On the Road Again: Conference Takeaways from HighEdWeb New York and the Web Conference at Penn State

June 30, 2015

The Northeast is lovely this time of year, but you know what’s lovelier? Hardcore higher-ed know-how. And that’s what I found last month at the HighEdWeb New York conference in Ithaca, New York, and the Web Conference at Penn State in State College, Pennsylvania.

Higher Ed is Gorges

HighEdWeb New York, or #hewebny as the hashtag goes, kicked off with a keynote by Ryan Craig, author of “College Disrupted: The Great Unbundling of Higher Education.” In his talk, he discussed the various crises impacting higher ed and explored the various disruptive factors rapidly changing the face of the industry as we know it.

In the vein of discussing change, Val Fox from Bentley University talked about how a content marketing approach (still considered nontraditional in the higher ed space) helped move the needle on their brand awareness and thought leadership goals.

But change needs process and structure to thrive over time. Luckily, Oberlin College’s Ma’ayan Plaut employed a delightfully effective farming metaphor to explain how content strategy can help nurture a healthy, hearty social media presence. In addition, our friends at the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration shared the in-depth research and analysis process that preceded their current web redesign project.

As always, this HighEdWeb regional conference was friendly, well-executed, and rich in local flavor (the conference swag was a roasted bag of coffee from a local roaster). My favorite moments, though, likely came during a nighttime tour of the Cornell campus, where we experienced stunning sites such as the Johnson Art Museum:

Design the Future

The Web Conference at Penn State is one of my favorites, because it always brings together a mix of smart folks from higher ed and the broader web design and development world. It’s a real holistic perspective on our work, and the folks at Penn State are always incredibly fun and gracious hosts.

The keynotes for this conference - split between two experts from the web world and two “celebrity” keynotes from outside the industry - were phenomenal. Samantha Warren discussed design in the context of change management, while Brad Frost talked through the intriguing principles of atomic design. Bravo’s Andy Cohen shared his personal journey with style and flair.

But the keynote by Tim Gunn was something to behold. I didn’t know much about the Project Runway co-host before his talk, but his talk - drawing from nearly three decades working in higher ed administration at the Parsons School of Design, a pedigree that was unbeknownst to me - set up strong and meaningful parallels between innovation and evolution in the fashion world (and his own higher ed experience) and our own digital industry. He was charming, exceedingly kind, and a delight to behold.

The sessions were also excellent. A brief review:

I was also fortunate enough to be presenting at both conferences on building internal communities to support content strategy. It was a blast, and I look forward to meeting on the road this fall when the conference train begins rolling anew.

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