Top 5 tips for schools using social media

Matt Britland

Matt Britland is Director of ICT at The Lady Eleanor Holles School and is also also the Director of Realise Learning, education consultancy. He writes for the guardian Teacher network and specialises in mobile technology, social media, education technology, Computing and is a regular conference speaker.

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There are many potential benefits of using social media in the classroom: it can improve your relationship with pupils, and inspire them to spend more time on their work. Before setting up a Facebook or Twitter account, however, significant preparation is required. Here are my top 5 tips:

1. Vision

This is essential if you are going to convince your school that using social media in education is a good idea. Why do you want to use social media? Is it primarily for teaching and learning, or  communicating with students, parents or even the public?

In order to get an idea whether your use of social media has worked you will need to decide what your aims and objectives are, and assess how well these have been met later on. If you’re stuck, do some research on how other schools have used social networks. You could also check educational blogs and ask some questions on Twitter.

2. Administration

It is important to be able to keep track of all of your accounts and groups. If you don’t, there is a danger of it becoming a free-for-all with different staff members setting up groups or accounts on Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus. I find it easier to keep track of all this activity online using Google Apps, which also lets me share documents with other teachers who can amend certain details if necessary.

If you are leading the social media initiative I would advise you to be a member of all groups or follow all Twitter feeds. You can then help to moderate their use and give teachers advice when they need it, in addition to drawing up a list of rules and guidelines that staff members should follow.

3. Training

Before implementing social media in your school, give all students digital citizenship lessons, including training in e-safety. During online safety lessons, I like to actually go through Facebook’s privacy settings with my students, rather than just speaking about them.

My preferred model is to dedicate time in ICT lessons for this, although some schools do this in PSHE. This is fine as long as those teaching it are fully trained, and preferably users of social
media themselves.

Training teachers in how to use social media, as well as how they can protect their profile, is also important. They need to be confident users if they are to buy into the idea of using it in their school. Finally, get the parents involved. Run an information evening and show them what young people use the internet for and let them know how you are educating their children to use the internet safely and productively.

4. Content

Social media can be used for extra curricular clubs, trips, marketing and communication, but it is also a powerful tool for teaching and learning. It could be used simply as a means of broadcasting information quickly to your students. Taking it a step further, you could make it mandatory to contribute to Facebook groups for a project in order to guarantee collaboration and online discussion. Students could share links, videos, audio and their work with their group via social media - it could even be part of their homework.

If you intend to share information using social media, make sure you do not abandon it. If you stop using it or rarely update it, your students may lose interest. However, don’t overload students with information, as they will struggle to keep up or just decide to ignore what you are posting. Finally, everything you share should be relevant to the course or project.

5. Evaluation

After a set period of time, it is important to evaluate the initiative. Both students and teachers need to be asked in order to get an accurate and balanced perspective of how well your aims and  objectives have been met. The best route for me was to create a form using Google Apps, which was then emailed to everyone involved.

Once you have done this, you will be able to judge whether social media is a successful and worthwhile learning tool for your school. It will then be useful to come up with a list of recommendations and compile a report on your findings.

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