Mirriwinni State School decided to get on Facebook after an approach by their P&C president in October 2011. The parents wanted a quick, easy way to get up-to-date information and engage with the school. Since many of the parents were already on Facebook, this was a good way to get engaged with technology most people were already familiar with.
Mirriwinni State School is a primary school catering for students from prep to year 7. It is nestled in the lush, tropical valley of Mount Bartle Frere, Queensland’s highest mountain.
Tanya Davey, President of the P&C, and Sandra Bardini, Principal, explain how Facebook is working for their school community.
What online technology do you use besides Facebook?
Email, the school website (https://miriwinnss.eq.edu.au/)
Why did you decide to get online?
To communicate with the broader community. We also want to put things up in a timely fashion as they happen, like reminders and thankyous, notices about events.
Did you have any reservations about using the technology before you started?
Yes, we were concerned about protection of privacy and making sure we follow Education Queensland guidelines for online use. We were also worried about what might get put on the page by the public.
What does using the technology involve?
Personally making people aware of their privacy settings especially staff when we started, since people's attention would be drawn to their profiles once the page was up. The principal takes primary responsibility for the page because we are a small school with limited resources. The P&C has input as long as those involved have or acquire the knowledge about both the IT and the privacy guidelines. We have a couple of admins on the page which means there is usually someone online who can make changes if that's necessary. There are lots of eyes on the page because the school has a really great extended online (and offline!) community so people would notice if there was something amiss on the page.
We put up little notices about what's happening a couple of times a week, particularly things like updates to events that may or may not happen due to the weather, or reminding people that it is tuckshop day, things like that. We have content coming through the newsfeed from other pages we've liked so sometimes we share that, it's useful when you don't have much news of your own and keeps people interested. We have our page set so that only we can start discussions, but people can comment on the topics we start. They can also message us privately through the page, some people prefer that to emailing us.
What problems have you had?
Putting our school newsletter online we have to remove the names (unlike print media) - following our guidelines means we can't match a picture with a name, students must be non-identifiable. My iPad won't let me put pictures up which is what people like, but I can do it on my phone or laptop. As an administrator of a FB site, I can access the site during working hours but it is slow sometimes. You need to make staff administrators under the MIS (Managed Internet Service) otherwise they can't access it during school hours. Sometimes we go a little while with no activity if we just forget to put stuff up!
How do you find the time?
Just have to find it, sometimes you can just do it in front of the TV. It only takes a couple of minutes a week if you only put a few things up. We don't overload it because you don't want people saying there is too much low quality material going on there.
What sort of feedback have you had from people about your page?
We have over 80 people 'like' our page and our posts often reach over 50 people; remember we are a small school so that is great for getting the word out. Some of our staff who use facebook themselves like our posts but others who don't tend not to look at it, probably because at the end of the day it is their place of work! We get lots of 'likes' from our school community, which confirms for me that people are interested since not only do they look at it, they also are motivated enough to press the 'like' button. There are also lots of hits from outside the school so we know our news is getting out to the broader community which is great since we need to have community support for our school.
In very few cases parents have had a formal meeting to say they don't want their children online at all. But this is a minority of cases and we respect that.
Do you have any advice for others thinking about a school Facebook page?
Getting online is easy, just a bit of work and being prepared to deal with things if they go wrong. But now I am comfortable with it, it's a good form of advertisement and thanking people publicly. It's also interesting to follow the statistics and see how many people has our messages reach.