9:00 - 10:00 a.m. CDT — Hello, HighEdWeb!

Keynote Presenter

Bio pic of Gabe Willis

Dr. Gabe Willis
Dean of Students at Southeastern Louisiana University

What do you do when you’ve been named Dean of Students at a University of over 13,000 students with an active alumni base and your supervisor says, “Everyone should know the Dean of Students – go make it happen”?

Traditionally, one might start with feet to the pavement. Email invites for coffee or lunch? Attend multiple student organization meetings per night? When these options fell far short of the reach he envisioned, Willis realize­­d the move was to invest time and focus on social media.

In his keynote, Willis will talk about the importance of being present on social media and how to use these tools to help ensure access and success for ALL students. 

Follow Dr. Willis on Twitter @drgabewillis and on Instagram @dr_gabewillis

About Dr. Willis

10:00 - 10:45 a.m. CDT — Sessions

How Our Worst Website Became an Institutional Favorite: A Case Study

Elicia Dennis – Web Content Strategist – University of Notre Dame

The Gender Studies Program at Notre Dame had one of the worst websites at the University when the current web content strategist entered the role in 2019. The last redesign of the site failed to sell the program, left the administrative coordinator traumatized, and was quickly looked over in search of other marketing platforms. Over the course of 6 months, the website was transformed from one that the team was embarrassed to mention to a site that now serves as a symbol of cohesive and effective web strategy. They point to this site as an example of what you should do where they used to pretend it didn’t exist.

In this session, we will cover the lessons learned from the previous website including the insights offered by Google Analytics. From there, we will walk through the redesign process from the initial intake meeting to the site launch to highlight the success and pain-points along the way. Ultimately, this session serves to highlight the power of cohesive web strategy, the importance of relationship building and goal setting, and how a new website might just have the power to change someone’s entire outlook on a program.

Gutenpocalypse Never: How to Build Accessible Sites in WordPress Using Gutenberg

Kevin Fodness – Director of Software Development – Alley

Slides: Gutenpocalypse Never: How to Build Accessible Sites in WordPress Using Gutenberg

When Gutenberg was first included in WordPress 5.0 in 2018, it got a lot of bad press for being inaccessible, which resulted in many higher education institutions passing on adoption. However, there have been many accessibility improvements in Gutenberg in the year and a half since it was included in core. In this presentation, I will review the state of accessibility in Gutenberg, and provide an overview on how to use the built-in blocks to produce accessible content the front-end. Finally, I will provide tips on how to create custom blocks that are accessible to both content editors and website visitors.

Accessible Navigation Menus

Terrill Thompson – Manager, IT Accessibility – University of Washington

Web navigation menus on higher education websites are coded in a wide variety of ways, but there are only a few ways that are accessible. This session will explore different techniques for coding navigation menus, and discuss the merits of each. We will examine each HTML element and ARIA attribute individually in order to fully understand the effect that each component has on the user experience. We will also unveil the results of a nationwide research project in which we evaluated the accessibility of menus on higher education home pages across the United States. Learning objectives include: Participants will learn at least two ways to properly code a web navigation menu. Participants will develop a better understanding of the effect of specific ARIA attributes, and of ARIA overall, on user experience. Participants will find out how well we’re doing on deploying accessible navigation menus on our institutional home pages.

11:00 - 11:45 p.m. CDT — Community Group Panels

Join a discussion with a group of HighEdWeb experts on topics that impact your work right now.


Rachel Cherry – Moderator – WPCampus

Analytics and Metrics

Brian Piper – Moderator – University of Rochester

Management and Leadership

Liz Gross – Moderator – Campus Sonar

12:00 - 12:45 p.m. CDT — Sessions

Accessibility, It Matters! The Basics!

Brooke Bailey – Front-end Web Developer – University of Virginia

Slides: Accessibility, It Matters! The Basics!

In this session, we will learn about the Models of Disabilities to understand how each of our institutions views accessibility, how those models can impact our accessibility journey as web professionals, the types of Disabilities that we should program for, and the items that we can do today (retroactively and moving forward) to ensure that our universities are more inclusive for people with disabilities inside and outside of our communities.

The Death of Place: Collaborating With Admissions to Yield the Class of 2024

Andrew Cassel – Social Strategist and Content Producer – Middlebury

Admissions shredded their playbook this spring. The usual “once we get them on campus we get them in the classroom” plan was obliterated. Desperate for help they came to the communications office. Suddenly digital platforms were all they had to help fill a class of students. So we went to work. We had tough conversations and dedicated long hours and got the job done. Find out how social media played an essential part in a completely untested but ultimately successful strategy to yield a full class of first-year students and, along the way, redefined the working relationship between communications and admissions.

How to Templatize Design on Campus

Christina Sanders – Lucidpress

Today’s world is looking less and less like yesterday’s, as a number of forces collide and demand change in response. Just to name a few you’ve likely noticed:

New competition—be it international, local, professional, hybrid, or free and massively open online, students have more choices than ever before to continue their education.

Higher tuition—we’ve all heard the stats, but it bears repeating: tuition costs have skyrocketed in recent decades, giving students even more reason to explore other schools and learning paths.

Covid-19—Universities are juggling crisis response, moving to a virtual university environment and dealing with student attrition all at the same time.

The bottom line is this: Universities and colleges are entering a new era, one in which they have to prove their value to potential students if they want to keep their slice of the pie.

One competitive advantage many higher ed organizations have traditionally overlooked is the power of strong, consistent branding. By deliberately building and protecting their brand, colleges and universities can better reach and recruit current and future students.

Key takeaways:

  • Data and insights to share with your team to get them excited about championing your school’s brand
  • Why brand consistency is crucial for growth
  • How to set up brand templating at your school, step-by-step

1:00 - 1:45 p.m. CDT — Sessions

Empathy and Design Thinking: How Becoming Student-Focused Improved UX, Busted Silos & Built Bridges

Luis Merino – Assistant Director of Digital Experience – Dallas County
Community College District

Slides: Empathy and Design Thinking: How Becoming Student-Focused Improved UX, Busted Silos & Built Bridges

In the aftermath of a chaotic website migration, the eight web teams of the Dallas
County Community College District were left to contend with over 1,000 pages of disordered content, redundant information and inconsistent layouts—not to mention failing inter-team dynamics! We realized the only way to strengthen our websites and move forward as a cohesive team was to unify our largely-independent teams around one compelling goal: put the needs of the student at the center of all our work.

This presentation will walk you through how we transformed the marketing pages for 100 programs across 7 colleges from a disjointed mess into a streamlined user experience that provides greater value to students. Along the way we discovered an empathy-driven methodology called Design Thinking. Learn how you can implement its five phases to resolve any creative challenge by:

  • clearly defining your problem
  • collaboratively brainstorming solutions
  • swiftly developing prototypes
  • evaluating ideas through usability testing
  • persistently involving students throughout the process

Underscoring this entire process is empathy, which we ultimately learned is the key– not only to improving user experience, but also to boost collaboration, bust down silos and build up bridges.

How to Use Your CRM and Digital Marketing to Open the Enrollment Floodgates!

Laura Waits – Director of Web and Digital Marketing – University of

Elisa Olsen – Executive Director University Relations – University of

Slides: How to Use Your CRM and Digital Marketing to Open the Enrollment Floodgates!

Imagine a world where you could know which digital advertisement a prospective student saw, took action on, filled out a lead form, submitted an application, and (GASP!) ENROLLED! Your leadership would think you walked on water, right?

Learn how we integrated traditional advertising with a rich digital marketing campaign that delivers results. We refocused our efforts on a digital marketing solution that integrated a lead-generating micro-site as well as our CRM.

We are now able to report on the total number of leads, applications, enrollments down to the program level. Further, we can show the improvement in our metrics year after year and can assist leadership with questions such as “Should we offer this program online?” “When do students want to take courses?”

And last, wouldn’t you like to go into meetings with leadership as the marketing Subject Matter Expert who has data that has been validated?

Sound too good to be true? It’s not!

Telling Stories at Scale

Mike Powers – Executive Director of Marketing and Communications – Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Slides: Telling Stories at Scale

Everyone’s got a story, and your university surely has thousands. But too often, we scramble to find good content to fill our social, web, and media channels. In that scramble, we may end up publishing content that doesn’t engage our audiences—or help our university’s brand—the way we need it to.

In support of a major rebranding effort, we set out to solve this challenge. By creating a “story pipeline,” we’ve been able to capture more story leads and better shape our story output to represent the university as a whole. The process hasn’t been easy. But the lessons we’ve learned along the way will be helpful to anyone seeking to set up a similar system at their own institutions.

What you’ll learn:

  • What stories are and aren’t and ways to get your team to come together around a definition that works for them.
  • Assessing your current story output to make the case for change.
  • Introducing your creatives to the ideas of workflow and content ops.
  • Creating formulas that make storytelling easier.
  • Bringing story content into non-story formats.

2:00 - 2:45 p.m. CDT — Visit Sponsors in Expo Hall

3:00 - 3:45 p.m. CDT — Sessions

You Only Get One Shot: Optimizing a Homepage for Prospective Student First Impressions

Matt Ryan – UI/UX Designer – Penn State Outreach and Online Education

Helen Clarke Ebert – Director of Digital Strategy and Public Affairs – Carleton College

Slides: You Only Get One Shot: Optimizing a Homepage for Prospective Student First Impressions

Your homepage is a key step in the conversion process for many prospective students. Along with “Where is it?” and “Do they offer my major?”, these visitors are also looking to answer the more nuanced and qualitative question: “What kind of school is this?” The answer they get from your home page can play a major part in how they proceed.

So, what is your homepage saying about your school at this critical point in your potential students’ journey?

In our recent homepage redesign, we watched high school juniors and seniors evaluate and form judgments about a variety of higher ed home pages and our own prototypes.

Spoiler alert: our homepages are not being read the way we think they are. And often our homepage real estate is allocated in opposite proportion to what this audience desires.

We will share what we learned in that process, how we learned it, and how you can align your homepages content and design with the expectations of your prospective students.

Addressing the Tensions between Accessible and Visual Design

Debbie Krahmer – Accessible Technology & Government Documents Librarian – Colgate University

Research and experience tells us that an accessible website is more usable for all people, whether they have disabilities or not. However, there is still a great deal of tension in the intersection of accessibility and visual design, especially when it comes to working with faculty to create online instructional materials. How can you, the average accessibility advocate, combat the harmful rhetoric that accessible design only works for students with disabilities? This presentation will address several common design myths, and give you some tools to challenge the idea that accessibility can’t be engaging. What you’ll learn: An overview of the research around accessible visual (and non-visual) design. Common design myths around accessibility. Talking points for discussions with faculty.

How COVID-19 has Impacted HigherEd, Accessibility and the Future of Drupal

Jessica Orozco – VP of Sales – Platform.sh

Belinda Zhu – Manager, Communication and Collaboration Services Information Technology – University of British Columbia

Rick Pine – Associate Director of Web Applications and Development – USC Marshall

John Boyer – Programmer/Analyst – University of Missouri

In this panel discussion, leaders of web development teams across University of Southern California, University of British Columbia and University of Missouri discuss the impact COVID-19 has had on their teams and the future of Drupal as it relates to major upgrades and accessibility.

4:00 - 4:45 p.m. CDT — Sessions

And My Life Is Kinda Crazy: How RIT Plunged into the World of TikTok

Dave Tyler – Social Media Director – Rochester Institute of Technology

You can’t scroll an inch online these days without seeing the name TikTok. Whether it strikes wonder or fear into your heart, the undeniable fact is that the next generation of college students loves them some TikTok. At RIT we took the plunge back in June ’19 and struggled to find our footing, but are now thriving. We can also lay claim to the having the most-viewed post from a college or university on TikTok. This session will explore what we learned, how we stayed on brand in a world of memes and jokes, and offer tips for embracing TikTok without getting “ok boomered” too much.

Building Digital Accessibility Into Every Stage of the Student Journey

Geoff Freed – Director of Perkins Access Consulting – Perkins School for
the Blind

Slides: Building Digital Accessibility Into Every Stage of the Student Journey

A number of important factors influence whether or not students with disabilities can access your information. This session will help you understand how you can improve access so that all students can research, enroll, learn and participate in educational activities. We want to take you on a student’s journey. When learning about your program, can prospective students with limited mobility navigate your website using a keyboard? Does each image have meaningful alternative text that communicates effectively to site visitors who use screen readers? Are you unknowingly creating roadblocks for students? How might students internalize those roadblocks?
Once enrolled, can students with disabilities access the course materials through your web portal? Do faculty members create emails with accessibility in mind? Are your videos accurately captioned and audio described? Can students use assistive technology on their smartphones to take online quizzes? This session will increase your awareness of the disabilities and challenges that many students have and provide helpful tips to avoid the accidental creation of digital barriers for students with disabilities.

Your Campus Welcome Center Is Now Your SERP

Matt Hames – Assoc VP of Digital and Social Strategy – 3 Enrollment Marketing

We spent a summer without visits to campus. We might spend some of the fall without campus visits. The shiny Welcome Center sits empty, lifeless. However, there is life in your Digital Welcome Center. It is called the Search Engine Results Page — or SERP, and when people can’t visit in person, they visit it digitally. Do you know what yours says? Do you know what you can and can’t impact on your SERP?

We’ll talk about who should own what on the SERP. How to work with people on campus to make it shine like your welcome center usually does. When you’re done, we’ll show you how to engage Enrollment, Marketing, the library, and what they all have to offer your school’s digital presence.