Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The 10 Commandments of Tweets [with Students]

Image courtesy of Wikipedia

I began Tweeting for my students in January 2012. It was initially an experiment to see if there was any value or worth in using Twitter to communicate with students. I mentioned it to my Head of Department, who mentioned it to our Department line manager. There were a few brief discussions, but as it became clear I knew what I was talking about and had considered the implications, potential risks and consequences, I was left to get on with it.

Having watched The Social Network and working out I was probably in the first 100,000 Facebook users in 2004, and having used Twitter personally for several years, I was fully aware of the power (and the dangers) of such social networking tools; I had, in many respects, grown up as an adult with social networking.

I liked the idea that on Twitter students would 'follow' and not be 'friends' and that everything was transparent and could be checked by any member of my SLT. They could see my interactions, everything was public and could be read by anyone. There was also the great power of the Retweet!

However without a set of guidelines, or policy, advice or even really having an 'in school' sounding board, I needed some kind of personal framework. I spent a lot of time considering how I would utilise Twitter. It is also important that you never forget the risks, and that you are always aware of what you are Tweeting and to who. I devised a little reminder to myself, and to share with others (it's RE themed, naturally...); 

The 10 Commandments of Tweets with Students:

1 - Don't use your personal account for school; don't use your school account for personal.

2 - Don't follow students back [Justin Bieber news is widely available elsewhere].

3 - Don't just endlessly RT [It's boring and misses your chance to be personal].

4 - Don't just RT without checking [you need to read it and make sure it is suitable in content].

5 - Don't be available 24/7 [It's okay to take some time off as a teacher].

6 - Don't DM students [The good thing about Twitter is that it is very transparent].

7 - Don't use long, boring hashtags - it's not cool [Do add inconspicuous subject tags though – i.e. #REteacher #REchatUK]

8 - Don't just post links [Why should I click on it? Who is it of interest to?]

9 - Don't assume that just because you Tweeted it, and students follow you, that they'll read it.

10 - Don't be a boring Tweeter - sometimes it okay to say something a little fun!

Image courtesy of StickyJesus

I spoke to colleagues via Twitter and got some interesting feedback about what some schools are saying...

One staff handbook said, "On no account should staff involve themselves on social networking sites with children" only via school email. However the school had a number of Twitter accounts including a whole school one which were clearly not covered by this policy. This seems typical of the lack of guidance given to many teachers. Other schools insisted on 'locked' accounts and vetting each potential follower.

Another school had put together a policy, which is not overly complex but covers most areas:

The Purpose
To allow departments to disseminate key information relating to KS4 that will ensure pupils have access to important online resources that can be used in preparation for the exams.

The Benefits
• It allows us to model using social media responsibly
• It is a great way to communicate using the technology that many of our pupils use already
• It is instant access when new information is released by exam boards, key authors, well known speakers and relevant news agencies
• To share resources for revision etc (all information will also be available on paper for those who don’t have access to the internet)

Safety considerations
• Nothing is private. Teachers will not be following any pupils
• Everything that is written is available for everybody to see
• It won’t be accessed in school
• It will be only for KS4
• We have contacted numerous schools that already use it to discuss safeguarding concerns
• All accounts will be monitored by the teacher responsible for the twitter account and by [Senior Management]

Reminders [to staff]
• Never follow a pupil, make this clear to pupils
• Never retweet an article or image you haven’t checked first
• Bear in mind that not all pupils will have access to the internet
• Only use with KS4
• Always remind pupils about safety for example: nothing you write on the internet is ever private. Only write things you wouldn't mind your parents, teachers or future employers seeing. What you put on the internet will be used to judge what sort of person you are. Never write anything negative or unkind about anyone else.

[Hope this is okay to publish? It's the best one I've seen so far!]

I think this is a great starting point. It has been circulated to staff, students and parents, so everyone is clear on its purpose, use and potential.

The problem to overcome is the fear of social networking. Sadly some staff see it as an evil. I agree, it can get ugly, and many staff have had to deal with social networking causing a variety of problems in the school. It is hard when other staff do not have an interest in social networking. In the worst cases, you will receive a flat no. At the other extreme, you are left with no policy to fall back on for protection (me...).

There is lots to consider. Lots. It needs constant review too. There may be something you haven't thought of, an issues that arises. It needs to treated sensibility, in a considered way. A member of staff may make a mistake... just like in the classroom. Will the school then ban Twitter for everyone?

One of the most important things I read about social networking and schools was that "Every school has a social media and social network presence - are you going to ignore it or engage in it?". Your school and your staff will be discussed on Twitter, Facebook and numerous other places. If you have a school Facebook page comments and questions can be put there and answered accurately. I was told by students that I wasn't discussed on Twitter because I use it!

There is so much potential. SO much. I love using Twitter with students and it has been incredibly useful. I answer questions, help with everyday questions ("What week is it?"), homework help, last minute exam prep. I link it to my blog [here] and it's amazing how much students pick up, from the news and links I tweet too. Sometimes a 6th form lesson will begin with something they've seen on my Twitter.

I am not an expert. I am still learning. I still make mistakes. But this is the same as in the classroom right?

Don't just set up a Twitter account and start Tweeting. Speak to your school, follow any policy or guidelines in place. Talk to students, what do they want? Take your time, consider your purpose, what will your Twitter identity be? Try it, evaluate it, persevere with it, re-evaluate it, keep using it, don't give up, have a little fun...

Read more:

#TMLondon (11/12/12)
My first TM presentation, 'Using Twitter with Students': PPT & Full Audio & Video - 10:25:00 to 11:10:00

#TMEssex (18/3/13)
A new improved Tweeting with Students presented: The Good, The Bad and the Ugly Prezi

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