HighEdWeb 2017


HighEdWeb is an interesting conference. It focuses on a niche, web development and management in higher education. I had not attended this conference in the past but had heard good things. Overall it is a worthwhile conference, there is a very strong sense of community and shared struggles. The technical presentations were a mix of solid development practice reminders and a smidge of pushing the boundaries. I tend to like the future focused presentations more but it was hard for me to take issue with anything in the sessions.

The keynotes were fantastic. Tatjana Dzambazova’s presentation was like sitting through a year of the Economist’s technology quarterly issues in one hour. Very exciting stuff. Felicia Day closed out the conference and her story was great to hear. She certainly had a very strong fan base in the crowd.

The most fun technology takeaway from the conference was a newer development tool based on Docker named Lando and a 3D printed map tile, Touch Mapper.

Presenting at the conference was really great. A super supportive audience, great questions, and engaging discussions throughout the rest of the conference. What follows are the highlights of my notes.

Talk: Outnumbered by Temporary (Student) Staff – A Win for Your Institution

Slides: http://slides.com/maxbronsema/outnumbered#/

Deborah Frost, a colleague in University Residences, and I really enjoyed presenting at HighEdWeb 2017. I’ll let the slides highlight our main points. If you have questions about employing students in a higher education setting where they deliver incredible value to the institution and learn a lot of valuable skills, please do not be afraid to reach out.

Aggregation of Twitter posts about session

Talk: Usability Testing is Super Important and Easier Than You Think

Victoria Merriman presented a nice overview of usability testing procedures. This was all centered around a loose format. The benefits of usability testing as outlined by Victoria:

1) Drives conversions
2) Fixes issues
3) Resolves internal debates
4) Create a positive impression and strengthen your brand

The process:

  1. Write 8-12 tasks
    “You are an X in situation Y. You want to do Z.”
    Make users dig a little
    Keep tasks short
    Don’t use the exact words
  2. Get testers
    Offer an incentive
    8-10 testers is a good goal or < 0
  3. Watch testers perform the tasks and gather the following metrics
    1. Completion – 0 to 1
    2. Time on task
    3. User rating 0-10
  4. Learn from their struggles and successes

Nevertheless, She Persisted

This was the best hour of HighEdWeb 2017. A panel of women shared their experiences in the industry of web development. It was inspirational and a reminder of all that gets in the way of success. There is a lot more that males in the field can do to move towards equality.


  • Moving towards leadership parity. 52% of professional jobs are held by women, however only 8.1% are top earners
  • Not talking about it enough but more than in the past so let’s keep the momentum
  • Mentoring involves being present, accessible, and available to support others
    • Introduce women/everyone to others that may be able to mentor/sponsor and help them make those connections
  • The tiny encouragements help a lot. Let them know.
  • Work/Life Harmony, not balance

Calls To Action

  • Do your research. Know the facts. Respond. Share.
  • Advocate & openly support underrepresented groups
  • Get involved in a campaign for someone you believe in. Use your tech/creative skills.
  • Do not go to a conference that does not have a code of conduct (Withhold participation and tell them why you are not going)
  • Read and buy books from humans in underrepresented groups


  • Listen and then amplify
  • Speak up. If you see something, same something. To your peers… to your brothers.
  • Taking notes often falls to women. Step up to take notes, bring treats to meetings, etc…


Mobile First: Writing and Designing Page Content in the Age of Mobile

  • Let national research make your case 4/10 users use mobile all of the time
  • Show heat maps of mobile – not desktop
  • Is anything hidden in the regions that render lower on the page?
  • Don’t overlook phone numbers, include area codes for mobile dialing
  • Remove references to “Look in the left or right column”
  • Remove walls of text – if it is really important make it readable
  • Bite, Snack, Meal approach – coined by online writing expert Leslie O’Flahavan
    • Make the snack scroll worthy
  • Use plain language
    – hemingwayapp.com
    – plainlanguage.gov
  • How People Read the Web: e-book by Nielson Norman Group
  • https://www.nngroup.com/articles/how-users-read-on-the-web/

Accessible Wayfinding

This was also a great session. Wayfinding is most always a hot topic because doing it well is difficult, time-consuming, and generally expensive. The presenters did a great job highlighting a select series of best practices and actionable steps to take on campus.

Consider use cases when writing map descriptions

    • How do I get to….
    • How far is …
    • What are near …

Use an ordered list to give directions
Use an unordered list to describe what’s nearby

A favorite alternative map, http://www.dyc.edu/admissions/visit/campus-map-and-tour.aspx, alternative maps are offered if there is nothing to be done with the primary map.

If you are using color coding, always pair it with…

  • Textures
  • Shapes
  • Text

Keyboard Navigation

  • Make focus obvious
  • Make it easy to find the keyboard shortcut list showing good key combos
  • Does zooming and panning work?
    maps.duke.edu/map does a good job with keyboard nav
    bit.ly/heweb17dpa5 is a prototype with keyboard shortcuts done right

Accessible Technology for those that are blind

  • Trekker Breeze is a tool one can buy for blind users
  • BlindSquare App
  • Touch Mapper

Less is more

Penn State has a huge library system!

Project One pagers

Occam’s Cleaver, more brutal than the razor

Penn State uses Zurb foundation on top of Drupal

Eliminate content ROT was a goal

Determine content owner of every single page (still a work in progress)

Google Analytics Myths Debunked

  • Tie goals to revenue
    $1 goal value is not equal to $1 revenue
  • Behavioral segments are key
    per user goal value is more relevant than per session user value
  • Use google data studio to create custom metrics


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