HighEdWeb 2014 Wrap Up

Portland-Old-Town-Sign It’s been 3 years since my last High Ed Web conference, and a lot has changed. This year I attended the 3 events – Welcome Reception: Punch Bowl Social, HighEdWeb AfterDark: Porto Terra, HighEdWeb Big Social Event: World Forestry Center – but I didn’t stay long at any of them. I had more face time with Texas A&M employees this year. I was also producing a vlog everyday in October. After the conference Barbie flew in to Portland, and we took a 3 night vacation around northwest Oregon.

The conference website: http://2014.highedweb.org/

The LINK blog site of the conference: http://link.highedweb.org/category/2014-conference/

I think the most comprehensive wrap up blog came from Karine Joly at collegewebeditor.com: Missed the #heweb14 conference? Check this selection of slides, posts & resources.

One big change was the track names. The new ones are:

  • AIM Applications, Integration and Mobile
  • DPA Development, Programming and Architecture
  • MCS Marketing, Content and Social Strategy
  • MPD Management and Professional Development
  • TIE Technology in Education
  • UAD Usability, Accessibility and Design

Here are the sessions I attended – note the heavy use of AIM track:

  • There Are No Break Points in Your Web Strategy: Going Responsive Without Screwing Everything Up #UAD1
  • Moving to Git-based Version Control with Small Teams #DPA2
  • Node.js + Higher Ed = Awesome! #AIM3
  • Connecting Reusable Disconnected Content: Our CampusData Project #AIM4
  • Automate all the things with Yo, Grunt and Bower #AIM5
  • Beyond the Buildings: A New Generation of Campus Maps #DPA6
  • Agile in higher ed? Yes you Kanban! #MPD7
  • Extreme APIs for a Better Tomorrow #AIM8
  • Putting students first: The uOttawa.ca redesign #UAD9
  • Taking the Web Offline #AIM10
  • Just another bughunt? Tools to improve your site without nuking it from orbit #DPA11
  • Building a room reservation system with a $0 budget #AIM12

Takeaways from #UAD1

Put call-to-action buttons (or emergency alerts) at the top, and keep them in the same place for all devices.

Beware the burger. Don’t just use the icon, add the word “menu.”

Remember that a cell phone is also a phone: click to call service is good to have
also, take advantage of features = enhancement

Dig into analytics and see what mobile is doing differently. That may drive their altered experience.

Subnavigation and breadcrumbs: alot of mobile sites drop them – no one clicked on them for psu.edu.

Takeaways from #DPA2

How Git works (master branch):

  • Working directory on desktop
  • Add these files to staging area
  • Then commit files to local repository
  • Then push files to remote repository

Three phases of going Git:

  • plan
  • execute
  • use


  • step 1: identify remote repository – external or self hosted
  • step 2: select a workflow – centralized, integration manager, feature workflow, others
  • step 3: identify users and roles
  • step 4: identify what files you want to commit – necessary to run website – ignore all others (.gitignore file)


  • step 1: steup hosting
  • step 2: create user account and setup machines
  • step 3: create repositories
  • step 4: implement a workflow
  • step 5: push first commit


  • step 1: commit, commit, commit
  • step 2: evaluate what’s working and what’s not

Takeaways from #AIM3

Look at

Gulp vs Grunt – the jury is still out. Gulp is awesome, but Grunt is stable.

Next year the conference goes back to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I’m not going.

They didn’t announce where 2016 was, but they said it will be “in the south.”

For reference, here is a list of the past 6 years’ conferences:

  • 2014 Portland
  • 2013 Buffalo (Did not go)
  • 2012 Milwaukee (Did not go)
  • 2011 Austin
  • 2010 Cincinnati
  • 2009 Milwaukee


Looking Forward to HighEdWeb 2014 #heweb14

heweb-2014-badgeI almost forgot this blog post. It’s a tradition of mine to write a pre-conference blog about what I expect to see, and a post-conference blog about what I took away.

This year’s conference is in Portland, Oregon, which is one of my favorite cities. I couldn’t miss an opportunity to visit her again. After I went to OSCON in 2008, I was hooked.

First off, I put a lot of time into planning a few months ago – lessons learned from conferences past – and I made a mobile friendly site to take with me when I go. It has the sessions I want to attend. I also made a Google map of spots I want to see while I’m in Oregon.

The HighEdWeb conference committee sent out links to an “improved” interactive schedule – choose your own sessions. The email also had a link to a Google map they started. Hmmm, seems we think alike. I think mine are better.

This year I’m also doing a vlog everyday in October. So, I’ll be making videos everyday while attending sessions, while taking notes, while writing blogs…. Here’s tonight’s vlog – pre-conference, getting ready, trying to remember everything I need:

A Lot Has Changed

It’s been three years since I’ve been to a HighEdWeb conference – a lot has changed – but several things are now mature technologies. Mobile, responsive, CSS3, and HTML5, just to name a few, are technologies we’ve cultivated and used since 2011. Social media is a house-hold name – no longer reserved for l33t speak on high priced phones. More and more devices are everywhere you look. Many college freshman only have/had a phone to get on the Internet. These trends will only continue.

Phone form factors keep changing. Just this year Apple release iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The 6 is 5.44 inches high. The 6 Plus is 6.22 inches. Even the same brand can’t use just one.

Still Hot

Semantic code, accessibility, and responsiveness are still hot topics. Melding these ideas into content management systems (CMS) is hot – probably because we all have to do more with less (still) and so we went with fewer employees adding websites via a CMS. I know I’ll be looking for the poster about web services into Cascade (a CMS) for form data.

The Great Contraction Experiment

I’m documenting this now before we go over the cliff so that in a few years we can look back and see if the sentiment and predictions were correct.

In keeping with a recent and occasionally controversial trend of public universities seeking savings through consolidating services, the Texas A&M University System Thursday announced a plan to overhaul its the information technology infrastructure. Source: Texas Tribune.

Staff sentiment is not good. People are saying at worst it will fail and we’ll have to redo it. At best, they say, it will lead to frustration when work isn’t done quickly. People like having a readily available IT person on staff that they can go to and get their problems fixed quickly. They don’t like having to wait or being told they can’t do something or being told they have to do it this new way because the “system” no longer supports their old way.

In regards to backlash, Sharp is quoted as saying, “Probably, the people running the IT system are not going to be crazy about the report,” he said, “Because it doesn’t say good things about the people running IT.”

Texas A&M System contracted Deloitte Consulting to audit the System and produce a recommendation. Their plan says it will save $20 million per year for the next 10 years. There was also internal audits and PriceWaterhouseCoopers was contracted for an administrative study. All of these studies were looking for every dime to make IT and Human Resources and Finance more efficient.

Savings from the first few years of the new plan would be put into a new financial/payroll system.

The most immediate expenditure stemming from the announcement will be the purchase of new payroll and financial systems, Stone said. He said the outdated systems used across the system should be replaced within three to five years for an estimated cost of $30 million. Source: The Eagle

So we’ll see if this great contraction experiment pans out in 5 to 10 years. Stay tuned.

HighEdWeb 2011 Wrap Up

Every year I go to HighEdWeb I write a pre- and post-conference blog detailing what I want to see, and what I actually saw. I wrote a pre-conference blog back on October 2, 2011 – Looking Forward to HighEdWeb 2011. Let’s start with a review of last year.

Review from HighEdWeb 2010

Last year I summerized my predictions with the following:

What are the lessons for next year? High Ed Web 2011 will be in Austin, Texas. We should be able to send two people next year. I’ll go out on a limb and predict the hot topics next year. Semantic content (Web 3.0) for mobile, desktop, vehicles, televisions, toasters, etc. (We can make content inter-operable; maybe using a CMS.) Location-based (geo-loco) applications with a side of augmented reality or geo-fencing. (Facebook Places exploded this year. Foursquare has the most users, for now. Gowalla is based in Austin.) HTML5 and CSS3 are growing, even if at a slow pace. (The W3C made an announcement about holding off deploying HTML5.)

Hits and Misses

Semantic web was a topic at the conference, but it was more of an underlying theme of the HTML5, mobile and accessibility topics. Mobile and accessibility were hot topics. Of the 70 talks, 13 (18%) had mobile in their title. There were 5 talks (7%) with accessibility in the title including Shawn Henry’s keynote, Embracing Accessibility – Go for the Carrots.

The CMS vendors where there en masse: Hannon Hill, OmniUpdate, Campusuite, Jadu, Ingeniux, TERMINALFOUR, Zivtech.

The big 3 geo-loco company’s weren’t a hot topic, but SCVNGR, Google Venture’s geo-loco, made a surprise appearance. Jadu, sponsored a SCVNGR hunt – where we had to collect check-ins with the other vendors at the hotel. SCVNGR sponsored Tuesday’s keynote – Better Education through the Web with Chris Wilson from Google.

Your Own Backyard

Having the conference in Austin this year, I didn’t have far to travel. When I introduced myself it was followed by, “it’s 90 miles that way” and I’d point towards the northeast. Austin felt like Austin, comfortable, relaxed, fun. The two evening events weren’t spectacular – no “Karaoke Plane” moments happened – but I had fun watching the World Series (Go Cards!) with other high-ed folks. I played some pool, ate some food, drank some drinks, and talked a lot of shop with a lot of people. Two dinner spots worth mentioning are P. F. Chang’s and Fogo de Chao.

The launch party for LINK magazine was at Buffalo Billards. The Tuesday night excursion was at The Highball.

Remember the three rules of the office (or life):

  1. Don’t put your tongue on it.
  2. Size does matter.
  3. There are stupid questions.

Looking Forward to HighEdWeb 2011

Let’s review for a minute. From my HighEdWeb 2010 Wrap Up:

High Ed Web 2011 will be in Austin, Texas. Our department might send two people next year. I’ll go out on a limb and predict the hot topics next year. Semantic content (Web 3.0) for mobile, desktop, vehicles, televisions, toasters, etc. (We can make content inter-operable; maybe using a CMS.) Location-based (geo-loco) applications with a side of augmented reality or geo-fencing. (Facebook Places exploded this year. Foursquare has the most users, for now. Gowalla is based in Austin.) HTML5 and CSS3 are growing, even if at a slow pace. (The W3C made an announcement about holding off deploying HTML5.)

Semantic content is a generic way of saying well-formed, valid, well-structured coded-content. HTML5 is another attempt at semantic markup language with some juicy improvements thrown in. In 2011 more work was done on HTML5 and CSS3 so that we can start to see the benefits of using them on sites. This blog’s theme is written in HTML5, and I’ve used CSS3 – sparingly – on a few sites.

In early 2011 Chevy came out with the Cruze, a car that can read your Facebook wall – the Chevy Cruze commercial debuted at the Super Bowl in February. The Cruze also has an app: you can remote start your car from your smartphone. Of course all of the game consoles and “smart” TV’s can connect to Twitter, Facebook, Netflix, etc.

The geo-loco thing is like Twitter – it’s there but not everyone is using it. The big thing for Twitter this year (and years past) was real-time news updates and celebrity tweets. Some of the top trends were #winning, #tsunami, #Libya, and of course #MBteamS.

Mobile devices and the content we serve them is another hot topic. Tablets like the Apple iPad or Android Tab or Blackberry Playbook are all the rage and they present yet another challenge when it comes to serving content to a small-er screen. A few years ago, smartphones were the big kid on the block and we rushed to make code semantic and adjust to their small size. Now tablets introduce another size and the ability to behave like a desktop or a mobile phone; coders bang your heads here.

Along with mobile devices of various sizes running apps and visiting websites came along the idea of progressive enhancement. PE has probably been around a long time – lurking in a dark corner next to “best-practices” – but it’s new to me. I’d like to see a presentation or workshop on PE and how it relates to semantic HTML5 and CSS3.

As it turns out two of us are going to High Ed Web 2011 this year. In a strange twist of events we hired a new programmer, and he’ll be tagging along with me. We also implemented a CMS in 2011 – Hannon Hill Cascade – so we’d like to meet other Cascade users. We will be going to Atlanta for the Cascade User Conference, but that’s another post.

Sad days for Texas education, public services

This practice is reverberating around the country. As good as  Texas is, as well as it weathered the recession, public services are not immune to budget cuts.

The Texas Education Agency is laying off 178 employees this week as part of budget cuts ordered by the state Legislature. via KBTX  Texas Education Agency to Lay Off 178 Employees.

The Texas Legislature had to cut something, unfortunately education was a big looser when the budget was finalized.

Media is reporting many local job cuts. College Station is cutting 27 positions. Bryan is cutting 20 jobs. Texas A&M already cut more than 150 jobs and more may be on the way.

“This Legislature will go down in the history books as the worst for public education in a generation,” said Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio. “Now it’s time for legislators to go home and explain to their communities why they voted for or against these historic education cuts. via The Three Way Attack on Texas Public Education; Part One: Fiscal Responsibility « Education in Texas.

HighEdWeb 2010 Wrap Up

I know it’s a month late, but here’s my wrap-up of High Ed Web 2010.

Conference Links

Post-conference Links

Last year I wrapped up HighEdWeb 2009 with this thought:

We have something to think about for next year. In this age of transparency you must “know thyself” and be an expert in your area – experience and ignorance shine equally through the window of our minds. We are people in higher education with limited budgets that come together to live, laugh, learn, and we express ourselves using the technology we help to create – the web.

Sea of Hands at HighEdWeb 2010 Opening Session

So, did we learn our lessons? Did we know ourselves? Did we become experts? The simple answer is “yes.”

There was only one keynote this year, by Steve Krug, author of “Don’t Make Me Think.” While I think the keynote wasn’t a failure, I expected more. I expected Steve to be a more engaging speaker. I’m glad he was the keynote. He did what he said he does in the book: he gave a quick accessibility test using a member of the audience.

I think the biggest difference this year was the comfort level. Being around so many people with the same job as me was comfortable. I think that was due in part because I was returning to many of the same people, but also because we had shared our lives on Twitter throughout the past year. I felt like I knew them.

Worldle of this blog for HighEdWeb

What did I learn?

HTML5 and CSS3 were topics I wanted to learn about. I learned some of the the pros and cons of HTML5, and I got a lot of links to good resources. I got enough CSS3 before the conference and after the conference to keep me occupied for the next year. Bonus, those of us in attendance at the CSS…In 3D! workshop got a free copy of Christopher Schmitt’s book, CSS Cookbook.

But, aside from these few technical topics, I felt 2010 was a little disappointing. Last year I had a similar feeling; however, last year was my first time going and I was a little overwhelmed.

Tweetups, After Darks and more

I met a lot more new folks and followed them on Twitter. We had a lot of shared experiences at this year’s conference as well. Starting the night I arrived, through the night before I left, my circle of friends expanded.

Saturday night was dinner with the guys from A&M at O’Maley’s in the Alley, followed by a tweetup at Madonna’s Bar & Grill.

Sunday night was the “Welcome Reception” at the Contemporary Arts Center, followed by “Party Like It’s 10-10-10” back at the Hilton, followed by the Hilton bar.

Monday night was sushi at Benihana (sponsored in part by nuCloud) with about 30 people. That was followed by the HighEdWeb After Dark mini pub crawl with stops at Madonna’s, Nicholson’s GastropubBartini’s, and the Cadillac Ranch.

Karaoke Plane
"I can not wait to ride the #karaokeplane tonight." @mikepetroff

Tuesday night we started at the Newport Aquarium with hot hors d’oeuvres with the fishes. That was followed by the Hofbräuhaus for dunkelbier (dark beer), bratwursts, pretzels, fried sauerkraut and fried pickles. Of course there was lots of accordion-playing and yodeling and prosting (toasting). I have to say it was almost as good as the one in Munich, but it felt American-ized.

Since Newport, Kentucky is on the other side of the Ohio River from Cincinnati, we were bussed over there. After Hofbräuhaus we took the bus back to the Hilton, but we didn’t stop there. We topped off the night with a ride on the “Karaoke Plane” – straight to Hamburger Mary’s. Mary’s a mixed gay-straight bar and they probably had the best night of there lives because we showed up by the bus-load. I’d say at least 100 people were there drinking, singing, dancing, and of course playing pool.

Wednesday night we took it easy with the guys from A&M and dinner at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery.

Next year

What are the lessons for next year? High Ed Web 2011 will be in Austin, Texas. We should be able to send two people next year. I’ll go out on a limb and predict the hot topics next year. Semantic content (Web 3.0) for mobile, desktop, vehicles, televisions, toasters, etc. (We can make content inter-operable; maybe using a CMS.) Location-based (geo-loco) applications with a side of augmented reality or geo-fencing. (Facebook Places exploded this year. Foursquare has the most users, for now. Gowalla is based in Austin.) HTML5 and CSS3 are growing, even if at a slow pace. (The W3C made an announcement about holding off deploying HTML5.)

Analyzing Real-Time Internal User Searches


Higher education websites always have a steady supply of visitors. It’s great to see the numbers in Google Analyics fluctuate each day and trend upwards over time, but are your visitors finding what they came for? This talk is a high-level-to-in-depth look at tracking what visitors are searching for in real time from your site. We’ll go beyond the consolidated “popular keywords” list to an actual trend list with grouped phases and pages. The goal is peer into the visitor’s mind and figure out why they are searching for “address” on the Contact Us page or “Professor Smith” on the Faculty Information page. Higher education websites always struggle to accommodate two audiences, internal and external. Search results based on location don’t lie, it’s easy to combine real internal searches with reasons why quicklinks and extra menus may or may not be functioning as optimally as they should. It’s time to go beyond pageviews and user paths and look at real-time search analytics.

Nick Denardis, Associate Director of Web Communications, Wayne State University



My Notes

Driving decisions with data
– Why does your university have a website: they come there for a purpose, a purpose they know
– He is with Wayne State: 11% use search, 25% external search
– They used Google Analytics, Crazy Egg, Woopra
— These only gave them half the picture

– Every visitor tells a story (summaries didn’t cut it)
– It starts with a fist impression

External vs. internal
10 sec test

– external scan get frusted, punt to search
– internal don’t have time to scan, punt to search

– they added a script to the search to db the search terms
— only put it on top two levels

– notalbe patterns
— they search for existing pages

– they categorized them into 5 categories

– then they made a auto search (jquery: auto suggest) on the search box – to skip the search results page
– they got 35% used the auto search

– they added a “quick link bar” below the centerpiece for move in week. they did heat map and showed that they got .1% clicks on the bar.

typical search experience

– they then started tweaking google custom search results page: give events, classes, faculty, building info related to the search term

– data driving decisions
— start collecting and watching

Got Centerpiece? So Does Everyone Else.


Higher ed has a problem with its websites. Many of us are past that first big hump of “The Millennial Redesign.” We’ve plopped down money on a shiny new CMS. Our design is hip and groovy. But an issue snuck in when we weren’t looking. Centerpieces have become a staple component of the ever important home page. The problem is that they have homogenized us. We’re all doing it, and we’re all doing it the same. This presentation will look at a number of sites and their centerpieces, look at common themes, address why our current trend is a problem, and make suggestions as to where we can go and what we can do to stand out and differentiate ourselves.

Michael Fienen, Director of Web Marketing, Pittsburg State University


My Notes

– in 2000 we were wild, do it
– in 2010 we have committees, brand guides, hurdles
– now we’re normalized: dilution
– jquery, 960gs, cms all dilute technology
– we are creating industry homogeny

Centerpieces have 3 things

– visual
– informational
– story tellers
– (caotic one)

– They lack something: they’re not actionable

– people dont click on them
– new roi: relying on insignificance
– but it takes effort to fix it
– but with analytics we can make a difference

– smsu centerpiece has calls to action

– you need to measure
– you need to set goals
– get rid of old conventions; need to inovate
– this requires new standards

– first impressions are important
– standout
– its not enough to keep up

See PatternTap for design ideas