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Good Practice - Case Study
School No: 401
Using Social Media tools for home/school communication
Verulam School is an all boys secondary school in St. Albans, with specialisms in Technology and MFL. It converted to Academy status in August 2011.
Since 2009 the school has used social media tools, in particular Facebook and Twitter, to complement the school website as a method of communication with parents, older students, ex-students, teachers and others who may have an interest in the school.
Verulam also uses YouTube to share events and celebrate achievements, where it is appropriate to do so through online video.
Use of Facebook
The school decided it would like to try using Facebook for home/school communication around 2009 and began by setting up a closed Facebook group, which users would have to request access to. They soon found that the functionality found within a Facebook group was too limiting and so they created a Facebook Page. Such pages present an 'official' Facebook presence for an organisation, rather than an individual, and can be visited by anyone online, whether they have a Facebook account or not. However visitors to the page cannot subscribe to ('like' the page) or interact with it without an account. Once a user has 'liked' it, news from the page that has been posted by the school will show up on their own Facebook feeds when they log in to use the service.
Text, photographs, videos and events can be shared via the Facebook page, and users who have 'liked' the page are able to post questions and comments on the Facebook 'wall', which other users, or the school, can respond to. Use of images is carefully considered and of course none are published where parents/carers or students have requested so.
The Facebook page has become a popular way for members of the school community to ask quick, impersonal questions that they might otherwise have to phone the school about. Examples of these questions include the times of events, kit requirement for sport and suchlike.
Any important school news is posted to the Facebook page, in addition to the school website. They feel this is a really good way of reaching people because with a standard website, people need to actively visit the site to get the news, whereas with Facebook the news item will reach people when they are socialising online as a huge amount of people do every day. Visitors to the Facebook page automatically land on an information page rather than the Facebook 'wall' and from here they can navigate to other features of the page.
One area in which Verulam's Facebook page has proved most successful is when groups of students go on study trips. Staff accompanying the children can use mobile devices to post news and photographs from the trip, which is always appreciated by parents back at home. It also ideal for communicating information on snow days and suchlike.
Managing the use of Facebook
Whilst Facebook pages can be an effective means of communication, there are some risks associated, mainly around the potential for inappropriate or offensive comments to be posted by others. Therefore it is essential that the service is very well set-up and managed, and that someone has the responsibility for monitoring the use of the page, and responding rapidly to inappropriate use if necessary. In this case the page is managed by the school's web manager, Les Dow of Computa Connect. It is also closely monitored by the school's KS3 Assistant Headteacher, Ross Mawby, who makes most of the posts on behalf of the school, and responds to the majority of questions asked by the Facebook users.
In order to encourage interaction and provide the facility for users to ask the school questions, Verulam has enabled the ability for them to post to the Facebook page 'wall'. As soon as anyone posts to the wall an email alert is sent to a page administrator who is able to check that it is appropriate.
The ability to comment on a wall post made by the school or any other user is a standard feature of a Facebook page and cannot be disabled. Similarly, these comments must be closely monitored to check for inappropriate use, and email alerts have been set up so that staff are aware of any comments posted. The ability for users to post photos and videos has been disabled.
Mr Dow reports that misuse is very rare and there have only been a very small number of inappropriate comments. Because users cannot post anonymously, anyone who does post inappropriate comments is immediately blocked from using the page, and if they are school students they are disciplined within school as necessary.
Users of Facebook must be 13 or over and if a person known to be under this age was seen by the school to be using it, school staff would address this.
A banned word list is also selected in the page settings to automatically filter out inappropriate words before human interaction is necessary.
Because the school also uses their main website as well as Twitter for communication, the web manager has set up a system so that news items posted to the school website news feed will automatically also be posted to the Facebook page and Twitter feed. This obviously cuts down on the time needed to share items across all the different platforms.
The use of website analytics have shown that a large amount of the traffic which the main school website receives has come through visits to the Facebook page, which at the time of writing has over 1300 subscribers.
See the links below for further information about how to set up a Facebook page.
Use of Twitter
Twitter enables the sharing of brief 'updates' which are limited to 140 characters in length. By following a person's or organisation's Twitter feed, users can receive their news headlines from a mobile smartphone device or other computer with internet access. Across the world it has become a very popular means of updating people, partly because of the short and to-the-point nature of posts. Also, the fact that most mobile smartphone devices can access Twitter helps people receive news whilst on the move. Many organisations that use Facebook for communication also use Twitter.
As Verulam School's Twitter feed is linked to the newsfeed on the main school website and also the Facebook wall, so that news items are posted across all three, parents, students and teachers have flexibility in the way they choose to receive electronic communications.
The school keeps the Twitter feed official and is careful not to follow other people, purely using it to share news items.
Use of YouTube
Verulam set up a 'channel' on the popular video sharing service in May 2011 and since then has posted a number of videos which celebrate achievements and events at the school. Visitors to the channel can watch, for example, Year 7 performing a dance to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" or highlights from the 2011 'Verulympics' sports day.
Like other social media sites, YouTube allows, if enabled, visitors to comment on videos that have been shared. This function has been set so that an email alert is sent to Mr. Dow whenever a comment has been submitted, and must be approved before being published. If any inappropriate comments were received, the user who sent them can immediately be blocked from commenting further on any of the channel's videos.
Feedback to Verulam's use of social media from parents, staff and pupils has been very positive and the school is enthusiastic about how well the services, particularly Facebook, work as communication tools. They liken the services to being a "24/7 Open Day" where visitors can see some of the work and events that go on in school, ask questions and get up to date news and information. By being aware of and carefully managing the potential for inappropriate use of this type of service, through moderation and security settings, Verulam have made a success of using these popular free tools.
For help and guidance in setting up a Facebook page, Twitter feed or Youtube channel, contact Chris Carter (eDevelopments Adviser) at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hertfordshire guide to setting up a Facebook Page
Verulam School's social media pages are managed by www.computaconnect.co.uk