This post is in response to some serendipitous exchanges this summer – most recently by Rachel Camden (@bamadesigner on Twitter) with myself (@econproph) via Deborah Edwards-Onoro (@redcrew) and Curtiss Grymala (@cgrymala). I’m hoping to shed some light and keep the conversation going.
The idea is that we need to have a WordCamp Higher Ed, or as Rachel called it WordCampus. It’s an idea I considered last June while at the Miami WordCamp. So I contacted WordCamp Central and asked if it was even possible. After all virtually all of the WordCamps I’ve been to are regional affairs. They’re focused on general and all types of WordPress folk with the common thread being regional geography. That makes sense for most WordCamps, but not so much for WP users in higher ed IMO. I find the issues we encounter in higher ed using WP are too often obscure or discounted at the regular WordCamps. I teach using WP for instance. I have no interest in many (most) of the things that take up the biggest portion of most WordCamp agendas like SEO, how-to-run-a-WP biz, e-commerce, etc.
WordCamp Central Speaks
So here’s, verbatim, the exchange I had with WordCamp Central:
Hi Jim! Yes, it’s possible to organize a WordCamp focused on a certain group of users that are united by use case but not by geography. We’ve had a lot of interest in a higher ed-focused WordCamp in the past 2 years, but never had one finally come to fruition.
Planning an event that counts on people traveling to be able to attend can be more complicated than planning an event more focused on local attendees, and if the majority of your speakers would need to travel to speak, that also adds complexity. To be safe, we’d probably want the organizers of a WordCamp Higher Ed to demonstrate that they’d have enough speakers and attendees to make up at least a one-track, all day event attended by 50+ people. Having a team of 3-4 people in the higher ed sphere who are also WordPress enthusiasts would also be important, as would familiarity with other people working on WordPress in an academic setting.
If you are associated with a university or college that would be willing to provide free space for a WordCamp Higher Ed, and you think you could get enough speakers and attendees for a one-day, one-track, 50+ person event, please give us more details and we can connect you with other people who might be interested in speaking and attending.
Thanks for your interest in WordCamp!
> Name: Jim Luke
> Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
> Website: http://jimluke.com
> Message: Is there a capability to organize a vertical WordCamp instead of
> a regional WordCamp? For example, it appears WordCamps are
> geographically regional events, but what about the possiblity of
> organizing a vertical WordCamp that draws nationally or even
> internationally but only folks interested in a particular industry or
> situation. Specifically, I’m thinking a Higher Education WordCamp would
> be great. As a teaching college faculty, I find regional WordCamps
> somewhat useful, but limited. Too much of all the regional WordCamps I’ve
> been to seem mostly oriented towards web devs and web designers or newby
> bloggers, and usually all with a heavy commercial slant. I could imagine
> a much more useful conference if all the users came from across nation but
> all shared the common interest of using WP in higher ed teaching
> Time: May 29, 2015 at 11:44 am
> IP Address: 126.96.36.199
> Contact Form URL: https://central.wordcamp.org/contact-us/
> Sent by an unverified visitor to your site.
— Andrea Middleton
I’m encouraged and excited about the possibility. In fact, I put it in my to-do list to discuss with folks later this year since the organization Malartu Inc that runs this site and that I run has a lot of other work to do at moment before we get too far into helping organize a WordCamp. But I/we are interested. Since it came up with Rachel, I’m going to go ahead with the thoughts I’ve had since my email with Andrea at WCcentral.
- Fees: The likely fee for a WChigher-ed will likely make it HUGELY attractive to academics. I mean most teaching-oriented and academic conferences have $300-$800 registration fees. If we can make the fee comparable to most WordCamps (which will depend on sponsorship and donated time/facilities), we should be able to attract a lot of academics, especially faculty.
- Location: These are the biggest issues, IMO. Location and timing will drive attendance or hurt it. As WC Central points out, the issue is travel for attendees – as it always is for academics. For these reasons, a site needs to be picked which is easy and relatively inexpensive to get to – this probably means a city in a large metro area with a large hub airport. A 3 hour flight to somewhere is feasible for a fair number, but if it’s a 2-3 hr flight + 2 hour drive afterwards, it adds a day or two to travel and shoots it down for many, I think.
- A university willing to physically host and donate use of the facility is probably essential and step one in organizing. Anybody interested? I could possibly get my school at Lansing Community College interested, but our location (90 mins to a major hub airport) would likely weaken attendance.
- What do people think? Should we target a single national (actually US+Canada) WordCamp first, or think in terms of a WordCampHigherEd East and a WordCampHigherEdWest? The split reduces people’s travel time/costs, but also reduces potential total attendance.
- Timing: Just as important to getting attendance is timing. To make this work I think we need substantial faculty attendance and participation, not just higher ed IT and marketing/website developers. To get faculty, we have to be careful of timing. Middle of semesters tends to be better and middle of summer tends to be weaker. Another issue is likely to be lead time on the dates and announcement. Many (most?) WordCamps seem to be organized on Internet time. A lot of them get announced/finalized only a 3-4 months before being held. For academics, too much of the next 3-4 months schedule is already locked down and they wouldn’t be able to add it to schedule or get funding to attend. We need a good 9 months advance notice and promotion IMO.
- Target Attendees: I’m thinking we have the following target groups:
- College & University WP developers and admins: typically I’m thinking the people on the non-teaching side, like the marketing people, the school website folks, and IT.
- Non-academic WP folk (developers and designers) who focus on serving and contracting with colleges / universities
- Faculty: folks that teach, research, and publish with WP. This group for the most part consists of 3 sub-groups:
- advanced faculty that already use WP to either teach or publish
- school teaching/pedagogy support people (called “Center for Teaching Excellence” at my school) – often the home of the instructional designers
- newby faculty who are interested but haven’t done it yet.
- A question: what about students and/or grad students? Should something be targeted at them, if so, what? Or should they be accepted as just part of the other mixes?
- Program: WordCamp Central talks about a 50-person, one-day, one-track event as the minimum. I’m inclined to think likewise about targeting a one-day event as a starter, although given travel issues, perhaps it could be scheduled as two half-days (start at noon day one and adjourn at 2-3pm next day) so that people only have a single overnight stay. Such a split schedule could allow a “Newby Intro Workshop” on the day one morning for extra $.
- Tracks: WordCamp Central, being cautious about attendance for a non-regional event, suggests a one-track, one-day to start with. But I feel strongly that at minimum we must have two tracks. There’s clearly two different groups of folks with interest in WP in higher ed: the marketing/admissions/institutional website people and the teaching faculty. We must have those tracks at a minimum. I don’t think getting compelling speakers for these two tracks is any problem at all. I can probably name a lot of them now. The question, is whether other tracks are desirable.
- Track 1: The college website(s): development, design, function, administration, maintenance
- Track 2: Teaching: course designs, development, pedagogy, connected courses, etc.
- split the teaching track into advanced and newby
- a separate Intro-to WP track for non-tech admins, new faculty, etc.
- Sponsorship: I will admit I know little about this since I’ve never organized one of these affairs myself. I would think that many of the normal WordCamp sponsors would also be in play such as WP-oriented hosting firms and perhaps the big theme outfits. There might also be some additional targeted sponsors in play, esp folks who offer “Course themes”. FInally, I would think that some foundations that are primarily education-focused might be interested.
So, that’s my brain at the moment on this topic.
Please share or forward this page and please offer your comments and thoughts. Who knows, if we get enough response to the idea of organizing it, it may be the evidence we need to convince WordCamp Central to support it.
If you don’t want to comment here in public, or you have something else related to share, you can contact me at one of my emails: jol (at) malartu.org