In July, seven of us from Web Services attended the annual Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW), this year held at the University of Kent, Canterbury. IWMW is, in their own words, ‘the premier event for the UK’s higher education web management community’ – in essence, a conference for university web and digital teams. As one of the resident newbies on our team, this was my first experience of this particular conference and the community involved in it.
This community theme underpinned the entire occasion, whether it was the friendly welcome we received at the pre-conference meeting in the Dolphin Pub or seeing people catch up on previous years perhaps more seriously, the overall theme of the conference: ‘It’s The End Of The Institution As We Know It (And We Feel Fine)’, with a lot of emphasis on ‘we’. In a way, given recent policy decisions, this it has as much to do with higher education as a whole, as with the concept of the web or digital, or whatever we call it this week, at its core.The tone was definitely ‘whether we like it or not, we’re all in this together’ – the ‘we’ can be a single team, a single university community, or higher education as a whole.
In the first plenary speech of the event, Bonnie Ferguson of the University of Kent discussed how her university has tackled the outcome of the Brexit referendum (as the University of Kent bills itself as « the European University of the UK « ) and how universities can adapt to change. In response to this, she Bonnie brought up the concept of antifragile systems and processes or to be strengthened with change. While this is probably too philosophical and complicated to really get into here, I urge readers to look it up and learn more.
Next was our Andrew Millar. Since Andrew is the head of my department, we will now veer towards a brown-nosed smear of favoritism. In what would end up as the highest rated speech of the entire event, Andrew spoke about the institutional changes we’ve been through and how we (an institution, not just as a Web) have turned this to our advantage and the challenges that lie ahead. Bringing together common issues experienced by most of higher education (financial turmoil, changing markets, restructurings), this rang true for most conference attendees. It is clear that we are all on the same path, just at different points in the journey. This speech reaffirmed to me how Dundee has and continues to turn its problems into opportunities for improvement.
Concluding his talk, Andrew spoke about new technologies and their impact on the web. With things like wearable technology, chat bots, and assistants like Alexa, we face a future where our users won’t even use web browsers and potential candidates access our course pages and will apply for our courses via an incorporeal entry in their home. As a community, this future should excite us and we should grasp 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. Tom Wright of the University of Lincoln led a Tuesday afternoon seminar titled « Making the Web and Work Digital for Your Students. » In this, he (and two graduates and the event’s only student) detailed how they make student-created video content work for them. While we’re looking to recruit student vloggers (and bloggers), the University of Lincoln has one thing we don’t have: an entire School of Film & Media, specializing in hands-on production. I have heard that there has been a response from more ‘traditionally academic’ universities that this is something they would not be able to achieve as their studies are not geared towards it. This is a misstep in my opinion. Lincoln is tapping into a resource he has at hand. We are already publishing in-depth content for students (video or otherwise). The real problem is finding that source in the first place. This seminar, at least in my mind, confirmed that we need to keep moving forward, especially if it offers us new and interesting ways to engage with our audience.
The second and third days of the conference covered topics such as governance issues, tool and platform showcases, user insights, and broader aspects of the industry. These have gotten to the heart of the community and raised many pertinent questions: how do people govern content control in a higher education community in a meaningful way, how do people ensure a single truth in terms of data, how do we work with our users in a better way? All of this supported the themes of community and change that had been established on day one.
This reminds me of Carley Hollis’ (Digital Communications Manager at St. Andrews) speech on the second morning. Whilst his talk was on the subject of standard setting, the feeling I got from the talk is that they are a little further ahead of us – in a community travel metaphysical way, just as they are over the Tay Bridge, maybe they have undergone changes that we haven’t yet and they govern content differently from us. How will we change as we move forward? How will we improve what we already do? Can’t wait to find out.
To be added:
As with all travel, our time in Canterbury went a long way towards bolstering our arsenal of hideously complicated and engaging stories and jokes. Among them is « The Burger », a female cat called Cuthbert and The awful people who got along in Waverley. Since you are our community, we would be honored to share them with you in some way in the near future. We welcome all thoughts, comments and questions.