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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Higher Ed the Best/Toughest Job in all the Web

Within the last week or so a lot has been posted on the topic of whether higher education is the best or the toughest job in all the web. Both arguments have valid points and in reality best and toughest do not contradict each other straight on. Perhaps what makes the job the toughest also makes the job the best and vice versa.

If you have missed out on these discussions check out Mark Greenfield’s and Nikki Kauffman’s blogs covering the reasons it is the toughest gig. Then travel to Michael Fienen’s and Mike Richwalsky’s blogs for their point of view on why higher ed is the best gig in the web.

Each article has several valid points and all of those who commented had compelling thoughts as well. I took notes on everything I read, grouped similar comments, and continued to dwindle down until I had a manageable list of both the pros and cons of working in higher ed web. What I found was that those lists had many similarities.

I know this list is narrowed down considerably, but I hope by some stretch you can see where your points fall.

Collaboration and Consensus Decision Making
Sounds like something that could very easily slow down any decision making process. Then once you get the ball rolling, it can be hard to stop if it’s going in a wrong direction. Shifting direction in a team that uses the argument “this is how it’s always been” is not easy. The web is not “how it’s always been” and that mind set can be difficult to change in people who don’t understand evolving web technologies.

However in higher education the fact is, collaboration is necessary. What good can come from this? As Mike pointed out, you get the chance to be exposed to things you wouldn’t ordinarily be exposed to. This can lead to successful new ideas.

Cool Factor
To impress students, universities try to stay on the cutting edge of all technologies out there and use every web 2.0 feature known to man (today). It’s up for debate if all that is really necessary. Could it cause a headache? Yes. Is it fun to experiment with new technology? Some would say so.

Heaps of Content
Everyone across campus in every school, department, organization, or club has content to be added to the Web site. Maybe some of those areas think their site needs a different feel from the rest. Could this too cause a massive headache? Most definitely. Does it have to? No, the number one reason people visit a Web site is to find information; the more content available, the more useful the site.

Student Help
So, initially this would seem like a good thing, cheap labor, someone to do the grunt work, and someone to keep you in touch with what is going on. However, Nikki brings up a good point that students working only a semester or two can fail to see the future value of a project.

It’s not as good as the private sector. Here’s the tricky part to put into hard figures. Everyone places different level of value on access to the gym, tuition discounts, leadership opportunities, conferences, guest speakers, relative job security, and vacation time. For you it may be far worse than the private sector others find that the benefits outweigh the lack of monetary compensation.

One item I failed to find a pro for was the issue of satisfying multiple audiences. Not only does a university’s Web site have to satisfy prospective students, current students, parents, alumni, faculty, staff, state and federal legislators, research-granting organizations, corporate recruiters, and the community’s content needs, but many of these groups may feel they have some ownership of the brand and how the Web site depicts it. This indeed complicates things, making the gig tough, but who doesn’t like a challenge?

With all that in mind, I would like to rack your brain for ways to overcome these challenges that make higher ed the toughest job in all the web? As well as, what could be done to take advantage of the things that make this job one of the best in all the web?

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Blogger Zach Gardner said...

My favorite part of those articles was Mark's reference to the Wu Tang Clan in 4. C.R.E.A.M.

The approaches that some groups take to higher ed websites is just as interesting as the pros and cons of being a part of those groups. For example, KU's website is right at Web 1.5; it has the look of a Web 2.0 website, but doesn't have the user driven content that a Web 2.0 website would have. A good blog might be to examine a few higher ed websites to figure out what makes them successful.

2/3/10, 10:23 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Thanks for continuing this conversation. My take is similar to yours: higher ed web development is both the most challenging and the best job in all the web. The speech I'll be giving at the J.Boye conference on this topic will focus how we can learn to understand the challenges to make higher ed websites a better place.

2/3/10, 6:04 PM  

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