Many are still suspicious about social media, so to propose that teachers use twitter with their students would not even hit the agenda in many schools. However, as Andy Lewis shows in this extract from the October 2014 edition of UKEdMagazine, applying some common sense attitudes and behaviours can help utilise the power of these modern tools.
I began using Twitter to communicate with students in January 2012. It was initially an experiment to see if there was any value or worth in using social media to promote learning with students. I discussed it with my Head of Department, who mentioned it to our departmental line manager. There were a few brief discussions, but as it became clear I knew what I was talking about and had considered the implications, potential risks and consequences, and I was left to get on with it.
Having watched The Social Network and working out I was probably in the first 100,000 Facebook users in 2004, and having used Twitter personally for several years, I was fully aware of the power (and the dangers) of such social networking tools; I had, in many respects, grown up as an adult with this networking. It has changed our lives socially and professionally; how can it be best utilised for our students too?
I liked the idea that on Twitter students would ‘follow’ and not be ‘friends’, that everything was transparent and could be checked by any member of my SLT. They could see my interactions, everything was public and could be read by anyone. There was also the great power of the retweet!
However, without a set of guidelines or policy, advice or even really having an ‘in school’ sounding board, I needed some kind of personal framework. I spent a lot of time considering how I would utilise Twitter. It is also important that you never forget the risks, and that you are always aware of what you are tweeting and to who. I devised a little reminder to myself and to share with others (it’s RE themed, naturally…);
I did some research with colleagues via Twitter and got some interesting feedback about what some schools are saying…
One staff handbook said, “On no account should staff involve themselves on social networking sites with children” only via school email. However, the school had a number of Twitter accounts including a whole school one which were clearly not adhering to this policy. This seems typical of the lack of guidance given to many teachers. Other schools insisted on ‘locked’ accounts and vetting each potential follower.
Another school had put together a policy, which is not overly complex, but covers most areas:
To allow departments to disseminate key information relating to KS4 will ensure pupils have access to important online resources that can be used in preparation for the exams.
- It allows us to model using social media responsibly
- It is a great way to communicate using the technology that many of our pupils use already
- It is instant access when new information is released by exam boards, key authors, well known speakers and relevant news agencies
- To share resources for revision etc (all information will also be available on paper for those who don’t have access to the internet)
- Nothing is private. Teachers will not be following any pupils
- Everything written is available for everybody to see
- It won’t be accessed in school
- We have contacted numerous schools that already use it to discuss safeguarding concerns
- All accounts will be monitored by the teacher responsible for the twitter account and by Senior Management
Reminders [to staff]
- Never follow a pupil, make this clear to pupils
- Never retweet a post you haven’t checked first
- Bear in mind that not all pupils will have access to the internet
- Always remind pupils about safety for example: nothing you write on the internet is ever private. Only write things you wouldn’t mind your parents, teachers or future employers seeing. What you put on the internet will be used to judge what sort of person you are. Never write anything negative or unkind about anyone else.
I think that this is a great starting point. It has been circulated to staff, students and parents, so everyone is clear on its purpose, use and potential.
The key problem to overcome is often ‘the fear’ of social networking. Sadly, some staff see it as an evil. I agree, it can get ugly, and many staff have had to deal with social networking causing a variety of problems in the school. It is hard when other staff do not have an interest in social networking. In the worst cases, you will receive a flat no. At the other extreme, you are left with no policy to fall back on for protection.
There is lots to consider. It needs constant review. There may be something you haven’t thought of, and issues that may arises. It needs to treated sensibility, in a considered way. A member of staff may make a mistake… just like in the classroom. Will the school then ban Twitter for everyone? There are also new forms of social media and networking which may or may not be appropriate; I had a request for an RE Department SnapChat account just this week.
One of the most important things I have read about social networking and schools was…