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Facebook: Empowering Student Government & Democracy

Should students use Facebook in schools? Educators have a variety of opinions on this complex issue. Some see the potential for enhanced outreach and communication; others see blurred legal boundaries separating school and the professional and personal lives of educators and students, and others see potential opportunities for cyber-bullying and inappropriate behaviors.

In order to better understand this issue from a student perspective, I decided to ask an expert.

My guest blogger this week is Mr. D., high school student, who believes Facebook can have an important role in schools.

How does a high school student council get students to show up to help build their class float for the Homecoming parade?

This is something my student government had issues with our freshman year. Our administration told us the answer was student email. We soon discovered though that very little of the students in our grade checked them. So what else? Posters around the school were a possibility, but they don't often get attention when people are running from place to place. Word of mouth can only be so effective.

We were stuck. How do we get people to help us build our homecoming float?

The answer was Facebook.

We decided to create a student-ran account for our student government. No adults would be involved. We obtained a list of students in our class, and added them as friends one by one. It was a tedious process, but it was worth it. Pretty soon about 80% (nearly 500 people) of the Class of 2012 was "friends" with our Facebook account.

Using Facebook's Events online application, we could post information about our next float building and send out the info to over 400 people in just a few clicks. And we knew they would get the message, as we could personally attest that Facebook was something you checked many times a day.

That Saturday, we had more people than we could have help us show up to help build our float.

Fast forward to today, our junior year, and our use of Facebook has evolved significantly. There is now another account that provides information for the entire school, not just our junior class. This account is still growing, but soon it will be friends with close to 1800 people.

What does this allow us to do?

Take a look at our Homecoming week this year. Our Facebook account created events for all of the Homecoming events: float building, the football game, powder puff, and the dance. Ticket prices for the game and dances were posted. Addresses and exact times that are often confused were specified. Not only was all the information easily available, Facebook gives gentle reminders of these events as they approach.

Perhaps it was no coincidence that we had the highest attendance in years to our Homecoming Dance.

But that's not all. This account also lets us send out messages directly to student's Facebook private inboxes. Students can sign into Facebook to see that the student government has sent them a message reminding them that next Tuesday is a two hour early release day. Or that a field hockey game has been cancelled due to rain.

It is not uncommon for us to receive messages from students asking us about things. Before school started, we had several freshmen students ask the student government Facebook account about the school schedule, where their classes were, and how our study hall system worked. Our use of Facebook prevented a lot of confusion and calmed a lot of fears on the first days of school.

One of the most common questions we received was how to determine what lunches you had. There was usually a document posted online before school that would tell you how to figure this out, but we couldn't find it. Fortunately we had the document from the previous year already online, and a quick check with an administrator let us know it hadn't changed. We sent it out over our Facebook account.

Mission accomplished.

On our school website we have a master calendar of events - anything from concerts to meetings to practices are posted with the exact locations and times. While already a useful tool, we wanted to see if we could somehow connect our student government Facebook account with the calendar.

With a little tinkering, we succeeded. Each event in the calendar is now posted as a status update for the Facebook account automatically as it's added to the school website. This means as students are scrolling through Facebook seeing their friend's latest pictures, they're also seeing updates about what's going on in the school that day and later that week.

We have also used it to gauge student opinions on school policy changes. While the response we get is relatively small, it is growing steadily. Most importantly, it's helping to get more students involved in their school. We are continuing to search for ways to increase the response rate and get even more people involved.

Facebook has turned into an invaluable tool for our student government for communicating with students.

To me, that's not surprising. I don't call our use of Facebook innovative.

It's just using a tool.

Hundreds of millions use it to communicate. Why not also use it for a school?

(Mr. Ledesma: So there you have it! Does Mr. D. make a compelling case for how Facebook can be used in schools? I'll post some follow up thoughts later this week.)

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