Generations Online in 2009, published last week by Pew Internet and the American Life Project begins:
Contrary to the image of Generation Y as the “Net Generation,” internet users in their 20s do not dominate every aspect of online life. Generation X is the most likely group to bank, shop, and look for health information online. Boomers are just as likely as Generation Y to make travel reservations online. And even Silent Generation internet users are competitive when it comes to email (although teens might point out that this is proof that email is for old people).
While school leaders (rightly) focus on the importance of the Internet in students' lives and education, we ought to also seriously be considering what this report says about how we communicate with our parents and communities. And asking what exepectations we should have of all teachers of an online presence and use of digital communications.
Most of our parents fall smack into the Gen X category - that which has a disproportionately high percentage number of online users and is increasingly likely to look for information online.
As our parents become accustomed to using the Web to find travel, health, banking and other information, it is not unreasonable to assume they will be looking for information about schools as well. I see this breaking down in three big categories:
- Parents will use the web to select schools for their children. A good web presence will be an important marketing tool.
- The community will look to the school's website for information about school events, school schedules, staff contact information, policies and emergency notices. Community members will expect, even demand, an electronic means of giving feedback to the school.
- Parents will insist on real-time information about their own children's progress through individualized portals that contain grades, attendance, work completion, curricular goals, etc. (See Teacher Web Pages that Build Parent Partnerships MultiMedia Schools, September 2000.)
In our district we've long provided a simple, fill-in-the-blank means for our teachers to make information accessible to parents. With no additional work, students' assignments and grades are directly ported from the student information system to a parent portal. Some teachers take full advantage of these tools; others do the absolute minimum. This report suggest principals should raise their minimum expectations of teachers' online communications.
Too often educators think of students as their "customers." Dangerous mistake. Children no more choose their schools than they choose their physicians or shoe stores. Parents who wouldn't choose a bank that does not allow online account access won't choose a school that doesn't offer online gradebook access either.
What's the minimum amount of information all teachers should provide parents and minimum information all schools should provide their communities?
Oh, mini-rant: It really honks me off to go to a school district homepage that does not include a telephone number and location.