In any school community, parents play an important role as stakeholders in the education of students. However, they may not always have a deep understanding of what is happening within their child’s classroom. Often, they have even less awareness and knowledge of the digital education their children are receiving in comparison to their own educational experiences. With the unknown and uncertainty may come confusion and fear. Educators need to open their classrooms to parents to help them unpack their emotions and excite them about the new education their child experiences each day.
Educators know technology can enhance the learning process when used appropriately and effectively. Many parents believe it is only used as a mechanism to play games or waste time in classes. It is an educator’s job to not only educate students about the effective use of technology, but also parents so they understand how it enriches the learning environment.
There are an infinite number of ways to help parents have a better understanding of the uses of technology in schools. Each teacher may use various combinations in order to support building the bridge between home and school in regards to technology use for teaching and learning.
Class websites provide parents with an ongoing and consistent window into the classroom. By creating and establishing a class site at the beginning of the school year, parents are able to know where to find current information about their child’s class. The class website becomes a resource for both parents and students, with weekly updates as well as documentation of learning, experiences and growth through photos and videos. If the teacher posts resources (such as assignments, instructional videos, homework) on the class site, then parents are also able to see what students are learning. Often the teacher may provide links to different technology resources being used by the students (to increase ease of access for students), which also allows for easy access for parents to explore these resources as well should they be interested. Parents are able to access the site to support and extend their child’s learning at home. The teacher can showcase projects students are creating using technology, while also highlighting that technology is only used when it is purposeful and thoughtful to impact learning. This enhanced communication and transparency helps to ease parents’ minds about how the technology resources are actually being used in the classroom environment.
Parents who are new to technology in the classroom may not know how technology is actually being used in the classroom. What better way for them to understand than to see it in action or experience it for themselves. There are many opportunities to invite parents into the classrooms to share learning and celebrate successes.
One way is to have celebrations of learning at the end of a unit and invite parents in to see final products of inquiry (while also highlighting the process to get there). Students can share the different tools that helped them demonstrate their understanding best, as well as the tools that helped their process of thinking and learning along the way. This may also serve as an interactive presentation if a game or interactive digital story was created where parents can experience what students have constructed.
Another example of bringing parents into the classroom is via parent–teacher–student conferences. These are excellent times to share learning. One activity that works well for this is having the parents and students cocreate an entry for an eportfolio. This could include parents videoing their student about his goal for the term and his action plan to work towards the goal. Student could then show their parents how they upload this to their portfolio and how they reflect on their selected pieces of work. By taking parents through the process of what the students use the technology for, they get to experience it firsthand and have a greater appreciation for the level of learning and thinking that goes into creating digital work.
While some parents may be new to the idea of technology integration, many parents are also quite capable with using technology. Many parents have careers featuring digital components that might also enhance the program or student understanding of different topics. A parent in media or film could provide real-life examples, experience and expertise in the form of a workshop for students about storyboarding, developing scripts and camera angles. Some parents may wish to volunteer on class projects where extra support with technology is needed, allowing another perspective as a critical friend.
Introduce Digital Tools for Home Learning
Many schools are shifting from homework to home learning, with the emphasis on exploration and inquiry as part of the learning process outside of school. A task such “using a tool of choice, document where you see shapes around your house” allows students to work with their parents together and take pictures of where they might see squares, circles or triangles in their home environment. Another example is to have the student interview his parents about their experiences with a specific topic and record them. This can help to then also bring home experiences into the classroom. Finally, to create an interactive approach to home learning, the teacher may create a padlet and share through the class site. Both parents and students can contribute ideas, thoughts and examples to an inquiry question of the week. There are many ways to use digital tools and resources to engage students and parents through home learning. The key is to keep it simple to ensure that it is effective and manageable.
An eportfolio provides students with an opportunity to reflect on their work and share their progress with the teacher, their families and peers. Digital portfolios allow students to share the wonderful digital work they have created that a paper portfolio fails to convey. This alone can allow for parents and students to have richer dialogue about the student’s learning. However, if the portfolios are not shared frequently with home, they are often forgotten about by parents until perhaps a conference with the teacher. It is important that students are encouraged to have conversations about their eportfolios on an ongoing and frequent basis. For example, these conversations may happen every six weeks for schools using inquiry programs at the end of each unit. This allows for positive interactions between home and school, increased awareness of school activities and experiences and for students to have genuine and timely discussions with their families.
Parent cafes invite parents into the school environment to engage with presentations and experiences about a given topic so they can better understand the school’s approach and thinking. A technology parent cafe may address topics such as digital citizenship, new programs and transitions to onetoone programs. It provides the school a platform to share their excitement and knowledge about an aspect of technology and also allows the parents to share their concerns and questions. A group of parents can discuss their different perspectives and experiences and share with each other approaches to supporting their own child with technology. This creates a network of parents supporting parents, as well as the school supporting the parent community.
Parents bring such a rich aspect to school communities and it is vital that educators include them in the conversation about all matters, including technology. Developing a shared understanding of technology use within a school allows for the entire community to plan and implement the most effective program of learning for students.
Emily MacLean is an international educator working at Chatsworth International School in Singapore as the education technology coach. She is a Google for Educator Certified Innovator (GUR14), a Google for Education Certified Trainer and an Apple Distinguished Educator (Class of 2015). She enthusiastically supports teachers across primary school to effectively integrate education technology into the classroom. She is currently completing her Masters of Education (Information Technologies) from Charles Sturt University.