A little background. Our school is an online high school with a single day face-to-face component. Our interaction with these kids is limited for a number of reasons. They only come on campus once a week and its usually not to see their online teachers (me). Many of the phone numbers they provide us are disconnected and/or they just don't answer. The main form of communication is email, and whenever I send out an email asking for all students to reply back (usually at beginning of semester to set up my Outlook) I get only about a 20% response. The kids at our school aren't the tech savvy teenagers that are rumored to be about and email is often ignored even though that is how we "talk" with kids. On top of all those factors, I'm working from home and taking care of my son right now so even more limited on communication. That's what made the other day so cool.
I received a new student at the 2nd semester and she was turning in her first short essay paper too me. She uploaded a .wps file which our computers won't open so we ask all docs be converted to .rtf. I have a form email that I send out for this very occasion. A day later I received a frantic email from her saying that she tried and tried to convert the document but just didn't understand what my email was saying. I asked her for her phone number so we could walk through it. A few hours later, I was using Skypeout and showing her this process. While we are on the topic I taught her how to make folders for each of her online courses so she could organize her work. Then the little light bulb that is Google Docs went off and made a deal with her to get her Google Doc account up and running (I couldn't do it at that moment because we were 20 minutes into the call and baby was screaming).
A few minutes after I got off the phone with her and the baby had calmed down, I received an instant message from another student. She needed some assistance with a class assignment so we walked through that via chat. An hour later I received another message from my Facebook account that a former student wanted some tutoring for her high school writing exit exam. We made temporary plans to set that up soon. While I was on Facebook another student chimed in with some concerns about a grade he had received at the semester, it wasn't in my class, but as his mentor teacher I promised to talk with his English teacher on his behalf.
Could all of this have happened at a traditional school in such a short period of time? Of course. Could all of this have happened at my virtual school a year ago, no way. The use of these social tools has changed the way I collaborate and interact with my kids. Now just hoping others at the school will see the benefit.