Yes that’s right, the humble school newsletter will go the way of the dodo and disappear – at least in its current form. Communicating with parents won’t disappear of course. If anything, as school life becomes busier with a myriad of legislative changes, league tables, Krudd money, cyber bullying, there’s never a shortage of things to say. But the form of the current newsletter will change markedly.

I presented a 50 minute paper at the recent VITTA (Victorian Information Technology Teachers Association) Conference on the Death of the School Newsletter which provoked quite a response. It appeared that many had not considered that the status quo was going to be challenged. The premise for change is based on three platforms; how technology has changed the way we communicate, the fact that the school newsletter is being created using print based technology and our receiving mediums of choice are changing.

Let’s explore.

A recent Telstra report indicated that over 70% of mums are using facebook. Further, a sponsor-ed survey supported this statistic concluding that 53% of primary school age parents are using facebook. And, over 80% of parents indicated that they prefer schools communicate with them electronically. Then we have the phenomenon that is the iphone and its downloadable apps; 90,000 apps available and at last count over 2 billion downloads. By January 2011 almost every mobile phone in Australia will be connected to the internet; iphone or otherwise. Getting the picture?

All these new communication and some may say entertainment technologies are conspiring to raise our digital literacy. We can no longer argue that our school parents aren’t quite ‘up to it’ digitally. I acknowledge that there are socio-economic gaps where access to computing, broadband and mobiles is an issue but that gap is quickly closing.

I guess I should mention Twitter; it too has played a significant role. There are 800,000 twitterers in Australia compared to 13,000 a year ago.

 If you read the last few paragraphs quickly, please pause and let me say it again. The communications world we live in has changed dramatically over the last 12 months. The facebook revolution is significant. All of us are smarter web people today than we were in December last year.

Now that’s the case for the growing digital literacy, what of the construction of the school newsletter?

In almost all cases the school newsletter is crafted using print based technologies mainly with Microsoft Word, occasionally Publisher then converted to a PDF. Why is that an issue? It’s not an issue if the newsletter is read on paper but today for reasons of sustainability and cost, it’s being delivered electronically; either read on a web site or opened as an email attachment. In both cases the newsletter is almost unreadable on screen. So if it’s unreadable on screen, it will be printed which is not helping the sustainability cause. Writing for the web is a vastly different process than for print. One of the major issues is writing vertically versus horizontally. Newspapers learned this very early in their digital journey. Have a look at a newspaper and you’ll notice that it’s constructed using a series of vertical columns. Early online newspapers carried over their design legacy to the web and found that readability suffered. Look at today’s online newspapers and you’ll note that horizontal is the orientation of choice (homepage at least) and the information is chunked into small units teasing the reader with a headline and picture to then a read more….. This is how you write for the web.

Has any school recognised this difference and changed their newsletter’s layout to accommodate a new viewing medium?

I may appear a hypocrite; here I am writing reams in an online space, the chances are though that you found this article’s headline interesting in our sponsor-ed newsletter and clicked to read ‘more’. In my defence, this process is perfectly appropriate (have I convinced you?).

On the subject of viewing mediums, we can no longer ignore the mobile; it’s a completely different beast now with internet access. So how do you write a newsletter for mobile?

A simple method of creating the modern school newsletter that recognises good web readability and various viewing mediums does not exist today. There are plenty of e-newsletter devices on the market – we at sponsor-ed use a very good one – but any school without good internal IT support would struggle to drive them. That’s sponsor-ed’s challenge; I was wondering what we were going to be doing over the break. Watch this space for more. And if there are any volunteers out there willing to help us with functionality and testing, we’d be very pleased to hear from you.

In summary, the future school newsletter will be delivered electronically, be re-formatted automatically to be received on the device of choice or multiple devices with the school creating it in a very similar way that they are today.

Too easy – well, we’ll make it so.

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