Social networking is now part of almost everyone’s everyday lives, with people checking their online lives on their phones, iPads and any other Internet device several times a day. Of all the social networks out there, Facebook is the most popular with over 600 million users worldwide. It has as many plaudits as it does critics but it is now part of 21st century life. In my job as a primary school principal, I hear children mentioning Facebook at least once a week.
Should Facebook be used in Primary Schools? From one angle, this can be answered very quickly with a resounding “no”. To use Facebook, one must be 13 years of age or older. Given that 99% of primary school children are under 13, that just about wraps it up….or does it?
At primary level, there are a number of people who are over 13 who use Facebook, namely, staff and parents. I believe that if Facebook could be used to link these cohorts together, it can actually improve children’s learning in school.
Most schools have a web site but how many parents can honestly say that they visit it regularly? However, how many parents visit their Facebook profile regularly? If a school could bring their web site content to Facebook, this would help parents keep up to date with what’s going on in the school. It
is reasonably easy to do this. The school can set up a Facebook page and then install an RSS Feeder such as RSS graffiti on to it. Whenever the school web site is updated, the Facebook page gets an update. Parents simply need to “like” the school page and they become subscribed to any changes on the web site.
As well as feeding the school’s web site updates, I also feed through a photograph of the noticeboard in our school foyer. This is useful for parents who can’t get into the school in the morning.
Often, I post reminders and messages on the school’s Facebook page. For example, if we have a book fair coming, I might write that as a status message. The great thing for me as an administrator on the Facebook page is that any message I type up doesn’t come from my personal Facebook account. Facebook automatically generates the message from the “Admin”. If teachers or other staff wish to post on the school Facebook page, they can also be made as administrators.
Another way I have used Facebook was when we had a period of bad weather. As children were unable to come into school, I sent some fun exercises to parents to do with their children at home. One exercise was to post up a photograph of their back garden during the snow. Another was to write their favourite “snow joke”.
One of the more subtle ways that Facebook can be useful for is feedback. The “Like” button is great for getting feedback on status updates or posts. If we announce that we won a competition on Facebook, usually we’ll get between 6 and 10 “likes” on the page. Other news gets no feedback. For a school, if we can see that parents like certain things more than others, it can help us to tailor themes for planning lessons or begin face to face conversations, e.g. “I saw you liked our project…”
Parents can also start conversations on Facebook. Some parents have set up art classes for the school using Facebook and others have simply asked a question, which we can answer.
With all this great stuff, there’s obviously some pitfalls. The main one is the complete lack of control a school has to make sure that inappropriate is not posted on the Facebook page. Another question mark is security. My answer to this is to have a well written section on Web 2.0 usage. This can form part of an Internet Acceptable Usage Policy or a general behaviour policy.
I would suggest that schools consider adding the following items to their policy.
- Users cannot advertise products or services on the page
- Users should not post anything on the page that could be deemed as offensive
- Users should not ask to become “friends” with staff as failure to respond may cause offence
- Users cannot tag or post photographs of children on the page
The sanction for breaking the rules is an automatic ban. In other words, one is completely trusted to use the page appropriately until they break one of the rules. While this doesn’t assure that the page will not be spammed or used for inappropriate reasons, Facebook is not anonymous and the offenders are caught.
Our Facebook page has been up for almost 2 years without incident. We have found it to be useful for all the reasons above. While our children cannot engage in the conversations by themselves, if they can see Facebook being used well by the people around them, it is more likely that when they get to use it, that they will also play by the rules.
Last Update: August 9, 2017