A HighEdWeb Tweet Retreat: Finding Inspiration Through Twitter Without Being in Milwaukee

I found support to persevere in my task; it was like hearing an inner voice telling me I can do this –except it wasn’t an inner voice, it was real people encouraging me by tweets.

Twitter Birds in the handI was sitting in my office contemplating my next biggest hurdle—to recode a corrupt web
page for my new website—when I suddenly remembered the HighEdWeb conference
was underway in Milwaukee, WI. Looking for a distraction, and curious about the topics
covered, I launched my browser to take a glimpse of the sessions online. Skimming the
presentations I found intriguing, I started feeling a bit nostalgic as I remembered the earlydays of HighEdWeb when I sat on the conference committee to plan the three-day event.

Some five years later, after working in higher education for most of my career, I now
support colleges that need an extra hand in graphic design for print and web-related
projects; through my own business, IntreXDesign & Associates.

On this particular morning, I’ll be honest: I wasn’t overly excited to code a difficult web
page. But I pursued the task anyway. Since I had my browser open, I thought it might be
neat to stream some tweets from the conference sessions. As I began to work, something unexpectedly happened. The tweets became inspirational and the enormous task before me began to diminish. I became energized. As oddly as this may sound, I found myself getting support to persevere in my task from an unexpected source—social media. It was like hearing an inner voice telling me I can do this, except it wasn’t an inner voice it was real people encouraging me by tweets.

I have to admit, I’ve been skeptical about Twitter since it became popular, asking myself
how can this application really be beneficial. When you get right down to it, Twitter is
about connecting people and reading one to two-line tweets throughout the day—it just didn’t
seem productive to me. Sure, I’ve heard stories of how Twitter helped raise money
for a good cause, or offered somebody support in a moment of grief over a dying pet, but
I could never connect the dots when it came to “adding value” and productively. That is,
until now.

My experience was uncanny. The tweets ironically came at a time when I needed
encouragement the most. They streamed into the browser as I looked for solutions in my
code . . . 90% of the time you can fix something by taking it apart and putting it back
together. That’s exactly what I set out to do this morning, fix the code by starting from

The tweets went on . . . the only experience that is a failure is ones that lead to
no data . . . so true. I can’t count the days I put this task off fearing I wouldn’t find the
right solution, and knowing my issue wasn’t going to resolve itself. For days I questioned
myself; what was I missing, why didn’t this work? I finally gave up and decided to start
from scratch.

There was even a tweet that helped me make sense of my actions . . . at
a certain point in every project, you have to stop asking questions and start making
statements . . . the statements in my case, was the code I needed to get right for the page to work. Or another tweet . . . there’s nothing that hasn’t worked out, there are just things that you haven’t gotten back to yet . . . cleverly stated.

Surprisingly, between reading the tweets and doing work, I was actually making progress—and was happy with the results. But I soon encountered another coding issue. Taking my eyes off my task for another read, proved encouraging . . . do things till there’s an answer (perhaps not the answer you’re looking for) but an answer nonetheless . . . of course, repetition equals learning. Then, the solution hit me, and so did another tweet . . . whenyou really get good at something it’s because you learned how to shut out the other noise.

I became more engaged with the tweets, reading them more frequently. The next tweets
came from the keynote speaker Adam Savage, a special effects designer and one of the stars of the Discovery Channel hit show, Mythbusters. As I continued to read, the tweets resonated with me and apparently also with the conference crowd. The tweets continued . . . don’t worry about being wrong, you learn more by getting it wrong a lot than if you get it right the 1st time . . . Thomas Edison has a long list of things that don’t work as filaments for light bulbs—that’s so true, I’ve actually seen them.

I was hooked, my eyes glued to the screen as I continued to read more rigorously. This
speaker was really inspiring. The tweets came faster and I could hardly keep up. Adam
introduced himself as a serial ‘skiller’. What a cool phrase, and his audience appreciated it
too. I was finding a lot of what he was saying in myself, including other tweets . . . the
definition of a serial skiller is becoming good at many things . . . and . . . get cooler at
your discipline.

As I sat absorbing everything I read, my impression of social media specifically Twitter,
for learning purposes changed. I discovered how beneficial social media can be when you are open to the possibility. Aside from Twitter aiding my own experience that morning, I learned a lot. For instance, the tweets shared interesting facts when it came to website navigation:

  • 20 out of 20 students did not know what FAQ stood for on a website
  • No one knows what prospective students mean; top alternatives were “become a student” and “admission.”

When the session moved onto the topic of building websites, more advice streamed:

  • The single most important thing a website can do is tell a story
  • Keep design with accessibility in mind to avoid Band-Aids later
  • First impressions are made in 10 seconds of seeing a site

For marketing, the tweets advised:

  • Good design = good user experience
  • The first step in creating great user experience is to care
  • A great website is not only informative, but also enjoyable to use

Realizing my experience was not traditional, it was obvious to me learning through social
media like Twitter does come with a few lessons:

  • Reading tweets and working concurrently will slow down productivity—budget your time accordingly
  • Have a good foundation for the topic at hand; tweets make more sense when the subject matter is familiar
  • Take notes, jot down advice or websites you can follow up on later

By the end of the workday, the task before me was successful—I did complete my web
page. The project was easier than anticipated, and I couldn’t help but think my inspiration
came from stumbling upon tweets. The only reason, my experience turned out the way
it did was because I was curious and willing to trying something different. Or as a tweet
stated . . . don’t be afraid to take a risk.

What I learned can be passed onto my higher ed clientele and will allow me to provide a service at the level my clients expect when designing print or web publications. It helps me use my knowledge, insight, and skill set, when an extra hand is needed the most. Adam Savage said, “Become more than one resource,” and for me I continue to take the time to invest in learning whenever I can become a serial ‘skiller’.


Photo by ~ilse, Flickr

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By Liz Gross

Liz Gross is the Director of Campus Sonar. Her professional super powers include designing and analyzing market research, applying social media strategy to multiple areas of the business, explaining difficult concepts in simple language, and using social listening to develop consumer insights and assist with reputation management. She received her Ph.D. in Leadership for the Advancement of Learning and Service in Higher Education at Cardinal Stritch University.

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