Overcoming Preprogrammed Ideas About Web Communication in Higher Education

Image from Purplemattfish via Flickr

Yesterday I woke up at 4am to catch a flight to Vancouver for the Case VIII District Conference. I don’t normally wake up that early, but I set the alarm and it worked out fine.

This morning, my body woke up exactly the same time – without the aid of an alarm. My body was programmed to wake up at that time because of a previous experience. So it is when it comes to ideas about web communication in higher education.  We are exposed to processes or ideas about web communication because “that is how we’ve always done it.”

I would like to suggest some preprogrammed ideas that should be overcome.

  • Our web should be everything to everyone. This is very common in higher education, largely in part to our many target audiences. As we went through our redesign process, one of our consultants said something that stuck with me since. They said, “where many are served, few are served well.”. This is so true with our web sites. One way to overcome this is to develop a solid web strategy that identifies target audiences and goals.
  • Everything needs institutional buy-in or committee support. While I’m not saying that this idea should always be overcome, there are times rapid response is required, especially with the pace at which technology and trends change online. Some times you need to experiment first and then look for buy-in when you’ve proved it works on a small scale. One thing to note is designing by committee is never a good idea.
  • The web department is responsible for the institution’s web presence. This idea may not plague all higher education, and in fact many schools might have the opposite problem, where everyone wants to be responsible. But for this point I would like to suggest many institutions expect their web department to assume responsibility for all web properties. This is likely due to staff, faculty and administration not fully understanding the web and having other duties. This combination makes it easy to say “the web team will handle it.”. This is a critical error. While the web team can generate ideas and facilitate them, it is much more effective for internal stakeholders to have a vested interest in the web and generate the ideas themselves. My experience is when an idea is generated by an internal stakeholder, it is more likely to be successful. I don’t have a solution for overcoming this as I an working on it myself but some ideas might include; establishing an advisory group, facilitate workshops to educate the potential of the web and most importantly get senior leadership support.

To overcome my body’s preprogrammed notion to wake up at 4am I had to literally force myself to go back to sleep. It wasn’t easy because my mind was awake and it took a little time, but i was eventually able to fall asleep and get 3 more hours of sleep.

The same will hold true for overcoming higher education’s ideas about web communication; it will take time, it won’t be easy, but it will be worth it.

What other challenges do you face with web communication in higher education? Please share below.

  • http://twitter.com/ronbronson RB

    Good points. Then there’s the alternative of the lack of spatial awareness of web issues. So when new things get proposed, it’s not something that’s ever been done and can get stuck in an endless loop of constituent meetings and debating the merits of doing a particular thing or not. 

    I think while it’s good to get people interested and involved in web issues, at some schools that can almost make life more difficult than necessary. It’s a real delicate balance that I think needs to be assessed by the place you’re at, to determine the best way to handle what gets pitched to the “committee” and what gets handled internally within the web team.

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