This year's event , subtitled "Supporting our Users", was held during a spell of gloriously sunny weather at the University of Kent's campus at Canterbury, which has stunning views of the city and the cathedral.
As a result of feedback from last year's event, I had been invited to join the Programme Committee to help provide input on the needs of the research user (the academic researchers, postdoctoral researchers and postgraduate students who use institutional web services). It was especially rewarding to be able to contribute to the Workshop agenda and to represent the research side of higher education.
The business was spread across two and a half days and consisted of plenary talks interspersed with parallel discussion groups and workshops. The Workshop was introduced by Brian Kelly of UKOLN and opened with an address by the Vice Chancellor of the University, Professor David Melville, who, after giving us an overview of the University, entertained us with his views on "How to deal with Spiders" - the senior staff within higher education institutions who are beginning to realise that web services can be used to help achieve their organisational objectives.
The other eight plenary talks were as follows:
John Burke from JISCInfoNet spoke about "JISCInfoNet: Helping Web Managers to Support Our Users" and gave useful insights into how the Freedom of Information Act 2002 will impact on Web managers. He also managed to infer that people from Newcastle, (I am one), like to drink a lot and eat curries.
David Supple from the University of Birmingham spoke about "Web Strategies: Bridging a Continent", recounting the University of Birmingham's experiences in taking control of its multiple sites and their various designs which involved departing from established practices by building an in-house content management system and adopting an "anti-guru" philosophy.
Sarah Agarwal from the University of Bristol reminded us that we should be "Focusing on Users: Gathering Users' Requirements".
Dave Beckett from the ILRT at the University of Bristol and Brian Kelly from UKOLN spoke about "Semantic Web Technologies for UK HE and FE Institutions".
Gareth McAleese from the University of Ulster and Ricky Rankin from Queen's University Belfast gave us their opposing views on "Content Management - Buy or Build?"
Steve Musgrave from Blackpool and the Fylde College told us about the emergence of locally-grown citizen portals in his talk "Community Portals - A False Dawn over the Field of Dreams?".
Dr Alejandro Armellini from the University of Kent spoke about "e-Learning: The Strategy Continuum".
Mark Stiles from Staffordshire University told us about "Beyond your VLE: Strategic Challenges".
The discussion groups invited delegates to identify the key difficulties being faced in e-learning, information management, research, strategy & management, technical, usability & accessibility issues, and encouraged discussion of possible solutions. In my own group, which considered research issues, there was a very good debate which centred around three key areas. We acknowledged that first we needed better mechanisms for sharing our solutions to problems and the Institutional Web Management Workshop was certainly one important way of keeping in touch with the solutions being developed by others. The second area was about how we address support for researchers who work across traditional disciplinary and institutional boundaries. Here, we felt that directories of expertise might be able to help like-minded researchers working in different disciplines to make contact and team up to discuss cross-disciplinary approaches. The third area addressed the need to relieve researchers of the burden of repeated data input, particularly data on areas of expertise. We concluded that the situation could be improved by better design of the forms used to collect data (for example by pre-populating them, where the data is available) and by integrating the point of data input into systems which researchers use regularly and out of necessity.
In addition to the discussion groups, there were twenty-four workshop sessions addressing a diverse selection of topics from "Managing People and Resources", through "Implementing a Web Strategy" to "Implementation of a Commercial Content Management System".
In the summing-up on the last day, it became clear that many participants were attending the Workshop for the first time. Some of these were my own colleagues from the research councils and research council institutes. Before writing this report I asked a research council web developer how useful the workshop had been from his perspective. He responded enthusiastically, saying that as well as giving him his first visit to Canterbury Cathedral, (part of the excellent social programme), he especially appreciated the opportunity to meet colleagues from the Higher Education web community who are dealing with similar issues and problems to those facing research council web teams. I heartily concur. The research councils will certainly be represented at next year's event. Well done to the local organisers at Kent who made our stay in the Garden of England such an enjoyable one and well done to Brian Kelly and UKOLN for continuing to make the Workshop interesting and relevant.
The PPARC Web team in the cloisters of Canterbury Cathedral
Dr Catherine F Ewart
Article Title: "The Seventh Institutional Web Management Workshop"
Author: Catherine Ewart
Publication Date: 30-July-2003
Publication: Ariadne Issue 36
Originating URL: http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue36/iwmw2003-rpt/