Missing out on Tweet dreams

3rd November 2017 at 00:00
Schools not using free social media platform fail to take advantage of ‘essential’ tool, writer says

New analysis shows that many Scottish schools are missing out on an “essential” communication tool, according to educators who use the social media platform.

Only slightly over half of Scotland’s 2,700 schools – across all sectors – appear to have a Twitter account (1,465). However, there are nearly 5,000 accounts associated with schools, including those for individual teachers’ and faculties or departments.

The analysis by education technology writer William Jenkins (bit.ly/StoriesEdTech) shows that many schools have not taken to Twitter. Some sign up but “soon quit because they could not see what all the fuss is about”.

While most or all schools are on Twitter in some authorities, in other areas fewer than a quarter are. The overall number of Scottish schools on Twitter has more than doubled since Mr Jenkins carried out a similar exercise in 2015. However, he said: “When half of the schools in Scotland are not using a free resource that’s tried, tested and valued by many, surely questions need to be asked?”

The most prominent school on Twitter is Falkirk’s Larbert High – this year’s winner of the Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) prize at the UK-wide Tes Schools Awards – which has amassed more than 36,000 followers through 67 accounts. Another Falkirk school – St Mungo’s High – has 65 accounts and over 18,000 followers.

‘A variety of purposes’

Larbert High headteacher Jon Reid said: “Twitter is an absolutely essential communication tool for parents, pupils and the wider community. It’s used for a variety of purposes: the usual reminder of dates and promotion of events, but importantly also as a means of celebrating pupil achievement and as a learning tool by teachers in classrooms.”

He added that the school had “formed a number of partnerships through the use of Twitter – people that have been interested in a Tweet and who then get in touch with us”, and that he “couldn’t imagine a better way to improve communication”.

Every school in Falkirk is on Twitter, but the council’s ICT curriculum development officer, Malcolm Wilson, cautioned: “It would be very easy to look at numbers of accounts as a marker but it’s far more important to look at the impact of how schools are using Twitter.”



He added that “Twitter provides a prompt at home” to talk about learning in school, and had led to “richer home conversations” about education between parents and their children.

Almost every school in Stirling is on Twitter, and chief education officer Kevin Kelman talked up the microblogging platform as a way of schools rapidly sharing successes and making connections around the world. Thanks to Twitter, for example, Allan’s Primary School will be hooking up with schools in New York to work on “makerspaces”, places inside schools designed to inspire creativity and allow pupils to explore their interests.

Stirling Council has a number of small, rural schools, and Twitter could help them avoid the potential isolation of their physical geography, Mr Kelman said. He added, however, that “you have to get the support right”, with some schools and teachers requiring initial training or guidance before they are confident enough to make the most of Twitter.

Lena Carter, depute headteacher at Lochgilphead Joint Campus in Argyll and Bute, said: “Twitter has been transformational for me as senior leader working in a remote rural community. It is so easy to connect with other schools and leaders and to access advice, ideas and support very quickly.”

There were potential pitfalls, Ms Carter added, such as being misunderstood because of the 140-character limitation, or being attacked by trolls, although there are “fairly simple ways of tackling or avoiding this”.

Ben Marder, a social media expert at the University of Edinburgh Business School, said: “It is encouraging to see more schools engaging with social media, as there are a lot of benefits that such technologies can bring for educators, students and parents.”

However, he added: “Dormant accounts are a problem as it is likely these are not being actively managed and if, for example, somebody complains publicly onto this account, this will sit unresolved for others to see. Only start a Twitter account if you endeavour to maintain it – if not, I would suggest closing the account.”

Mr Marder also said schools should consider using other forms of social media, depending on the aim. Snapchat or Instagram, for example, would lead to a larger following if seeking to engage students, he said.


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