During a recent ICT planning session the age old argument was raised again, where is the promised digital revolution that everyone promised? Really, it was argued, we are not doing anything different than what we did in the past. For example, the new Digital Technologies curriculum, awaiting endorsement, calls for a focus on coding. However, it was argued by some members that this is no different to the focus on Logo in the 80’s. In response, one participant suggested that one significant change technology has brought about is the ability to communicate with parents on a more regular basis. Instead of being restricted to the usual diaries and school newsletters, technology allows schools to foster deeper connections between home and school.
Most parents, I believe, would prefer to know about their child’s confidence, their sense of well- being, their capacity for independent thought, or their ability to ask critical questions – the language of milky coffee. Instead, parents only know the language of black coffee, because that’s all they hear. Are they on target for good grades? Are they getting enough homework? What were their last test scores?
For whatever reason, schools often use new mediums to provide same old information. Complaining that parents do not read printed reports, some believe that making them accessible digitally somehow makes them different. I am not so sure. Although it can be easy to blame parents, if we do not give them a reason to engage, can we blame parents when they do not show any interest?In a conversation about education reform on Twitter, Alan Thwaites shared a documentary video including the usual voices, such as Sir Ken Robinson, Tony Wagner and Thomas Friedman.
Education Documentary Clip from One Potato Productions on Vimeo. Although many of the arguments were not necessarily new, what stood out to me was the discussion of High Tech High and project based learning. For the culmination of the project, students had to present what they made to the community at an information night. I know showcasing student work is nothing new, but there just seemed to be something different about what was happening in the video. Maybe that it seemed more authentic than usual, with students enthusiastic about their work. Or maybe it was the space that was created. Whatever it was, parents seemed to be genuinely interested.
Coming back to the planning session, there were many quotes bandied around to create conversation and spur us on. One that stuck out was Michael Fullen’s discussion of technology in Stratosphere, where he states:
New developments must be:i) irresistibly engaging (for students and for teachers);ii) elegantly efficient and easy to use;iii) technologically ubiquitous 24/7; andiv) steeped in real-life problem solving.
Too often when it comes to involving parents in schools it seems to be a one way transaction, simply focusing on informing them:
- Putting on chalk and talk information sessions for technology
- Publishing digital newsletters discussing what has been going on
- Sending texts and emails to parents when a child is absent
- Providing access to academic and behavioural results online
- Advertising school events and information on public webpages
- Putting on showcase events once a semester to celebrate students work and achievements
Many of these things are simply substitutions, with little augmentation. While coming back to Fullan’s argument, I question whether they are irresistibly engaging.
Reconsidering the list and thinking about how they could be changed, here are some ideas:
- Developing information sessions that are co-constructed and incorporate the practise in question, as Jon Andrews has done when introducing PBL to parents
- Having year levels/classrooms openly publishing a blog celebrating learning
- Engaging with parents in regards to supporting goals and homework, as Alan Thwaites has done using Compass as a means of dialogue
- Provide parents with live updates about student activities, as Andy Hair has done using Google Hangouts during sporting carnivals
- Publish student work online and showcase to the world, as Bec Spink has done when creating eBooks and putting them on iTunes
- Engage the wider community using video conferencing, as Alan November has done by Skyping grandparents from overseas into the classroom
Each of these ideas and activities involve a modification of practise, but also in regards to mindsets. Many of these mediums provide the potential for parents to comment, ask questions and provide their thoughts. For some, this is fraught with danger. What if this or what if that. Such fear and trepidation though gets us nowhere. As Price points out, the world is going SOFT whether we like it or not, the question then is how we are going to embrace it. For me, it starts by fostering a culture of trust.
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