I went to WPCampus ONLINE… and I liked it

I know what most of you are thinking: “What the heck is WPCampus ONLINE?”
Well to use their exact words:  A Virtual Conference for WordPress in Higher Education put on by WPCampus.

And next question might be “Who is WPCampus?”
“WPCampus is a community and conference for web professionals, educators and people dedicated to the confluence of WordPress in higher education. Our goal is to provide a wealth of knowledge for anyone who’s interested in using WordPress and allow people to share and learn about WordPress in the world of higher education.” – https://wpcampus.org/
You can find the full conference schedule here: https://online.wpcampus.org/schedule/

Well in MY own words: I got to go to my first WP event of 2017 without leaving the comfy Pantheon office or having to drink conference coffee! Starting at 7:00am PST I got to see the kickoff of this amazing event put on by the most dedicated team of higher ed WP professionals ever (@wpcampusorg) .

And I bet at least someone reading this is thinking: “Wait a minute, you don’t work in higher ed. Why were you there?”. Well that is true, I work for a platform as a service company not a university, but I do love me some WordPress! Last year I had the awesome honor of attending the first WPCampus event in Sarasota.  There I got to meet so many amazing people and hear so many stories from the front lines of higher ed web development. Getting to be a part of that event was one of my favorite things about 2016 for so many reasons, including WCKaraoke and meeting so many of my favorite WP friends. So when the chance rolled around to once again be part of one of their events I jumped at the chance.

The day started out awesome, watching “From Moodle to WordPress – what we learnt and why we moved” from AdvantageLearn.com founder James Lees (@jamestrevorlees). To be quite honest I knew the name moodle, but nothing more, going into that session. Sure WP is not a Learning Management System, or LMS, but as I learned here and also later in the day it sure can fill the need. This session really is a great showcase of why WP is the ideal solution for something immediately customizable that can also easily scale.

Next up for me was the main talk I was excited about. I have had the pleasure of seeing Roy Sivan (@royboy789) talk before but not about the “The Case for the WordPress REST API”. If you have any lingering doubts about if you should be using it or not, go watch this presentation now! Sure, you could live without the REST API, just like you could also live without WP-CLI. Could. But really shouldn’t. The use cases he describes might be aimed at higher ed but you will quickly see how this can be applied to all sorts of verticals. For sure, it is important to the future of WP.

Third in the day for me was “The Making of a Web Team” from Jennifer McFarland (@ncsumarit). It was extremely illuminating to how a university approaches the rather specialized problem set that such an institution presents. I work mostly with agencies who are trying to sort out how best to use our platform, so I am very used to thinking about their team dynamics and how they stack up against billable deliverables. One thing that stood out was the concept of just opening your doors and time to ‘office hours’ to help all the users. It was refreshing but also sounded like it could potentially cause some interesting issues.

After that was the session that I was surprised to find on the schedule “Learning from Drupal: Implementing WordPress in a Drupal-Majority Institutional Environment” from Eric Sembrat (@esembrat). I’ll let you read that again and soak it in. Drupal at a WP event. Working where I do, we focus on specifically those 2 CMS and we have long been saying that these communities have a lot to learn from one another. The communities are way more similar than they are different, even though the products themselves diverge quite a lot and have very different sweet spots. To hear this same sentiment from Eric was quite nice.  I will often discuss, with a new dev or someone outside the industry, what exactly are the differences between Drupal and WP. I am going to quote and point people to this presentation from here on out.

I was not able to catch most of it, but from what I heard and read on the slides of  “WordPress as an LMS” from Krista Lambert (@contentkrista) Melanie Meyers (@teltjibc) was awesome. My main walk away was an echo from James Lee’s talk, LMS is expensive, brittle and very hard to scale. WP is the opposite but while it can be an LMS, that does take some thoughtfulness and planning.

From there, I say a presentation that admittedly I had intended to just listen to while I ate my lunch: “Easy, Affordable Digital Signs with WordPress” from Greg Marshall (@mogmarsh). “Yep”, I thought, “this is going to be one talk where I might learn something but not planning to take notes.” This is the only session where I downloaded something from GitHub and spun up a fresh WP install. Seriously folks, I never considered WP as a solution to the sign issue, but after doing as many events as I have done and worked with as many gum and bailing wire (looking at you Google Slides) solutions for coherently displaying what I want on a monitor in a consistent fashion, this made my mouth water a bit. Next time you see me at a camp with a display it very well might be WP. (*don’t tell the DrupalCamp organizers*)

Second to last of the day was a thoughtful and inspiring story from Joe McGill ( @joemcgill), “Showing up: learning how to make a contribution.” If you have ever thought “I sure would like to be a contributor, but man, I don’t think I can do it.”, then stop everything and go watch this. No slides. no BS. Just an honest conversation with the audience that in fact you can do it. That imposter syndrome will be there and you can overcome it. That this stuff is hard and you will always expect that someone smarter or better than you is going to come along and take over your project or criticize you and you will get over that fear. Contribute to literally make the world you want to see. That is what Open Source is all about.

Finally, the day ended with a really tough decision:  Higher Ed WordPress Showcase from Travis Totz (@travistotz) OR BuddyPress and Higher Education from David Bisset(@dimensionmedia). Fortunately David helped me decide 🙂
I went with Travis’s session and wow, talk about drinking from a fire hose, I am very glad I had his slides downloaded already, 108 of them! So many awesome examples of WP in higher ed in so many variations. Huge props to him and team for putting this resource together. Highly recommend having this deck as a reference if you are ever wondering ‘would WP fit my use case’. The answer is probably yes.

Oh and by the way there were 8 other talks I didn’t see. Good thing they recorded them all 🙂  Watch them here: https://online.wpcampus.org/schedule/

The biggest downside to this event was there was no after party and no karaoke. 🙁 But I didn’t have the stress of traveling and was still able to hang out with the amazing WPCampus folks on twitter and slack all day 🙂 Everyone was so generous with their time and answers. It was an exceptional day and really sets the bar pretty high for any other organization that tries this whole online conference idea. Applauds are definitely in order.

Make some time to check out the session recordings and experience WPCampus ONLINE for yourself.

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