Technology and Community: Changing Parental Roles and Teacher Workload

When a school community chooses to invest in and employ digital technologies, the impact of the choice extends beyond the school walls and the hours of the school day. In fact, proponents of digital technologies highlight the benefit of expanded learning time and space, moving learning beyond the confines of the classroom. What are some intended, incidental, and unintended changes that begin to happen in a school community through this expansion of school time? Let’s look at two examples from our study: parental roles and teacher workload. These two examples and more are examined in-depth in the forthcoming book Digital Life Together.

What are some intended, incidental, and unintended changes that begin to happen in a school community through this expansion of school time?


Parental Roles

The schools we studied had a long tradition of viewing the training of children as a partnership of church, home, and school. They emphasized their partnership with parents, and parents generally took their roles seriously. As a deeper infusion of digital technologies took place through a one-to-one device program, parents found themselves involved in their children’s learning in new ways. (One-to-one technology programs refer to schools providing each student with a digital device [e.g., tablet or laptop].) Digital technologies increased opportunities to reach parents as an authentic audience for student projects. Elementary teachers, especially, described how students were motivated to share projects with parents and grandparents at school presentations or online via e-mail or the classroom blog. Parents attended high school students’ Shark Tank multimedia presentations, where students pitched their ideas to an external audience. Parents could also visit classroom blogs or websites for instant access to weekly newsletters, photos of classroom activities, and learning resources. Parental oversight of grades also increased as parents had online access to the grade book at any time and could view grades for individual assignments, quizzes, and tests. During parent-teacher conferences parents and teachers could easily review students’ digital projects or language recordings as evidence of student learning and progress. Parents and teachers expressed appreciation for the ease of connecting with students’ work.

These all show how new technologies can provide different opportunities for community connections, but the overall picture was not as simple. Some gaps emerged in these connections as parents talked about receiving e-mails or blog updates at work containing examples of their children’s work in school. While they enjoyed looking at their children’s work at the time, some found that they became less likely to remember to talk about the projects with their children at home. Too much time elapsed between when they viewed the schoolwork and when they saw their children, and without a physical paper or project to prompt the conversation when the child arrived home, the conversation about the work became less likely to happen. In focus groups with parents and teachers it also became evident that, even though the blog was available, its availability did not mean that parents accessed or read it. An unread digital blog may be no better than a weekly paper note home scrunched at the bottom of a student’s backpack, in terms of completing the communication. Digital documents require reading as much as paper documents do, and, at least for some parents, the increased flow of communication enabled by digital channels led them to give up trying to keep up.

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Marjorie Terpstra is an associate professor at Calvin University and, along with teaching in the undergraduate education program, serves as the chair of the education department. Her research has focused on faith and technology, on developing teacher knowledge and skills for teaching with technology, and on Zambian instructional practices.