This past week, the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee hosted the first ever WPCampus Conference. Although conferences already exist addressing web site development in Higher Education, this was the first conference that focused specifically on those who use WordPress as their Content Management System of choice.
The conference was spearheaded by WP Crowd member Rachel Carden, and brought together approximately 150 attendees for two days of talks and workshops relating to the use of WordPress in an industry with more advanced challenges, including (but definitely not limited to):
- A web presence made up of multiple small sites or a WordPress MultiSite installation: Whether for division of content, load balancing, or permissions control, I found many of the attendees were managing more than one WordPress site to publish their institution’s content. WP Crowd member Mike Corkum gave a talk on how he manages the deployment of approximately 400 WordPress sites at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. You don’t usually hear about MySQL replication at the community based conferences.
- Practical Uses of the REST API: If you made a drinking game out of hearing the words “REST API” at a WordPress event anytime in the last year, you might have a problem by now. Unfortunately, most talks (at least those I’ve seen) have had to spend time on explaining why WordPress needs a REST API, or even what REST is. The attendees at WPCampus have been putting the REST API into action, sharing content across systems on their campuses. WP Crowd member Josh Pollock kicked off the first day of the conference showing attendees how to use the WordPress REST API as a connector of data between multiple sites.
- Push Notifications: Real time communications on campus can be critical. If you have an emergency on campus, being able to push information to to your website(s) in real-time without users having to reload their browsers, could make the difference between them seeing the information and not. WP Crowd member Roy Sivan showed how to use Web Sockets and the Angular framework to build a WordPress plugin that gives you exactly this capability.
- Multilingual Websites: Many institutions have departments that are teaching and/or studying different languages. They may also be trying to recruit foreign students, and want to provide content in their native languages. WP Crowd member Shawn Hooper (bias: that’s me) talked about the issues you need to consider, and some of the options available to you when creating a WordPress site in multiple languages.
- Web Accessibility: Whether it’s by law, or just because it’s the right thing to do, campuses have to deal with making their web presence accessible to everyone, regardless of disability. Adam Soucie’s presentation “WordPress Accessibility: Where We Are and Where We’re Going” on Dave Wynne’s presentation “Accessibility Does Not Have to Be Overwhelming” (Powerpoint Download) addressed this topic.
- Security: Institutions of Higher Education are large, visible organizations. They probably have many users maintaining their content. Both of these factors, amongst others, present significant concerns when it comes to maintaining your site’s security. Jonathan Brinley discussed Extending User Roles and Permissions to Support Higher Ed Workflows. Paul Gilzow discussed Keeping Yourself Off An Attacker’s Radar, and Ryan Brazell discussed the balancing act of maintaining a secure, but usable, multisite network. Finally, security aficionado and WP Crowd member, Chris Wiegman gave a fantastic run down of not just WordPress but security in general when applied to the web.
- Reducing Paper: Sarah Fayard and WP Crowd Member Chris Flannagan discussed how they transitioned USFSM’s academic catalogs from paper to digital using WordPress Multisite.
- Social Network Effect: BuddyPress is a plugin that adds social network features to WordPress sites. Campus settings are a perfect use case for this plugin. WordPress Freelancer David Bisset talked about BuddyPress in Higher Education.
Comparison to a WordCamp
I found WPCampus to be a refreshing change from the community driven WordCamp events. As listed above, many of the talks were of a more advanced nature. For this reason, the discussion that took place in the “Hallway Track” (the lobby, cafeteria, after parties, etc.) was also at a higher level. At a WordCamp, you might have a discussion on the pros and cons of shared hosting vs. a virtual private server. At WPCampus, I partook in a discussion of hosting your own data centre vs auto-scaling network infrastructure in the cloud using infrastructure like Amazon’s AWS.
Having a venue to discuss more advanced topics like this helps to show the community that WordPress can be used as an enterprise-grade content management system. In fact, I’ve spoken with more than one person who’s agreed that there’s only a fine line between “WordPress in Higher Education” and “WordPress in the Enterprise”.
During the closing remarks, it was announced that there will be a WPCampus 2017 at a location yet to be determined. I for one, look forward to it!
(Photo credit: Kiera Howe, Flickr)