Recap: Wednesday @ Houlihans, Jan 25th, PTA Tech meeting

Today we were honored to have G David Frye with us (Beth Van, Chuck Jackson and myself). We were not able to move to the point of actually having “Create websites” for action steps because we took a significant diversion.

So here is a question to let your subconscious chew on while you read the rest of this. How do people share ideas and information with each other? You and I probably represent somewhat of a niche in that regards in that I am writing a blog post and several of you are reading it, either via an email subscription, rss feed, google hit or syndication. There are many other forms of communication that we use today.

G David has been involved with Unit 4 on the PTA and tech side for quite some time (going to hit a decade in a couple short years 🙂 ). He gave us  some excellent background and historical context for why we are (almost literally) banging our heads about the current state of websites, and especially PTA websites, within Unit 4. If I may paraphrase, it seems that the general mentality of tech folks in this arena have fallen prey to a couple basic … syndromes, for lack of a better word:

  1. more often than not, it is a one-man show
  2. combined with a one-trick pony
  3. which leads to “my way or the highway”

This is not isolated to the IT staff, we have observed that inevitably this happens with PTA volunteers as well. And in a way, you can see the natural progression; someone sees a deficiency or a hole, they offer to fill the gap but they only know one “trick”. So everything is cast in that mold. Once that person exits stage left, the curtains come down and Google retains their ever-stale work for posterity. There has been a lack of “hand off” or suitable transition. Not that IT Directors have not tried; we were regaled with a story of how one year staff had to go through a 3 or 4 hour training session on creating websites. And where are those websites now?

It is not my intent to be negative, pessimistic or see the glass half empty. I believe G David’s intent is, truly, to provide a foundation based on history that helps to describe where we are now. So where are we? We can keep lighting these little fires that burn for a year or two (thinking specifically of PTA websites). Or we can work on building a furnace (my words – editorial benefit *grin*). The “furnace” applies also to IT in Unit 4; I know they keep trying to come up with a framework that supposedly makes it easier for schools to simultaneously broadcast their individuality while operating under the umbrella of the Unit 4 brand/image. And I’ll give them partial credit, they got at least part of that down.

As frustrating as it seems, G David feels that we must go back to the drawing board to build consensus and get buy-in from various players. I confess I am rather befuddled why this has not happened in the past decade – what is the big obstacle. I realize that the mentality of pushing solutions, regardless of the problem, can lead to fractured and segmented societies. Which is pretty much what we have now. So I have to ask, what really are the problems? We have formed this loose “Tech group” because we really (really really) want to see each school PTA have a website. And we know how to do it. In fact, we were trying to find the meeting times of the PTA Council and… “what, they have no website!?!?!” But as G David reminded us, the age of email is growing older; his perception is that kids these days use twitter and texts, and maybe even Facebook (probably). Only a certain kind of person looks for and expects full-blown websites.

And this got me thinking about how we communicate, how we trade information with one another. I found some fascinating RSA Animate talks that are slightly tangential to this topic (1 and 2 if you are still curious – please stay away from youtube), but the upshot is that while times and technology are changing, the root of what we wish to communicate and the models we fall into doing so pretty much stay the same. Sure, we can build fancy websites with social media hooks (even bi-directional hooks)  – that might be the rave right now. But what about 5 years from now? 10? Perhaps what we need most are people who want to communicate. We can throw up whatever technology best suits, but without the desire to share ideas and connect, you have nothing. Which makes Facebook a most excellent research topic. But what about circles that do not involve computerized technology? (such a thing exists?!?)

I am still a website person. I am going to email 4fr. And I don’t see myself tweeting. But I want to find out how other people plug into the morass of humanity.

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