Tweetle Dee

6 Feb

Schools are using twitter as an electronic noticeboard for students, parents and staff, writes Mark Sparvell, as published in Education Review.

Many of us remember being startled from a 1970’s heat-induced classroom doze by the fearful speaker box springing to violent life. When I visit schools and see these artefacts from a gentler, more analogue time, I secretly fear it will command me to go to the principal’s office (which, as a principal now should be a pleasant request).

Increasingly, the modern day equivalent of the speaker box is social networking.

Lorie Vela (www.collaborationideas.com) believes if you really want to know how students and communities think, what is important to them and to learn their language, you need to engage with them in ‘their spaces’. Vela identifies twitter and facebook as two social networking sites of interest to schools.

Twitter is a free service on the web that allows a person to send short (140 characters) status updates to multiple followers. Signing up for twitter is easy, and following someone’s tweets (twitter messages) is even easier. There are many reasons for schools to consider exploring the possibilities of twitter. Laura Walker (http://twitter.com/mrslwalker) summaries a range of reasons.

Twitter can be like a virtual staffroom, where teachers can access in seconds a stream of links, ideas, opinions, and resources from a hand-picked selection of global professionals. It can enable excellent teachers to reflect on what they are doing in their schools; what is working well and what needs improvement. It can provide quality-assured searching, as you increasingly trust the people you follow and hone and develop your list. And, it’s about communication; expressing yourself in 140 characters is a great discipline.

An entry point for many schools is to use twitter as a reach vehicle to your community.

Schools use a twitter account as an electronic school noticeboard which pushes out messages (tweets) to those who are subscribed (followers). Examples from schools recently surveyed through my blog have included posting ongoing scores from sportsday; recognising achievements of staff and students; brainstorming ideas and gathering feedback; and, sharing links quickly, instantly and to many.

Other examples include providing an instant response tool for professional learning sessions; reminders about closure days and special events; and, canteen specials and requests for assistance.

Stewart, a parent from a regional South Australian school notes (via sparvell.com): “As a parent I found twitter a wonderful way to stay in touch with issues and activities in the school community. As with a lot of parents I am extremely time poor and this information enabled me to streamline my days and create time for activities involving my children.”

It could be argued that some of the examples from the field are simply transmission functions of a social media platform that could be used to do so much more. I understand this but also understand that sometimes finding the ‘inroad’ is a starting point. (See box for my top tips for getting started.)

One of the first professional learning webinars to be delivered through www.palnet.edu.au will be around social media and schools. To be notified of this event, go to www.palnet.edu, register and select participation in the ‘ICT Strategic Planning’ group. The palnet environment is built ‘by principals for principals and aspiring leaders’ and is scheduled to go live late November.

Ps. follow me on twitter at www.twitter.com/Ian2325

Blogwatch

This will seem wildly egocentric but I’m following conversations on my blog www.sparvell.com about the role of social media as tools for communicating and engaging with school communities. There’s a quick poll to look out for on the front page asking visitors to identify their most recent ICT purchase, an RSS feed of trending ICT topics and a very curious’ Clustr Map’ tracking ‘Where in the world?’ visitors are dropping in from.

My other favourite blog is edublogs.org. With over a million fully searchable blogs dedicated to education, you are sure to find all the tips, challenges, support and resources that you need to explore and engage with blogs.

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If you are going to explore twitter as a reach vehicle for your school, here are my top five tips.

1. Keep it simple – twitter allows for 140 characters. Make sure you are communicating what it is that is most important for your audience to know. If you are unsure what they want to know- ask them!

2. Keep is smart – There’s a fine line between engaging with casual txt-speak and compromising your ‘position’. School tweets need to strike the line of professional but engaging (don’t finish with ‘xox’!)

3. Provide a guide- Explain through your conventional channels what you are exploring and seek support. Add twitter links to your school webpage and on your email footers.

4. Don’t saturate – Most parents will be receiving tweets via their mobile devices. The last thing anyone wants is a dozen trivial tweets a day. Use sparingly, apply three to four times weekly and see your doctor if pain persists.

5. Protect – Have clear agreements around who can tweet and who approves. I managed our schools twitter account and staff who wished to send out to the twitter feed would email of text their messages to me. It’s important to maintain the integrity and quality assurance of public communications.

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