While the jury is still out on social media’s ultimate effectiveness as a classroom tool, a number of factors — including increased familiarity with the technology, the availability of tools designed specifically for students, and the controlled nature of the classroom environment — have begun to temper its perceived risks.
Now, there’s a new debate taking shape, one that extends beyond the classroom. Should school districts use Facebook and other social media tools to communicate with community members and parents?
As some schools districts are just beginning to embrace these new opportunities to connect with community members, other earlier adopters are taking a step back.
A school district in Mansfield, Texas recently deleted its Facebook page, which had been active since August 2009. The main reason cited by the school district was a lack of ability to moderate undesired or inappropriate comments. According to a quote from Richie Escovedo, the director of communications and media, in a Mansfield News-Mirror article: “We were being forced to devote so much staff to monitor and remove some of the negative comments, comments to one another, students saying things to parents… We wanted a way to share information. Unfortunately it turned into a way for people to share what they thought, maybe too much of what they thought.”
Other districts across the country have also experienced problems with comment moderation; a school district in Forest Grove, Oregon this month found itself embroiled in controversy after it deleted adversarial comments about school budget concerns and other issues.
Meanwhile, the Kentucky Department of Education announced on May 25 that it had created a Facebook page and Twitter account to “reach as many audiences as possible… [and provide] a means for direct feedback,” according to Education Commissioner Terry Holliday.
The success and longevity of new initiatives like those of the Kentucky Department of Education remains to be seen. Perhaps they will encounter problems like those of the Mansfield district, or perhaps, as relative latecomers to the game, they will be more prepared to handle potential difficulties.
Whatever the end result, Mansfield communication director Escovedo brings up an important point in a post on his blog, Next Communications, namely: “Does this mean we are backing away from social media? Hardly. Consider this: Facebook ≠ Social Strategy.” It’s a point that bears repeating: the deletion of a Facebook account doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of faith in social media as a whole. Perhaps the problem, instead, is that Facebook isn’t the right tool. Mansfield, for example, is continuing to reach out via their Twitter account, blog, YouTube channel and more. They are also developing an app for the iPhone and considering moving on to an Android app next.
For those school districts wary of Facebook, there are other social networking tools developed specifically for schools, including Obami, microSteps, dschool.co, and twiducate. Such services certainly include increased privacy and moderation abilities; however, none has the kind of built-in audience to be found on Facebook.
What do you think? Should school districts have Facebook pages? And if so, should employees monitor comments? How might the process work? (Here are a few ideas from Mashable). Alternately, do you know of a more effective platform school districts might use to communicate with parents, community members, and students?
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