2020 has seen possibly some of the biggest changes, albeit non-intentional, to education since the introduction of the national curriculum in the 1980s. Throughout most of the year, schools have seen a huge shift away from traditional brick and mortar classrooms towards online platforms and learning from home. Schools with larger infrastructure budgets have been able to adapt to this shift easily, however many schools including smaller and independent schools have struggled with the transition.
Social Media: A facilitator not just a broadcaster
The pandemic has meant situations have changed rapidly from day to day, often meaning schools have had to inform parents of closures due to a positive case being identified in the school or because of changing government guidelines. Where once, parents might have tuned in to the radio to hear if their child’s school had called a ‘snow day’, modern society is more likely to go online to find this information – or to stumble upon it accidentally. Social media provided the perfect outlet for schools to provide timely information about attendance, new measures and how to access education resources, materials and lessons.
Schools have been able to post bulletins of information on their public pages, which can be followed by parents and students alike to increase the chances of it reaching them. 93% of schools already use Facebook for marketing purposes, so the extension to other uses and platforms has been fairly easy.
In the same way that parents might once have had a phone chain to inform each other what is going on, schools now can utilise social media apps such as WhatsApp to create group chats so that the information reaches all parents simultaneously. They can also use private Facebook groups as a way to disseminate information, and depending on how specific they make they groups (class, year or school based) it also provides an excellent feedback platform for parents. This is a great way to provide a temporary replacement for parent teacher evenings where, for the time being, they are no longer safe to conduct face to face.
The versatility of social media also means that it can be used for a variety of purposes such as providing public information on public pages. The provision of private spaces for information and discussion on specific topics that should not or don’t need to be open to the public sphere is particularly useful. When working in a space involving children in particular, privacy is increasingly important.
Family Learning Support
Social media has proved to be an excellent platform to compliment online classrooms. Parents, who now play a more active role in online learning, and students can have discussions and ask questions about work assignments or to get help. This is increasingly helpful in an easy to use space such as social media.
The Ofstead October 2020 COVID-19 briefing on Schools acknowledged the importance of the role of parents in the delivery of remote learning. It outlined that some primary schools expected parents to work with their children on the tasks set, and admitted that parents cannot usually achieve the same level of results as in a classroom setting. It is hoped that an increase in live classes might slightly relieve this pressure on parents, but it is clear that there is a need for parents to be supported in order to better facilitate student learning.
Social media provides a safe space for parents to reach out for help themselves, to teachers and to other parents. This helps them support their children as much as possible when they need help with their school work. Ofstead reports examples of teaching assistants teaching maths to parents out in the street so that they can then teach their children, but social media is a much safer and more realistic tool which could be used to achieve this.
A Community Approach
One huge positive of the role of social media in online learning is the networking it provides. All parents have different skill sets, one child may benefit from their parent’s maths prowess but be equally disadvantaged by their lack of historical knowledge. By being able to create parent forums on social media, such as private Facebook groups, parents can post questions that they don’t have the expertise to help their child with, and benefit from another parent’s knowledge. This is a huge area of potential where schools can provide a low-cost communication platform that has exponential potential to help all students, and also help level the playing field.
Helping parents come together as a community will help foster relationships between families, as well as take some of the strain away from teachers who find themselves trying to support students directly and help parents to support their children. Parents helping each other can only be a good thing moving forward.
In terms of supporting the community, schools have found themselves in the unusual position of transcribing the government’s information on the virus, and the measures that everyone should be following. Social media is an ideal platform to use as a bulletin board. Information can be posted publicly for dissemination in the wider community keeping people both informed and safe.
A Gateway for Students
There have been reports of remote learning working better for pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities. Ofstead provides an example of an autistic student reaching out for more feedback from their teachers than they used to since the move to online classes. There is also a great potential to facilitate peer-to-peer support, where students might feel more comfortable contributing and helping each other than in a physical classroom setting.
So not only are students participating more in classes which will increase their learning, but social media provides a platform where they can help each other and build relationships. Much like the benefits of social media for parents in accessing help and utilising each other’s strengths, students can also take advantage of the social outreach that social media provides.
One of the biggest criticisms of online learning is that it decreases the social element that school provides for children, with many students themselves highlighting that one of the key things they missed whilst in lockdown was seeing their friends at school. Using social media in conjunction with educational purposes helps to put some of that social element back in, fostering relationships within an educational area of social media (and one with supervision if using a private Facebook group with parents or a teacher also in the group).
For some, online learning will have represented a much harder leap than others, with accessibility being an issue. Some families are more tech-savvy than others, providing a seamless transition, but some may find some of the online learning materials hard to access or use.
Social media has been the perfect assistant to any specific e-learning platform that may have been adopted, as many will already be familiar with how to use it even if they are not particularly computer literate. In this way they can use social media to get assistance in accessing e-learning or navigating its functions.
It is important to note that one of the biggest challenges has been access to technology, not just knowledge of how to use it. The pandemic has meant that this education divide between affluent families and poorer families is now a chasm rather than a gap. When learning moved into households, families had to find the equipment to facilitate it. Independent schools were able to adapt to this change more quickly because their students had greater access to computers and the internet than those at state schools.
A Marketing Tool
The increased use of social media to underpin email marketing and news emails, social media has become a valuable resource parents can use when assessing a potential schools’ value. Due to the increasing importance and reliance on social media as an assistant to education, parents will favour schools that can use them well. Schools that are able to show that they can build an online community will be those favoured by parents who want the best support for their child’s education.
Schools offering support and guidance to students on how to best use these platforms may also be more appealing to parents, at a time when it is hard to avoid their use.
Access to clear information is also a way to relieve some of the stress and uncertainty that everyone has felt in a year filled with the unknown. Without social media as a tool to disseminate information, schools would have found the transition to online learning much harder. It also raises an interesting question of what role social media might play in online learning for 2021, as more people adapt to the online landscape and start to develop new ways of utilising all of its possibilities.
As schools expand their use of social media beyond basic marketing, they will find themselves juggling multiple pages, private groups and an increasing number of platforms. Use of a single social media management platform will be vital for schools who want to stay on top of their accounts and monitor the content.
Our Schools Services
- Ongoing social channel management
- Social Strategy for schools
- Crisis communication plan incorporating social media – info for parents / info for students
- Using a single platform to manage all social media accounts – shareable software