Much like the live music that made its host city famous, High Ed Web 11 jammed, from the early early morning till the early, early night. For four solid days.
HEWeb’s visit to Austin positively rippled with energy and creativity. Perhaps it was exhortations to “Keep Austin Weird” rubbing off on the attendees. Perhaps it was that roughly 50 percent of the conference was made up of first time participants. Maybe the live music blaring from every door on Sixth Street just washed over the conference. But those in attendance were caught up in the wave.
There were tweets from a god, a devil and a beard. There was a band full of web nerds paying tribute to Johnny Cash. There was a game of live action Angry Birds. There was Mark Greenfield doing his best Marshall Mathers impersonation to announce that #heweb13 would be in Buffalo.
Dorky fun is not the only thing HEWeb has become known for. It’s also known for being an absolute deluge of great information and a great source of community. Both elements were on display in spades in Austin.
Conference Chair Glenda Sims, from the University of Texas, called it the best conference ever “because we filled Austin with HighEd Web geek goodness, added sunshine, hot sauce and new ideas, and left inspired and, dare I say, even smarter.” Yes Glenda, is more than a little biased, but looking back at some of the conference’s presentations, you see there’s a strong case she’s right.
- Best of Conference Winner Georgy Cohen drove home the message that good content must be the priority over pretty looking web sites or print materials. Focus on the messages and stories you want to tell and make those the priority, not whether they are for the web or print. “Actions driven by emotion are extremely powerful,” said Cohen, so make sure that your stories are created to make the greatest impact on your audience.
- North Park University’s John Boyd reminded attendees to his session that breaking things is good, when it comes to usability testing on your website. Good testing on a website is like copy editing or a design review — its good when you catch problems because you can eliminate them, Boyd said. Take the time to do things right, he urged.
- Google’s Chris Wilson urged attendees to never to forget to make a little magic on the job. Wilson message: don’t get bogged down in the mundane. Make your users go “wow” when they visit your site. Or as he put it “sprinkle a little pixie dust.”
- Karlyn Morrisette, of Southern New Hampshire University, reminded conference goers that their institutions need to “know who they are and never apologize for it.” In what may be the only presentation to ever combine the Insane Clown Posse with very religious Taylor University, Karlyn noted that the band the institutions like Taylor understand their audiences incredibly well and don’t waste their time trying to market themselves to people who don’t understand the way they do things. It’s a lesson Karlyn said more schools need to take to heart.
As attendees headed back to their campus tired but full of energy and new ideas, there was only one question to ask, and it too, had a musical bent: What will #heweb12 do for an encore?