By: Diane Stirling
(315) 443-8975

A wide range of technology, tools, and techniques were showcased by practitioners in the field of web communications at a regional conference of the HigherEd Web Association hosted by the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University this week.

The event is a regional day of learning for web and communications professionals in the higher education community. Presentations included information on developing content with Google’s AdWords, archiving web news, “the virtual mind,” a social media toolkit, mobile learning, data visualization, admissions marketing social tactics, WordPress shortcodea, and the creation of mobile apps.

Information was conveyed by web strategists, admissions marketers, tech administrators, communications staff and other professionals from a wide assortment of colleges and universities. The agenda included representatives of the University of Arkansas at Little Rock/William H. Bowen School of Law; University Mary Washington; Rochester Institute of Technology; SUNY-ESF; Mount Holyoke College; Sheridan College in Ontario; Cornell University; Ithaca College and Syracuse University.

Conference attendees learned about use of digital media and web tools for communication before, during and after a crisis from Tonya Oaks Smith of the UALR Law School. The communications director provided examples of crisis situations on American college campuses, and how web communications were successfully (or not so well-used) to deal with stakeholders. A key step is recognizing what does and doesn’t constitute a crisis, she said, as well as knowing that in a true crisis situation, “a simple email won’t take care of dealing with it.” 

Rochester Institute of Technology admissions representative Ashley Hennigan provided advice on how to reach a college’s market influencers using web tools, including managing a team of peer-to-peer student social media communicators. She relayed that admitted students’ expectations of web communications has changed drastically, going well beyond a college facebook page. Students now want different kinds of content during various stages of the admissions process, she said, so “you just can’t target messages at people and expect to reach them anymore.”

The ability to use accessible rich Internet applications was explained by Cornell University’s David DeMello. He showed examples of pie charts and tables created through Javascript and Visualize js., techniques that greatly improved data visualizations. “Why use a fuzzy gif image at all when Javascript can be used to output the visual on HTML 5’s canvas element through scalable vector graphics or through Visualize.js query?,” he asked the group.

In two other technology-focused presentations, Marcello Prattico, of Syracuse University, discussed the process SU conducted to roll out a mobile app for the college; and Curtiss Grymala, of the University of Mary Washington, provided a coder’s perspective of “The 10-Minute WordPress Shortcode.”

Andrew Smyk, of Sheridan College in Ontario, offered humorous illustrations of authentic mobile learning. The change in perception regarding that style of information input was characterized by his four-year-old daughter, he joked, when she asked him why he had a telephone in his camera.

Ithaca College’s social media strategist and web communicator Rob Engelsman described the tools he relies on to tell the college’s “real-time story” and to engage students with campus life.  A move-in video campaign was staged to connect with students as soon as they arrived on campus and to create awareness of the college’s social media presence, he said. Engelsman also discussed the difficulties of reaching various cross-sections of the college’s audience “when the higher ed demographic is every demographic in the world.” He also advised web professionals to “show that your social media cares.” Those doing social media already take the time and invest the effort, he said, and “going the extra mile to personalize and have some fun with it gives your [site] life, more than [being] something stagnant.”