When will schools begin using social media? Who’s doing it well right now?

I said this to some foundation folks recently:

Any corporation, government agency, worldwide church, school, university, foundation, or other institution that enjoyed the ability to broadcast to the passive masses is going to have to get used to the idea that we now live in a world of conversation, not just dissemination. The information-pushout monopoly died at least 5 years ago. When will organizations adjust to (and design for) the new reality?

テットー(Power transmission tower)photo © 2007 kanonn | more info (via: Wylio)This is highly applicable to P-12 schools, but most educational organizations have yet to take advantage of the power (or recognize the accompanying pitfalls) of social media tools. Here are some questions that are floating around in my head…

  1. What will it take to move schools away from their unidirectional postal service mailings, paper newsletters, Friday folders, parent portal updates, e-mail listservs, and/or grainy public television channels and toward something that’s more multidirectional and interactive?
  2. Why do parents – even digitally-savvy ones – fail to put much pressure on their local schools to use these powerful communication tools?
  3. Are there schools or districts that you feel are doing a good job right now of using social media tools (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, blogs, YouTube) to interact with their relevant audiences (and, if so, do you have any links)?

33 Responses to “When will schools begin using social media? Who’s doing it well right now?”

  1. All of my students’ parents are subscribed to my classroom blog via email. Because of not everyone in my school has a blog yet, we still send out a paper monthly newsletter. I feel like I’m just repeating myself in the newsletter because I post all the same stuff on my blog. Every month in the newsletter article, I mention my blog and that information can be found there (www.mrsgoerend.com). Yes, I usually just post homework on there, but there is also information on resources for studying, dates of upcoming events, etc.

    My principal has stated that if all classroom teachers had a blog, we wouldn’t need the monthly newsletter (and save a lot of paper!). I do wonder why he hasn’t mandated it yet, though.

    • We use FB daily to “show/update” parents/grandparents what we do at our progessive little elementary school here in the middle of Iowa!
      go to http://tinyurl.com/3534ncy
      or search for Stratford Elementary School- We use 21st Century Skills!

  2. Regarding your first question, even in my social circle I find people resistant to social media. In a non-educational organization I’ve struggled for several years to encourage interactions using blogs, but many adults never found comfort in the online interaction. Social Media has taken hold a little more lately, but there are still a number of adults (even young ones) who are not on board with the idea. As a form of communication, our district uses FB and Twitter as one method of communicating, but I get the impression that people still expect the “fliers, mailers, and newsletters.” Social media has become an easy and comfortable form of communication and collaboration for many compared to unidirectional communication, but I’m inclined to think for now we’re stuck with “both and” if we hope to reach all of our stakeholders.

    I do see more use on a smaller organizational level. Several clubs and organizations at our school use blogs and/or Facebook to communicate and interact. Our broadcasting class archives daily announcement/news broadcasts on YouTube. Classroom teachers are using wikis, blogs, and Google Docs with students.

    So I do think that while schools are not moving away from unidirectional communication, they are moving toward social media.

  3. I can’t say that we are doing it “right” but we are trying to use social media to communicate with our community. In general, we have achieved a level of two way communication and interaction that is now vital to the information flow within our school community. We certainly can do better, especially with our use of social media to interact with our students.

    Here are some links to our blogs, twitter and facebook accounts…




  4. I think that we are doing some things right also.



  5. We use blogs on a frequent basis as an outlet for writing, but we have not yet made it a way that we frequently contact with district patrons. Several teachers have blogs of their own and parents or other members of our community have access to them from the school website. Twitter is a tool that I am waiting on working with in my classes, and I plan to utilize Tweet Deck as well. A school near us, BCLUW, in Conrad, Iowa has some of their students connect on Twitter and I believe the results have been very positive.

  6. It is Lisa Ferro again, from the University of South Alabama. (I’m in the EDM 310 class.)
    Well, I guess that is a good answer to your last question, “Are there any schools that are using these tools?” I’m not sure how much of the university I attend uses blogs; however, in EDM 310, my teacher Dr. Strange, has solely relied on the blogging tool for all assignments. We are to visit teachers, classmates, and kids’ blogs, world wide, and comment on them. Not only that, we have to blog ourselves, on our personal blogs. (I must say, this has been my favorite course I have taken at USA.) Our class blog’s link is edm310.blogspot.com
    On the class blog, there are a lot of links, one that will lead you to links of his students’ blogs.

    My instructor, Dr. Strange, has a blog:

    Well, since I have started with the last question, I might as well just work backwards…

    As for your second question, B, the digital savvy parents, and those that aren’t, fail to put pressure on the local school because, maybe, the funding of the school is inadequate for such implementation of tools. Maybe these parents are so comfortable with the more traditional communication than the more productive way.
    I, personally, hate to wait for responses. It is much easier/convenient for all parties involved to know the ifs-ands-& buts about what is going on.

    Last but not least, question A: I think the transition lies solely on the communities. Change must take place where change is wanted. With the way the world is moving, technologically wise, the communities will eventually push for the transition, but I am afraid it will not happen, naturally, soon enough. So maybe I change my answer, it starts with us. Let us push for the transition!

    I enjoyed reading your posts! Thank you so very much for sharing!

  7. How about the more important question: Why should schools begin using social media?

    I have yet to hear a good reason for, and I’ll be happy to rattle off a long list of reasons not to use Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, et. al. in an primary or secondary school environment.

    • Hi Bill,

      One reason for me is that it is an effective way to communicate with high school aged kids. I use it mostly for student clubs and sports because I really need the kids to communicating with each other sharing their ideas. I guess I feel that it’s an “if you can’t beat them join them” type situation. I can’t get an email answered in a timely manner but a Facebook post will get 20 comments very quickly.

      I’m uber cautious when it comes to protecting my privacy and the privacy of my students. There have been some instances when information was shared that shouldn’t have been. It has been a learning experience about the dangers of Facebook. But as a school, it’s ok for us to be learning!

      There are definitely some cons about Facebook, Twitter etc. I would be interested to hear yours.

      • As soon as you give up control of who can post to your forum (and actual accountability of the posters identity), you open yourself up to legal issues of slander, defamation, inappropriate content, violation of privacy, hate speech/crimes, bigotry, (anonymous) threats of violence. Add on to that the fact that students use social networks for bullying, drug deals, prostitution and statutory rape relationships and you have yourself a nightmare. My district has had computers and network traffic records used in cases for Police and FBI investigations, theses are not hypothetical situations that I am describing.

        The only legitimate, reasonably secure use of any of the technologies listed that I can think of would be a Photo or Video sharing site with comments disabled.

        • Bill –

          Isn’t it a matter of benefits outweighing concerns?

          Kids *can* use a pencil to draw a Nazi swastika on the table, but that doesn’t mean we take their pencils away. People *can* drive their cars into telephone poles and hurt themselves, but we don’t ban cars.

          Deal with and give a consequence for the *behavior*, not the technology. Students have been bullying each other for hundreds of years, and unfortunately, teacher/student romantic relationships have existed for decades prior to text messaging and Facebook.

          With appropriate (and non-stifling) guidelines, many schools, teachers, and other organizations can leverage social media to great benefit!


          • Yes, and kids drawing swastikas on tables do not involve full building evacuations, the local bomb squad, and FBI investigations! Any of you saying “that’s ridiculous” are correct… unfortunately that’s our legal responsibility under “Zero Tolerance” laws.
            I have pointed out repeatedly that the issue comes down to identity and content control. If you give either of those up, you are not following legal requirements, and are setting yourself up for a bad situation. Scott’s examples of Churches, Businesses, Universities and Foundations all fall under different legal requirements, and are not in a custodial position for minors.
            I participate in forums like this because I’m always looking for new ways to improve my teaching, and students’ learning experience. What I’m seeing a lot of is “Isn’t this great?” or “Why aren’t they using ___?” without people seeming to understand the drawbacks, or being able to give examples of constructive use of the technology. I teach using video analysis, computer modeling, computer assisted data collection and analysis, project based learning, student and team multimedia presentations, and have used web based forums, live chats, video conferencing, and other technology for which I see valid educational uses. Social networking’s big selling point seems to be “The kids/parents are all using it anyway.” I would not consider that an educationally sound reason to use it.
            So far the only educationally sound (in my opinion) idea I’ve seen is Hans Mundahl’s student produced weekly Pod/Webcast, which I’m sending to our Video Production teacher as a suggestion.

  8. We’re doing it really well. We beat corporate giant Habitat for New Media Age’s ‘Reputation Online’ award for our social media efforts.

    We’re a state -funded Academy (secondary) based in Plymouth

    Find links on http://www.marinacademy.org.uk

  9. I highlighted your post in my Daily Digest of Education related blogs today as I thought other teachers would find it of interest. You can see it here: http://ow.ly/3jjjZ

  10. I am so excited to see pockets of application across the country. What I question is why we keep calling anything related to technology in schools ‘it’. Is English ever refered to as ‘it’? Math? Science? History? Calling it IT (no pun intended) keeps technology this mysterious and unknown thing. I don’t deny education K-16 has the academic side covered, the rigor if you you will. (Although this is also questionable in some places). What is missing for many many students is the relevance. Technology is a part of their lives; ‘it’ makes learning relevant (and often engaging). Hats off to those of you that are integrating ‘it’ into students everyday lives at school. ‘It’ certainly is part of their lives outside the hallowed halls!

  11. Scott,

    I agree. It would seem inappropriate for schools not to take advantage of the values of social media. To formulate and lead conversations in our school, we created the #vanmeter hashtag http://twitter.com/#search?q=%23vanmeter. This has helped us connect to educators throughout the world, and allowed us to be a part of conversations about education that we never have had the opportunity to be a part of without social media.

  12. Here are some from Iowa, courtesy of the School Administrators of Iowa (thanks, SAI!):

    West Des Moines Community Schools

    Waverly-Shell Rock Middle School

    Sioux Central Community Schools

    Mediapolis Community Schools

    Bettendorf Community Schools Foundation

    See also ‘Facebook used to teach first-graders’

  13. I keep harping on the answer to question B. I truly think that the media and schools are spending way too much time preaching the evils of social media and the Internet rather than teaching families about the positive opportunities.

    • Such as…?

      Honestly, I am trying to find anyone who can give an actual educationally valid use for Social Networking. I can see many valuable Business uses (including acquiring valuable marketing data about our students), but what actually are our Students supposed to gain from it?

      • Here are a few things that just quickly popped into my head. I believe all of these items are skills that our students AND adults need to learn.

        Social Networking can be used:

        1. To learn skills that aren’t offered locally by connecting with experts or other students from around the world.

        2. To learn how to respond effectively to people who share the same and, often times, very different points of view.

        3. To demonstrate how the skills we teach in schools aren’t just things that we need to “know for the test” but rather are skills we need to know to communicate with others and solve problems.

        4. To learn how to analyze and interpret the information you see on websites, in the news, in advertisements, on TV, and in other social settings to make informed decisions.

        5. To learn how to create a digital footprint that is an effective tool to showcase knowledge, learning and potential, rather than create a digital footprint that is just a showcase for those silly head-tilt self-portraits.

        6. To give students a purpose and an audience for their work rather than making them do meaningless tasks that go unseen by anybody beyond their teacher and their parent.

        Like I said, these are just a few of my thoughts. I’m sure others will be able to give you many more suggestions.

  14. …and not a single one of those is even done well by Social Networking, much less requiring something like Facebook or Twitter.
    per your examples
    1. Social networks are no more effect than email, and often less effective. I’ve used Skype and video conferences with experts and classes. Real time and actually interactive. Unsurprisingly those conferences were set up by email.
    2. Have you actually been on the internet? This is about the opposite of rational and reasonable discourse. Anonymous flames and trolls, and as I said, if it’s “official school related” you’re now legal responsible for policing the content!
    3. Really? What “Problem Solving” is being done with Social Networking beyond where to go out to dinner Friday night?
    4. How does that at all relate to Social Networks?
    5. …and Social Networks are about the worst way to create or display a portfolio. Everyone that I know who uses social networks professionally uses it to redirect to their actual website that they have far better control over the content and display. Facebook/Twitter/etc. are just a feed that more people use than RSS
    6. Who exactly is going to look at a social network page other than that same audience?

    I’ve taught students to create web content since the 1990s when it was typing HTML into notepad, and showed them how to get their pages hosted at free sites beyond the school’s server. Social Networks not only fail to provide a better environment for student work, but also open up ridiculous privacy and liability issues. We clear people’s criminal records at 18 because we realize that they are not fully responsible when they are juveniles. The internet doesn’t forget. How would you react to future employers being able to locate and read what you produced as a teenager? I can pull up material that I posted on the internet over 20 years ago, as can anyone else who chooses to look for it, I know what I’m talking about. Control of our own information and intellectual property is amazingly powerful and important and is usually ignored by the “Isn’t technology wonderful?” crowd.

  15. Bill, I would like to address a few things from your reply.

    Your Point 1, 4, 5 and 6:
    Based upon a definition found at http://www.onlinematters.com/glossary.htm: “a Social Network is a website, or network of websites, specifically established to allow end users to communicate directly with each other on topics of mutual interest.” You seem to be stuck on the fact that Social Networking in only Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, when in fact Skype and video-conferencing, as mentioned in your reply, are excellent examples of how social networking can be an effective educational tool. Blogs are another another example of social networking tool.

    Your Point 2:
    Actually, yes I have been on the Internet. I actually do some of my best learning there. I also spend a good hour or two each night reviewing the entries on my class website, class wiki and class blog because it is my legal responsibility to do so. In addition, I take the time during class to teach my students how to respond on the Internet in appropriate ways so I do not feed the population of “anonymous flames and trolls” who are already out there.

    Your Point 3:
    Again, I refer back to my counterpoint to your #1. I’m assuming you were not planning Friday night dinner with your expert on Skype. I can honestly say that I will not be planning dinner with you any time soon, yet here we are currently communicating on a social networking platform.

    It’s pretty obvious from your responses that you’re not really open to seeing the positive potential of social networking, but I just want to say that I have enjoyed reading and responding to your point of view on this social networking platform. It has really made me think about why I do what I do in the classroom with my students.

  16. Well, there’s no formal definition for “Social Networking”. Usually that term is used for services like Facebook, etc. since that’s what is causing the controversy. Forums and Bulletin Board Systems have been around and used in education for over 20 years (I used them when I was in High School in the 80s when you dialed directly into the system). Those are not what is new and controversial.

    If you look at what I posted earlier, I specifically pointed out that the problem is with using social media where you do not have authenticated identities, and the problem with having students using outside media with authenticated identities is that we are inappropriately giving up student privacy. School controlled and monitored Wikis, discussion boards, Moodles, Walls, etc. are wonderful and appropriate tools. If you are using a system where someone can anonymously post a bomb threat, pornography, or slander, you are just asking for trouble. That is exactly what Facebook, Twitter, outside blogs, and YouTube do [which were Scott’s list of Social Networks, not mine]

  17. Use the following to teach about cyber-bullying and let students have discussions about the topic.
    Would like to get away from paper but have about 20% of parents who do not have internet access. Could send just the 20% hard copies but then that also sends a message,” This kid is poor and does not have money for a computer or computer access.”. Very similar to when lunch tickets were a different color.

  18. My students run a web based weekly TV show and learn how to market, create content, manage a production team, write a contract, meet with clients… real work!

    That’s what’s possible I think with social media… It let’s kids do real work that others can see… Something that can be more authentically assessed and that lasts.

    Check them out at http://www.goinsidenhs.com.

  19. Take a look at my following post describing the process of getting one K8 school on the Social media/networking grid.


  20. I was the Technology Director at Cherokee Community Schools in Cherokee, IA until recently, but we had decided to move to Facebook and Twitter to get our messages out about a year ago. We also had tried a blog, which did seem to generate some interest, but it was rarely updated. Facebook was by far our best experience. We created a Facebook page to replace our paper newsletter that no one read. We had tried creating an email list to email the pdf of the newsletter out, but it too was too ineffective. Facebook seemed to connect the district with the students and their parents much better than any of our other methods of communication. We had an administrative assistant update the Facebook page every day or every couple of days with things that were happening in school, like conferences, sporting events, concerts, etc. The community seemed to embrace the new medium and the number of “friends” for the district’s Facebook page quickly went up.

    Twitter was a bit of a mixed experience, mainly due to a lack of users in Cherokee. We only had a few users, all of which were friends on Facebook, so Twitter was never really updated that much.

    We also unblocked Facebook for students and staff and only a few of the teachers used Facebook in their courses, but the students used it to communicate with each other, surprise! I did conduct an action research project that I just finished collecting data on and my pre-assessment is that if Facebook is used in a consistent manner in a course, the students saw value in the classroom.

    I think what it is going to take to get schools on board is more pressure from the community and parents. If the constituents are unhappy then the school should feel obligated to change. I’m not sure how to motivate the community, but I imagine it will begin to take place as younger generations become parents and demand this type of communication.

    Here are the links to the Cherokee Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/cherokeeschools

  21. As always, you’ve posted about an issue that is of great importance and relevance in our educational system today. With anything “new,” there is always opposition from those who don’t understand it. I’m sure the same “types” who were frightened by chalk instead of continuing to use a good ol’ reliable stick and a nice patch of dirt are the same “types” who sigh for their new-fangled thermo-fax machine, which meant they no longer had to do and re-do those darn pesky purple-ink stencils, which themselves are missed by people who blessed them because they no longer had to cover the blackboard with hand-written notes. Of course, blackboards have been largely replaced by whiteboards. . . .

    Anything that helps students realize the relevance of education, and heightens the connection process, is okay by me.

    I do not accept age as a viable reason to stay away from tech, either. If you’re too old to learn, you’re too old to be of any value to our students.

  22. I appreciate this post as many of the schools in my region tend to block all of these “social” networks. As a matter of fact, at a recent BOE meeting discussing questions regarding a possible 1:1 laptop initiative, the first question and most discussed item was Facebook. Would the kids get onto Facebook? Will the kids stay up late at night on these laptops, on Facebook? Frankly, they missed the point on the 1:1 program…and I have news for you, they are on Facebook anyway. The parent and the teacher can act as the filter, the timekeeper, the monitor. It’s a classroom management and parenting issue more than anything.

  23. Here is how we are trying to leverage the power of social media to market our school to prospective parents as well as inform our current constituents. I certainly won’t say we are doing it right but we are learning.

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