Worcester Schools Utilizing Videos To Spread Messages

SNOW HILL — As part of an ongoing strategy to better use technology to communicate, Worcester County Public Schools (WCPS) is looking to YouTube and other social media outlets to spread important messages.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Jerry Wilson briefed the media this week on how WCPS might use technology in the future. According to WCPS Coordinator of Public Relations and Special Events Barbara Witherow, schools are all interested in staying modern and taking advantage of the best available technology.

“I definitely believe that if you keep doing what you’re doing, where’s the growth in that? Yes it might be good but if you want to continue to evolve, because our world is constantly evolving, then you have to try new things,” Witherow said. “You have to be willing to ask the right questions and then listen to the answers and then move forward. So that’s what we’re trying to do.”

A prime example of this is the recently released school safety recommendations video, which is posted on the WCPS website. It is also the first video on the school system’s new YouTube channel “WorcesterCountyPS.” As of Tuesday, the video had 471 views on YouTube.

With the addition of further technology, Witherow explained that WCPS hope to make the current website a more interactive experience that parents and students will use as a default tool for staying informed about the school system. The recent video is a step in that direction, she added.

“It’s not one-dimensional and it’s almost interactive in that you’re having people talking about it and explaining it to you versus just the written word,” Witherow said.

Wilson also commented on the benefits of using a medium such as video to discuss important and especially complex topics like school safety.

“I think one of the challenges in this area is it is one thing to be able to give you a message but it’s also doing the background pieces that go along with it,” he said.

Already WCPS is planning to release a second video detailing this year’s budget process from the perspective of the Board of Education. Subsequent videos are also being considered dealing with broad-stroke topics like professional development and strategic direction. The school system is attempting to balance the benefits of making videos against oversaturating people with a constant stream of information, noted Wilson.

“We also don’t want to make it such a regular thing at this stage,” he said. “We still want it to be somewhat special when we produce something like that.”

With the videos that are being made, Wilson and Witherow both noted that there’s always an added plus of the projects being learning experiences for the students who help produce them. Filming for the safety recommendations video was done by communications students at Stephen Decatur High School while future videos will be made with the help of Pocomoke and Snow Hill High School students.

Besides YouTube, Witherow confirmed that WCPS is considering expansions into social media like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

“We know there are hundreds of millions of people tweeting and using Facebook,” she said.

The school system currently has a communications survey out with students. That survey will attempt to gage how big a part email, texting, and social media plays in people’s lives. The survey, due back April 29, has never before asked about social media before this year and will likely be a strong springboard for WCPS in considering incorporating more social media into how it communicates.

However, Witherow stressed that WCPS won’t be jumping onto Facebook, Twitter or any other site without carefully weighing all of the pros and cons.

“When we as administrators interact with Facebook it’s often in a disciplinary, punitive manner,” said Wilson. “By not being very savvy when using Facebook in a productive manner we’re more respondent to things we’re finding on Facebook and so I would say generally we don’t have those positive impressions on how it could be used functionally.”

But both Wilson and Witherow agreed that there are upsides and all options will be considered as technology marches on in education. Whether WCPS joins social media, Witherow explained that the goal for now is still to keep the school system website the nerve center of communication with students and parents.

“We are trying to get them to use it in a variety of ways,” she said.

Videos will continue to be posted on the front page of the website, which also contains material about each of the 14 public schools in Worcester as well as breaking information on school delays and closings.

A graph of site traffic for www.worcesterk12.com shows that outreach efforts have been generating interest in the community. Even simple strategies like emails and calls show dramatic spikes in site visits, especially during disasters like Hurricane Sandy or announcements like the posting of the safety recommendations video. In the last month alone the website has seen 23,863 visits, with 12,364 from unique users.