A Niagara of Ideas

heweb 2013Niagara Falls is a force of nature so fantastical, it seems to belong more to the world of Hobbits and Valar than humans. An astonishing 3160 tons of water pours over the precipice every second, hitting the floor of the Niagara Gorge five seconds later with 280 tons of force. One-fifth of the world’s fresh water, impossible to contain, funneled into a thunderous, unceasing cascade.

I was lucky enough to experience this twice this month: once at the falls itself, and the next day in the City of Buffalo. That second time, though, the force that bowled me over was ideas.

The 2013 Higher Education Web Professional Annual Conference brought 700 designers, developers, writers, managers, social media managers and more to create their own unending cascade of knowledge, experience, advice, and support. By the end of three days, I’m sure we all felt like the rocks at the foot of the falls – pounded by innovation and immersed in the power of new ways to approach our profession and out goals.

My Golden Nugget Sessions

Blog Me Baby One More Time: The Power of Blogging

In their presentation, Robin Smail and Audrey Romano showed how blogging can improve student’s academic experience. In a series of case studies at Penn State, students who used blogging as part of their curriculum showed increased engagement, productivity, and quality in their work. In addition to getting real time feedback from their peers, the students were able to gain deeper understanding of course materials, develop a body of work to present to future employers, and to find their own authentic voice in presenting ideas and arguments – which in turn helps sell their program and area of study to future students.

Blog Me Baby One More Time: See the presentation

Lessons Learned from a Lockdown: Using the Web and Social Media in a Crisis 

Cindy Sabato and Kerri Hicks delivered an entertaining and informative review of how the University of Rhode Island handled an incident last summer when a gunman was reported on campus. They provided practical tips on creating a stable site for emergencies, how to integrate social media as a key communications tool, and the overall pros and cons of having  multiple messengers and tools.

Incredibly, at the same time as Cindy and Kerri were giving their presentation, Lacy Tite and Beth Fox from Vanderbilt had to deal with a bomb threat on their campus, employing some of those very same techniques as part of their emergency response plan. Although it isn’t anything we want to see happen on a campus, it was inspiring to see two professionals handle an emergency from hundreds of miles away with grace and efficiency.

Lessons Learned from a Lockdown

Placemarks to the people

Gabriel Nagmay of Portland Community College presented a WordPress plugin that PCC developed called Placemarks, which allows users to generate Google map content. Portland Community College uses Placemarks to maintain user curated maps, including a map of all art exhibits on campus and a map that highlights all accessibility points for students with disabilities. Floor plans can be overlaid on the map to allow for accurate placement of placemarks.For me, this was the golden nugget of the conferenceGabriel’s plugin allows the building of maps to become a communal efforts rather than that of a few small individuals, which is especially daunting if an institution is of a certain size.

Stand Back….I’m Going To Try Science!

Karlyn Borysenko took us where we rarely go, but should, as it will resonate greatly with the faculty and academics that we work with – the world of quantitative and qualitative research an how to present those results to our clients.

Stand Back, I’m Going to Try Science: See the presentation

Is my .edu accessible?

In her workshop, Glenda Sims from Deque showed us how to test our web sites using online tools like WAVE Toolbar, Web Developer Toolbar, Juicy Studio Accessibility Toolbar, Firefox Accessibility Extension, Deque FireEyes Testing techniques.

A City that Gets Social Media

I have to give a massive shout-out to the City of Buffalo and their tourism bureau. I’ve never seen a city do so much to welcome conference attendees and make their stay as enjoyable as possible. On top of the tweets, the physical gifts, and constant availability, they did it in a way that felt supportive rather than obtrusive – even interacting with the fake Twitter accounts that pepper this community. I don’t even need to document what they did – cause they storified the entire experience. Check it out!

Cave of the Winds, Niagara Falls Niagara at Night Approaching the Hurricane Deck At the foot of the falls Lacy at the Cave of the Winds Cave of the WindsNiagara Falls Tonya and I en route to Buffalo Me and Robin and Chris They know us so well Robin, Karlyn and I 2013-10-05 17.42.11 Curtiss, Robin and Georgy Liberty Building Along the trolley line Don't touch the buffalo! Electric Tower Buffalo City Hall

See More HEWEB 2013 Photos on Flickr

For my personal takeaways from the conference, please visit gorillaofthegasbags.com

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