Friday, 6 May 2011

Is A School Website Enough?

Whether we like it or not, online culture is shifting from "checking information" to "receiving information."  People don't "surf" anymore; they "subscribe."

I know this because am one of those people.  Rather than checking favourite websites every week or month, I use Google Reader to receive information when they are updated.  This saves time and allows me to "follow" more websites than I could visit individually.  Twitter is another example of this; I follow news feeds and interesting information through my computer and phone.  Stores such as Canadian Tire and Futureshop send e-mail updates when an item on my "price watch" list goes on sale.  I am becoming quite accustomed to receiving information rather than seeking it, and so are our students.

E-mail and social media are the most time-efficient and effective ways for schools to communicate with families.  Busy parents don't have time to check each page on the school website daily.  Students are used to receiving information through social media.  If schools want to improve communication between school and home, they need to get information to families.  Of course, staff members are busy as well, so this needs to be an efficient process.

As mentioned in a previous post about Google Docs, Google Forms has been a valuable tool for collecting contact information from graduating students and their parents.  I use this information to send e-mail updates from staff and parent graduation committees.  If parents don't receive the information, updates are also located on the "grad" section of the school website.

With the increasing popularity of Facebook and Twitter, communicating with students via e-mail is not as efficient as it once was.  Almost every member of their peer group is on Facebook, so students don't check their e-mail often.  Now that Facebook has released e-mail addresses, students can receive "regular" e-mail through the Facebook platform.  Encouraging students to register their Facebook e-mail addresses with the school would help to reach students through the existing e-mail communication systems that many schools have in place.

Facebook and Twitter pages would be effective additions to school communication at the secondary level.  I resisted the urge to use these for graduation communication because I simply don't have the time to update the grad webpages, send e-mails, and update these programs.  Time constraints are no longer an issue, however.  Recently, my fabulous colleague Matt began using Posterous to simultaneously update a website and Twitter account.  A school-wide Posterous account could be a huge advantage for sending daily updates.  Anything from "The soccer game has been canceled" to "Tomorrow's block order is EFGH" could be instantly shared across a school through RSS feeds, Twitter, Blogger, Tumblr, Wordpress, and/or Facebook through an e-mail from a staff member.  Documents such as newsletters can be attached, as well.

While the popularity of e-mail is decreasing among students, parents seem to appreciate e-mail updates and check their e-mail addresses more frequently than ever.  Eliminating "phone tag" is convenient for teachers and parents alike and electronic e-mail newsletters save time and paper.

I would love to hear how other schools are communicating with students and their families.  What is your school trying?  What works?  What doesn't?

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