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Feature                                  Pages 30-31

 

Technology and Social Media:

Engaging With a Digital Citizenry

BY STEPHEN F. MURLEY

In the introduction to Twenty-One Trends for the 21st Century, author Gary Marx states, “Change is inevitable. Progress is optional.”

One of the inevitable changes is the increasing prevalence of social media in our personal and professional lives. With the proliferation of social media platforms and the seemingly incessant need to update these accounts, it may seem impossible to keep up with this new demand. However, ignoring this avenue of communication is not an option for school districts and those who lead them.

School administrators must pay careful attention to the role of technology and social media and work to create a manageable presence on multiple platforms. Across society, information is being created and disseminated at a frenzied pace. Failure to engage fully in the social media process places a significant burden on school leaders to ensure that accurate information about their schools is being shared through traditional media in a manner that can keep up. Choosing not to participate will leave a gap in the information marketplace that is sure to be filled by others — some of whom do not support schools.

Instant Contact

One of the most important roles we have as school administrators is to listen to our students, teachers, parents and community stakeholders. Marx, in his book, says leaders can “demonstrate our intellectual leadership, connecting relationships among people, circumstances and ideas to create new knowledge and inventive solutions to persistent problems.” Social media creates instant contact with our stakeholders and allows school administrators to share information in a real-time manner. Before the increased presence of social media, school leaders could more tightly manage access to information and, by governing access, could control the message.

This is no longer an option, and those leaders who communicate only through traditional channels will see the community become less engaged in affairs of the school district. We should embrace the new media as it enables closer listening to the community and better responses to individual and collective needs. Social media should be used as a tool to disseminate the district’s messages, not feared as a weapon that will be aimed at the district by others.

In the Iowa City Community School District, school and district leaders use social media tools to engage internal and external stakeholders. Facebook and Twitter are consistent communication mechanisms used throughout the district. Through message tracking, we have seen dissemination levels explode when information is shared via Twitter — notably whenever we tweet weather-related school cancelations. One morning last winter, a district tweet about schools being closed for the day was retweeted more than 30 times in just the first minute, allowing the district to reach exponentially more individuals in a much quicker manner than broadcast announcement on TV or radio.

Likewise, Facebook has allowed the district to share stories and event details with a much broader audience than traditional news media would allow. Through Facebook, the district is able to highlight events at individual schools for the entire community and publish uplifting stories and non-curricular highlights that would not necessarily be reflected in an official report or shared at a board meeting. Through Facebook and Twitter, we impart information more quickly on a broader range of topics than ever before with community members.

Digital Citizenry

While social media tools provide a strong platform for dispersing our message, our district also can access tools that allow for targeted engagement. Engageiowacityschools.org (“Engage”) is an interactive social platform that enables the district to receive feedback from the public and provides an interactive forum for dialogue on district issues.

During the past sprin

Murley Feature2

Steve Murley, superintendent in Iowa City, Iowa, believes his district's use of social media has engaged community members in ways that traditional methods have not.

g, the district went through a community engagement process regarding attendance area boundaries. While the district conducted traditional community meetings, school leaders also engaged the community through the social media outlet provided by Engage. Over the course of six weeks, approximately 1,000 people attended at least one of the 10 community roundtables. During the same time frame, the district recorded more than 4,000 interactions on Engage. By expanding the dialogue, the district collected significantly more data and feedback than would have been available without social media.

Positive and constructive use of social media by school leaders serves as an example for our students. Teaching students to be productive digital citizens requires that we prepare them to appropriately use these tools. One persistent problem students face and school leaders must manage is the role of technology in cyberbullying. On this point, Marx says, “Technology can bring us together or further divide us,” adding that we need to “discover what we all have in common.”

A great example of social media positively shaping school culture is the use of Twitter by a group of students at Iowa City West High School that began in 2012. In response to negative comments on student Facebook and Twitter pages, these students joined together to begin an anonymous Twitter account called @westhighbros. Their collective purpose is to combat bullying behaviors by tweeting comments designed to compliment their peers without drawing attention to themselves.

The success of their efforts led to recognition on the Today Show and requests from students at schools across the country for guidance in setting up similar accounts.

Social Media in Classes

In addition to the opportunities that social media affords to district and student leaders to connect with stakeholder groups, teachers are finding opportunities to move these platforms into the classroom. Recognizing that the same norms that compel people to follow and contribute to social media websites engage students outside of class, teachers in Iowa City have opened up new ways for students to connect digitally.

One example is use of a protected social media platform, Edmodo, that allows teachers to poll students during class. Teachers believe their students find value in the capacity of teachers to know when they are mastering curriculum and when the teacher needs to slow down to make sure they fully grasp concepts. The polls enable students to answer anonymously in front of their peers, but their teachers are able to identify the student answers and know who needs additional attention.

Using this software, teachers also create learning groups that are constructed specifically to frame assignments and establish study groups. This safe, gated community allows students to interact outside the classroom in a format that can be moderated by the teacher, enabling learning to take place anywhere at any time. The ability to upload assignments and correct them online also permits teachers to create connections with students and their parents who can track student progress.

A Continuing Quest

With Engage, Twitter and Facebook representing three social media outlets already in use, our school district will look for additional methods of communicating with our community. Traditional channels continue to be used, but these are now partnered with social media platforms. Social media will remain a significant component for 21st-century school leaders to maintain positive relationships. We must simply embrace these new possibilities.

Stephen Murley is superintendent of the Iowa City Community School District in Iowa City, Iowa. E-mail: Murley.Stephen@iowacityschools.org. Twitter: @iowacityschools

 

 

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