The Blaine County School District has a new group of learners: parents.
In a survey, parents expressed the desire to learn about technology so they can be more involved in the education of their children. The district responded with a series of training courses covering topics such as Google apps and digital citizenship, with the goal of equipping parents with the skills and knowledge they need to support their children.
Seeing the need
Tim Rocco, Blaine’s director of technology, established the training series. “It first became clear to us that parents needed more information about what their kids are up to online when we rolled out Google Apps last fall,” Rocco said.
Rocco started sharing technology information with parents in informal conversations, during parent teacher conferences and in a presentation to the PTA.
“Then came Clarity,” he said.
Clarity is a technology data platform created by BrightBytes, an education technology company based in San Francisco. The platform provides school leaders with reports on how technology is used in the classroom, including access to technology, beliefs about its ability to impact student learning, and technology skill levels. The report is generated from surveys filled out by parents, students and teachers.
Blaine County participated in a larger Clarity rollout facilitated by the Idaho Leads Project, a professional development team based at Boise State University. Lisa Kinnaman, a director with the Idaho Leads Project, gave a presentation on Clarity to a joint session of the House and Senate education committees during the 2014 legislative session. She told lawmakers that Clarity is being used by 66 school districts and charters, and has surveyed more than 40,807 students, teachers and parents. Kinnaman said Clarity is offered for free to districts and charters that participate in the Leads project, but the data collection platform could be offered statewide for about 50 cents a student.
Rocco was struck by the Clarity data representing parents in his district.
“Eighty-one percent of our parents reported wanting ‘to learn more about effective technology use for my child’s learning,'” Rocco said.
Digital life skills
Rocco responded by hiring a technology integration specialist. “We wanted someone who possessed the technical knowledge and expertise, but also had personal skills — speaking in terms that people can understand.”
Rocco hired Paul Zimmerman, who had worked in IT at the Community Library in Ketchum and taught technology classes for community members. “Paul and I decided that we could leverage his experience to help not only teachers, but also parents,” Rocco said.
The two set about designing a series of classes aimed at equipping parents with technology skills and knowledge, as well as bolstering direct involvement in the schools. Again, Rocco was inspired by data during the design process: “The Clarity data indicates that most of our parents are comfortable teaching their kids about technology issues like digital citizenship, but a majority said they needed training in order to do so.”
Zimmerman’s first class focused on social networking for families. Upcoming sessions will feature resources and apps for education, an introduction to Google Apps, foundational technology skills, and digital citizenship. Rocco refers to this part of the program as “digital life skills,” which he hopes will enable community members to become more productive in their own lives and careers.
Technology training is only part of Rocco’s larger goal. “It’s about getting people involved in their kids’ education,” Rocco said. “With technology, there’s often fear. We want to provide parents with more understanding about technology so they can support their children and get more involved in their education.
“When they’ve got the knowledge, parents see why technology is important to students’ education.”
Disclaimer: The Idaho Leads Project and Idaho Education News are funded by grants from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation. BrightBytes designed Clarity and Idaho Ed Trends, a data center managed by Idaho Education News.