What I learnt at HighEdWeb 2018 as a Research Analyst

By Posted in - Content & Measurement and Evaluation & Technology on November 2nd, 2018 0 Comments

HighEdWeb 2018. Sacramento, California. An insightful three days full of thought-provoking sessions – and rather enviable renditions of some classic karaoke hits.

And as expected it’s left us feeling energised and ready to take action on the many takeaways we have learnt during our time in the States. But for now, I just wanted to share three things that particularly resonated with me over the past week from some of the sessions I attended. So here are a few initial post-conference thoughts to get us thinking.

1. Ensure content about diversity is visible and authentic

We all aim to create a culture of diversity and inclusion within our institutions. But how can we use our website to amplify this message – and to do so authentically?

As Scott Olivieri uncovered through his research on how diversity-related content is portrayed on higher education websites, it’s all about the messages we send through the positioning of words and images on university websites. So what can we do?


“Information architecture…can be used as a tool of oppression”.

If diversity-related content is not in the main navigation of the website, it sends the message that diversity is not a priority. This content needs to be visible, easily accessible and positioned prominently in the navigation of the website.


“Institutions often utilise staged photos of students who are purposefully diverse and therefore reduced to their appearance.”

Prospective students do not just want to see students like them at university, they want to feel as though they would belong in that community. So how do we create content about diversity that is authentic and not just aspirational? Speak to the students themselves. Listen to their stories and experiences. Give their voices a platform to reach prospective students. And do some research – how diverse is your campus? And are you representing that accurately on your website?

2. Create content with data and empathy in mind

A common theme which repeatedly came up in some of the sessions I attended seems to be a shift towards focusing on our audiences as people, not just on the data we collect about them. Andrew Cassel and Liz Gross navigated this battle of both understanding the value of data-driven decisions and the need to create content that inspires.

Focus on feelings

“Data always wants to be human – the people who hire you hire a person… they want you to be innovative – computers cannot take risks.”

We need to balance our use of data to measure our “success” with the creation of content that focuses on feelings too. Our CEO has previously spoken about the need to create content that evokes empathy and connects with our audiences, as well as that which plays to their information needs. So don’t be afraid to take a few risks in creating content that appeals to emotions. 

Let data guide you

“You’re going to have beautiful ideas coming out of your heart, and the data will tell you what to work on.” 

And yes, as a Research Analyst, I’ll admit I’m a little biased. Data helps us to measure the success of the content we’ve created and consequently helps us to inform the content we create in the future. It helps to prove something is working – or not. We need this data, right? But data is not everything.

To find out more about this session, see their slides.

3. Being mindful of data and technology

In the first keynote of the conference, Manoush Zomorodi got us all thinking about how our use of technology can impact our ability to allow ourselves the capacity to think and process information.

Through three of her studies – Bored and Brilliant: The Lost Art of Spacing OutInfoMagical, and The Privacy Paradox – she raised a lot of questions regarding how much information overload we can handle, how we can ensure technology affects us positively, and how we can instil a sense of trust and empathy in our own data collection efforts.

These are definitely questions we should keep asking of ourselves – both in our personal and professional lives.

Ultimately, if there is one thing I can summarise from these sessions at HighEdWeb, it’s this: in all things we create or collect, we need to ensure we’re putting people first.

We need to listen to our students and allow their voices to reach prospective students. We need to create content that not only performs well in terms of metrics, but evokes feelings and emotions. And throughout, we need to continue to actively consider and question the reasons as to why we collect the information that we do from our audiences, and whether it is truly necessary to do so.


For more on HighEdWeb 2018, our CEO, Tracy Playle, led a session on Designing a Digital Skills Strategic Review and Transformation Program and our Content Strategist, Rosie Wowk, shared her top three takeaways too.

If you need help with designing and implementing a user-centred approach to content creation and strategy, speak to us.


Please leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.