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Schools embrace social media
Local systems using Facebook and Twitter
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School social media links

Teachers used to rely on phone calls, emails and letters sent home in folders to communicate with parents and guardians.

Enter the 21st century.

Instant chatting, 140-character messages and conversations thriving on "like" buttons are the new way to share information, and local schools and colleges are quickly adopting the new resources of Web 2.0 and social media.

"In business they used to talk about ROI, return on investment — what are businesses getting back with this money they're spending on advertising," said Lisa Morgan, collection development librarian at Brenau University. "With social media they're looking at ROE, which is return on engagement."

Brenau and other colleges use social media as a means of contacting prospective and current students. Many professors use the websites for classroom communication and assignments as well.

But social media is slowly finding a place in primary grade classrooms as well.

Hall County Schools Board of Education opened Twitter account within the last six months.

Superintendent Will Schofield estimates the account has between 800 and 900 followers.

"I hope that goes to 10,000," he said. "I see the utility of it. It gives us an opportunity to communicate. The nice thing about Twitter is you don't fill up someone's inbox."

Several other Hall and Gainesville schools have Twitter and Facebook accounts. Some are set up specifically for parents, others for athletics, but a few are to share information to the school's entire community.

"I have two children that are in preschool and their classes have set up Facebook pages that they've invited all the parents to. So when they have class parties, when they have field trips, they're posting pictures to that group and they're sending messages out to the parents," said Juli Clay, assistant professor of mass communication at Brenau.

"We had a tragic event happen last year within the family at the preschool and they were immediately able to tell the entire group of parents, open a discussion where all the parents could talk about how they could move forward."

Aaron Turpin, technology director for Hall County Schools, said Twitter allows school system officials to get information out to parents, students and teachers, and also to share links for professional learning opportunities.

Facebook, however, doesn't offer the same opportunities for the district, Schofield said.

"The best analogy I've heard is that Twitter is like a river. It's constantly moving, it's constantly changing. It's not meant to sit and absorb all the water," Clay said. "You can go back and check and have that history that's easy to go through. It makes it much easier to have a relationship."

Some of its elements, however, will be included in HALLCOnnect, the new learning website the school board is using this year.

"We can control who's a part of it," Schofield said of the social media components.

Turpin said HALLCOnnect uses social media to connect teachers to students, students to students and classes to classes.

Schofield said the most important part of social media in schools is teaching students how to use it responsibly. With concerns such as cyber bullying and access to inappropriate websites, uncontrolled content "out of the bottle can eat you alive," he said.

Turpin said Facebook is blocked in schools, but teachers and students do have access to Twitter.

"The key is we are able to filter (on HALLCOnnect)," Turpin said. "Our social networking is monitored so if there's questionable content we can access it."

A teacher at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School created a Facebook page to keep community members informed of the school's move to the Wood's Mill Academy campus.

"I don't think any of our teachers are using Facebook or Twitter for instruction," Assistant Principal Kim Davis said. "I would love to see our Facebook page become a historical site, a place for people who have yearbooks from years past to scan their photos in."

Clay believes schools should not be afraid to use social media as an instruction tool and a resource for students. She said instead of breaking the mold, teachers should work with students and the new ways they communicate.

Local districts are ready for the challenge of harnessing social media.

"We're trying to be very cautious moving forward, understanding the double-edged sword of Web 2.0," Schofield said. "We're beyond the times where we can just ban. ... We have potential ahead of us. The bad news is no one knows how to use that."


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