Responsive web design and cheese hats. What more can you ask for at a work-related conference? Welp, Will Norris and I made our #thoroughlyjazzed trek to Wisconsin last week for High Ed Web and we were certainly not disappointed: we met lot of great people, we sat in on a keynote speech from the Mythbuster himself – Adam Savage , and we learned a lot about what’s trending in higher education this year. Overall, it seemed pretty clear that responsive web design, social media, and usability best practices dominated the conference in terms of which topics were getting the most buzz between presentations and attendees.

Here are a few of our takeaways:

1. Ford the Social Media Channel with SMART Goals
We dug hearing Ma’ayan Plaut from Oberlin College and Mallory Wood from mStoner talk about social media in this session. The best practices they discussed included:

  • Setting SMART goals: S = specific, M = measurable, A = achievable, R = realistic, T = timely.
  • Setting schedules for posting on social media, because timing is everything; impulsively posting means you may not always be posting at the right time, nor posting meaningful content.
  • Determining your current “cost per follower” and what you’re willing to pay for a follower on each network is something that most organizations can benefit from pursuing.

Overall, this was an excellent presentation, with both Ma’ayan and Mallory full of energy. We loved that they shared concrete numbers attached to the success that they’ve achieved by following their systems of best practices. Additionally, it was pretty cool to hear how they’ve been using some of the younger social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest on-campus with very positive results. 

2. Improve User Experience with Responsive Web Design (RWD)
Nathan Gerber from Utah Valley University took the stage to talk about RWD (design that adjusts depending on what device a website is accessed from – no different URLs needed). Gerber argued that RWD is the most cost effective way to adapt web development to the paradigm shift of user/visitor experience platforms. According to Nathan, “mobile” is the first major paradigm shift since the web started.

Here are some major points from Nathan:

  • Why RWD? In the first 2 days of school, UVU had 31,000 mobile devices attempt to connect to their site. In the last 30 days, UVU has had 223 unique devices hit their site, and 636 different resolutions. Phew, so much for focusing design on desktop and laptop computers if you truly care about end-user experience!
  • A “mobile first” approach to RWD will strongly force content prioritization. Would someone want to see a certain type of content on their mobile phone? If not, maybe this content doesn’t deserve a whole lot of real estate on your webpage.
  • The best admin testing tool for content prioritization is a real, live mobile device. Hand someone a mobile device and ask them to find something on your homepage – you should be happy with the results.

Mobile optimization is huge for schools already, and the importance of having an effective mobile site will continue to grow as more and more students start using smart phones. We both enjoyed Nathan’s talk, and the overall response from the audience after the presentation was just excellent.

3. Fun at Discovery World
On a less academic note, Will and I had a blast at the Discovery World excursion. This event was awesome and seemed to be the icing on the cake for the conference. At Discovery World, everyone had a chance to explore interactive science exhibits while sharing drinks and conversations with other attendees. A cover band was also unleashed and they played several pretty epic classic rock songs which included “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Enough said—pure awesomeness.

4. Meeting our clients face-to-face!
We were absolutely thrilled to meet some of our current customers like University of Rhode Island and DePaul University on a much more personable level. Likewise, we were fortunate to run into several folks who we’ve presented to in the past via webcast in-person as well. As I mentioned in my pre-High Ed Web blogpost, modern technology is great for doing business efficiently, but nothing beats a good ol’ face-to-face interaction! 

5. We got a cheese hat!
It's not actually neon and glowing in real life.

^ How could we ever come back from Wisconsin without one???


Were you at High Ed Web? What did you most enjoy? Tweet me @tcnbaltimore and Will @localistwill to continue the conversation.


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