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September/October, 2009

Board members' e-mail, Internet use increasing

The question for this issue is answered by Linda Dawson, IASB director/editorial services and editor of The Journal.

Question: What did IASB find out from its member survey about Internet usage among school board members?

Answer: School board members' responses indicate that they have grown much more Internet savvy over the course of the past 10 years. More are accessing the Net and making use of e-mail communication, both at home and at work.

Although 60 percent of respondents in a 1992 survey said that they used a computer, IASB first began asking about Internet usage in 1998. The number who answered that they had Internet access just at home was 28 percent with another 13.1 percent saying they had access at work. Only 31.5 percent of respondents said they had computer access both at work and at home and 13 percent said they had no plans to acquire access to the Internet.

Now fast forward to 2008. The number of respondents with access just at work fell to 5 percent, while "at home" was steady at 28 percent. But the number of those with access at both home and work has doubled to 63 percent. And just 2 percent of respondents said they had no immediate plans to access the Internet.

That means Internet connectivity, whether at home or at work, rose from 72 percent in 1998 to 96 percent in 2008.

During that same 10-year time frame, IASB has been developing its website. The site underwent a major overhaul in 2007 and then added a Members-Only site in 2008.

Familiarity with also has increased. In 1998, 25 percent of survey respondents said they were unaware of IASB's website. By 2003, that number had dropped to 6 percent and by 2008 it was just 3 percent.

When it comes to e-mail, just 47 percent of survey respondents said they had an address that they used regularly in 1998. That number jumped to 72 percent in 2003 and was up to 83 percent in the 2008 survey.

Of those who use e-mail, those who check for messages at least once a day or more frequently has increased as well. In 1998, just 40 percent looked at e-mail once a day or more often. By 2003, that number was 65 percent, and by 2008 it had grown to 77 percent.

Since 1998, the number of respondents who said they would like the Association to communicate with them through e-mail has held steady at about 46 percent.

IASB wants to accommodate preference for the way members get their information, while disseminating it through the most effective means available. With the Members-Only website, members now can receive information that is targeted to them specifically for their division and their activities.

If members want something tangible that they can hold in their hands and read, we will continue to get information to them through the postal service. But the Association is keeping abreast of changes and new technologies in communication as well as looking for alternative avenues for sending some bulk mailings.

And the communications department is not the only one using new technologies. IASB policy services products include School Board Policies Online, which allows districts to post their policy manuals to a website, and BoardBook, a paperless tool for board meeting agenda packets. Field service directors have been using online surveys for board self-evaluations, and the Association will reintroduce online training in the coming year.

In addition, the communications department is exploring publishing software that will allow this magazine to be posted to our website in its entirety and read by "turning pages" rather than in just an html format.

And while we have explored and learned much about social media in the past year (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn), the applicability and appropriateness for board members on the Association level is still being discussed and debated.

With the rapid pace of change in media and communications, by the time the Association surveys its membership again, much will be different. But as technology changes, IASB's communication department will continue to present information that school board members need to succeed in their job.

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