UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Are University Web Teams Too Large?

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 7 August 2009

Mike Richwalski was very busy at IWMW 2009 (and beyond). Mike, Assistant Director of Public Affairs at Allegheny College, submitted a proposal to run a workshop session on “Using Amazon Web Services (AWS)” which we were happy to accept. In subsequent discussions with Mike I discovered that he was not only a techie who knew about managing Amazon services but had recently presented a webinar on Facebook & Twitter Recruitment Tools to Engage Prospective Students.

This was a topic which was directly related to a series of workshops I was involved with on behalf of the SCA (Strategic Content Alliance). When I discovered that Mike was arriving in London on the day of the workshop in London (they day before the start of IWMW 2009) I tentatively asked if he’d like to give a brief talk at the SCA workshop (I have to admit that I was particularly interested in any cultural differences between educational institutions in the US and the UK in a willingness to make use of Social Web environments such as Facebook and Twitter). Mike not only agree to take part, he was also able to participate in the workshop in Cardiff, as he was returning to the US from Cardiff airport. And Mike also gave a bar camp at IWMW 2009 in which he summarised the ways in which Allegney College is using Social Web services.

In the IWMW 2009 bar camp Mike described his college’s use of Facebook, Twitter (for general use, admissions, student orientation and sports) and YouTube. Amazon Web Services (AWS) also powers many areas of their Web site, such as their multimedia fund-raising activities.

Following Mike’s overviews of these services, I asked others in the bar camp whether UK higher educational institutions were taking similar approaches in exploiting such Web 2.0 services. The answer, it seems, is not yet.

But why, I wonder? What are the barriers? Is it because we are seeking perfection? Do we hide behind phrases such as ‘creepy tree-houses’ and ‘walled gardens’ when the evidence seems to suggest that institutions feel that they gain benefits from use of such services? And, secretly, are members of Web teams feeling threatened? Is there a view that if we don’t develop the services in-house, we’re not doing our jobs properly? And is it significant that members of UK institutional Web management teams  are leaning from the approaches taken by a small US college with 1 Web team, of 1.5 FTEs?

I recently suggested that The Recession Has Still To Hit the Public Sector! And I’ve heard rumours of layoffs and early retirements in University Web teams.  So it strikes me that it is now very timely to make use of the global infrastructure which various Web 2.0 services can provide to support our institutional activities. I was therefore pleased that Barry Cornelius, for example, ran a workshop session at IWMW 2009 on “Time for iTunes U“.

But will this provide an opportunity for the bean-counters in the institutions to ‘right-size’ the Web team? Possibly, but I also feel there is so much more that could be done to make in exploiting the potential of the Web to support our institutional objectives. Why waste effort in attempting to replicate in-house what is already working on a global scale?

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6 Responses to “Are University Web Teams Too Large?”

  1. Tony Hirst said

    For what it’s worth, here’s an (old) write up of OU course profiles Facebook application: http://bit.ly/17wHF4

    Also try searching for “course profiles” on http://ouseful.info and on slideshare

  2. i don’t think so :)

  3. [...] Brian Kelly -  Are University Web Teams Too Large? [...]

  4. [...] Are University Web Teams Too Large? [...]

  5. The recent study SIRC undertook for us (Investigation into the management of website content in higher education institutions) – I’m surprised you haven’t blogged anything about this? – tends to support a view that the bulk of work undertaken by ‘web teams’ is about ‘management’ rather than ‘technology’. In that sense, I don’t think the ‘where does this stuff sit?’ question makes much difference.

    It also appears to indicate somewhat mixed attitudes to ‘outsourcing’ (though I think the report mainly interprets this as bringing in external web consultants) with people seeing some advantages to it as an approach though many reporting not being totally happy with the results.

    There is clearly some frustration felt by web teams in terms of the ‘expectations’ put on them vs. the resources they are given (i.e. people) – on the other hand, there is also an indication that people aren’t overly negative about the levels of funding they receive.

    A typical university web team in the UK appears to be somewhere between 1 and 4 people.

    I think the reports findings on Web 2.0 are somewhat inconclusive – I mean, they are indicative of a general widespread interest in doing more in that general area (which is no surprise), but I don’t think they are clear about how much is being done in house vs being done thru external services. I’ll try and look into the data more deeply and see if we can get anything more on this.

  6. [...] It gets mentioned in a few places: http://www.jiscdigitalmedia.ac.uk/blog/entry/itunesu-in-practice/ http://peterwoodbridge.blogspot.com/2009/08/time-for-itunes-u.html http://ukwebfocus.wordpress.com/2009/08/07/are-university-web-teams-too-large/ [...]

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