What Is Happening With School Facebook Groups?
Social media is playing an increasingly large role in modern society, and the vast majority of the school community uses some form of social media in their everyday life, for connecting with people, keeping in touch and sharing information. With Facebook being one of the most commonly used social media tools, it is a logical progression that this would then be used for connecting the school community.
How schools started adopting social media
Twitter Many schools use the Twitter platform as their choice for communication we think because it might be more one way communication and is less about dialogue. Twitter also has the advantage of showing ALL the posts in someones feed so there is no chance of someone missing out (IF they follow Twitter and IF they are willing to scroll for several minutes back to old posts they missed).
Facebook Pages More recently we have noticed that some schools have begun setting up their own Facebook pages for publicly sharing school information, important reminders and upcoming events.
Facebook Groups Similarly, many separate groups have been set up relating to specific classes, either by teachers, parent liaison representatives (PLRs)/class reps or parents. These groups are generally used for people to be able to share information relating to individual classes so that parents and carers can stay in the loop of what is happening in the classroom and anything they need to know or do that is related to their children. Some schools have also created Facebook Groups for the whole school community and in other schools, unofficial groups have been organised by parents.
The issues with class Facebook groups
Connecting parents and having an easy method of sharing information with a target audience all sounds well and good, but class Facebook groups have recently come under scrutiny from schools and from the Department of Education and Training.
The Department of Education and Training advocates that ‘Effective communication between schools, parents, the community and students forms the foundation of developing and maintaining partnerships.’ (source) and does support the idea of schools, parents and the community using information and communications technology (ICT) such as social media to effectively communicate and work together. However, in order for this to be done and maintained in a respectful, safe and secure way, they state that social media sites should be established as official sites for the whole school and not for separate classes, areas or events.
The main issues with having lots of separate Facebook pages or groups are:
- There are strict guidelines for schools that outline best practice when using social media. Individuals such as parents or PLRs establishing pages or groups themselves may not be fully aware of all of these guidelines or may not follow them.
- Facebook pages or groups need to be monitored and overseen around the clock. With many different groups out there, it would be next to impossible for schools to keep track of them all and to ensure that they are all operating appropriately.
- The permissions gained for the release of student images or videos that is usually obtained at enrolment applies ONLY to official school use (e.g. on the official school Facebook page, where permission has been granted). It does NOT cover the release of images or videos of students onto private class pages or groups.
So why do parents feel the need for such groups?
Clearly the government has very valid reasons for not wishing to have separate Facebook pages or groups within a school, yet many parents are disappointed to be losing this tool as a form of communication. They feel that such groups give them advantages in things like:
- Establishing contact with other parents — Not all parents can make it to school drop-offs and pick-ups where they would meet other parents, so communicating online can be a convenient way for them to make contact.
- Easy and fast communication — Information can be shared amongst the whole group quickly and efficiently, and people can respond instantly.
- Homework help — If someone needs help for their child’s homework, they can get it quickly and easily at any time. For example, if they have forgotten that week’s list of spelling words, they can easily ask another parent for this information.
- Sharing reminders — Parents can help one another to remember important class events or activities by sharing them to the group.
- Exchanging ideas and resources — When looking for ideas and resources to help children in the learning, other parents are a great source of information.
- Creating connections — With better communication and strong connections between parents, the school community as a whole becomes stronger.
What are groups doing to improve?
While separate class groups run by the school seem to be being wiped out (because teachers have enough to do, are we right??), some individual class groups established independently by parents have remained active. With everyone understanding the importance of online safety and security, and above all the need for the utmost respect regarding the privacy of students and their images online, Facebook groups are following a number of procedures to improve their online safety, including:
- Setting up closed groups — In closed groups, administrators must approve anyone before they can join, so that only trusted parents and carers are able to be part of the group and to see what is being shared. Using a closed group also means that if anyone posts information or reacts to or comments on a post, it will not show up in their public Facebook feed for others to see.
- Using privacy settings — Facebook settings can also be used to their full to ensure that nothing inappropriate or offensive is posted. For example, setting it so that all posts must be approved by admin before they appear on the page.
- Not allowing photos or videos — Photos or videos of the pupils are not allowed on the group pages, to protect the privacy of the students.
- Establishing group rules — Groups are establishing strict sets of rules about what can and can’t be posted so that everyone is aware of these issues and understands that anything negative or against the rules will not be tolerated.
For full information on official school social media usage and links to the DET’s standard of practice and checklists, click here.