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EdTech Update




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Push and pull technologies

A friend and colleague blogger recently bemoaned:

The new assistant superintendent for our department here in the overly-large school district says he wants to improve communications both within the organization and with his office.

To that end, a couple of months ago he started writing a weekly email message to all of us. Lots of text, one-way message.

This week his efforts took several steps even farther backwards when his message showed up as a PDF newsletter-formatted attachment.

We continue preaching “21st century” skills for kids while modeling methods from the 20th.

My response was basically: cut the guy some slack.

Tim wants the new sup to be using more interactive tools - a blog, Twitter, a Facebook fan page, a podcast, or an infographic. (I'm just guessing here.) To be a model communicator with the latest and greatest tools. 

Yet these "21st Century" tools have their limitations. Twitter assumes your message needs no more nuance or detail than what 140 characters can convey - and that your entire staff will "follow" you. The Facebook fan page is fine if your school doesn't block Facebook, you really don't want any feedback, and that your entire staff will "friend" you. Blogs, podcasts, or infographics are great communication tools provided they are supplemented by and additional communication method that allows readers to know they have been updated. I rather doubt all my staff regularly have or check RSS feed readers.

In our haste to be more interactive, we too often denigrate the power of pull technologies - the newsletter, the website, the magazine article, or book. But we also forget that if they are to be seen, they need to be accompanied by "push" efforts as well.

I'm not sure whether the terms "push" and "pull" are used in describing digital communication types any more. In my 1998 book The Indispensable Guide to Computer Skills, I wrote:

Do you not only want to read the news that is important to you, but be able to do so as soon as it happens? “Push” technologies used by programs like PointCast  and Educast*  are making this possible. After installing the software, the user selects what topics, news sources, and locales he or she wishes to have “pushed’ to his computer and how often. For a teacher with a direct network connection, this means having an up-to-the-minute, customized newspaper waiting on the classroom computer for use with the class.

Are the concepts "push" and "pull" still relevant? I think so.

If Tim's supervisor, the school public relations department, or the building librarian simply publishes a static document - a webpage or a blog post - he or she cannot depend on the intended audience taking the initiative (or remembering) to check the site for updates on a regular basis. Without a means of letting people know that new content has been published, the likelihood of people reading it is slim. But if the pull technology is supplemented by a "push" technology - an e-mail, a text message, a Tweet or a RSS feed - the audience knows new content has been added. My analogy has always been that going to the newsstand to get the paper is relying on "pull"; getting the paper delivered is using "push."

In some ways, Tim's superintendent sending an e-mail with a pdf attachment is an elegant solution. He gets the "push" of the e-mail to which on can respond as well but also the "pull" of formatted text that can convey a complex message that includes visuals. And modern webbrowsers even open pdf files automatically.

Just because it's old, doesn't mean it doesn't work.

Thank god.

*PointCast and Educast were the GoogleReader and Diigo for those of us who grew up playing with dinosaurs. (The name Educast seems to have been adopted by a number of more recent ventures and I don't seem to be able to find a link to a description of the real deal back in the mid-90s.)


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Reader Comments (6)

Medium -vs- message - which one usually gets a person labeled as a poor communicator? (The converse is probably true too!)

October 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJoel VerDuin

These are good thoughts for me right now. Sometimes I get fixated on pushing the newest/latest/greatest, but when nuts come to bolts what's effective is the most important thing.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Mielke

Hi Joel,

My sense is great communicators can overcome the limitations or prejudices of any medium. And if we have a bias against any particular medium, no message will over come it.


Hi Nathan,

I think most of us realize that multiple means of communication will be necessary during times of transition - if we want to reach everyone.


October 22, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Thanks for the comment on my original post, Doug, as well as for this post. I can't disagree with anything you've written but I still believe our big boss needs to expand his thinking when it comes to communications options. I have more to say in a follow up post back on my site.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTim Stahmer

Thanks, Tim. I really appreciate the constructive response to my sort of rude original comment. You're a good man!


October 23, 2012 | Registered CommenterDoug Johnson

Never read your comments as snarky or rude, Doug. More as challenging, which is almost always a good thing.

October 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterTim Stahmer

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