Vol 1 . . . No 10 . . . December, 1991
Editor: Jamie McKenzie, Ed.D.
Technology programs are in jeopardy across the land. Why? Because they are hungry for dollars at a time when dollars are scarce. Because they are innovative at a time when innovation is distrusted by the general public. Because they are seen as frills by many of those who must vote on school expenditures.
Because the recession and the resulting revenue shortfall has transformed the budget process in most places, the safety and future of district technology programs may rely increasingly upon the thoughtful cultivation of powerful constituencies outside the school district itself. The funding of programs has become a volatile political issue, and the funding of anything perceived as innovative or supplementary has become problematic.
As the funding pie shrinks, technology must be portrayed and seen as a basic rather than as an innovation. This view must be held not only by district personnel and parents but also by all those groups in the community which might use the political arena to block such spending.
In September's From Now On we suggested the need for technology coordinators to become grant-makers. Now, if they wish to maintain forward progress, technology wizards must also become political wizards and marketing maestros.
In contrast with advice given with regard to grant-making, it is may be necessary that the technology coordinator do much of this political work pretty much alone. Because technology may end up in competition with other school programs, the technology person may have to bear primary responsibility, serving as a catalyst to set in motion the right strategies and events.
Other administrators and personnel may be reluctant to pay special attention to any one dimension of the school program. In the name of equity they may argue for equal treatment, but in times of shortage, this will generally mean that the well-known, smokestack programs best suited for the 1950s will be the last ones cut while the leading edge programs will feel the pruning knife early on. Technology may need special attention merely to survive.
Inexpensive marketing of technology education programs to the community is an investment which will pay great dividends. Such marketing has long been forbidden territory in many places. It has been verboten.
What do we mean by marketing?
Classic definitions differentiate between marketing and sales by stressing the listening and learning done by skillful marketing people. Sales people take a product and figure out how best to convince potential buyers that they want and need the product.
Marketing people are supposed to begin with the customers. They listen and learn about the customers' preferences, likes and dislikes. They then communicate back to the product development department what they have learned so that products will emerge which have been designed to match consumer needs. As these products come off the assembly line, the marketing people must find ways to alert the consumer to the match between these products and their interests. It is not so much a matter of convincing as it is a matter of awakening.
How is this distinction useful to technology coordinators?
When we work with our publics in the field of education we have a tendency to adopt the sales model of persuasion. We have a product in which we believe. We see our task as one of convincing the public that what we have is good. They should, we think, support our programs.
If we take a marketing approach, we put more energy into learning about the various constituencies which operate out in the community and we consider ways to provide "products" which will match their interests. Our goal is to establish a "community of interest" such that these external groups will come to feel ownership of the district's technology programs. They will see benefits emerging from these programs which will cause them to protect rather than attack the budgets supporting them.
How can we ever achieve this kind of new relationship? We must begin by re-examining and challenging many of the underlying assumptions which characterize schooling. We must begin with what Barker calls a "paradigm shift."
The old paradigm (assumptions, rules and boundaries) governing schooling included the following beliefs in many districts:
1) Schools are for young people between the ages of 5 and 19.
2) Schools open in the morning and close in the afternoon.
3) Technology programs are for young people.
What if we introduced the following notions as substitutes?
1) Schools are for all townspeople.
2) Schools - like ATMs - are open at all hours they are needed.
3) Technology programs are for all townspeople.
4) Technology coordinators are marketing maestros and product development experts.
In reviewing major forces shaping American society, it is clear that school districts defining themselves by the old paradigm put themselves at enormous risk. They will be swimming the English Channel while those who test out new paradigms like those listed above will hop on a train through the new tubes connecting Britain to the Continent.
In Managing the Future: Ten Driving Forces of Change for the `90s, Robert Tucker explores the impact of speed, convenience, age waves, choice, lifestyle, discounting, value-adding, customer service, techno-edge and quality. Several of these (age waves, convenience, techno-edge) are especially germane to the subject of this article.
Beginning with age waves, we see enormous implications for schools.
Tucker divides the population into three main groups: the mature market, the baby boom and the baby bust.
Consider the following three statements about the mature market from Tucker's book:
* People over sixty-five are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. Population.
* People over fifty -- 25 percent of the population in 1990 -- are the most affluent consumer group in history. The fifty-plus age group controls two-thirds of the net worth of all U.S. households, and accounts for 40 percent of consumer spending.
* Eighty percent of all luxury travel in America is purchased by people over fifty-five. (page 67)
At the same time this group is growing in numbers and purchasing power, the youngest part of the population -- the traditional school clientele -- has been shrinking. The other main group, the baby boomers, continue to grow in power and affluence as they age. "The number of households headed by those between thirty-five and fifty-four will grow by 50 percent by the year 2000." (page 67)
Those school districts which focus all of their energies on a shrinking client base risk starvation and decline. If the percentage of adults with children in the schools falls below 30 percent, the politics of budget approval can become extremely frustrating.
But what if you think of the above information as opportunity rather than disaster? How might a school district and a technology program serve the interests of the mature market? the baby boomers?
Let's begin with the mature market. Who are these people in your town? How do they like to spend their time? What are their interests? How can your technology program match those interests and needs?
Note the emphasis upon travel by this group. Is that true in your community? If so, you can offer all kinds of valuable services by showing members of this group how to make use of telecommunications.
Redefine school hours so that the mature market and the baby boomers can gain convenient access to the technology. Open the high school media center to the community several nights each week and on Saturday mornings. Run classes showing people how to use the OAG to explore plane schedules. Take advantage of the electronic information services available through databases such as DIALOG and CompuServe. Develop an inexpensive little flier which can be included in the same envelope with quarterly tax bills. "Next time you are planning a trip . . ." Make it clear that the district technology is available for use by the mature market.
Gather the organizational leaders of the mature market together and discuss communications. How are they creating and distributing their newsletters for various clubs and groups? Do they have access to desktop publishing and database software to print mailing labels? If not, run classes and teach them how to take advantage of these technologies. Provide convenient access to the technology throughout the week so they can benefit from their investment of tax dollars. Why should they have to buy computers, scanners and laser printers when they could be available from 4:00 P.M. daily?
Is the mature market in your town politically active? Do they follow legislation in Washington or your state capitol? Why not run courses on how to track legislation through the various database services?
Does this group enjoy investing in the market? Do they have investment clubs? Are they familiar with the many services offered by Dow Jones? Another potential series.
How about communicating with people around the country and the world? If this group loves to hop into a van or RV and tour the country, why not show them the myriad bulletin boards available on GEnie and CompuServe? Before they leave on their trip to New Mexico, they can develop electronic friendships with people from that region who can suggest great restaurants, spectacular views and traffic patterns worth missing.
Does the mature market have a strong interest in continuing education? Would your distance learning technology help provide evening or daytime classes especially suited to this group?
Electronic arts and crafts? One way to convince this group that these technologies are powerful tools of invention and expression is to sit them down for ten sessions with Adobe Illustrator or Aldus Freehand. Take them far enough into the software so they feel its power. Scan a photograph and show they how to modify it with Darkroom.
Introduce them to the magic of CD-ROM and videodiscs. Let them dance through Shakespeare's collected works or visit the Louvre.
Shopping? Show them the advantages of comparison shopping by computer.
Gather the leaders of the mature market together and share information about Apple's grants of equipment to community groups. Offer to help write the grant proposal.
"But wait a minute!" you are probably thinking by now. "How are we going to pay for all of this?"
Refer to September's From Now On which described strategies to expand district resources through grants and a local educational foundation. Once you generate plans for keeping facilities open and providing instruction or supervision, you must convert those plans into dollars and cents. What kind of budget do you need to fund this program? $10,000? $20,000? Clarify your needs and then find a patron. Surely there must be one corporate facility which would welcome the opportunity to sponsor such a worth-while community program with an annual contribution of $10,000.
Another possibility is to blend the program into existing adult education programs. All too often the adult ed program leaders have little contact with the leaders of the K-12 program. This is another paradigm worth changing.
There is a tremendous amount of technology power going underutilized each day in schools across the land. After millions of dollars are invested in wonderful equipment, it sits unused for 16 hours each day. Some studies have shown that many computers, especially stand-alones in classrooms, are dark even during class hours. If we could re-think our utilization patterns, we could double the availability of the hardware, for students as well as the adults in the community.
If students do not have home computers, how do they write term papers and essays? Do the wealthy students have an unfair advantage? By keeping labs open late afternoon and some evenings, we serve the mature market, the baby boomers and the students all at the same time. As a side benefit we begin to build community across groups at a time when groups are segmenting and separating. We begin to heal the divisions which so often show up at election time.
How do we broaden our marketing campaign to include the baby boomers and all important constituencies? We can replicate many of the same strategies used for the mature market, beginning, for example, with the leadership of important groups throughout the community.
Hold a coffee for the officers of all clubs, service organizations and associations within the community. Many of these groups will be paying a premium for the design of newsletters, for mailing services and for printing. Show them how they can more than cut those expense in half by taking advantage of school equipment. Open the doors on a regularly scheduled basis during the business day and in the evenings so that business people and others can work side by side with students.
The advantage to the small business or club is the lowering of costs without investing big dollars in hardware. They may decide to purchase an inexpensive computer to compose their newsletters, but it will save them a bundle to rely upon school equipment for high quality printing, scanning, CD-ROM storage of graphics, etc.
There is no way that this article can anticipate all of the useful strategies you might design to match the special needs and interests of your community groups. That can best be done by your asking great questions and doing some serious listening.
Technology wizards must redefine their job assignment to include marketing campaigns which will broaden community involvement and support for programs or they will face a decade of declining resources and disappointment. Schools must also redefine their missions to include all learners within the community, consciously pursuing and pleasing each of the three age waves. We must learn from the dinosaur's example and adjust our behaviors before the arrival of the glaciers.
Credits: The background is from Jay Boersma.
Other drawings and graphics are by Jamie McKenzie.
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