Candidates debate role of social media in education

Social media within Chilliwack school district is still a fairly new initiative.

Social media within  Chilliwack school district is still a fairly new initiative.

Despite technology integration listed as one of the four pillars in the school district’s strategic plan, the social media aspect of technology has been slower going compared to other school districts like West Vancouver where every principal has been mandated to operate a school blog, and where the superintendent is constantly posting on Twitter.

In Chilliwack, the district’s administration really only started utilizing social media at the start of this school year.

School trustee candidates were asked by The Progress how the school district could better use social media to enhance communication with parents and the greater school community.

These were their responses:

Nicki Redekop:

I believe the technology of today needs to be addressed in the public school system. This old thinking needs to be redirected into a goal oriented plan using this technology. Teachers could have their classroom plan for the year, broken into semesters or subjects on a Facebook page, which parents could access directly. There would be more room for parents to have a say on what is happening within the classrooms, and it would be easier for parents to know what is going on. There could be an even further breakdown for parents to login to each of their child’s ongoing grades to see where there could be improvement. It seems strange to me that parents can only see their child’s progress three times a year on report cards. With the diverse and everchanging issues we face as a community, I believe it is necessary for children to have ongoing reviews, and this will keep parents informed.

These kinds of  new ideas are what the school district needs to move forward with the 21st century!

Jack Bass:

Public Input in public education is a position I have been advocating in my platform.

My background – in particular teaching community surveys and community forums fits with use of modern media to gather and support that input from our parents, students , teachers and taxpayers. Today the board has no media strategy other than to quarrel through press releases and the media reports on the rancor at meetings. Simply announcing “a wish” to  engage in modern technology has not resulted in a strategy or public discourse.

The very public reply of social media  provides an open and transparent channel for people to interact with  each other. It provides a written record of comments and commitment. We want to engage in interactions on a scope that have never existed before this time. Social media, if done correctly, can lead to more fruitful direct communication. If you see any small group of students they are already engaged in texting and social media via Facebook, Twitter, etc.Their parents are walking the mall with smart phones in hand – able to receive and send as part of the new strategy I would help develop and promote.

We – the new board – must engage the parents  and students in our communication strategy. This assumes the new board will  be persons able to set aside their egos to create and support such a strategy.

With the communications available on websites, blog sites and print versions available we can create a “live” town hall meeting for all sectors of our education community.

Kirsten Brandreth:

I’m excited that we are moving towards utilizing technology to improve communication.  How many times have printed newletters been left in desks, lockers and the bottom of our child’s backpack? We find out about school events AFTER the fact. We`re asked to sign permission slips as our kids are heading out the door at the last minute.

I would like to see all of our school websites current and updated weekly. I would also like to see Facebook pages created to promote groups (i.e. Parent Advisory Councils) and events.  Twitter seems to be the fastest way to communicate these days. Twitter accounts should be created by each principal to communicate with parents and to provide educational links to support student achievement.

The challenge will be to promote this change in communication. Positive word of mouth may be the most effective way to encourage social media within our district. If families embraced the use of social media, parents would be more informed which can only lead to improved student achievement and a better sense of community.

Heather Maahs:

This is in fact something that is ongoing in the district and is part of the technology push as a result of the strategic plan.

Walt Krahn:

Facebook and, to a lesser degree, Twitter are already being used by millions of people and a significant number of people use it as their main way to communicate with others and main source of information.

Firstly, schools can easily start and maintain their own school Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. Information about upcoming events, social engagements, fundraisers and the like can be updated quickly, efficiently and frequently. Parents and community members can keep up with the school’s events and information and it requires much less maintenance than most websites. If the district incorporated Twitter feeds for their schools and connected them to their Facebook pages, they could instantly have information in the hands of the people who need it. Secondly, parents and community members have the ability, depending on how social media is set up, to become part of the dialogue. Comments and replies on Facebook and Twitter allow stakeholders a way to involve themselves in issues that are ongoing to individual schools and the district.

Students should be taught to maintain this media and how to use it properly and appropriately. Too often, we assume students know how to use social media well when, in reality, they often only use the most basic functions to communicate with friends. The district needs to ensure that students are well trained in the how to effectively use Facebook, Twitter and texting to support their learning.

The philosophy has to change from one in which social media is seen as one-way communication, from the district/schools to the stakeholders, to one in which it is used as two-way communication.  It needs to be used to convey information and receive feedback and good ideas.

Joey Hagerman:

I am not sure that social media is the best way to go, however, some teachers are currently using web pages to post homework and any news that parents and students need to know. Also, teachers are directing students and parents towards educational websites to aid them in their reading skills such as grade one students as well as physics web pages for those students taking science courses. I believe that the use of outside educational resources such as these can only benefit students. We must remember though that not all students have access to web based content at home so every effort should be made to find alternative enrichment resources for them as well.

Brett Lawrason:

We need to make a greater effort in communicating and supplying important two-way meaningful communication between the school district, parents and our overall community. Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and the new future innovations that are being developed daily can be used to get information out to our community and partner groups in a quick and efficient manner.

Part of our school districts’ strategic plan is to “create and implement a communication plan that includes strategies to improve interactive communication.” Some of the objectives listed in the strategic plan include enhancing connections in the community and the community’s level of engagement with the district, ensuring parents receive timely and useful information on student performance, promoting an ongoing dialogue with our community around significant public education issues and ensuring that all communications are streamlined, reaching the right audiences effectively and efficiently. If our goal is to improve communication, transparency, and accountability, social media can be an important additional tool if integrated effectively with the already existing methods of communication such as web sites, news letters, email, newspapers, message boards and other existing means of communication used by our school district.

Proper use of social media and its success can be challenging because it will take time, energy, commitment and resources on the part of the school district.   Someone will need to maintain and be in charge of generating content, answering questions and facilitating conversations with our partner groups. Where will these funds come from and will the use of social media actually make a difference in our students learning?

Some major concerns that need addressing are; do we have the people in place to do the job or do we need to create another level of bureaucracy in the school board fffice such as a Director of Social Media and/or support staff. Will the costs outweigh the benefit? Will social media and its’ application start off with a big bang or fade over time and become another lost leader which happens so often in the education system? How will we measure its success and effectiveness over time? How will we maintain confidentiality, security and ensure that guidelines to do so are put into practice and maintained overtime.

I understand that there are five of the 60 school districts in the province of British Columbia using social media as a key component in their communication with their communities and partner groups. Abbotsford is one of them. So rather than reinventing the wheel, why don’t we research how well the use of social media is working for them. Is it efficient, effective, affordable, and making a difference with and appreciated by the Abbotsford school district’s parents and community? If so and our partner groups believe that enhancing the use of social media within the school district will make a positive difference, then perhaps we need to take the plunge and move in this direction.

Harold Schmidt:

If by ‘social media’ is meant ‘Twitter’, ‘Facebook’, ‘MySpace’, ‘Blogger’, ‘Digg’, etc. etc., then the district should not utilize those facilities. Currently the district has an easily accessible website www.sd33.bc.ca with links for district calendars, programs and departments, board of education, news, schools, staff info, contacts etc. From that central website, an individual can access individual school websites by following the link ‘Our Schools’, and from there follow various informational links. Teachers already utilize the site. (For example, by following the Chilliwack Senior Secondary School website, a person can access any staff member, and from there find specific information regarding courses and even current topics and assignments. As an example, Mr. Harder is giving a unit 8 ‘Minerals, Rocks, and Energy Sources’ test on November 18. Even the unit notes and activity assignments are online.) In addition to phone contacts, there is an email link directly to the individual teacher and the teacher can post vital classroom information for the parent to access.

The much maligned ‘BCesis’ program used throughout the province and the district has the capabilities of assigning a PIN number to each student so that parents can access their students marks at any time.

If by ‘social media’ is meant the press (newspapers), the scheduled board meetings, special meetings and events are easily and readily available to be published for the community to become informed.

Darlene Wahlstrom:

I am happy to report that the Chilliwack School District has already embraced the use of social media as a means to enhance communication with parents and the greater school community. One of the board’s objective is to implement the strategic goal ‘Work and learn through the integration of appropriate technology’ which is found in our strategic plan.

All education stakeholders must embrace the use of social media as a tool; this means that school trustees must be seen to be users and supporters of the technology, senior management must lead by example by demonstrating their ability to use social media. Teachers will need that leadership from the board and management and what could be viewed as a best-practice in communication via social media, should become the norm in communication with parents who are already leading busy lives but who need to be in interactive contact with key members in the school district. Social media could be used to issue short bulletins and progress reports on trends and developments in the school district.

With respect to the greater school community, I would advocate for the use of social media as a tool that could be used in disaster planning and in emergencies where mass mobilization of children becomes necessary. This means that we in Chilliwack have an opportunity to study the feasibility of using social media to connect the police, fire, and the local hospital in the event of disaster and where we need to account for the whereabouts of our children.

With the emergence of web-equipped smart boards in the class rooms and other electronic teaching tools, it is even more important that we integrate social media technology into the classroom and use it to have interactive dialogue between parents and teachers. I can see report cards being emailed to parents as well as being delivered via students and by mail, if needed.

I believe that the board needs to ensure that there is policy in place which will give guidelines for the proper use of social media.

I think we need to approach social media with a positive attitude but also be aware of the dangers of the Internet. Training for staff and students is essential and should be mandatory.

Don Davis:

I have really enjoyed the experience of being a candidate for school trustee. It has been a great journey of personal development and learning.

One aspect of my learning journey has been my discovery of the value of social media in our society. I guess I could be accused of being “old school” and my teenagers pull no punches when they say “Dad hates technology,” but I have learned to post on my Facebook wall and I tweet on Twitter. Four weeks ago, I could not have believed that I would have Twitter followers, but I must be doing something right to attract 35 of them.

I have seen the power of social media with my own eyes and I see its value as a communication tool. Many public organizations, including our school district, are providing useful information through a variety of social media networks. These networks are effective for reminding users about upcoming events, linking to other information sources and disseminating time sensitive information.

As a trustee, I will endorse and encourage the use of social media to support better communication between schools, parents, parent advisory councils and the public.

It is vital that the school district provides effective communication to all partner groups and social media must play an important role in the communication strategy.

Slowly but surely we are stepping away from sending paper home with our students.  It will take some time, but we will get there. This “#oldschool” guy has seen the light of social media and as trustee I will continue my social media presence to connect with the community. Why not give it try?  It is kind of fun. A good place to start would be “http://twitter.com” http://twitter.com and search for @dondavis4truste

Barry Neufeld:

SD 33 could begin with a Facebook site. The interactive nature of Facebook could be utilized to garner feedback on program initiatives. Rather than just dry text, color photographs and also videos in sites like YouTube and TeacherTube could have a greater impact. Creating and monitoring responses to blogs and other online conversations would give decision makers a clearer grasp of how the community was reacting to suggested changes. Social media, properly planned and executed, could replace the need for so many face-to-face committee meetings. Social media could be used to get the word of positive accomplishments and new initiatives more widely disseminated, thereby allowing more people to participate in the information gathering and decision making. In the past this has been done by newsletters and non-interactive websites. However with the use of social media audiences can be targeted through various channels focusing on key individuals, hot topics or trends.

Karen Jarvis:

Having just read some blogs from superintendents in other districts, I found it an excellent way to get their perspective on education and see what’s happening in their world.  Most parents don’t hear much about what the superintendent in their district might have to say but I thought it was a great way to get a different perspective. Email has been an excellent source of communication between myself and teachers and in this fast paced world, I think it has a place. It is endless as to what can be communicated through mass media. The blogging superintendents is a great idea. The electronic signboards that some of the schools have keep us posted on upcoming events that we might otherwise forget about. Some teachers have websites for homework and study information which parents can access. Kids are doing supportive learning online at home that teachers and parents can both follow. These are all excellent tools and I believe they enhance learning for kids. By parents being more plugged in through social media, it lets the kids know that we are paying attention to them and that’s what kids want is to feel like they matter. Check out BC’s blogging superintendents.

Dan Coulter:

The district could use social media to reach out to parents by making contact with the district more convenient through social media. It is important that parents and the larger community has a voice at the board and that we continue to make efforts at improving access and social media could be a valuable tool that increases engagement.

Audrey Stollings:

Social Media can be used in many different ways to enhance the experience of all in the school community, from administrators, teachers, parents and students. Social Media can:

• Increase communication between teachers and students as well as teachers and parents.

• Create an active place where information is delivered to the target community.

• Increase the students’ engagement in their own education.

• Increase technological proficiency.

• Aid in communication planning such as newsletters, emails, message boards and website news.

• Creates a sense of collaboration and builds better communication skills.

Louise Piper:

Social media is becoming a supportive learning environment that is beyond the “bricks and mortar” classroom. With sufficient infrastructure, training and support for teachers, policy for proper use and allowing the use of students personal devices, technology will take learning to a whole new level. Social media and other forms of technology are powerful tools for the 21st century learner to use.  It’s an opportunity to share in a different way. Students can learn how to use video to demonstrate their learning for example. It can provide a variety of communication venues from a two-way conversation to an entire debate on a subject. It is also another way to engage students, parents, teachers and the greater community as a whole. There is work being carried out in the Chilliwack School District to ensure that a good foundation is in place to support our technology goals. The website project is not only streamlining the look of the web and making it “user friendly” but it includes strategies to improve interactive communication as well.

David Russell:

Before we turn on the transmitter, we need to make sure that there is a message to transmit. Technology has made it possible for us to send out information to anyone at the click of a button and at almost zero cost, but that is all meaningless if there is no one committed to creating a message to send out. I intend to propose to the board that we designate one trustee as a media liaison, and that that liaison be committed to communicating the work that the board is undertaking, through all means possible, to all stakeholders.

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