Using New Technologies to Communicate with Parents

It is important for teachers in any grade level to be aware of new and evolving technologies and processes. Living in the digital age of the 21st century, we have an obligation to make sure our students are knowledgeable about the Internet, computers, and electronic devices, and how to use them productively. Technological skills are important to have in a significant percentage of job settings including medicine, engineering, architecture, research analysts, software developers, and many other professions.

ISTE Standard 3 discusses how teachers should exhibit knowledge, skills, and work processes representative of an innovative professional in a global and digital society. Being able to transfer current knowledge to new technologies, to collaborate and communicate with the community using digital tools, and to model effective use of such tools to support research and learning are critical skills for all teachers to have.

As a future elementary teacher, I am especially interested in learning about the various ways to use technology to communicate with parents and students outside the classroom. Keeping open lines of communication with parents has been shown to have a positive effect on student learning and achievement. O’Brien’s Edutopia article (2011) discusses a survey done by the National School Public Relations Association that indicates parents clearly prefer Internet communications, including emails, an online parent portal, e-newsletters, websites, and a telephone/voice mail system. Face-to-face meetings with parents are especially important but digital tools can supplement this information. Knowing whether parents have easy access to email, computers, or other electronic devices is important.

According to Pescatore’s Edutopia article (2014), the first step to determining which digital tools to use is figuring out the classroom needs, resources available, and goals to be addressed. Understanding what parents want to know is essential to providing a tool that they will use and appreciate. A colleague of mine shared an interesting article about the characteristics of parent-teacher email communication. According to Thompson (2008), the most common email topic was student grades, followed by scheduling meeting dates and times, and health issues including obtaining homework while the student is gone. Thompson (2008) also concluded that parents and teachers emailed less frequently than one might expect, with teachers typically spending 30 minutes to an hour per week communicating with parents via email. Email can be convenient for communicating at any time when people are available, however if an immediate answer is required, email can potentially be slow if the teacher or parent is extremely busy.

Teacher-parent email topics by frequency (Thompson, 2008)

Teacher-parent Email Topics by Frequency (Thompson, 2008)

Remind could be a potential solution to this problem. Remind is a texting service that teachers and parents can use to communicate quickly. Remind does not require the sharing of phone numbers, so this information can remain private if necessary. Teachers can quickly send messages to parents reminding their students to finish an assignment or to return paperwork for a field trip.

Figuring out the purpose of the communication is another consideration. I began to wonder what other digital tools are there available to use besides email? Do I want to simply provide information to parents via a classroom website? Do I want students and parents to be able to contribute to the communication? According to Pescatore (2014), a few options for one-way communication tools include Pinterest, eNewsletters, and photo sharing sites. Two-way communication tools include blogs, Google drive, social media such as Facebook or Twitter, and even live-streaming applications such as Skype.

Kumar and Vigil (2011) assert that the Net generation, people born after 1984 who have grown up with digital technologies, should have the knowledge and skills to make the connection between technology, subject matter, and pedagogy, and be able to implement educational technology activities in the classroom. However, research indicates that undergraduates show limited or no transfer of technology familiarity to academic environments (Kumar & Vigil, 2011). Kumar & Vigil’s study surveyed 51 undergraduates in the college of education at a large private university and found that 98% used online videos, 68.6% used photo sharing, 52.9% used online forums, 47.1% used blogs, 40% used wikis and podcasts, and 32% used Google Docs in informal settings. However, respondents did not typically transfer this knowledge and use to educational settings. The graph below shows the large gap between using blogs, wikis, and podcasts informally and in educational settings.

Informal and Educational Use of Technologies (Kumar & Vigil, 2011)

Informal and Educational Use of Technologies (Kumar & Vigil, 2011)

I have maintained two personal blogs for informal use and this professional blog over the past decade, but I never thought about using a blog in an elementary classroom setting. The idea of creating a blog for my classroom and having my students involved in writing posts that parents can then read sounds interesting. I came across a blog written by a teacher and author that discusses ways to use technology in the classroom, including blogging. Ms. Ripp has written several posts about why students should blog in the classroom, how to do it, challenges you might face, and internet safety issues. She uses KidBlog, which seems like a safe, yet sophisticated way for students to blog about what they are learning and parents to observe.

I am very familiar with most digital tools mentioned above, however I haven’t thought much about using them in an educational setting. There is a lot of potential for richer activities for students to patriciate in that involve new technologies. On the continuum of integrating technology in education below, I believe I fit in the adaption and appropriation phases.

Continuum of Integrating New Technologies in Education (Kumar & Vigil, 2011)

Continuum of Integrating New Technologies in Education (Kumar & Vigil, 2011)

One issue will be determining which ideas are the best to focus on and implement properly and how much time I have to spend on these technologies. Another issue is making sure students don’t feel left out if they do not have internet access or access to digital devices at home. It is important to make sure we expose all students to the vast array of technologies available in the 21st century, so that they can be future researchers, engineers, and teachers for the next generation.

References:

Kumar, S. & Vigil, K. (2011). The net generation as preservice teachers: Transferring familiarity with new technologies to educational environments. Journal of Digital Learning in Teacher Education, 27, 4, 144-153.

O’Brien, A. (2011). What parents want in school communication [web article]. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/parent-involvement-survey-anne-obrien

Pescatore, G. (2014). Parent communication toolbox [web article]. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/parent-communication-toolbox-gwen-pescatore

Thompson, B. (2008). Characteristics of parent-teacher e-mail communication. Communication Education, 57, 2, 201-233. doi: 10.1080/03634520701852050

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