flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

In a recent post, Will Richardson made the point that most parents have no idea what happens in school. This assertion was based on the seemingly meaningless numbers and grades that parents are feed through the rise of learning portals. Although I can understand where Richardson is coming from, I do not think that every school is the same. I know of some schools that share key learning tasks with annotations using various applications, some provide feedback to students and with that parents via the portals, some set in place digital learning portfolios curated by students and others provide monthly updates about attitudes and applications. What interests me in all of this is not necessarily what constitutes learning and achievement or what is exactly shared, but the impact of the move into the digital realm on parents.

As I have written before, there is a growing trend to use different commercial applications to connect and collaborate with the wider community. Whether it be Facebook Pages, Google Sites, Edmodo, Seesaw or Evernote, these spaces are chosen for a number of reasons, including their cost, the ease of use and it is where people are. I am reminded though of the edict that is often bandied around that if something is free then you are the product. Now I know that it is not always that simple, but I am left wondering about what data is collected by such platforms, either obvious in the forms of names, emails and phone numbers, as well as the incidental in the form of IP addresses and devices used.

Often the discussion around data and online privacy is focused on students and their safety. Whether it be posting images online or providing personal information which can be used as a point of identification. The reason claimed for this caution is protection from online predators, adults posing as children in spaces like Club Penguin. (Interestingly, danah boyd points out in It’s Complicated that more often than not, cases of online predators often involve those who already have a connection offline and shown susceptibility to such problems.) The problem though is not necessarily these extreme examples, but rather big data and the endless collection of data. In part, this is the intent behind the COPPA laws, which a designed to protect children from being marketed to. A few random data points may not mean much to you and I, but when they are fodder for algorithms they can mean so much more. As Audrey Watters explains,

Algorithms are not neutral, although they are frequently invoked as such. They reflect the values and interests of their engineers, although it’s hard to scrutinize what exactly these values and interests entail as the inputs and calculations that feed algorithms are almost always “black boxed.”

Therefore when we have investment from various venture capital funds, this is why we need to be mindful. It is for this reasons that there is so much conjecture around Google Apps in school.

The problem though is that this conjecture about data and algorithms goes far beyond students, it encapsulates the parents as well. Although sites may be private, this does not make them exempt from data collection. Even the fact that you might be a parent is another point of information. In addition to this, they influence habits. Here I am reminded of Marshall McLuhan’s tetrad:

  • What does the medium enhance or amplify?
  • What does the medium make obsolete?
  • What does the medium retrieve that had been made obsolescent earlier?
  • What does the medium “flip into” when pushed to the extreme?

For example, the use of Facebook Pages enhances documentation, can make communication via school diary obsolete, it retrieves a notion of learning through observation as opposed to tests and at its extremes normalises the use of digital spaces as a record and reflection of learning.

Another question that has been playing on my mind associated with the matter of data and the impact of openly sharing spaces has on teacher and student agency and identity. Maybe it is sharing information on a platform such as Twitter or Instagram. What restrictions and limitations are at play through seemingly being open. Does the feeling that we are publishing to the world both bring out our best, while also limiting what we share? While coming back to Richardson’s argument, I wonder if teachers are always clear about the expectations of such spaces, especially when they are continually changing. Also on the flip side, what are the expectations in regards to voices outside of the classroom and interaction within such spaces?

I am not saying that we should ban the use of such platforms, but with the introduction of digital technologies curriculum, it only seems logical that we should start where we are and unpack the biases at play. So what about you? What spaces do you use to communicate with parents and what expectations do such spaces bring.


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flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

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.

I agree with Eric. I think that technology has the ability to make listening to voices both in and out of the classroom more doable. The question though is whether such messages that are enabled are always worthwhile. In his book Open, David Price discusses this problem, saying:
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; and
iv) steeped in real-life problem solving.
What stood out in this quote was the reference to students and teachers in the discussion of ‘irresistibly engaging’. I was left wondering, what about parents? Don’t they have a part to play in all of this, shouldn’t developments be irresistibly engaging for them too? Are they not important?

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.


The reality is, many parents work irregular hours and do not necessarily always have the time to participate the way that we would like them to. The ideal of 9 til 5 is fast becoming a figment of the past. However, technology makes connections and communications that were previously not necessarily possible. Maybe there are schools already embracing such changes, if so I would love to know, please share. Or maybe ‘engagement’ is a poor metric, as Richard Olsen has suggested. Having said all this, we must always remember to never loose the human element. As always, comments welcome.

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