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WordPress for Higher Ed: Highlights from WPCampus

WPCampus is an excellent event where the WordPress and High Ed communities come together.

At Modern Tribe, we’re always on the lookout for opportunities to do things better than they were done before. Continuous learning is a key component of that, and what better place to learn about what’s relevant to higher ed institutions than the annual WPCampus summit!  

Sponsoring a summit like WPCampus gives us a huge opportunity to mingle with developers, designers, content teams, accessibility advocates, and key university stakeholders. In every conversation, we aim to listen, digest, and understand patterns in the industry today that drive implications for future content and software demands.  

Foresight keeps us sharp. It gives us the ability to recommend solutions that help our clients put their best digital foot forward and build a more modern and effective organization.

Before we dive into our key takeaways from the conference, I want to make sure to send two big shoutouts. One to the WPCampus community for creating a great place for higher ed professionals to get together, share stories, and help each other grow. The second goes to Pantheon for sponsoring the video live captioning and recordings so we can all access and share the insightful content from the summit. 

Without further adieu, here are three key trends we identified from all the sharp minds at WPCampus 2019. Didn’t get to attend this year? Videos will be posted soon, or check out the links to download the slides!

1. Increased Adoption of WordPress Multisite

If you work for a higher ed institution, you’ve likely seen your digital footprint evolve to cover dozens of websites that you use across departments, facilities, initiatives, and events.  Maintenance sometimes lags, and some sites are left looking dated with an inconsistent user experience after other sites are updated.  

In this environment, we consistently find that WordPress Multisite provides a massive opportunity for improvement. We’re seeing a growing trend among schools adopting Multisite to keep branding consistent and share media and other content across sites from one single WordPress instance. Combined with a fully customizable draft and publishing workflow, you’ll have a modern, comfortable, and efficient web platform that serves your family of sites today—and also scales well to support many more in the future.  

2. Deeper Commitment to Website Accessibility

Access is a fundamental principle of education. More and more, we see professionals in higher ed engaging in projects to ensure that information like course catalogs, policies, content, timetables, and calendars is readily available and easily digestible to any user, without exception. A key point to remember is that content needs to be maintained to be consistently accessible. 

Developing an accessible website affects both the structure and design of the website, on desktop and mobile, as well as how content is created. WordPress is extremely powerful, and we’re always interested in how it’s being implemented to solve unique accessibility challenges. Portland Community College uses WordPress to distribute the ability to add items to its school map, providing an up-to-date, detailed, and accessible map that will help anyone get where they need to go. The interactive maps also highlight the accessibility of the facilities themselves, which is a huge improvement over static university maps. 

3. Unification of Workflows & Bridging of Silos

Connecting systems and improving workflows makes life easier for everyone. You’ve probably identified some kind of opportunity inside your own organization to make things a little more efficient. Whether that’s connecting siloed databases across departments or unifying a content publishing workflow, WordPress today can do some pretty magical things. 

For instance, it’s likely that your school has both digital and print copies of things like an alumni magazine or course catalogues. And with different formats typically come different stakeholders, systems and workflows that are often disconnected and inefficient. Working with WordPress, your team can extend its core functionality to act as the main hub for both your digital and print publishing workflow by exporting copy into InDesign, for instance. 

With WordPress, we can also do a superb job of connecting data from your different departments and creating better user experiences with more holistic information. Elaine Shannon at St. Mary’s University summarized it well in the description for her talk

“What if you could pull in all the campus events from that calendar vendor with a bad UX and display them alongside your WP-specific content? What if you could push employee data straight out of Banner and merge it with WP bios so you always had the latest contact information and publications from faculty? What if you could merge data from the catalog, the schedule (which of course uses a separate CMS), and WordPress, and output the most relevant course and schedule data right on the program page you built in WordPress? It’s not just theoretical. WordPress is very flexible in the inputs it can take and the outputs it can make from them.”

Let’s keep the conversation going.

Overall, a unifying impression from the event was that higher ed continues to embrace WordPress, extending it to solve specific challenges like accessibility, print workflow, and the management of dozens of websites from a unified back-end. Thanks to WPCampus for bringing together such a collaborative community. If you’re not already, I’d encourage you to get involved with the organization throughout the year and share your experience, too.