Monthly archives of “August 2012

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Working with an Army of One

As we all know, vendor support – the right vendor support – can be key to carrying out the sundry jobs that an Army of One in higher education is tasked with.

Some vendors work well with small teams and solo practitioners. Some don’t. Hey, we can’t all play nicely together all the time.

Ron and I thought talking with some of the vendors we’ve found to be particularly helpful to small teams might be a good addition to Higher Ed Solo. We’d love to hear your stories of working with vendors, especially of those who have a knack for working with limited resources and budgets.

We’ll always tell you the extent of our relationship with the vendors we talk to for this feature on the blog. Promise. We don’t have any sponsors here, but we think it’s important that you all know as much as you can about each of these companies.

To start off this series, I talked to Kyle James, CEO for nuCloud. My school, the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law, uses a nuCloud map as a recruiting tool. We’re in one building, so wayfinding has not been a huge issue, but recruiting is. We sometimes get students from the other side of the country who have never been in Arkansas. We wanted to give them a good idea of the building and people here.

Another disclaimer about this interview. The day Kyle and I shot it, the headset that I use for Skype was being janky. When I imported the video, it had this weird feedback sound when I talked. (No jokes allowed about my accent!) Toward the end of the interview, it resolved itself. Even weirder. Anyway, that’s the reason for the partial use of slides with questions on them and the standard interview technique. Hope it’s not too distracting.

Which vendors do you work with? How do they make your job as an Army of One easier? We’d love to hear.

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Redesigning an .edu site – by yourself?

By @ronbronson

It’s not going to happen. Whether you have a team of 20 or an army of one, you’re simply not going to undertake a project like this by yourself. Still, the process can be daunting if you don’t know where to turn or even where to begin.

Lots of places will logically start with finding a firm to partner with (if you’re a solo) or perhaps you’re the person charged with implementing an already existing solution. Either way, the process isn’t always just about the nooks and crannies of the design and development of your site’s edifice, but the content contained therein.

If you’ve ever undertaken a project of this magnitude, you understand the variables involved. The first time you do it, it can be very daunting. There’s no manual for the beast of a higher ed website redesign, and it’s an easy thing to feel like you’re alone on an island, relying heavily on the advice of external partners who may or may not understand the needs of your institution or how different redesigning a school site is compared to a business or something else.

There are just a few things to think if you’re in the midst of process, beginning to think about and don’t (necessarily) know where to start.

1. Establish a team early

You remember how I said you can’t do it alone, right? The most critical part of the project is making sure you’re surrounded with people who can help you navigate the mine field of all the things. The danger with assembling a team is making sure the core team that’s responsible for content, development and the nuts and bolts of actually getting the site launched is nimble. Whether there’s a larger committee of stakeholders or not, is really dependent on the way your school works. I’ve worked on redesigns with thirty people in a room trying to figure things out and some where it was just three people making all of the key decisions. There’s no perfect way to do it.

2. Ask for help if you need it

It’s a marathon, not a speed walk. You should talk to the various stakeholders in your environment when you’re trying to “do it all yourself,” because not everyone understands the unique challenges of trying to pull off a redesign with 1/32nd of the resources that your more well-heeled (or well-staffed) peers might be accustomed to. Now it doesn’t always mean you get what you want (or that anyone cares. “You signed up for this…”) but there are often instances where things can be done to make things go more smoothly. But if no one knows there’s a possible problem, it’s hard to craft solutions.

3. Plan for tomorrow, not just today

The process is often really focused on building solutions that work for the people in the current jobs at that time. It’s important to make sure the process isn’t person-dependent. So many times, I see redesign projects that adopt their technology or CMS based solely on the limitations of the incumbent. That’s practical, but it’s important to explore what possibilities can balance those needs with a scalable solutions that can last beyond the person. My rule of thumb in situations with limited tech-friendly staff is implementing solutions that don’t require overt day-to-day technical assistance if there’s no web person in-house.

There are all sorts of other things that really are dependent on the needs of the institution. Have you completed a redesign as a solo? What would you add to this list? What ideas should people keep in mind as they embark on this quest? Share with us at @higheredsolo on Twitter or in the comments.

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New School Year? Time for a resolution…

By @ronbronson

It’ll be a new school year soon. While for many of us, the summer was complete with work as if the days weren’t any different, there’s still a kind of symbolism attached to a new academic year. Most of us have tools that work for us well. It seems like with the end of the actual year within our view, it’s a good time to think about resolutions.

While much of our work is aimed at master plans and dictated by people above our pay grades, I like to use the time to come up with a resolution, much like a new year. For this year? I haven’t decided yet.

Here are some ideas to plotting your course:

1. Learn a new skill

While it’s natural to want to do everything to benefit your employer, you have to think about ways the work helps you develop useful skills that are transferrable. Finding projects that will help you cultivate new skills are a good way to create win-win situations for yourself and your employer.

2. Put yourself out there

I’m not sure if happens to you, but being a web guy ensconced downstairs in an office, I get people who inevitably say “we never see you.” This isn’t necessarily accurate, but it’s always a reminder that you need to engage with the public. The best way to do PR for yourself and the work you do is to communicate with folks. And not just your favorite friends around campus, but people with whom you don’t speak with nearly as much. It’s easy sometimes to dismiss your work as just pedestrian stuff you’re used to doing. But if folks don’t engage with you often, that might be the memory they take away when you don’t see them again for six months.

3. Keep track of your goals & accomplishments

I’m not a “list person’, but I know people who are. There’s something strangely satisfying about being able to check something off a list. When it comes to accomplishments and “good works,” successes can pile up and go unnoticed especially if you’re an efficient person. Sometimes, it can be handy to remind yourself of the good thing you’ve done. One other thing, is that such a list can keep you accountable to yourself when you’re not doing the things you put on your list. It cuts both ways.

These are just a few ideas aimed at helping you come up with your “new school year” resolutions.  When you come up with yours, feel free to share it with us in the comments or on Twitter at @higheredsolo.