Where Do Parents Fit Into The Mobile Learning Revolution?


It’s amazing what technology can do for us.  We can instantly see people in different parts of the world .  We can share information in 140 characters or less.  We can even have our dryer communicate with our Smartphone to tell us when the laundry’s done.

With all the fervor around mobile devices in the educational space, we’ve forgotten at times that there are members of our educational community that are being left out….Parents.

Whether it be 1:1 or BYOD, we are changing the game of education and what learning looks like in the classroom.  While that is an amazing feat in and of itself, we have to remember that the community of parents that support us aren’t familiar with this. With this awesome new power, comes with it a sense of responsibility towards those parents.

When they were in school, there were still desks in rows, chalkboards on walls, and scantrons and number 2 pencils. (OK, there may still be those last two – some things never change) All this new, interactive, and mobile technology does not exist in their mental image of what school was and should be like.

Now that many of our schools are embarking on ways to get more access into the hands of kids, we need to make sure to ask ourselves these questions:

  •  Whose responsibility is it to educate kids on digital wellness?
  •  Who is helping the parents learn this?
  •  Where are there resources for parents to learn with their child?

While there are no easy answers to these questions, the short answer would be – all of us play a part in this.  Let me start with the first question and go from there.

Whose responsibility is it to educate kids on digital wellness?

The biggest difference I’ve noticed between 1:1 and BYOD districts is the mindset of parents when it comes to this question.  In a BYOD environment, the school is asking for kids to bring in a device that they already own and has already been vetted (in theory) by the parent. If a district is deploying district-owned devices in a 1:1 environment, some parents tend to feel like this is “being done to them.”  They’ve had a stable home environment in terms of digital tools, to their knowledge, and now the district is handing them a device.  It’s an issue that is real and emotional and needs to be addressed with parents when embarking on a 1:1. In many ways, this may be the first device their child has been allowed to use at home and makes the parents address the issue of digital wellness long before they are ready.

Who is helping the parents learn this?

One thing we’ve tried to do in our district is make sure that parents have an open line of communication. When we started our 1:1, we immediately had a website created as a place for all of them to go. This was great, but it was just a start. They also needed a way to communicate and share their concerns. We began to host some “town-hall” style forums as a way to open up the lines of communication.

Now, you may find this shocking, but not everyone is 100% on board with every student having a device in their hands. While that amount of parents with that feeling has decreased over the years, having a community forum is often a time for those with a negative view to show up and be heard.  Those that support the program generally don’t turn out for these events. We’ve learned that having an outline of what will be covered ahead of time, and a good moderator, helps make the communication constructive.

Building on those forums, this past year we began rolling out our “Digital Parent Learning Series.”  These were a series of nights throughout the year where parents could come out during the evening and learn about various aspects of the devices, student learning, and cyber safety. These events were all captured via LiveStream and remain available for viewing online. One of our more popular events was the parent panel. We invited parents from both sides of the fence onto the panel to discuss ways in which they handle this integration in their homes. Having community members on a panel, even if they are somewhat opposed, is a powerful way to show openness and transparency with your community.

Where are there resources for parents to learn with their child?

Parents are always wanting to discover ways to monitor, track and keep up with their kids digitally. While this is an effort in futility, there are a lot of quality resources out there for parents who need something right away.

One of my favorite resources to share is CommenSenseMedia. We built our Responsible Use Guidelines off the recommendations from this site.  There are resources for rating apps, games, TV shows, and movies.  If there is something to do with the internet, multimedia, or devices, it’s on this site.

On more of a local level, we will be launching a Digital Parent iTunesU course later this fall.  This course is being built collaboratively with Scott Meech (@smeech) in Downers Grove, IL District 58 and will give those who complete the course useful tools and tips for being a parent in this day and age.  We will offer this course as a face-to-face class and as a completely online version for parents with busy schedules.

Lastly, having a place for parents to ask questions is valuable. Social media (like Facebook and Twitter) can be a bit too unidirectional and sometimes can give parents a reason to vent anonymously. To address these concerns, but maintain the “we are in this together” approach,  we will be hosting several Q&A sessions via Google Hangout.  This will add to our resources and tools for parents going forward.

While the possibilities of mobile learning seem endless, we must never lose sight of what is most important: our kids.  Schools and parents should always work together to make sure our kids can thrive in this new digital age. With great power, comes great responsibility….and we all have a part to play in teaching it.