NORMAL -- Some school districts are sharing their news in 140 characters or less.
“When we started, we didn’t know exactly what role (Twitter) would play and now it’s another communication tool that we have along with newsletters, our Web site and direct calling,” said Dayna Brown, assistant to the superintendent for McLean County Unit District 5. “I think this is becoming more of the norm.”
Brown handles the Twitter account for Unit 5. She sends messages, called “tweets,” five to seven times a week to tell students and parents about cancellations, tests or general news.
One of her followers is Annette Levitt, director of alumni relations at Illinois State University, who has a 6-year-old kindergartener at Unit 5. Levitt handles the Twitter account for ISU.
“I have been finding it very helpful, as this is my first experience with Unit 5 and I didn’t know much about the school,” said Levitt. “It is very helpful to keep in touch like this with new things, and it has really helped me out.”
Twitter, a free social networking device, allows users to send and receive messages no longer than 140 characters. People create accounts through a Web site, www.twitter.com, and can send text messages to people signed up to follow the account. The texts, called “tweets,” can be sent or seen on a computer screen or on cell phones that have certain software.
Twitter is commonly used by individuals, businesses and agencies, including news organizations. For people who aren’t always within reach of a landline telephone or home computer, the Web-based programs allow news to be shared instantly with people tied to wireless laptop computers or to cell phones.
At ISU, Levitt said Twitter and Facebook, another social network, provide a balance of factual and positive information to students, alumni and faculty. Three or four messages per day are posted on ISU’s Facebook page, which also feeds to the Twitter account.
She thinks school districts should take advantage of Twitter because younger kids are becoming increasingly tech savvy.
“I definitely think that school districts need to consider this opportunity, but before they jump in they should know how they are going to use it,” she said. “It’s important to keep it active and to keep information flowing.”
The university’s Facebook page has 30,000 members, primarily younger alumni and current and prospective students. Levitt said students are using Facebook to find roommates and discover organizations. Facebook is sort of an electronic, interactive scrapbook for messages and photos that can be shared by people designated as “friends” or “fans.”
“I think this means of communication is here to stay and will continue to transition,” Levitt said. “Trends that we are seeing right now are people 35 or older joining Facebook to see what their kids are doing. We even have grandmothers logging in.”
Jon Kilgore, principal of Pontiac Township High School, said he started using Twitter for school last fall.
“We were just hearing about other professional organizations and schools using it in order to get information out there,” Kilgore said. “It’s slow right now, but it’s just another means of giving positive information.”