Is A WordCamp Higher Ed or “Word Campus” Possible?

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:
> Website:
> 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
> situations.
> Time: May 29, 2015 at 11:44 am
> IP Address:
> Contact Form URL:
> Sent by an unverified visitor to your site.

Andrea Middleton
WordCamp Central

— Andrea Middleton

My Thoughts

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?
  5. 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 $.
  6. 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.
    1. Track 1:  The college website(s):  development, design, function, administration, maintenance
    2. Track 2:  Teaching:  course designs, development, pedagogy, connected courses, etc.
    3. Optional:
      1. split the teaching track into advanced and newby
      2. a separate Intro-to WP track for non-tech admins, new faculty, etc.
  7. 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)



  1. I’m excited about the prospect of a WordCamp Higher Ed! You’re right, location is a big factor for people attending the event. For higher ed people on the west coast, flying to Pittsburgh, Atlanta, or even Detroit may be too expensive. (Same for people in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, or Detroit flying to Spokane, Denver, or Portland, Oregon.)

    I would opt for a one-day conference to start, and if there’s enough interest, multiple tracks to serve: IT, faculty, marketing/users, and designers/developers who work in or with higher ed. They are distinct groups, each with their own interests in WordPress.

    In my experience, planning for WordCamps takes a good nine months. Venues book early for events of more than 50 people. And you’re right Jim, people need time to plan for the event.

    As for sponsors, if this is an official WordCamp, I assume WordCamp Central would help putting together a sponsor package. If it’s not an official WordCamp, we run into all kinds of logistical issues of how to manage money, requirements of using the WordPress trademark, etc.

  2. Just to share a little more information about WordCamps and sponsorship, we have a global community sponsorship program that allows us to provide every WordCamp with a respectable “nest egg” of sponsorship funding right out of the gate. You can read more about this program here:

    We’ll provide you an experienced WordCamp organizer as a mentor who can help you build out a budget that covers typical WordCamp expenses as well as contingencies. If your venue is donated/sponsored, then your costs will probably be modest.

    Regarding the location issue, my advice would be to target a city/region already rich in universities rather than trying to pull attendees from all over the nation. But that’s just me. 🙂

  3. Great post Jim. You do a good job covering a lot of the main issues involved in organizing a higher ed wordcamp. Here are some of my thoughts as someone who has organized WordCamps.

    Venue is absolutely critical as you said and I think you are correct in that a university willing to provide the space would be ideal. I think focusing on doing a North America wide event would be the better way to go for the inaugural WordCampus .

    The timing you mention surprises me. I would have assumed that a summertime event date would have worked out better for many people working in higher education. I don’t work in it myself so hearing that mid-semester would be better is surprising but important to note.

    I think there are enough well known WordPress contributors (not just in core) that work within the higher education world you could potentially have a very solid list of speakers that should at the very least stretch across two tracks.

    As someone that has handled sponsorship for WordCamps I think you also have some unique challenges as many WordCamp sponsors tend to be plugin or hosting providers which may not be a good fit for this event. However I think that there is likely a desire for other companies to get their products and services in the faces of people within higher education. Also the WordCamp foundation has many multi-camp sponsors who the foundation handles and provides money for all WordCamps within different regions so you could likely count on that to help with sponsor costs as well.

    Last year we did a dev focused WordCamp in Vancouver and as lead organizer my one regret was not having the time to take some of the higher education focused talks we had submitted and try to set up a track for them. If you are looking for people to help with this endeavor I would love to help.

  4. Thanks for putting this down on paper, Jim. Well, y’know, electronic paper. Personally, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. If there’s to be one WordCampus North America (it was very tempting to write WordCampusUS), it’d probably need to be in a central location. Chicago-ish maybe. It may be prudent to do one initially, and then learn lessons from that and push it out to two the following year – one East Coast, one West Coast – making it more accessible to folks.

    Flynn, the commenter before me – and friend of mine -, is an experienced WC organizer and I’m sure with a touch of persuasion and arm twisting he’d love to get involved in helping organize such a thing (he hates me now). Also there are a lot of passionate people out here in the PNW who use WP for large projects across universities (I’m sure that’s reflected in the East and Central, too) and I’m sure if we put our heads together we could make something work.

    Let’s hope this is the start of a ball rolling.

  5. Damnit, didn’t mean to press submit (please feel free to combine this comments if you wish).

    As for sponsorships, I was thinking that certain premium plugins would be interested; GravityForms for one. I would have said WooCommerce/Sensei too, but, well, y’know. On top of that, LearnDash perhaps.

    The education space is already large and potentially huge. I’d be very surprised if, with the right contacts, we couldn’t fulfil the necessary funding requirements.

    As for tracks, I think this would depend on what we think the split of the audience who could come would be. I know for sure that there would be several people who would love to give a talk in a development capacity (myself included). Probably wouldn’t be right for students/most faculty however.

    Maybe, just maybe, a good place to start really planning this could be WordCamp US this winter. I suspect a lot of people who would be interested will be going and there’d be a lot of momentum. This doesn’t mean some groundwork can’t be done before then of course, but it’d be a great opportunity to set something in stone when a lot of folks are together.

  6. Just a few thoughts…

    1. Columbus, Ohio is nice I hear… and has the largest university in the country…

    2. Each year, we have probably six or seven inquiries from staff at OSU about attending WCColumbus who say they can’t get the conference approved out of their continuing ed budget because the cost is too low. The end up having to just eat the cost, OR leave it up their individual dept. head as to whether s/he will reimburse the already low cost. I don’t know exactly what the figure which would allow them to include it in an existing budget, but it might be worth asking a few past attendees from Univ/Colleges to find out.

    3. I like the two tracks/two audiences idea.

    1. It’s funny (but in a sad way) that the low ticket price turns into an attendance barrier due to university bureaucracy! You know, depending on the budget, you could also offer free tickets to people who actually show up to the event — requiring they “reserve” their ticket by buying it for $20 and then refunding the ticket for anyone who attends. 🙂 That would make the tickets cost only about $1 (due to Paypal fees). Not saying that’s the only way to handle it, but it’s one of the ways you could handle this issue, if it’s widespread. 🙂

    2. Angie,

      That is interesting. When I worked at the community college and attended WordCamp Phoenix, they didn’t question the low cost.

      However, I was questioned about the cost of on online conference I attended that was several times more expensive than WordCamp Phoenix.

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