This is a joint post from some of the Web Services team members who had the pleasure of participating in the ContentEd lecture at Dynamic Earth in early November.
The first is Danny Cassidy, Web Content Manager
Covid has moved ContentEd online in recent years, but thankfully this year it’s back as an in-person event. Because content strategy is interdisciplinary in nature, the conference attracts professionals from a variety of different roles in higher education. This makes it an ideal place to meet new people, draw on their knowledge and experience and ultimately reinforces the sense of community that exists in the industry.
This was my third or maybe fourth ContentEd and this time I participated as a volunteer. It was a chance to give something back to the community and also a chance to see what it was like behind the scenes of such a huge event.
Despite having volunteer duties, I still had the opportunity to participate in some of the keynotes and discussion sessions. Here are just a couple of highlights.
Agile Content: How to Adapt Scrum to Content Management, Rhia Weston
Rhia Weston gave an insight into how her team uses Scrum at the Office for National Statistics. In very simple terms, Scrum is about delivering large projects into smaller, more manageable chunks. Instead of delivering the perfect product from the start, it helps teams agree on a minimum viable product (MVP) that is delivered and improved over a series of set periods called sprints.
Using his passion for running, Rhia showed how there were many similarities between sports and Scrum, particularly in how both are adaptable and improve marginal earnings.
In Web Services, we know these concepts very well as Scrum is the methodology used by our development team to manage the implementation of new features and improvements to the University website. To be honest, though, I’ve always been a bit skeptical about using Scrum in a university content team. Maybe it’s because these teams often rely on colleagues outside their team to deliver content, provide input, sign off, etc. However, Rhia showed how Scrum could be used very pragmatically to supercharge a content team. The key points for me were:
- Start small and apply Scrum principles to small content projects to familiarize team members with key concepts
- Be flexible with some concepts and adapt to your needs and work environment (e.g. sprints can last longer than 2 weeks)
- Spend time for team reflection to consider what worked well and what didn’t at the end of each sprint
« People Are Not Idiots (Or How to Design Better Experiences), » Dana Rock
In his keynote address, Pickle Jar’s Dana Rock looked at how we can move away from the trap of judging users simply because they haven’t read our communications and use insights to design better experiences for them.
Dana pointed out that students’ strongest memories in their college journey are often at the beginning and at the end (such as freshman week and graduation). Yet these are often instances where universities fail to provide students with positive experiences in their interactions with them.
There was a prime example of a student getting into trouble with his university after decorating his room with « forbidden items ». Understandably, they had failed to see such items buried in a PDF that had been emailed to them along with a deluge of other communications. Feeling overwhelmed and wanting to feel at home, the last thing they wanted to do was read a list of things not to bring. And here’s the thing, if we don’t take into account someone’s emotional state, it’s no wonder our communications get sloppy or miss the mark.
Thoughts on ContentEd
Firstly, it was great to participate as a volunteer and I would definitely recommend it to others. Being quite an introverted guy, he forced me to interact and connect with people in a way that I normally wouldn’t if attending the conference. The Pickle Jar team were very welcoming and friendly (as were my fellow volunteers) and they all did an incredible job managing and coordinating things so everything ran smoothly.
Someone asked me if I’d noticed any recurring themes or trends at ContentEd this year from talks or talking to people. What strikes me is how content design is establishing itself as a practice in higher education. This came out strongly in many of the presentations and was also evident from a quick glance at the job titles of the attendees. It’s very encouraging, and I think it reflects the investment universities are willing to make in understanding their students and providing content to meet their needs.
Next, Graeme Cairns (Web Content Designer) provides his thoughts on ContentEd.
Having been a member of the Web Services team for just under a year, ContentEd was my first lecture since I started working for the University. It was also my first opportunity to spend a « day away » with my colleagues.
There was a real sense of appreciation shared among the attendees. We were able to attend such an event in person after years of conferencing via video call. I’ve taken several courses this year via Zoom or Teams, but the networking elements are not the same. Talking face to face with other delegates and comparing our shared experiences of HE was helpful.
It has been great to meet so many professionals in similar roles across the industry. I even ran into a former colleague, so it was great to strengthen old connections and make new ones.
The trip to Edinburgh was well worth it as each of the keynote and breakout sessions had helpful insights. I picked a couple of my favourites:
« It is not easy to be green: digital is not automatically synonymous with sustainable », Dougal Scaife
Dougal Scaife is Head of Digital Experience and Engagement at Leeds Beckett University. He presented many of the misconceptions that exist about digital services and their sustainability.
We all know co-workers who have “go digital, save trees” or some other similar tagline in their email signature. But is that the case? Dougal’s breakout session highlighted that he’s not as black and white as many think.
Websites are the output of a variety of data. Transferring that data and serving it to the user takes energy. Storing such data also requires energy. Another consideration is that a significant amount of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are due to the burning of fossil fuels to produce electricity. This means that the more data your website contains, the more energy it consumes.
The key points for me as a Content Designer were:
- Keep my content concise where possible
- Make content easy to find
- Optimize images and videos
- Use CSS to avoid excessive inline styling
Dougal’s talk got me thinking about the large amount of files we upload to our content management system (CMS) on a daily basis, especially during image-heavy projects like the DJCAD Degree Showcase. As a team we are introducing a Digital Asset Management (DAM) system which will help reduce issues such as unnecessary file duplication. The ambient effect of this is something I admit I didn’t factor in, but it’s an unintended bonus!
« Design for Cognitive Bias – Using Mental Shortcuts for Good Instead of Evil », David Dylan Thomas
David Design for Cognitive Bias’ keynote speech was the last talk of the two-day event and was the most publicized. Delegates had been asked, if possible, to stay for the final presentation, rather than sneak out the back door to catch an earlier train. It was worth sticking around.
In the Design for Cognitive Bias keynote speech, David made the point that every decision we make is influenced by an unconscious bias. This bias is reflected in the decisions we make during the content design process.
However, David argued that recognizing that these cognitive biases exist is the first step in correcting them.
David used a particularly striking example of an AI-powered recruiting tool that Amazon had to drop because it demonstrated a bias against women. The AI system was trained on data submitted by applicants over a 10-year period, much of which came from men. Using the data at its disposal, the system learned for itself that male candidates were preferable.
Of course, this is an extreme example, but it highlighted to me how easy it is for bias to creep into design systems and how important it is to ensure that the content we are designing is fair and accessible to all.
I will try to keep in mind how cognitive biases can influence our experiences and choices, before they seep into our leadership structures and teams, and consequently find their way into the content we design and the services we deliver.
David used a quote from content copywriter Mbiyimoh Ghogomu to underline how I need to take care when creating content: « Language doesn’t just describe reality, it shapes it. »