On this week’s episode of Inside the Media Minds, our host Christine Blake chatted with Rhea Kelly, the Higher Education Editor-in-Chief at Campus Technology.
Rhea began her career in consumer magazines, starting at Shape Magazine, which was one of the top women’s lifestyle magazines at the time. She recognized the high stress of a consumer magazine role and eventually pivoted to B2B writing at Campus Technology, where she has been for the last 16 years.
Rhea fell in love with B2B writing and found focusing on her audience’s needs extremely fulfilling. As Editor-In-Chief, Rhea is inspired by Campus Technology’s mission-driven approach to storytelling and though she didn’t start out as a technology expert, she feels like an “expert observer” – taking in the tech landscape over the course of her career.
Tune into this episode or read the transcript for more from Rhea on:
- Campus Technology’s Readership
- Top HigherEd Tech Topics
- HigherEd and Covid’s Impact
- How to Pitch Rhea
- Technology & The Student Experience
0:25 – Rhea’s Background and Role
3:13 – Campus Technology’s Audience
5:35 – Biggest HigherEd Tech Topics of 2022
8:22 – HigherEd and Covid
9:35 – Rhea’s Most Memorable Story
12:00 – Types of Resources Rhea Looks For
14:20 – It’s Okay To Have “Bad” Ideas
15:53 – Emerging Topics of 2023
17:39 – “Hot Takes” From Spokespeople
20:00 – Rhea’s Current TV Show
Hungry for more insights? Check out the full repository of Inside the Media Minds episodes here.
Christine Blake (CB): Welcome to Inside The Media Minds, this is your host, Christine Blake. This show features in depth interviews with tech reporters who share everything from their biggest pet peeves to their favorite stories. From our studio at W2 Communications, let’s go Inside the Media Minds.
Hello, everyone, this is Christine Blake, the host of Inside the Media Minds, and I’m here today with Rhea Kelly, Editor-in-Chief at Campus Technology. Welcome, Rhea.
Rhea Kelly (RK): Hi, thanks for having me.
CB: Yeah, thank you so much for coming on. We’re excited to talk to you and learn more about your role at Campus Technology. So for starters, can you give us a quick overview of your background and your role at Campus Technology?
RK: Sure, so I started out in actually, in consumer magazines. I worked for Shape Magazine for several years. At the time, that was the number one, or I say, the number three women’s lifestyle magazine country. So it was really exciting place to work. Also very high stress. It’s amazing how much anxiety goes into, you know, every detail of a magazine cover when you’re relying on newsstand sales. So eventually, I was ready for a change and I had the opportunity to move to the B2B side here at Campus Technology. Genuinely fell in love with I want to say that I mean, every job has its own levels of stress in different ways, but for me, it was a lot more fulfilling, you feel like you’re able to really focus more on your audience, as opposed to, you know, trying to get your people to buy your magazine at the newsstand.
So I’ve been at Campus Technology for 16 years now. And, you know, I didn’t start out as a technology expert, I probably wouldn’t call myself one now, but I feel like I’m an expert observer. And so I really learned a lot just by covering the industry for for, you know, over the years. And one thing that I really love is that the field of higher education technology is, I’d say it’s really mission driven. So we’re not talking about technology for the sake of technology, or for the bright and shiny new thing. There’s kind of a greater purpose, where everyone is trying to support student success and kind of the core mission of the university. So it, you know, it’s kind of inspiring, feels good to be kind of a small part of that and it makes the work more interesting because there’s a lot more to every story, kind of the why behind why people are using technology.
I also really love the people. There’s a culture of openness in higher education. It’s like sharing, you know, thoughts and research, that I, you know, is really great and it feels good to be a part of helping people share their experiences with one another. And they’re also really thoughtful about the use of technology, so it’s just a, you know, it’s really a field that I’ve fallen in love with over the years.
CB: Yeah, that’s super interesting and yeah, you mentioned going from the B2C space to B2B in somewhat of a niche topic area. Who exactly is your audience? Like, who are you writing for? And then what are some like the main topics that you’re covering right now at Campus Technology?
RK: Yeah, so we call our audience IT leaders or IT decision makers in Higher Ed. And the interesting thing about that is that it’s actually a pretty diverse group. So I mean, you’ve got the university CIO might be the first thing that comes to mind, you know, really the head of IT at the institution, and that’s definitely a target audience for us, but also we’re speaking to all levels of IT staff, we’re speaking to instructional technologists, people who are really more focused on the use of technology for learning, teaching and learning. We’ve got a lot of sort of tech interested faculty among our audience, administrators. And the way we look at it is that the decision making process for technology in higher education is very democratic. So that mean, there’s almost always a committee involved in choosing what technology is going to be implemented for any situation, and on those committees, they like to have all of the stakeholders involved and sometimes that even includes students. So, you know, you’ve got a wide variety of people involved in really making the decisions for any technology project on campus.
The thing that really brings tends to bring all of those stakeholders together is when you’re talking about the use of technology for teaching and learning, students success, things that are really the ways in which technology can align with the core mission of the university. So well, you know, you might have an IT staff or maybe, you know, a network administrator who has their own sort of nuts and bolts things going on, the thing they have in common with the faculty member is that, you know, they want to make sure students can access the tools they need to learn. So that’s the thing, what tends to be the our core focus is that area where it all comes together for teaching and learning.
CB: Okay, that makes a lot of sense. So, what were some of the biggest topics in Higher Ed tech that you all covered in 2022?
RK: Yeah, so you know, along with that diversity of audience, I mean, gosh, there’s a real wide range of topics that we like to cover. So that includes the back end administrative systems, it’s kind of the foundation of, you know, making everything work. You’ve got the IT infrastructure, the technology is just in the classroom for enabling things like hybrid learning and remote learning. The specific tools for teaching and learning and collaboration. Data analytics is always big, that’s really tied to student success, you know, trying to identify students that might be at risk, you know, through their interactions with campus systems, and the data that’s generated by that.
Data security, also big, especially since the pandemic, it’s kind of a topic that’s come back. So the list of topics goes on and on. But in terms of just the hottest things in the past year, I’d say digital transformation was a big buzzword in the past year. It was something that I think was really kick started by the pandemic, you know, you had this moment where everyone had to, well I don’t like to use the word pivot, but they had to pivot from in person to online for everything, you know, not just classes, but, you know, in the finance department, just figuring out how to get people paid when you can’t be there to, you know, physically sign the checks or whatever.
RK: So, there’s just a lot of things that, that go on a tangent here. But I was talking to the, I think, the CIO at the the Cal State University system. And one of his stories was that, you know, before the pandemic, you couldn’t get anyone interested in investing in digital signature technology, you know, because it’s just as easy to sign the paper that comes across your desk. But then when the pandemic happened, you know, in two seconds, they had deployed digital signatures.
RK: And, you know, and everyone had to embrace it. But they also discovered that, oh, my gosh, I never want to go back to paper again.
RK: So just kind of a small example of how, that’s a form of digital transformation, that really, it’s one of the silver linings of the pandemic, I think.
CB: Umhmm, yeah.
RK: Just making those things happen.
CB: Yeah, it’s, it’s interesting because we hear so much still about, like the remote workforce, the hybrid workforce, all of that happening as a result of the pandemic and it’s interesting to take a higher education perspective on that and how it completely forced, you know, Higher Education to shift how they do things and run things. So I’m sure that was really interesting to kind of cover as things evolved.
RK: Yeah, definitely you can from the student side, I mean, it’s just had an immense impact on the expectations that students now have for their institutions, you know, that sothe need for to offer flexibility. You know, a lot of people will talk about how there’s no really going back to the old way. You know, that there are countless surveys and things of students pretty much always say that students want some percentage of online learning as part of their experience. So, you know, colleges and universities now it’s like they, they have to build that into the array of options for for students.
CB: Yeah, no, absolutely. So what what stands out and it could be at from your time previously at Shape, or any other publications, but what stands out as one of your most memorable stories to write or be a part of?
RK: One of my favorite things. It’s funny since we were just talking about digital transformation. We did a digital transformation survey last year where we, you know, ask people about kind of the state of digital transformation at their institutions, what the level of awareness was, what their priorities, were things like that.
And then I presented the results at a virtual summit that we put on, along with a panel of higher education, IT leaders, basically, actually some of my advisory board members. And so we got to talk about or sort of present the findings, but then also talk about them and get the reaction directly from, you know, somebody in the trenches in Higher Education, and sort of how, what their feedback was on, on, on all those things. So basically, after that event, I wanted to write it up as a, you know, a story that could be accessed on the web. And I found myself in this kind of interesting dilemma because typically, if you’re writing up survey results, you know, you’ve got your graphs and your analysis, and you just kind of present the findings. But I was so inspired by what everyone said during that panel discussion. And I had all these great quotes, like I really wanted to somehow do a hybrid of a Q&A, but also survey results.
RK: So it was an interesting technical challenge. I’m not sure that it totally worked. But I think it did turn out to be a good read. And the thing that’s most important to me is those insights from the actual people. I mean, gosh, whenever I’m talking with somebody, interviewing someone for a podcast or for a story or, you know, for an online event, there’s always moments where I think to myself, oh my gosh, that thing that person just said, is an amazing quote that I’m gonna have to use somewhere. So that when you have so many of those, it’s just like you want you want to share them.
CB: Yeah, absolutely. And that kind of segues into my next question. It’s about what types of resources do you look for? When you’re interviewing or, you know, writing, a lot of our audience consists of communicators and PR professionals, I’m sure you get a lot of pitches. So I would love to hear some of your insight in this topic area.
RK: Yeah, so I do I get a lot of pitches, and a lot of pitches I get, are really companies wanting me to talk to their CEO about some industry issue and I’ll do that occasionally. But what I’m really interested in is really getting in touch with people who are in the trenches of, you know, Higher Ed IT and that’s actually also true of our audience, they would much rather hear from their peers than from, you know, someone on the corporate side. But anyway, I’m always wanting to know how people within the university are innovating with technology or how technology is solving a problem for them. And that means like, you know, not necessarily a specific product, it could be, you know, technology in general or a range of solutions, and how that’s impacting students, that’s always like a, you know, a core idea that’s important.
CB: Uh huh.
RK: And I like to hear about, sort of, project successes, but I also love to hear about challenges and things that went wrong. I think sometimes sharing mistakes can be incredibly valuable and that’s something that usually in higher ed, I find people are happy to share both which I think is pretty special. Because lessons learned, it doesn’t have to be not everything is is a smash hit, you know, sometimes things go wrong. And it’s good to know what those were. So that that’s the kind of thing I’m always looking for, for interviews.
I’ve also really love any kind of survey or research. Especially if that sheds light on a particular trend, you know, it’s the type of thing that it’s easy to write up, it’s easy to digest, you know, for the reader. And it you know, is something I don’t know that they can take take away some interesting knowledge from, so those are always pretty valuable too.
CB: Absolutely, yeah, I think we’re seeing an emergence of data research being more valuable, but I also love what you said about lessons learned. I do think there’s a lot of opportunity for spokespeople to talk about things they’ve learned along the way because you’re right, not everything’s amazing all the time, and people can often learn a lot from that. So that’s a really good perspective that you just shared.
RK: Yeah, well, like an example of that. I was doing a podcast interview of someone who works in, I forget what her title was, but basically works in HR for a university. And so she was working on ways to engage the you know, the staff members across the institution remotely. And one of the things that she talked about, she tried to do a virtual Halloween parade, because (laughter) in, you know, in person times that I had been a major event that was really popular, she said, people would go all out, elaborate costumes, it was a big deal at the university. But then trying to recreate it virtually it just did not work like that she just couldn’t get people interested in, in attending a virtual event. And her takeaway from that was that, Hey, it’s okay to have bad ideas, just try stuff, you know.
RK: Sometimes it’s not gonna work. And then you don’t, you know, you don’t sit there and be like, Oh, boohoo, that didn’t work. You say, that didn’t work. Now what? What’s going to be the thing that works? Let’s try something different. So it’s always a great takeaway.
CB: Yeah, absolutely. And then I know, we talked about a lot of the topics that you’ve been covering lately, digital transformation, things of that nature, data security. Do you think that’ll be similar as we get into 2023? Or do you see any kind of emerging topics that you think will take a lot of the headlines?
RK: Yeah, I think a lot of those things will remain important next year. But an emerging topic that I’m seeing is the focus on student experience. And I touched on it a little bit, but you know, coming out of the pandemic, the way students expectations have changed and really the way technology can enable more flexibility or enable more personalization of that student experience or more streamlining of things like the administrative processes. One thing I always hear is that people say, you know, the experience of attending a university should be easy. The, you know, the individual courses should be challenging should like, you know, it should stretch your brain. But you know, anything else, whether you’re registering for classes or paying tuition or dealing with financial aid or figuring out,I don’t know, what you need to complete your degree, all of that it, I think, traditionally has not always been very easy, you know, it’s kind of got these sort of antiquated processes. It’s one of the things I think is going on in the digital transformation of universities. But just being able to streamline those processes and make them more student, like service oriented.
RK: So, it’s kind of a, I don’t know, I think it could become a buzzword. It, it touches a lot of different areas, I think student experience.
CB: Yeah, absolutely. I love that that’s really encapsulates it very well. We do have a couple of listener questions here before we wrap up. Um, one is, what’s the most interesting “hot take” or opinion that you’ve heard about the industry or technology lately from a spokesperson?
RK: Well, one thing I really love is when people challenge buzzwords. So recently, I was interviewing the CIO at the University of Michigan about data privacy, and we were talking about data-driven decision making. I brought up data-driven decision making, that’s a buzzword that’s been around for a long time. And he corrected me and he said, you know, he doesn’t like the term “data-driven.” And so at UM, they focus on “data-informed decision making”
CB: Oh, haha.
RK: A little distinction, small thing, but his point was, when something’s data-driven, it sounds like you’re taking the human out of the equation. So the data is driving the decisions, that could be something an AI an AI could do for you, or you know, it can be automated.
RK: But when it’s data-informed, that means that you’re tapping into all of the data and the resources information that you have available to really, like, make strategic decisions as a human.
RK: So I really, I really liked that. Another one that came up was challenging that word, the buzzword, “the new normal.” That’s something people have thrown around, you know, post-pandemic over, the new normal. But I had one person who, who felt that that really suggests the status quo, like the new normal, we’re just gonna stick with the status quo. So they preferred the “new now” or the “new possible.”
RK: Like two options there. Just, you know, meaning that we’re going to beyond going beyond the status quo and, you know, kind of more more future looking, I guess.
CB: Sure. I like that challenging of buzzwords, it’s, it’s fascinating how, you know, like one small tweak or one small word can change the whole perception of a phrase or several words together. So that’s pretty cool. I like that.
CB: And then kind of more kind of fun, personal question. What show are you currently watching?
RK: Oh man, well. I’m a big nerd. I love Sci-Fi. I love all things Star Trek.
RK: But right now, I’ve been watching the new Quantum Leap show. Um, it’s kind of nostalgic. I’m a child of the late 80s, early 90s. So, I definitely remember watching the original and I think the the new one is enjoyable. It’s not like amazing, but it’s fun, and I get limited TV time. I have a 10 year old who really loves to monopolize the TV in the evenings.
CB: Haha, oh my gosh!
RK: So actually, when I’m not watching Quantum Leap, right now we’re working through all the Harry Potter movies.
CB: Oh fun!!
RK: So that’s fun.
CB: Those are great that’s so fun. Well, Rhea, I thank you so much for chatting with me today all about Campus Technology and your background and everything you’re covering, super informative discussion. We really appreciate it.
RK: Yeah, had fun. Thanks for having me.
CB: Yeah. And for everyone listening thank you so much for tuning in. Have a great day.
Thank you for joining us on today’s episode of Inside the Media Minds. To learn more about our podcasts and hear all of our episodes please visit us at w2comm.com/podcast and follow us on Twitter @MediaMindsShow and you can subscribe anywhere podcasts are found.