Coquitlam district schools start to embrace Twitter
School District 43 is dipping its toe in social media with online tools such as Twitter and the result could be closer ties between parents, the community and schools.
No longer would parents be met with a blank stare when asked, "What happened at school today?" Instead, Twitter, if handled properly, could provide parents with real-time information about what happens in the classroom.
And in emergency situations, Twitter could be another way for the district to get out accurate information.
Educators are already using Twitter for professional development but the commitment by SD43 to use social media, combined with a new digital responsibility code, signals big changes in how the district reaches out to the community.
Recently, SD43 joined Twitter, a fact that was announced at a recent school board meeting, and the district's new communications and social media assistant hopes tweeting will be helpful to parents, teachers and students.
"It's a great opportunity to share more on services and have those online discussions because that's how people are using it," explained Heather Escaravage.
Escaravage was hired last fall to help the district create its social media presence and the result, at least on on Twitter (@sd43bc), has has been a gradual introduction of information on programs, registration deadlines and even school innovations.
But it's early days yet and Escaravage said the district is working on figuring out the best way to get information out to people, especially parents.
"The biggest feedback I'm getting is that parents are already receiving an enormous amount of information," she said. "We want to make sure we are getting it to parents in the most useful way possible."
She said the district will also be looking at how Twitter might be used in emergency situations while still respecting the normal chain of command for getting out important communication. "There is an opportunity to add new elements with technology but we have a responsibility to maintain that the information out there is correct."
There is no question, however, that people are interested in how schools use social media. When SD43 surveyed staff, parents and students on their social media use, more than 2,000 people responded, including 858 parents, 770 students and 504 district staff.
Twitter was the most popular way of getting information after email, according to the survey.
That wouldn't be a surprise to students who are active users of social media. But educators are looking at ways to tap in as well.
Kristi Blakeway, a vice-principal at Dr. Charles Best secondary, had students show administrators and teachers how to use social media and blogged about it at hopefullearning.wordpress.com.
"Social media provides a context where students and teachers can learn together. Our students are growing up with social media and often their technology skills are superior to ours. As an educator, I embrace the opportunity to have open dialogue and learn from our students so that I can stay up-to-date with technology, and understand the world our students are living in,” Blakeway said in the email.
"It's just another way of increasing that connectiveness," said vice-principal Randy Manhas of Riverside, whose school administrators experimented with Twitter during 30 Days of Innovation in the fall. They tweeted about school activities, accomplishments and sports events, such as a district volleyball tournament, and many teachers soon joined in, tweeting about classroom projects and innovations. One tweet about a student group called Happy Tuesday went viral, with the news media picking up the story about students posting positive messages on lockers.
Manhas said the students were excited to see news about their school on their feeds and some parents began following the tweets, too.
SEEKING CRITICAL MASS
"Once we get that critical mass, our dream of dreams would be if a parent could follow their own child on Twitter and see what their child is doing on the day," he said.
In the last few months, the use of Twitter by educators seems to have exploded, with the hashtag #sd43 accumulating more tweets every day.
Many educators, including Inquiry Hub lead administrator Dave Truss, use Twitter for professional development and to share inspirational thoughts and ideas. Truss teaches digital literacy to students, is active on Twitter and writes a blog (http://daily-ink.davidtruss.com/twitter-edu).
In 2007, when Truss signed on to Twitter, the social media tool was just getting started and "I thought it was a stupid thing."
But when he started making connections with like-minded people on the same education journey, he became a convert. He now has more than 7,000 followers and is following 6,478 people, who provide him with a rich source of information about trends and innovations in teaching.
"I tend to share things I really appreciate and are worth sharing," Truss said, noting most people he follows do the same.
It's hard to predict whether Twitter will be around for the long term but, for now, students, teachers and administrators are finding it an easy way to communicate with each other.
Hashtags to follow for parents in School District 43:
People/groups to follow
@HHG (Heidi Hass-Gable DPAC chair)
@datruss (David Truss)