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Monthly Archives: April 2014

“How to host a Q-and-A Twitter chat”

April 23, 2014

Many educators are aware of education Twitter chats and some have even participated in one of the hundreds of chats that take place each week. The reason Twitter chats are great is because they let you dive quickly into an issue with others around the world who share your passion. The people whose input you find valuable are ones that you can follow and connect with in the future.

For those who don’t know what a Twitter chat is, it is a way to bring together people from across the globe — tweeps — at a set time to discuss a topic of interest in a fast-paced format using an agreed upon hashtag. It can also give tweeps access to experts they otherwise might not be able to connect with. It gives experts a great vehicle to connect with others who care about their work.


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Posted in Education, Social Media

School Districts’ webinars reach out

April 10, 2014

The March 13 webcast looked for all the world — or for the 50 people who logged in — like an unpolished version of Jerry Revish with the news, Chris Bradley bringing you weather and Dom Tiberi on sports.

It didn’t occur at first to Worthington schools Superintendent Thomas Tucker that his online lunch for parents would come across that way. Or that his sport coat was bunching around his neck, something that a television pro would have fixed.

But Tucker is not a television pro. He’s an educator trying to figure out how best to communicate with parents.

So what if his introductions of the district’s treasurer and facilities director weren’t anchorman smooth?

“I don’t care about how I look,” he said. “I’m worried that I’m articulating the best way that I can.”

The Worthington and Hilliard school districts are experimenting with the webinar, a technology that businesses have used for years to get their messages out. The districts use the softer-sounding phrase online lunch.

They are the only public-school systems in central Ohio trying to reach parents this way. According to people familiar with school technology in Ohio, they might be the only districts in the state trying it.

The idea, said Hilliard Superintendent John Marschhausen, is that some parents and community members want to talk to him about education issues, but they can’t find the time to attend the district’s regular in-person meetings. Maybe they can catch an online video chat during their lunch break.

“People want their information in such a variety of different ways,” Marschhausen said.

The basic format has the superintendents sitting, flanked by another staff member or two who can talk about the topic of the day. Anyone with an Internet connection can click a link from the district’s website to see the video feed. They also can type questions.

The participants give some prepared statements and then start answering questions. The March 13 Worthington session was open to general topics, including building security and the district’s financial stability. It was the third webinar the district had tried; the first was last spring.

Hilliard’s first webinar was in 2011, with then-Superintendent Dale McVey, said Amanda Morris, the director of school-community relations and one of the people who came up with the idea. She said the district has seen more interest in the online lunches when they stick to a specific topic.

The March 11 webinar focused on Hilliard’s plan to issue iPad minis to sixth-grade students, and about 50 people participated online. Another 200-plus have watched a recording of the session, Morris said.

Which raises a question: How many people need to log in to a webinar for it to be successful? That 50 in Hilliard is out of a potential audience of thousands. The same is true in Worthington, where 41 people logged in for the March 13 session.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Vicki Gnezda, Worthington’s communications director. “I think it was 11 a year ago.”

Parents in both districts think it’s a good idea, even if they’re not familiar with the details.

“I think there’s been one,” said Laurie Wirt, the president of Worthington Kilbourne High School’s PTO.

Even if she’s not quite right on the number, she said she appreciates the difficulty in reaching large numbers of parents. She has participated in webinars as a lawyer and thinks they can work well.

“It’s hard to figure out what will get through to the most people,” she said.

Mark Harrington, who has four children in Hilliard schools and once worked in technology with the district, likes the casual approach that the superintendent took in the last webinar — Marschhausen had his sleeves rolled up at a table, in contrast to the news-broadcast style in Worthington. Harrington plans to watch the next one, too, in April.

He has a comment, though, if the district wants to reach more people.

“The audio could have been better,” he said.

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Criteria to Consider When Deciding to Seek Funding from the Public

April 5, 2014

While governments make decisions about seeking sales taxes, operating levies and bond issues that are driven by needs or necessities, a consideration that is often overlooked is whether the opinion environment is propitious enough for such requests to be viable. Need alone does not ensure success. Although public opinion polling and other forms of research are essential for making decisions about what the public wants or will support, based on years of experience assisting local governments, such as cities, counties, school systems, human services providers and transit agencies, Fallon Research has formulated a list of other factors that it recommends for considering before placing an issue on the ballot:

Financial Resources Available – Paradoxically, in the information era, waging campaigns for public approval has become more expensive and difficult. Consulting with the campaign chairman to determine the prospective outreach campaign budget prior to formally announcing a tax request can avert unpleasant surprises and help develop reasonable expectations about how much money is needed and must be raised;

Human Resources Available – Have a clear understanding of what kind of volunteer force is willing and available for fundraising, delivering pamphlets and signs, and door-to-door public engagement. Don’t forget to take into account the time of year, such as the effect of weather, which can dampen spirits;

Timing – Perhaps, the most important – and overlooked – consideration, it is imperative to evaluate the effect of voter turnout, such as what types of voters will participate in a particular election and what proportion of them fits the profile to support your request. It also is important to know what other levy requests will be on the ballot at the same time, so there is an understanding of how much competition there is for donations, volunteers and, most importantly, the attention of voters & beleaguered taxpayers;

Opposition – There are 2 types! Organized opposition is the most feared, and should be addressed strategically, but local governments also should use opinion research to assess passive opposition, such as that emanating from the economy, sensitivity to taxes or a lack of clarity about why money is needed;

Access to Media – Seemingly self-evident, but don’t fall prey to the misperception that this is merely about advertising money or paid access to the airwaves, which can sometimes be limited by law. Studies show that many voters still get decisive information from the news media, so assess your relationships with reporters;

Partners – Before making any assumptions, sound out essential strategic partners and stakeholders, such as affected industries or groups, to make sure they are poised to support your request, have a clear understanding of what is at stake for them, and will provide material assistance for outreach efforts;

Attitudes of Opinion Leaders – Major employers, unions, newspaper editors and high ranking elected officials all communicate with large groups of people and hold positions of influence that can be critical, even if they don’t endorse your issue or financially support it. They can also help manage the local political “echo chamber” of conventional wisdom that dooms many requests before voters ever get their say. Sometimes just placating elites, so they do not become adversaries, can be essential to success;

Simplicity – Distilling concepts down to messages that are easy to convey, and comprehend, is a task that stymies many efforts, because it is tempting to say too much, at the expense of clarity, or the wrong things, which fail to rouse the public. Deciding why services – and which ones – are important to the public is a vital function of opinion research that can simplify the process by developing a hierarchy of priorities.

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Posted in Budget & Finance, Education