Monday, November 12, 2012

Adding Parents to the EdTech Information Stream

Adding parents to the EdTech information stream

Much of the focus of classroom systems and technology is on the teacher and student, but I think that this leaves out the third, and very important part of the equation, the parents. Getting parents more involved is the goal of many districts, and there are numerous programs that are designed to do just that. To help this occur, the learning systems used in the classroom, need to be opened up to allow adding parents to the information flow.

However, we have to look closely at what is actually being shared. Focusing on only the results of class work and grades, then communicating them to parents via these systems likely will have some negative consequences. For example, High School students strive to keep their parents from knowing what’s happening at school. It’s been true for 100 years. Broadcasting just grades, and especially bad ones, just closes down communication channels. The potential that classroom systems become a kind of “Big Brother”, focused on just the outcomes, may not be helpful. I’m not saying grades shouldn’t be reported, but if the goal is truly to get parents involved, let’s move the focus to more than metrics.

One of the most important aspects of the learning system that I think needs to be communicated to the parents is about the curriculum and what is being taught. As a parent of three children that have experienced their K-12 years, getting information about what they were learning and what the goals were was very challenging. It’s impossible to be involved to any useful measure, if you don’t know what’s going on. Teachers don’t have time to explain it in enough detail, and with the very limited interaction time for meeting with teachers, it’s impossible to stay abreast of what’s being taught. So being involved is nearly impossible. And having a “grades only” view only creates antagonism between parent and child.

Given that many classroom and learning systems do document the curriculum at some level, and have information that parents might find useful, making these systems more open to parents that want to be involved makes sense. Bringing parents into the mix in a way where they can support what is being taught is the most effective type of involvement. Looking for ways to use information that is already available in the learning management systems and use it to get parents involved is, in my opinion, far more important than systems that are designed just to report the metrics of grades, attendance, and homework completion.

To summarize, engaging parents by leveraging the learning systems in place to assist in achieving the educational goals, not as a punitive reporting system, must be a priority. Reporting results is simpler, but the focus is on what has happened, not what is happening. And, the focus on results forces parents into a very limited role. Focusing on what is being taught, presents a lot more ways for parents to be part of the process and improve the outcome. This is essential to increasing parental engagement.

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