Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A School's Choice-- Parent Pushback or Feedback on Web?

This weekend my Facebook unwittingly hosted a brief exchange critical of my school. This was initiated by a Friend who is also a parent of a student. A day later I came across Scott Mcleod's Help Wanted-- Parents Who Are Blogging about Their Local Schools

The conjunction of two experiences got me thinking about the importance of schools providing 21st Century communication online. Our school's web site is typical. It is primarily set-up on the Web 1.0 model of providing one-way communication of what we suppose folks ought to know about us. Schools should move to Web 2.0 for several reasons:

To Provide the Information that Folks Really Want
Check some of the web pages at your school's site. I bet some are extremely detailed. A case in point: We have a 1:1 program, and the details we post about our laptops are incredibly dense and technical. Quite possibly parents investigating our site and considering sending their child to our school would actually learn more with less of this variety of one-way information. Providing a FAQ with a section for visitor questions and our tech department's expert answers would be more focused and engaging. Some questions could be uncomfortable, but ignoring them will not make them go away. Most importantly, the school would be supplying information that the parents actually want.

To Cultivate Ownership
Won't parents feel a greater stake in the school if their input is valued? What would be the downside of an athletic director blogging and then promoting a conversation with filtered comments to the blog? A school play director could do this. The attendance officer or the principal herself might. Instead of burdening individuals with the responsibility of maintaining a blog, several could take turns on a School Activities page. The options are limitless.

If a group is doing a fund-raising at the school, why not draw stakeholders into the activity by welcoming suggestions in addition to providing information?

It is easy to imagine classroom teachers hosting guest blogs on special activities. Last semester, we had some mock election activities. A blog might have provided interesting information and even elicited parent participation in the activity. There would be no reason to insulate such a civic minded activity.

I think opening up activities to dialogue in this way promotes a sense of community and places the school the posture of being open to constructive conversation.

To Improve the School
Isn't it quite possible that more than good feeling alone may be promoted through dialogue? I've certainly seen my students produce some exceptional out of the box approaches to Web 2.0 collaboration. Isn't it likely that the parents could bring some good suggestions to the table? Why not take advantage of the full range of a community's perspectives and expertise?

The Media is the Message
We have a 1:1 school. We promote Read/Write Web instructional design. Shouldn't we practice what we preach? This is "scary" because it means greater transparency. But in fact this is a change that is happening in the great society (a very change that instigated our push for ed tech in the first place!).

Of course it is possible to continue avoiding doing any of the the things that I have suggested here, but as Mcleod's article implies, this will not stop parents from communicating and interacting online. It seems to me that a school only stands to gain by welcoming constructive two-way communication with today's technology.

I would love to hear your suggestions and reactions.

"One Way Out" Flickr Creative Commons Photo by Wombatunderground1

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