Thoughts on HighEdWebDev

I attended HighEdWebDev 2007. There were far fewer people interested in what happens in classrooms there than I thought there would be, but it was interesting anyway. Most of the people there were working on their college or university web sites.

I want to discuss two of the speakers in detail. The first is Michael Dame, the man in charge of the Virginia Tech web sites. His presentation (PPT) was called “The Tragedy at Virginia Tech: Crisis Communications on the Web.” He gave an almost minute by minute account of what happened at Virginia Tech six months ago and the impact it had on the Virginia Tech web servers and communications. It was a moving talk. Dame was touched by the events in a very personal way and you could feel that as he talked. The web team’s preplanning for a crisis, plus the college’s backup server systems, kept the site from crashing during the crisis. There are important lessons for any college to learn from how Virginia Tech handled things at the time and from the plans they have for going forward. There were some things he could not talk about because of ongoing lawsuits against the college as a result of the events there, but that does not negate the importance of his message about preparedness for handling a crisis.

Mark A. Greenfield also spoke. He gave a 6 minute, 40 second presentation with his slides. An hour of discussion with the audience followed. It was a unique presentation idea to me, and very effective. He raised a lot of important questions in his 6:40 minutes. The presentation was called “Higher Education Web Development Gets Flattened Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New World Order.” Slides and script are available on his site. Greenfield was the most interesting thinker at the conference. He’s a consultant, not a university employee. Take a good look at his web site beause it is stuffed full of interesting ideas and topics.

An interesting session was done in Second Life. The presentation was live, but the presenter was in Brazil, giving the presentation in Second Life.

Aside from my presentation about Web Standards, the only other people there who talked about it in any way were part of the poster sessions. (In addition to the usual keynotes and breakout sessions you find at a conference, there was also a science-fair-like poster session where you could wander around the room and talk to people who displayed posters about their topics.) One such poster session presenter was Rob Dickerson from The Web Standards Project. There was a poster session from a fellow who had written a CMS program that does use standards. Another poster session showed the results of a survey of high ed sites to see which were using standards.

The vendors who were there were all selling CMS software. A few of them talked about standards, but it wasn’t a main theme from the vendors.

Even though it was a good conference, it was not the right place for me to spread my message about how to teach students to use web standards and best practices. I got a lot out of it in the abstract, but as far as my personal reasons for attending, it was a waste of time and money. That’s my own fault. I’d never been there before, so I didn’t understand how few people in attendance would have any role in curriculum delivery.

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