Back in July, seven of us from Web Services attended the annual Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW) conference, this year held at the University of Kent, in Canterbury. IWMW is, in their own words, “the premier event for the UK’s higher educational web management community” – in essence, a conference for University web and digital teams. As one of the resident newbies in our team, this was my first experience of this particular conference and of the community that is involved in it.
This theme of community underpinned the whole occasion, whether it was the friendly welcome we received at the pre-conference meetup at the Dolphin Pub, to seeing people catching up from previous years to, perhaps more seriously, the overall theme of the conference: ‘It’s The End Of The Institution As We Know It (And We Feel Fine)’, emphasis very much on ‘we’. In a sense, given recent political decisions, this has as much to do with Higher Education as a whole, as it does to do with the concept of web or digital, or whatever we’re calling it this week, within it. The tone very much was “whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together” – the “we” either being an individual team, an individual University community or Higher Education as a whole.
In the first plenary talk of the event, University of Kent’s Bonnie Ferguson discussed how her University dealt with the outcome of the Brexit referendum (given that University of Kent markets itself as ‘The UK’s European University’) and how universities can adapt to change. In response to this, Bonnie brought up the concept of systems and processes being antifragile or to be strengthened by change. Whilst this is probably too philosophical and complicated to really get into here, I would urge readers to seek this out and to find out more about it.
Next up was our very own Andrew Millar. Given that Andrew is head of my department, we’re going to now veer into a patch of brown-nosed favouritism. In what would end up as the top-rated talk of the entire event, Andrew spoke about the institutional changes that we have gone through and how we have (an institution, not just as Web) turned this to our advantage and of the challenges that lie ahead. Bringing together common problems experienced by most in Higher Education (financial unrest, changing markets, restructures), this rang true with the majority of conference attendees. It’s clear we are all on the same road, just at different points of the journey. This talk reiterated to me how Dundee has, and continues to, turn its problems into opportunities to improve.
In concluding his talk, Andrew brought up new technologies and how these will impact on Web. With things like wearable tech, chat bots and assistants such as Alexa, we face a future where our users won’t even be using web browsers and prospective applicants will be accessing our course pages and applying for our courses via a disembodied voice in their house. As a community, this future should excite us and we should be grasping this change with both hands.
Another interesting aspect of the community is the opportunity to see how other universities do things or approach problems differently. University of Lincoln’s Tom Wright headed up a workshop on the Tuesday afternoon titled ‘Making Web and Digital Work For Your Students’. In this, he (and two graduates and the event’s sole student) detailed how they make student-created video content work for them. While we are looking at recruiting student vloggers (and bloggers), the University of Lincoln have one thing that we don’t: an entire School of Film & Media, specialising in practical production. I felt that there was a response from the more ‘traditionally academic’ universities that this is something that they would not be able to achieve given that their studies are not geared towards that. This is a misstep in my opinion. Lincoln are tapping into a resource that they have on their doorstep. We are already putting out insightful student content (video or otherwise). The real issue is find that source in the first place. This workshop, at least in my mind, confirmed that we need to keep pushing forward, particularly if it offers us new and interesting ways to interact with our audience.
The second and third days of the conference covered topics such as governance issues, showcases of tools and platforms, insights into users and wider aspects of the sector. These got into the nitty gritty of the community and raised many pertinent questions – how do people govern control of content in a Higher Education community in a meaningful way, how do people ensure one single truth in terms of data, how do we work with our users in a better way? All of these underpinned the themes of community and change that had been established on the first day.
This brings to mind Carley Hollis’ (Head of Digital Communications at St. Andrews) talk from the second morning. While her talk was on the topic of setting standards, the sense that I took away from the talk was that they’re a little down the road from us – in a metaphysical community-journey way, as well as them being over the Tay Bridge, they’ve maybe gone through changes that we haven’t yet and they govern content in a different way from us. How are we going to change as we move forward? How are we going to improve on what we already do? I’m looking forward to finding out.
As with all trips away, our time down in Canterbury did much for bolstering our arsenal of horribly complicated and self-involved in-jokes and stories. Amongst these include ‘The Burger’, a lady cat called Cuthbert and The Horrible People Who Got On At Waverley. As you are our community, we would be honoured to share these with you in some capacity in the near future. We welcome all thoughts, comments and questions.