WPCampus Online 2018: Amazing content I got to watch from home while helping out a little too

A square image with the words WP Campus Online on a dark background

I will start out by saying I do not work in higher education. You might find yourself wondering then why I am such a fan of WPCampus. The truth of it is that I find the problem sets that the WP developers and admins have at universities absolutely fascinating. They have some of the most complex issues to solve with regards to permissions, compliance and delivery, coupled with an “as close as you can get to free” budget from administrations. Every time I hear about a situation where a single dev is managing hundreds of sites and is being pulled in multiple directions by all the stakeholders, I want to extend a hand of comfort and do what I can to help. That is why I volunteered at this year’s WPCampus Online.

This amazing and free event is put on by an incredible team of volunteers lead by the one and only Rachel Cherry, who has this infectious enthusiasm for helping higher education have the best time with WordPress. I signed up to be a Room Monitor, which is a volunteer position to make sure certain information gets announced in the chat window for the rooms as the presentations were happening as well as be on the lookout for abusive behaviour. Very happy to report I had a very uneventful shift as only the nicest and sweetest people were in attendance and all the comments were well within the code of conduct. There were a couple technical hiccups, as there always will be with any online conferencing system, but we got through them all and had an amazing day.

If there is a downside to this event it is there is no social event afterwards since we are all in different locations. Since I was at home for the whole event I will forgo the normal structure here of commenting on coffee, lunch and parties, as the event itself didn’t directly involve those things. So, let’s get right to my notes.

Sessions

Note, all the sessions are recorded and up on the link from the session titles below.

Which Way Does Your Duck Face
Mike Demo

Not the first time I have seen this talk and I am sure it will not be the last. Every time I glean something new. The biggest take away I think this time was something I have been thinking about with Load and Performance testing, and that is having too small a data set. If you only have 100 visitors, the behavior of any one can skew data. If you have 10,000 visitors, 1 visitor is not going to throw off any number, but dozens of users behaving the same way will for sure be significant. Or maybe not! Demo explains this point more eloquently than I can here, so please do take the time to see this one!

Raw Notes:
WP is a community and we are all here together
A-B Testing
Shake you up
Who has done A-B?
What did you do? Change something conversions change but you don’t know why
change multiple things and nothing works
that is typical.
Have to have a goal written down
a SMART goal
and then controlled tests
Correlation is not causation
Using a tool helps you test one thing at a time
Tells about the drop shadow on a site that made all the difference
but you have to write it down
You have to have real traffic, thousands and thousands of visitors
too small a sample set can mislead you
there is software for this
Every once in a while you will be shocked
You can test EVERYTHING and should
He rolls out his master list of things he tests
it is long
If a test can’t fulfill a goal, why would you do it
Sometimes unprofessional
colors, don’t forget WCAG (Accessibility standard)
low brightness vs high brightness
never know unless you test
Static vs animated
stock vs amateur
layout options
one CTA vs another
Must be open to examine ‘brand standards’ as you work
can’t get stuck in “this is the way we always do it”
mirrored images?
duck image facing left vs right (name of the talk)
facing right had much higher conversion
80% higher
why?
IT DOES NOT MATTER
you do not need to concern yourself with the way
the goal is all that matters
if the needle moves then you are winning
if you get sucked into they why you are just making much more work for yourself.
Be careful with trust logos
early rounds of American Idol contestants do well with trust logos
Get this free book
https://dotcomsecretsbook.com/yourfreebook
Q/A:
Q: One test at a time
A: yes, you need to control what you are testing, use software that can tune this for you
don’t test a subset of a test
more important to have enough traffic to test each thing
Make sure you write down your goals and keep thinking about the larger goal
‘Number 1’ in google is big to chase but is that really getting them better ‘results’
The one things your site should not do is let your site stay static
test and fin out what works to get you to your goal
caution in using plugins for A/B testing
you don’t want google to index testing
third party hosting tools are way better for the browser agent side, not server side

Unbundle Your Institution: Building a Web Ecosystem
Eric Sembrat

I was excited to see this presentation because I mostly know Eric from his awesome work over in the Drupal Community. The PHP CMS Community is smaller than you think sometimes and it was amazing to see this crossover and see Drupal get some love at a WP focused event. Aside from that, Eric has a pretty sweet beard these days, making this video kind of a must see for that and a cameo by his two adorable dogs. Also the content was super great. Thinking about WP (or Drupal) as part of your solution, not boxing yourself in as the whole solution, is a very smart approach and I loves his insights. I know you will as well.

Raw Notes:
Eric has a sweet beard
Works at Georgia Tech
nice partial view from his office
Ignoring other applications
WP is great but it does not do as well as some other custom apps that are fined tuned for that
for instance
If campus has Drupal in place for website management
and you want to offer a quick way to roll out sites
WP site network works very well in general
vs Drupal multisite which takes a lot of time
and no way to know how long to customize and add new fatures
if you have same amount of staffing, which would you choose
instead of competing for time
see all solutions and learning to love them and see their pros and cons for specific use cases
A prebuilt Learning Management system vs building your own platform
Without a guiding hand, people silo up and reinvent the wheel
over and over
A web ecosystem
making it easier to consume all the info you can present
through new services and tools
blend campus identity across any application
Where does the web infrastructure live?
Cloud
On Site
does not mean all your platforms ned to live in the same place
features
security is paramount
updates and support
all need to live harmoniously
What tools helps the team do their job better
2 primary formats
Less, code helpers
living breathing code snippet approach
DRY
2nd one is content repository for code sharing and revisioning
Github
allows collaboration everywhere
single sign on for instance, share how that is done everywhere to all teams
Campus Web Dossier
if you want this kind of project, this is how we do that on this campus based on the success we have seen
4 levels of complexity
Static/old
brochure level, just quick landing pages without building anything, just content
Component based web sites leveraging a CMS
custom-fit applications, largest components, single purpose
DAM, CRM, Repositories, etc
Reusability id key to this, should be able to share across all the levels of complexity
Want to share config and assets within each level of site
also want to share throughout the spectrum
down through al the services
assets
Reusable components
theme and branding consistency
good examples:
news and event tools
directory tools
Logo repositories
Documentation really saves everyone a lot of work
Docs are the binding glue and encourages us to reuse them
4 forms
how, why, where, when
and the community is the subject matter expert
they are not the creators
but they are the customer and first person to give feedback
contributors who drive knowledge decisions
build a Community-of-practice
Caveat: This takes a lot longer to see results in general,
just slower since more people and things involved
Figuring out your goals
what is missing, what are people not doing since there is nothing there currently
Must think about end users
and your stakeholders and experts
Advertise your end goal
make this known
showcase the benefits and current limitations
Get user input
what works and does not work to them
segmented and controlled groups
if decentralized you need to build partnerships
shout out the benefits
Proof of concept, show it
Pushing for change
begin by being the change we want to see
You can’t predict the future but you can plan for change and for growth
Drupal 8 symphony and twig
new way of thinking is seeping into the CMS but core concepts been in place for years
In general thinking of end users first and reusability tied to that when designing

Headless and Brainless WordPress
Ben Moore

I was not sure what to expect from this one going in. I had never heard of this brainless concept before. But of all the talks I saw and tried to capture in notes this one stuck with me the most and I have been thinking about the ramifications ever since. Why not get the best of all worlds at once by letting WP load once so you get all the authentication and power the CMS gives while letting JS do all the lifting of the display on the browser end? I mean, this is core to the idea of the new front end editing experience of Gutenberg but until Ben laid out this in practice, completely devoid of any mention of Gutenberg, did this finally sync home. If you are debating building a decoupled application right now, watch this presentation before you do anything else.

Raw Notes:
Higher level ways to use JS to make
WP is a blogging platform the same way Google is just a search engine
WP very stable
From 2.0
user management
Data traction
JS
basically have to use it now
pulls in content and lets you reuse resources properly
and the WP REST API is the biggest tool to make those other 2 work together
Limbless
Headless
Brainless
limbless- just little sections of site are just using a little JS
admin ajax
some flexibility, but every new page load has to rebuild from PHP
the back end back-end and front-end front
if limbless is a little going on
Headless is a lot
Anything that can make an HTTP call over the wire
Only data over the Rest API is pulled in from WP
headless therefore only sends data over the REST API
you have complete freedom to use anything you want in the front this way
caveat not using the WP feature sets, might have to have people sign in 2x+
multiple hosts
you have to maintain everything
New buzzwords
brainless solution
n first page request, WP loads the page, but just a shell
shell is going to lead in JS and static assets
one little snippet that instantiates the JS application
you get all the WP features and then JS taks over from there
as you click around not doing full reloads, just JS moving things around.
there are caveats
can’t build out native applications
when disperse front end living on individual phones
front end isn’t being hosted in one place
Brainless does not work here, limited to WP common tech (PHP, MySQL, Apache)
but incorporating node
We are building things that have never been done before
the best practices ar still being figured out
if we follow the WP philosophies rather than technical standards we will be fine
WordPress Philosophy
Example/Demo time!
SEO question and SERP
this is getting better but yes issues still
Google figuring it out now
using this tech for just a site may or not have benefit, specifically Angular
around SERP
Gutes is leveraging the RET API heavily
impacting the tools directly
WP and GraphQL has a lot of potential
more that needs to go into it on the WP side to get full benefit
needs more demand before it will mature
these single page sites brainless sites – theme or plugin?
Both
your custom code should worry about extending the back end tech
front end should be theming components
HiRoy

Please Don’t Freak Out: Managing Change Moments Across Diverse Groups
Steve Ryan

I originally was not in this talk, so missed the first 5 minutes or so. I had missed the part of the description that the core of this talk was about getting your users ready for Gutenberg. I have been thinking a lot about this topic recently, including the fact that [we should stop calling it Gutenberg] (link needed to the core-editor channel where this debate is raging)**.
This talk gave a general, no nonsense approach to dealing with any large scale change that is coming. How to deal with it logically, emotionally and from a practical perspective. If you have any major changes coming in your organization or systems, this is just a great talk all around.

**Not going to link that, go join the conversation here

Raw Notes:
Change management
leading a change is like this cowboy pic
being on a horse
very concerned
Goal is to drive the herd
One horse, one rider, one path
One rider: rider appeals to our logical self
just figure out the critical moves for your audience
think about content as blocks instead of full page like Word does
learn to rearrange as needed
new blocks in the right hand menu
earn to use 4 blocks – text, headline, image, youtube(or soe embed block)
start simple!
connect with community for questions
Rider’s face is very sharp
sharp focus get exhausting, tired easily
avoid decision fatigue
only tell them what they really really need to know
try not to bog them down with too much info
people know what a block is via legos or minecraft
don’t attempt to define it too much
why it is important to be a block is a good discussion but not helpful to new non-tech users
don’t intro technical things to a non-technical audience
don’t point to the end goal of democratize internet the end-point
Don’t turn it on ll at once for everyone for everything, people are going to get tired quick
don’t dwell on the massive change, let people adopt it in a realistic way
if you are delivering the change to an audience let them know a week out, then a day or 2 before, let them know what is going to happen!
follow up messages as needed, delivering messages where there is help available
just in time message serves as a reference point
for those who miss it the first time and they don’t log in for a while, that “in case you missed it’ email will be critical
Scour your sites for things people did that are awesome or cool
then brag about it!
find the people who adopt it and get permission to get that message out
lot of clapping and a lot of praise
use that as the point on the horizon we are moving towards
not ‘democratize internet’ but ‘better content layout like you see here’
make it more logical
One Rider One Horse
the Horse is the emotional aspect of the experience
You have to feel it, the change should feel worthwhile
cause is hard to find sometimes, especially if no immediate payout
Do it as a gut instinct
in order to affect the change in target audience have to find the feel
find a cause
introduce the change moment in relation to something you are actively try to remedy
like
stuff always out of date
if we are talking about a new post editing experience, build more attractive pages that are easier to use, more users more students they win
5 minute makeover trick
answers “Do I have to redo all my content I own?”
sometimes answer is yes, sometimes no
but a demo that just makes use and let people see what you can do in a short time
makes it less scary
look at that, looks easy now
oh, I see what else we can do…
that is reaction you are going for
learn how the horse moves
small moves
lots of encouragement and praise, leads to move moves
if you can get a handful of people moving in the same direction
they whole herd moves
when encouraging people to move remind them they are not alone
if ever a time to build a community around a change movement, this is the time
small moves can be fun
The Path: one foot in front of the other
roll out in stages
no-code approach turn on or off the plugin
way to ‘get me back to what I know’ buttons in the tool bar
filtering what bits of content are best for Gutes right now
really target releases for narrow group of people
script does not have to be that complex, just turn on and put in handful of hands
get results and move ahead on other groups for feedback
1 on 1 or 1 on 4 is great f you can take that time to do it
best way to get people ahead on a path of change is
make a checklist, make it clear
introduced the concept, scripted some moves, checklist gets them home safe
when you get to that final palce, you are rounding the
Gutes does not have to be a scary thing,just nudging into new direction

Developing a Culture of Mentorship
Tessa Kriesel

The first time Tessa tried to give this talk during the day technology was against her. She persisted and gave a stellar presentation a little later than originally planned. Very glad she did overcome the technical hurdles as this is always an inspirational subject. If the organization we belong to don’t directly provide formal paths to mentoring, it is even more on our shoulders to help those around us to raise their skills and get meaningful experience. I know I would not be where I am today if I many, many patience and wonderful people had not helped guide me along the way. Tessa does a pretty fantastic job of giving us all a roadmap of how we can help make the world a more inclusive place where all ships rise.

Raw Notes:
Her story
small town in MN
helped teach a class for Girl Develop IT
they liked her style and she started doing more
very satisfying
Job outlook is strong 162K jobs right now
2026, 188K jobs expected
this does not count turnover and retirement
most jobs 60% require some kind of experience 2+ years in a lot of cases
how can we expect jr. devs to get experience?
16% of jobs 1 year
only 23% required no experience
how they getting this experience?
be the change we want to see in the world
mentor more devs
why your org should hire more devs
Team Morale
mentoring is exciting
new people are excited by getting to do anything
Passion is infectious
new ideas and ways of thinking, very optimistic
with that being said, how to start?
Write better job descriptions
don’t require years of experience, but instead on personality traits
Don’t require involvement
some people don’t enjoy teaching others, be aware of your team’s interest
Managers are NOT mentors
need an open relationship they can confide in and relate to
make sure communication channels are open
maybe slack, maybe checkin box
track progress and make goals
don’t just create initiatives and hope they succeed
must have follow up
Build a program, not just a one off
Turn the mentored into mentors
So, in terms of actual Devs
say your company does not have an initiative and you want to still help
Why would you do this?
Grows your network
meet interesting people along the way
Feels good man
selfish selflessness
get out of your comfort zone
meetup or local event, or even just leaving your house
going to meet great people and maybe free beer
Do more
Mastering your own skills
teaching means you have to understand it deeply
life long friendships
Where to find people
Colleges or schools
code schools and bootcamps
easy ways to opt in and opt out helping with these programs
code schools have very motivated learners
Local orgs and groups, this was Tessa’s path
Girl Develop IT, Yes we code, Women who code are three good options to start
may though
Hackathons! a lot of fun great way to really get to know someone
Conferences, this can be overwhelming if you are introverted
Why and Where, so let’s talk about good tips for being a good mentor…
Boost their confidence, empower them
remind them what they have done so far and help them feel better
Don’t say ‘do this and not do this’ but guide their career path
educate them to make better decisions
Be available! This is super important, and hard not to overcommit
Share resources with them
share books
Working Code Examples
Live coding sessions – help them work through issues on a real project
shows them the best path approaches
Collect and share resources periodically
will get a dialog going

Building A Training Schedule Platform and Expanding It To Everyone
David Kampmann

First time I have ever heard Mr. Kampmann speak and I hope it is not the last time. He faces a unique set of challenges in his role, which is really a catch-all of anything to deal with training. A role not too dissimilar to one my colleague David Needham faces as head of Pantheon Training and one I am very familiar with as far as the gap filling goes. It was awesome to see how he methodically approached this issue and overcame the obstacles of no budget, no real experience building such a system and finally not having a deep background in WP development. Even with those obstacles he still manages to leverage the WordPress ecosystem to solve a complex issue in a very elegant way, with a future roadmap and maintenance path putting him in a great position for any future challenges that emerge.

Raw Notes:
From SD
training schedule platform, they do a lot of in house training
First, his title is Instructional Facilitator
not sure what that really means, but he is faculty support and development
running lean
gives him a lot of responsibilities and he is wearing many hats
anything under the sun without a person n charge he takes on
this is how WP fell into his lap 7 years ago
WP seemed like the simplest solution
his LMS and CMS was not up to the job
not a lot fo people in his area, but a lot going on
students expect a lot
tech institute, applied learning in demanding careers
new tech all the time
back before WP for scheduling sessions were 1:1, no massive workshops
too busy teaching
Manual tracking was a huge headache
central list was constant headache
made a wish list
After a lot of looking at so many things
DO NOT go down the path of using the existing class reg
event management software is expensive
WP seemed to seem promising
WP Event Manager Pro – $70 a year pro
support is biggest thing you get
Logged In – Active Directory Integration
new accounts
just works minimal config!
WPFull calendar is simple and clean
Force Login
email confirmation
iCal integration was key, makes smart phones easy to deal with
There were things people didn’t need,
turn those things off
keep it nice and clean
no new event making from end users, no new event submissions
but after a year asked people if they would like feature x
they don’t know what is possible because they didn’t know it was avaialbe
most people just said no to all that functionality
custom settings
Event links to the future, near future only
Biggest wins:
only one login (not a new one)
iCal reminders worked well to get users to attend
Easy path to communicate fro reschedules etc
easy process for credentialing
some hiccups:
Multi stage events are not fun with this system
Matching school website look and feel, this was part of the goal, this is frustrating
Difficult completing Extra Signup Steps
Mandatory fields help but not total solution for those xtra bits
New initiative this last year
Campus professional development
Personal dev for all staff
New targets and new challenges
now more people involved, used to be 2 people total running it
more time slots, year round as opposed to just summer
more variables for workshops, multistage is one, but new things emerging
outside registrations, payments from registrants – can be supported but lot to worry about around policy
need to train people on how to use these new tools
training to train
lot of things to know and they will have to explain these things moving ahead
location, location, location
where does this all live?
academic subdomain
does not feel super inclusive
tracking is different
need to track professional development as well as credentialing
need to pull data and use it in a different way, no solution yet
less to duplicate the better
full roll out happens this spring
this is all new
got to teach people how to use it
May 10th is big day of workshops and the true test for the system

At Home in the Cloud
Jason Cauwels

I am one of the people who thinks “why of course your infrastructure should be in the cloud.” For me it is partially motivated by self interest since I work for a website management platform. For those who do not have my vested interest this is a very perplexing question with a lot of variables. It was pretty great to see the way Jason and his team approached this issue and the very forward looking approach they took to solve a very real scale problem. As we see more and more of the sites being built start to adapt a JAMStack sort of approach, it is very informative to see the real world performance results that distributed caching has and the impact for end clients. I would love to see a follow up case study with this system in a year or so, I bet the results only get better as they tune the system further. Awesome content!

Raw Notes:
First presentation ever at any conference!
When sharks are raining in LA
50K people trying ti hit website
overwhelm resources
had an emergency blogger site that could take over
was slow and very manual
minor notices, would not convey the importance of notifications
mobile and desktop sites mobile didn’t have alerts unless other site took over
the complete publishing environment was only known by a few
complex to use
in an emergency they needed:
mitigation for spikes
needed visual messaging
reliability!
UX and design needed to be responsive
emergency notifications were on homepage
branding should be consistent across all sites
Admin and usability, WP was there
security and tech considerations
resilient, reduce downtime, increase speed of page-loads, move to the cloud
moving all www to AWS
over 1000 Redirects
authentication
traffic and scale are major concerns
are their new security concerns?
planned and unplanned events
did they have resources
maintenance
new initiatives
do they have the skill sets needed
build a page or an app that pulls from WP
How did they choose AWS?
to be honest, did an RFP process
liked all of them for all sorts of reasons
biggest reason, was central IT had a master contract with AWS, should use them
what about all those concerns that followed?
discovery process
had to understand all the options
then they got the idea what if they delivered everything static on AWS
secure, super fast, distributed
global level content serves super fast
that is what they did
Multisite on VMs
published themes from repos to buckets
admin URL that people could log into, this acted as staging site
publish to amazon
fetched all the posts and made static images leveraging Amazon S3 buckets
it works
been running since May
but did it make a difference?
let’s look at success criteria
Responsive homepage
while working on the architecture, moved into WP from old CMS
always responsive from a single codebase
Emergency notifications: instead there is an emergency site always up does not overtake the whole site
homepage looking for fee, new things it puts it up on page
3 levels of severity
update the emergency site branding, now matches the rest of the environments and themes
can handle massive spikes, one false alarm last year saw 1000% spike
emergency site 2,500% increase load
would have collapsed system before
was not slow site before, had 2380 index score
with AWS 1295 (lower is better)
everything is simply faster!
Had to learn AMI vs VMs
Optimized to run on AWS
but they have same issues VM has with tech creep
Docker can isolate things better and they are moving that way
different availability zones
Takeaways
AWS is good but you need to determine what you want
Full stack or SPA
a phased approach allowed them to release more quickly
project shouldn’t really have an end, enhancements ongoing organized around milestones is better way to approach
having a CICD architecture is key to making you sleep better

WordPress as a Platform for Moving to Open Learning
Keith Webster

I gotta admit, for as much as I love this event and the space in general my utter lack of experience with any Learning Management System (LMS) hampered my enjoyment of this particular talk. Most of my questions were around what the heck Moodle was doing in this architecture. I got the RSS and WP parts but Moodle was a giant black box / question mark. Still it was awesome to see a talk on how to tie in various systems to sove a unique need. Despite my lack of expertise here, this was a really good one to watch if you are dealing with learning systems that need to syndicate content in an intelligent way.

Raw Notes:
instructional designer
teaching with WP for a few years
Royal Roads university
Important to acknowledge that these are homes to native peoples since before time
lot of movie filming
he handles faculty support
talking about school of education and technology
mostly serving working educators
grad programs around leadership and integration of technology
Master of Arts in learning and technology
recently went through a 5 year review
redesign was agreed upon,
openness and OER were decided upon
coinciding with redesign was the opportunity
new project would be using an open orientation
moving from an LMS into a more open platform for pedagogy and better interactions
having a WP project starting at the same time, it piggybacked on the WP one
first thing was defining what open meant
was a stretch to get comfortable with that
had to negotiate open with each student on the platform
varied as time went on, had to be built in
avoiding too many plugins and themes
supporting students and faculty in WP
using WP in an own way everyone could support
were able to redesign with WP
able to take advantage of project management services
milestones and workload could be shared
within the project could make an ambitious set of goals
separate WP installs
one for core sites and one for student blog sites
WPCloud, Canadian host for WP
Shibboleth to do SSO
unique Moodle and WP templates
personalized support for WP
lot of various skill levels present
redesigned program meant students would be sharing results and discussing on their own
external and in house tutorials set up
key component was a feed reader
manage their consumption of posts and comments throughout the course
identity of current ongoing blog based discussion, if all set up right
last thing before QA
map out what new systems look like

Wrapping Up

I love this event. Every time I get to interact with devs from higher education I approach it with a level of reverence since they are doing the most amazing engineering feats with a fraction of the budget of a normal Enterprise. This event is chocked full of examples of this and there was an entirely separate session track running simultaneously that I could not attend and report on. As of now I have not had a chance to review those but given the descriptions I can’t want to dig in. Very glad this is all recorded.
I am very much looking forward to the next live event, which you can also keep tabs on here. Until then, I will have to be content with these recordings and the lively conversations out in the WPCampus Slack!

Thanks again to all the volunteers who made this event one of the best online conferences ever!

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