Columbia schools find Facebook to be ineffective communication tool

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 | 5:56 p.m. CDT; updated 8:46 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, May 10, 2011

COLUMBIA — Despite attempts to reach out to students via social media websites, some administrators in Columbia schools have decided it is not an effective communication tool.

The district does not allow students to use social media sites like Facebook during school hours. But since students spend so much time on these sites outside of school, Superintendent Chris Belcher said administrators looked into it as an alternative method of communication.

Rock Bridge High School Principal Mark Maus said it is important to find ways to relate to the students in order to relay important information to them, and social media is one of those ways.

“As the younger generation continues to move away from e-mail, as a school system and as adults we need to find a way to go where our students are and meet them there rather than forcing them to meet us where we are,” Maus said.

After hearing student feedback, however, Belcher said the gap in communication may not be as large as originally assumed.

“I have an advisory group, and when I asked the students about social media and if we should be concerned, they just sort of laughed and said, ‘Everything’s fine, we’re smart enough to know what to do,’” Belcher said. “There’s no difference in Facebook and a phone call or something said to you in the hallway.”

One of the first groups to reach out to students on Facebook was the Rock Bridge guidance department. Counselor Matt Miltenberg thought it would be useful to disperse interesting links and scholarship information, and created the page last year.

“The general idea was trying to figure out more ways to get information to our students,” Miltenberg said. “We surveyed them, and results came back that a lot of the traditional methods we were using were not that effective.”

The first post on the page was on Jan. 13, 2010, and it linked to the MU School of Medicine: “Juniors interested in studying medicine should check out this chance to find out what it’s like to be a medical student at Mizzou for a week this summer.”

Miltenberg said the Facebook page was designed to send reminders about important dates and opportunities for students. It was intended to supplement information students already receive in their e-mail. A year and a half later, he said the page did not serve its purpose.

He speculated Facebook might have become saturated to the point that students overlook information in favor of social posts.

“It just doesn’t seem to be as productive as we had anticipated,” Miltenberg said. “Students are just not wanting to cross those two areas of their lives.”

Doug Mirts, assistant principal at Hickman High School, said Hickman chose not to create a Facebook page, believing traditional methods of reaching students are still the most effective. The school does use mass text messages and posts on the school website.

Mirts said convenience also comes into play.

“We don’t use Facebook at the office, and we don’t even have availability in our system to use it,” he said. “If we did, we would have to manage it from home.”

Hickman’s director of guidance, Susan McWilliams, said a school Facebook page may not be regarded as a critical information source for students.

Javion Brown, Mary Holley, and Megan Houseman, all Hickman seniors, agreed that they wouldn't rely on an official school Facebook page for information. They also said not having Facebook during school can be a plus.

"It helps avoid drama," Brown said. "There's a lot of drama on Facebook."

Although she doesn't often check Hickman extracurricular pages, Brown said she does use the Facebook page for the Columbia Area Career Center Professions in Healthcare. She noted that teachers at the center won't "friend" any student before graduation.

Miltenberg said Rock Bridge is working to create incentives for students to check standard e-mail messages more regularly. His goal is to encourage the use of a more professional medium of communication.

“Students don’t use e-mail as much as we do or as much as we know they’ll need to in college or the workplace,” he said. “So it’s an important tool to get them using that more.”

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Steve Baumann May 10, 2011 | 7:42 p.m.

I made it less than a week on Facebook.


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