Monday, February 27, 2012

How Twitter Helps Overcome Inequity With Rural Internet Access

Last week was guest post week here, but I messed up on the scheduling of one post by Tanis Thiessen. Therefore, I'm starting the week with one last guest post.


While it seems like “all the world” is accessing the internet freely and quickly these days, the truth is that there are still areas in Canada where high speed internet is unavailable. In our rural K-12 school in southern Manitoba, approximately 20% of our community has access to the internet only through dial-up, with the rest having access through high-speed connections. So how can we communicate in a timely fashion, using technology to reach ALL of our community, when dial-up is an obstacle? The answer--tweet!

Set up your school with a twitter account, and all your stakeholders--parents, students, board members, the community--can easily get up-to-date information on their handheld devices. We regularly use our Twitter account to send out calendar updates, school assembly information, articles on current topics in education, and “what’s happening in class now” pictures.

           Sports events, dramas, concerts, in-class projects, new equipment, guest speakers, monthly themes are all highlighted. Through short tweets and quick pix, community members stay connected to the pulse of the school.


We try to make our account easy to find, adding a “Follow Us On Twitter” button to our wiki page (http://thecreek.pbworks.com). This is an easy way to guide people to our Twitter account, and bonus is that these buttons are free from many sources on the ‘net. (Ours came from Twitter Buttons, http://www.twitterbuttons.com).

Realizing that Twitter limits our interactions by the brevity of the posts, we try to make our communications with the community as multi-faceted as possible. We send email attachments of our newsletter and monthly calendar to parents who request it, while posting it on our wiki makes it accessible to those who prefer that venue. Teachers use Edmodo, Moodle, Google Docs, and the school’s wiki to provide various methods for students to stay up-to-date on classwork and utilize their tech skills to meet educational outcomes.

Twitter is a great way to keep stakeholders informed of your school activities. Parents appreciate the calendar updates; students appreciate the pictures and links to cool websites; businesses supporting our students through apprenticeship appreciate the free advertising given through mentions in tweets throughout the year. In an area where dial-up could prevent timely communication, Twitter helps overcome this rural inequity.

Elm Creek School, part of Prairie Rose School Division in south-central Manitoba, is a K-12 school of approximately 200 students and 16 teachers. Our building is nestled in the small but robust community of Elm Creek, 40 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg, capital of Manitoba. Our school provides a wide variety of programming for students, utilizing interactive TV connections for some classes, online coursework for others, technical-vocational opportunities through Carman Collegiate just 15 minutes south of us, and in-house teacher-led coursework. We have three Smartboards, 1:3 computer-to-student ratio, a high school science lab with university-grade equipment, two computer labs, a gymnasium with mezzanine for weight training, and a canteen that serves homemade lunch specials daily.

Elm Creek School has a thriving daycare and preschool program run by a community group that uses our building, and we offer some adult coursework in the evenings. We have an elementary music program, a high school band and choir program, technology courses, career and technology studies with apprenticeships available through community partnerships, and an incredibly supportive Parent Advisory Council that has upgraded our outdoor play spaces and will soon be upgrading one of our two computer labs in the building.

About the Guest Blogger
Tanis Thiessen is a school administrator in Elm Creek, Manitoba. You can follow the Elm Creek School Twitter feed here