Last week I had the good fortune of attending the 2011 HighEdWeb Conference in Austin, TX. Like many conferences I’ve attended over the years this one focuses on web and related marketing with sessions, workshops, vendors, and everything else that comes along with them. The difference with HighEdWeb however is that instead of focusing on a broad range of techies and geeks it only focuses on those of us in higher education. This is what, for me, makes it something special.
As I return to my office I’m not about to implement 5 brand new features on our site or push our strategy in 5 new directions. The ideas I’ve taken away from this conference this year are far more valuable than any one new feature or new technology. Here’s what I’ve taken home.
1.) You’re Not Alone
With all the problems we all face in our jobs in higher education including financial, political and all sorts of other problems, it was nice to be reminded that none of us are alone in our daily struggles. Often, as we only get together with our colleagues rather infrequently, it is easy to forget that while our own institution might have problems that may seem insurmountable, every other institution is also facing some problem of their own.
For me, as the political and financial pressures at my day job continue to build, this reminder that we are not alone goes a long way to helping me re-energize my own work and, in some strange way, brings a bit of contentment back into my daily work in the knowledge that we all have our institutional problems, not just SIU.
2.) You are part of a team, even if you don’t work with one
The community around HighEdWeb is by far one of its strongest attributes. While attending a conference once a year will give each of us a couple of ideas to run with when we return to our offices it is the strength of the community and the contacts you make that will keep you going throughout the year. Yes, we are all part of a bigger team with many shared goals and aspirations. Thanks to social media and the web in general conferences like this serve to strengthen the ties of this team and help us all remember there are resources out there year round, not just during one week a year.
3.) Education == innovation
Competition in education breeds innovation in the need to attract and retains both students and faculty. Sometimes niche conferences such as HighEdWeb can show us innovation occurring in ways useful to us that we don’t see in too many other places. From ideas on mapping, governance, mobile, and more I was able to be reminded that higher ed isn’t just reacting to the political and financial climate around it, but is in fact innovating to meet it head on and come out on top.
4.) Never stop moving forward
If you don’t keep innovating and evolving you’re going to be left behind. Some of the problems folks are having are highlighting this more than ever in higher ed. So many of the issues facing higher ed today are immediately “solved” with budget cuts and restructuring. While this may be appropriate for some cases, technology is not one of them. Keep moving forward and your competition won’t leave you in their dust.
5.) If your situation seems perfect you’re missing something
In keeping with the theme of my experience we all have problems. If you don’t think you do then you’re missing something. We can all strive to do better in something. Whether we must change a small detail or the fundamental ways we operate we can all do something different to help further the missions of our institutions.
While I can say I found many of the topic sessions informative and relative the are not the most important part of HighEdWeb. Even if I hadn’t taken away a single new feature or other idea the people I met and the network that is HighEdWeb is far more valuable than any idea.
Ideas are temporary, a team is permanent.