2012 Conference

Top 5 Developments in Higher Ed: #heweb12 Edition

If you believe the futurist Raymond Kurzweil, humanity is entering a phase of it’s existence where technology will start to merge with our humanity at a downright dizzying pace. In his book “The Singularity is Near” Kurzweil envisions a future where humans live forever, we’ll upload our minds into computers, and virtual reality is the norm, rather than a curiosity.

This is all possible because we’re expanding our knowledge exponentially, heading toward a Singularity that will make us like gods. Kurzweil has already predicted glasses with computers inside them and house cleaning robots (Google Glass and Roomba anyone?), so there’s reason to invest in what he’s saying.

But such predictions can also give us in higher ed some comfort. Sure, it seems like things are moving fast, because they are. But we don’t have to worry the privacy implications of uploading our students’ brains into a VR mainframe just yet. With that in mind, we thought it would be helpful to look back at some of the big technological jumps our industry has made since #heweb11.
1) Responsive Design

Responsive design has been around, but 2012 seems to be the year when Higher Ed Web types are kicking the tires and driving it out of the showroom to their websites. Chris Wiegman of St. Edward’s University in Austin, Tex calls responsive design “the future of the .edu.” He notes that responsive mobile friendly design, has gone from “an exotic feature” to part of “a strategy to make the best use of our people, out time, and our budget.”

“Basically, a proper responsive site isn’t just a marketing tool on a microsite anymore,” Wiegman said.” It is, instead, the best way to get the content of all of our web properties to our community (students/faculty/alumni/etc) with the least amount of resources.”

Erik Runyon of the University of Notre Dame has been compiling a list of collegiate websites that have converted to responsive design that shows how the pace of adoption is increasing. (View the list at

As Georgy Cohen noted on, many schools are finding Responsive Design liberating. “We no longer need to feel compelled to plan around countless devices. Rather, we can plan for a single web experience that works in unpredictable contexts,” she wrote.
2) Mobile
Sure responsive design covers the mobile web, but schools everywhere are trying to understand just how to take advantage of the mobile device phenomenon in ways that often expand beyond the web browser. It’s a discussion that’s not going away any time soon. Do you let students tweet in class? How much e-commerce do enable on mobile platforms? Do you stick to a mobile website or develop apps for various platforms?

SCVNGR’s Jeff Kirchick calls mobile “ the next imperative channel,” in an article for Mashable and looks at how Purdue is using mobile to encourage class discussion and e-learning through a suite of apps. “Technology in education usually means places of higher learning play a bit of catch-up, but those who start embracing mobile now with development and budget resources will be ahead of the curve for years to come,” he says.
“Like any new technology, it takes a while to see where it fits,” (View the article at )

Ron Bonig, Gartner’s higher education research director, told Community College Times earlier this year “We’re at the stage where administrators are doing the analysis and going, ‘Here’s where it’s good and can make a big impact, and here’s where it isn’t.’ Few have it nailed down, and the vast majority are still testing.” (View article at )

3) Facebook vs Google
Depending on who you talk to, Google Plus is either the best thing in social networking since, well Facebook, or a barren wasteland that just can’t compete with the power of Zuckerberg’s monolith. The Wall Street Journal noted G+ users were only spending 3 minutes a month on the network, versus 6 to 7 for your average Facebook user.

But there’s no denying that Facebook took notice of Google’s efforts this year, introducing Timeline, revisions to its lists, and host of other improvements designed to pack more punch into its offerings.

And Google+ has definitely won its converts, such as PC World’s Christina DesMarais, who calls it a more lively place to hang out. “You’re not likely to see inane posts — most contain photos, videos or links to other interesting content,” she wrote in May.

4) Online Learning
There’s a bit of a gold rush feeling to the online learning world these days, but it’s not entirely clear what all these prospective schools will find in their pans. Harvard, Stanford, and M.I.T all have begun offering free online courses. The term MOOC, or Massively Open Online Course, has entered the vocabulary.

There was even a MOOC on MOOCs this year. How meta.

Inside Higher Ed noted in June that more than 1.5 million registered for MOOCs through the online providers Coursera, Udacity and edX. There remain lingering questions about just what these courses mean for students who take them. Are they worthy components of full degrees? Are they something less? And are universities making mistakes by giving away their content? Are these classes glorified versions of the lectures that some run on public access cable?

PA Consulting’s Mike Boxall wrote in The Guardian that MOOCs will fundamentally change the way education occurs, once teachers move beyond traditional models of pedagodgy, using social media and other methods.

“If, or perhaps we should say when, MOOCs mature in these ways, they will challenge our basic notions of higher education, just as our relationships with news, entertainment and other information have been transformed. When knowledge and educational content become free commodities, how will universities justify the value of their fees?” Boxall wrote. (View the article at )

5) Pinterest

If you logged on to the Internet at some point in the last year, even for 5 seconds, you were likely bombarded with news about Pinterest. Pinterest struck a deal with Facebook to bring the site to hundreds of millions. It was adopted by home improvement chains and car manufacturers. And it spawned the brilliant mockery site Pinterest You are Drunk.

It came from nowhere to be the fastest growing website ever, according to reports, and is now the 3rd largest social network in the US when measured by traffic. The visual format and ease of “pinning” helped Pinterest catch fire like few sites before it.

Colleges and universities plunged in, creating pin boards that shared everything from historical photos to dorm decorating ideas to job hunting tips. The trick will be how Pinterest evolves after this explosives growth. Some reports say the pace of adoption is leveling off. Will college populations continue to find Pinterest exciting or will they move on to the next shiny thing?


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