The Case for Professional Development

The Higher Education Web Professionals Association has a mission, and it is

“To advance Web professionals, technologies and standards in higher education.”

As a group with its roots in New York, we’ve been holding conferences for 10 years. As we’ve grown, one item that has been added to the regular conference agenda is “Professional Development.” Under this title, such general topics as Giving Effective Presentations, Making the Case for Resources, Negotiation, Strategic Planning, Project Management and Student Employment have been presented in the past or will be presented this year.

Some might reasonably ask, “Why?”

It comes back to our mission. Part of that is to advance you, as a Web professional. Between an increase in responsibilities at work and ever-present challenges on the home front, going back to school for a formal degree isn’t always an option. But if you can, in one stop, meet new people that are facing the same challenges in similar jobs, bring back tips to help you at your current job, and learn new skills to help you at your next job, I think we all win.

We need more leaders in higher education who have come from Web backgrounds, who understand the medium and help colleges and universities meet the “perfect storm” of challenges that threaten their that existence. (This was recently discussed at Penn State’s Web Conference, and Mark Greenfield also addressed this at a past HighEdWeb conference.)

So I hope you, like me, aspire for that next step in your career, and that we’ll see you in some professional development sessions at HighEdWeb 2009.

The Conference is Coming, the Goose is Getting Fat

A note from the President of the Higher Educational Web Professionals Association …

I am pleased to announce that this year’s conference is coming together nicely. Preparations in Milwaukee are coming together nicely, and the team has prepared some videos to keep you up-to-date with that progress.

I’m impressed that this community of professionals is able to contribute such a wide variety of presentations to this year’s conference. There seems to be something for professionals of all sorts:

Marketing Professionals should be sure to check out the tracks in Content; Social Media; and Marketing, Management and Professional Development.

Design Professionals should plan to spend time in the Content track, and plan to visit the poster session.

Programming Professionals can sink their teeth into the Technical track, and certainly shouldn’t be ashamed to wear their propeller hats at this conference. The Applications and Standards track might also provide some valuable tools for consideration.

Management Professionals should be sure to send their whole teams, and then stop themselves into the Marketing, Management and Professional Development track and save time to network.

This is all just a sample to get you interested. We certainly encourage professionals of all sorts to attend sessions outside of their general duties as well. It’s a great way to learn some of the tools, language, and perspective of your fellow Web professionals with other specializations.

So mark those calendars, send in those registrations, and we’ll see you in October in Milwaukee.

Running Scared: Reflections on the HighEdWeb Regional Conference at Cornell University

Hello HighEdWebbers –

It was like a blast from the past.  There I was sitting with about 60 colleagues — mostly from New York, at least one from Canada — who trekked to Ithaca, NY to attend the one-day HighEdWeb Regional Conference last week.  Overall, the event reminded me of our first HighEdWeb Conference at SUNY Cortland back in 2000 — about the same number of people, in a modest-sized room, sharing their experience for the benefit of all.

The annual HighEdWeb conference is and remains the premier event for higher education Web professionals of all sorts, drawing hundreds to a national venue (join us in Milwaukee in October for HighEdWeb 2009) with multiple tracks (submit your proposal today).  But if you can’t go to HighEdWeb, why not bring HighEdWeb to you?  I asked that question of some colleagues at Cornell this fall, and they certainly responded.  I think we attendees were grateful that they did.  I know I had some definite takeaways, and left with several action items to follow up on.

Those who missed the event can follow up at the regional conference site, where slides will be linked.  Also, you can read back through the conference tweets (unlike the annual conference, we didn’t manage to become a trending topic at Cornell) , and a great summary of the presentations from another blog (which, of course, I found on twitter).  I have to agree with that blog: the main reason to come to any HighEdWeb event is the people.

I’d like to give a special thanks to the .eduGuru folks, four of whom joined us remotely through a video phone to present on real life lessons learned re: social media.  It was great to hear it right from the source, and so nice to hear that some institutions actually get it.

Finally, I thought I needed to reflect on Mark Greenfield’s talk to close out the conference.  The two-hour drive back to Rochester wasn’t quite the same, dwelling on the future of Higher Ed.  Are we going to survive as an industry, or are we going to collapse as spectacularly in 5-10 years as newspapers are today?  Mark has given this a lot of thought, and his arguments were definitely worth considering.  So I admit it, I left the conference scared.  But I still can’t wait for the next one!

-Steve Lewis
President, HighEdWeb

Help Direct the Future of HighEdWeb

Hello HighEdWeb professionals around the world –

The future of our professional association looks bright. We just wrapped up our annual conference in Springfield, Missouri, where over 400 fellow professionals gathered from at least three countries and 40 U.S. states to share countless solutions with each other. That doesn’t count people following us via #heweb08 on Twitter. (A special thanks to Sara Clark at Missouri State and her team for pulling together such a great conference, the entire program committee and our many presenters for such a great program.

I’m personally looking forward to seeing friends old and new in Milwaukee in 2009. Planning is already underway.

But there’s more to professional associations than national conferences, blogs and e-mail lists; and we certainly have some ideas. However, we want your feedback — and your help.

We’ve constructed an online survey full of our ideas for future projects we could begin under the HighEdWeb umbrella — or should I say globe? We hope you’ll tell us what you think. Feel free to drop us anonymous feedback via the survey, or signed feedback by e-mail or comments to the blog post.

We want this to be your association, and we want to start new projects that are to your greatest benefit. And we hope you’ll help us out along the way as we try to turn these ideas into realities.

So please give us a few minutes and take our survey now, and help us steer the great ship that is HighEdWeb over its next few years.

More to come.

-Steve Lewis
President, HighEdWeb
@stebert on Twitter

What browsers do students use?

Campus Technology recently published the results of a survey of traditionally-aged College students as to their Browser preferences.

Looking at the Web hits on my campus from our residence halls, it looks like IE has a lock with over 61% of browsers (majority IE7), with various flavors of Firefox taking most of the rest.

This is actually a little stronger preference for IE than I see on the server as a whole.

What are others’ experiences?

I grant that asking individuals is a little different from looking at actual hits or usage, but it is an interesting comparison. After all, I wouldn’t be surprised if some didn’t even know their Web browser. They might just think of it as “this is the icon I click to get to the Internet”.

-Steve Lewis
Board, Conference Committee

On Format Wars and Abandoned Promise

Many of us in the Web world are aware of the importance of standards. Those of us who follow technology may be aware of a standards war being waged worldwide by Microsoft and their XML file format (OOXML) against the OpenDocument format (ODF) used by Open Office and others. I don’t personally understand the difference, but essentially these two competing formats do almost exactly the same thing, politics aside.

Pick your winner:

  1. VHS versus Beta
  2. DVD vs. DIVX (not the one that’s around today)
  3. HDDVD versus BluRay
  4. XHTML versus HTML 5

HTML 5? No, that’s not a typo. The HTML format has been resurrected by the Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (predominantly players in the Web browser market, it seems to me) to accomplish the same sorts of things that we can accomplish in HTML 4 or XHTML today. I’m not sure what they hope to accomplish with canvas and article tags, ins and del tags, progress and meter tags, and more that we can’t accomplish today through reasonable means.

The section and nav tags seem to have some sense about them. Then again, I did read up on the XHTML 2 draft a while back, and sections and unnumbered headers (h tags) seemed to make a lot of sense in ways that numbered headers never did.

One direction that could have promise is the improvement of forms on the browser-side. However, the security side of me worries that this could open up a new class of Web vulnerabilities on the sever side of the equation, when we start to assume that the browser will be doing our error-checking for us and begin to trust it. How many of us want to do error checking twice, once in the display code and again in the application logic? Are we finally going to get an input type of date? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

I think this new draft of HTML is a portent that we’re about to miss out on the real promise of XHTML. How many content management systems out there use XSLT to transfer data from some intermediary format to the XHTML pages those CMSes produce?

How much easier would portlet development be if we could submit a SQL query to pull XML data from a student out of our ERP system and specify an XSLT to convert it to HTML, instead of having to code every little step in Java? Perhaps this isn’t strictly going away.

In some ways, I think we’re fully expecting HTML to continue to be vaguely XML-y, so perhaps all hope is not lost. In other ways, I think we’re giving up – or at least the Web browser makers are giving up on us.

Some of the commentary I’ve seen is that HTML 5 is looking to handle bad markup in better ways that XHTML or HTML 4 did. I think this is the ultimate problem. How many of us actually check our conformance to Web standards every time we post a new page? Every time we write an application?

I fear that this divided future is the price we’re going to pay for our own inability to write conforming (X)HTML. I am reminded of an old browser evaluation that looked at different Web pages, and the Web page with the fewest problems across all browsers was the only one in the test that had valid HTML markup.

In some ways, I think standards are a losing battle. Standards will always be trumped by what works. In many ways, we’re in the marketing business. If our site is technically correct but doesn’t sell people on our respective colleges and universities, we run the real risk of going out of business. Unfortunately, we can’t always have that warm-n-fuzzy feeling we get when we do the right thing.

I am not afraid of progress. I think I’m tired of futile conflict. And I refuse to make investment in a technology until there is a clear victor for the future. (Pay no attention to the TiVo in my living room.)

Perhaps someone else should decide on the future of HTML, and not worry about it. Meanwhile, I’ve got a Web site to run. I wish I knew what Web language I would be planning to use tomorrow.

– Steve Lewis
Conference Co-Chair
HighEdWeb Director