A WordPress conference for higher education: coming to a campus near you?

WordPress is used by thousands of universities all over the world. Many universities run large parts of their web infrastructure with WordPress, and it’s time for them to have a niche WordPress conference catered for their experiences.

Editor's Note: Thus far, there have been numerous niche WordPress conferences aiming toward for-profit initiatives and geared toward businesses, marketers, or eCommerce site owners. But Rachel Carden‘s concept for a niche, education focused, non-profit event is unique and I'd love to see it happen.

As she notes, universities have unique challenges for managing websites and are also great candidates for utilizing WordPress to its full potential. What follows is her pitch and public brainstorming session on what a higher education focused WordPress conference might look like.

This all started with a tweet.

WordCamp U.S. made a big announcement that was all over Twitter, Chris Lema tweeted what we were all thinking, and I couldn’t help but start daydreaming about the possibilities.

You see, I’m a web designer and developer with a passion for all things WordPress, especially using WordPress to build the world of higher ed web. Having spent the last 8 years working in higher education, I’m always looking for ways to utilize the power of WordPress to fulfill my campus’s needs and to help its communication grow, whether it’s using the powerful CMS to stretch limited resources or using its new API capabilities to share information, and break down silos, across campus departments.

I love attending WordCamps and other WordPress-related events, but the issues we generally encounter in higher ed are often overlooked.

Much like online businesses or blogging, higher ed is a world of its own with unique challenges, content, stakeholders, and target audiences. In our world, we don’t worry so much about which eCommerce plugin is best. Instead, we’re more concerned with things like how to manage a large-scale network of faculty blogs, making sure we’re abiding with FERPA regulations, or wondering how to best implement single sign-on that integrates with Active Directory.

That’s why I’m proposing a new event in the WordPress community: a conference focused on using WordPress in the world of higher education. I call the idea “WordCampus”. (Kind of a perfect name, right? How did nobody think of this before?)

The name “WordCampus” came to me from a tweet and does not, at this point, imply it would be an official WordCamp event. If needed, I’m open to organizing an event that is not affiliated with the WordPress Foundation. This is a detail that remains to be seen, but honestly, at this point, all details remain to be seen. A WordCamp representative has confirmed that a user group specific WordCamp is possible, but I would need to prove that it could draw a crowd. That’s why I need your help.

If a WordPress conference for higher ed is something you would be interested in (whether it’s as an attendee, speaker, planner, sponsor, or all of the above), I invite you to read a few of my thoughts, share yours in the comments, and visit wordcampus.org to show your support.

Cost and fee consideration

Much like your usual WordCamp, the goal for this event is to keep the costs and ticket price as low as possible. The point of this event is professional development and community, not profit. The phrases “big budget” and “higher ed” don’t generally appear in the same sentence anyway.

A lot of higher ed-oriented web conferences can run upwards of $500 so an inexpensive, but valuable, event would be attractive for most higher education web professionals.

Unique sponsorship opportunity

Having sponsors to help with costs would be crucial and I am open to all kinds of support, whether it’s monetary or in-kind. Sponsoring an event like WordCampus would be a unique way to get an organization’s name in front of one of the best communities outside of WordPress that uses WordPress all the time.

In the world of higher education, you often have limited resources, so there are plenty of opportunities for third party products or services like hosting, themes, plugins, custom design, accessibility consulting, and custom development, among others.

Location is a factor

The location could be a sticking point, as high travel costs might be a deal breaker for many WordCampus attendees. The beauty of local WordCamps is that they are tied to a geographical region and therefore, for most attendees, have limited travel requirements. This could be a problem for an event that is not tied to a specific region.

Venue wise, universities have beautiful facilities, so I’d love to host the event on an actual college campus and, if the hosting university could donate the space in kind, this would be a huge cost saver. The most preferable universities would also be located near a major airport to help reduce travel time.

If I’m really dreaming big, it would be great to find numerous universities that would be willing to host and, therefore, we could have regional WordCampus events spread across the country. I don’t think this is outside the realm of possibility, but would depend on interest and attendance. I'm certainly interested in hearing from anyone that may be interested in hosting WordCampus at their university.

A big target audience

There are a wide variety of WordPress users in higher ed, from the university-level WordPress developers and administrators, to the users who run WordPress for a college, to the faculty members using WordPress as a learning tool, and any students who’d love to learn a thing or two (they are our future, you know). That’s not even including content strategists, designers, social media managers, and more.

WordCampus has the potential to attract a variety of users who could inspire a multitude of topics and professional development.

A broad variety of topics, even within the education umbrella

Speaking of topics, these could also run the gamut from higher ed marketing and content strategy to infrastructure, managing multi-author blogs, and streamlining application processes. Accessibility should also be a featured topic as federally funded institutions are required by law to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities.

Personally, I see the structure of higher ed as tailor-made for the open source mindset and would love to hear someone encourage collaboration and openness by comparing the ideologies of open source with the inner workings of higher education.

Event timing

As organizing something of this magnitude takes time, I’m looking at a 2016 booking. What time of the year in 2016, however, remains to be seen. There are obviously a lot of variables at play, from venue availability to which time of the year is best for our target attendees. In higher ed, you need time to clear your schedule and request funding, so I’d want to allow for that.

Usually, the middle of the semester is best for most higher ed professionals, but this can vary depending on their field. And if we’re being honest, the majority of fall might be out of the question because of football season. We’ve included a straw poll on the event landing page to help us gauge which time of year might be best for those interested in attending.

Thank you for taking the time to read through my proposal and hopefully interested parties will have a few additional thoughts for the comments. If you would like be notified of any future developments, or show your support for the project, please visit wordcampus.org to share a little bit of information. And don’t forget to tell your friends!

If you have any questions, or would like to chat, you can also find me on Twitter @bamadesigner.