talk included a slide of Dublin core metadata as XML – score one for the library geeks! Sven described a project in which he worked with colleagues in Mount Holyoke College libraries to archive more than 6,000 news stories in the school’s dSpace repository, and the challenges they ran into along the way. It was a great reminder to us all to think about how all the work we are doing now to tell the story of our institutions online is going to be preserved (or not) for future generations.

Paul Otteson – The Evolution of Consciousness and the Virtual Mind

This lightning talk was definitely a departure from the use subject matter and format of a HighEdWeb session, and a welcome one. Paul presented a philosophical outlook on how we got to this point in this history of the human mind. Why do we do what we do all day? Is this all there is? Are we just creating new ways to distract ourselves? Has it always been this way? Or are we on the verge of something bigger?

Andrew Smyk – I Was Promised Mobile Learning (and Flying Cars)

Andrew’s daughter works on her math homework together with her friends in grade school using FaceTime on her iPod. When they are done with the problem, they take a picture of it from the whiteboard and text it to their teacher. I wanna do that! And I want flying cars! My main takeaway from this session: we’re not there yet. Not even close. Just because there is a mobile app for your LMS, does not mean you are doing mobile learning.

David DeMello – Stop Posting Fuzzy Pie Charts! Better Data Visualization with Javascript

If you are presenting important statistical information about your schools in graphic form, David presented some specific techniques for using Javascript, CSS, and ARIA to make them much more accessible to all users than the old stand-by techniques of alt text of longdesc files. But I think his most important point was something much bigger: “The screen reader is not an unfortunate imposition that we must accommodate. It’s just another device.” We want to make our content and tools available to users wherever they are, on their terms. Accessibility is part of that.

Rob Engelsman – Million Dollar Tweety: My Social Media Toolkit

Ithaca College is doing some pretty sweet stuff on social media, and Rob shared lots of examples and tools. My favorites: the move-in day coverage where members of the student social media team handed out awards for the “best packed car” and “the most stuff” and the Thank You campaign, where graduating students held up signs saying who they thanked for making them “Ready” for the real world. I also loved his example of creating lists for active student tweeters as a way to keep a finger on the pulse of the student body. And a special shout-out to the iSchool tech support guy for coordinating the disco balls with Rob’s talk perfectly!

So what else can I say? The snacks were good. The bathroom hand dryers were loud. The air conditioning was … crisp. And the presenters were incredibly generous and informative. Let’s do this again, Syracuse!