2018 was my second trip to the AHECTA (Association for Higher Education Communications) National Conference. The last AHECTA conference I attended was a high energy event held in the heart of the New Orleans French Quarter. However, the 2018 version was held on The Ohio State University’s campus and consequently felt even more in tune with the Higher Education space. The conference began with a tour of OSU’s stadium and production studios, and various members of the OSU video production team made appearances throughout the conference to provide insight on their areas of expertise. One of my favorite parts of the conference is always the intimacy of the small group; I was able to speak with every attendee and the myriad networking events accorded plenty of time for in-depth conversations about campus technology.
For me, one of the most inspiring sessions of the conference was the keynote on the first day in which Liv Gjestvang of Ohio State discussed OSU’s Digital Flagship initiative. It’s a digital learning initiative spanning the whole university in which incoming students receive iPads to guide them through their OSU experience. Students were supported both inside and outside the classroom through innovative and personalized apps, collaborative classroom tools, and relationships with advisors that were enhanced by the technology. Gjestvang discussed the groundwork her team laid to prepare for the upcoming initiative: training faculty to use tech-based pedagogy, shoring up Wi-Fi to enable a streamlined iPad experience, and partnering with both academic departments and the orientation groups to acclimate students to a digital experience from day one. After the session, I asked Gjestvang how they OSU was measuring the success of the app for driving student engagement and inquired about future iterations, as she mentioned students were particularly excited about that aspect. We discussed some really intriguing options – enabling customized event push notifications for students based on their profiles and interests, collaborating more with health and wellness groups on campus to drive programming around important issues such as counseling services, gamifying student activities to drive engagement, and tying in social media to create more visible conversations.
After learning about OSU’s Digital Flagship, I was honored and excited to lead a session titled “Using Digital Media to Drive Strategic Outcomes.” My discussion covered strategies I’d seen institutions use to drive success through video, social media, and collaboration with students. Universal approaches, such as empowering students through delegating social media management projects, using market influencers on campus to drive engagement with new programs, celebrating institutional uniqueness, and keeping up-to-date on technology trends, resonated from my anecdotal experiences. I was able to tie in outcomes from OSU’s Digital Flagship and touch upon examples from Michael Beach at Purdue, who had presented ahead of me and shared some creative videos from BoilerTV at Purdue. Afterward, the ensuing discussion centered around managing social media teams with minimal resources (to which I responded “collaborate with students!”). As my presentation had more of a “millennial” and future-thinking feel, it was interesting to see how it could still tie into general themes for video production and driving success but with different tools. Hopefully, it helped keep the AHECTA discussions relevant to the modern trends we’re seeing in behaviors of Generation Z.
Later in the day, my colleague Mike Jones participated in a panel on “Preparing Your Network for Streaming.” As students move toward streaming on mobile devices and away from traditional cable TV, the onus is on campuses to support the additional network requirements. We learned about the technical requirements -- for example, 3.5-5 Mbps per device is the new minimum for streaming – but more importantly, the necessity of focusing on foundational connectivity. It’s essential for everything from enabling iPads for OSU’s first-year students to supporting students in the residence halls with the streaming capabilities they expect. Mike is an expert in the video solutions field, and it was great to hear the anecdotes he’d gathered firsthand.
The conference and the genuine conversations I had there informed my knowledge about the Higher Ed communications space and how specific institutions are addressing challenges. Going forward, my colleague Mike Jones and I are applying to be part of the AHECTA Board of Directors. Based on the feedback we heard about our respective sessions, I’m hoping that my understanding of contemporary student behavior and time spent as a consultant on the road will keep the AHECTA group informed about the latest trends in Higher Ed communication, and that our network of innovative institutional partners will enhance AHECTA’s vibrancy even more. Next, on to EDUCAUSE!