Saturday, October 10, 2015

How to Talk to Parents about Tech?

Tech EDGE Parent Meeting in China Jan 2015
When we started using iPads in the Reading Center, we added a session about technology to our orientation evening. As the room filled with parents, I was sensing apprehension. It was the early days of iPads, and I was not sure how parents will react. I briefly explained why and how we were using the iPads with striving readers and writers. One father rose up to express concern. "I am not sending my daughter here to play video games; I am sending her here so she can become a better reader." He continued to explain that he thought his daughter needed something more traditional at this time.
Digital Literacy with Parents Lincoln NE 2015
Not surprisingly we hear similar concerns wherever we work with parents. As a parent to four boys, I understand the instinct to protect your children. When I visited with parents in China, we heard the same concerns. I believe that it is important to listen to parent concerns and help them weigh the benefits and risks using a concrete understanding of what we as teachers do to protect students and teach them.
Parent concerns are usually:

1. "My child is not safe online." Parents are afraid that their children will not be safe online. They are concerned with inappropriate material (photos, text, video), cyberbullying, and predators. These concerns are fed by media reports about the dangers of the internet. Most of these events are extremely rare, but we need to address parental concerns respectfully and honestly.

2. "I don't want my kids information out there." Parents are often concerned with student products, pictures, and information that is shared online. Some do not like the idea of different organizations and companies collecting information about their children. There is also the fear that information shared now can be used later to harm their children.

3. "They have enough video games at home; school is for learning." Parents often view technology as a medium for games that have minimal educational value. They often see it as a way for the teacher to avoid work. The real work of school involves seriousness and effort working on paper. This belief stems from their own school experiences as well as their experience with their children during leisure time.

4. "It is not good for them; they sit too long as it is." Years of research and public discourse on screen-time, obesity, and in some places eyesight have made parents wary of and even guilty about device use. They view digital time as too sedentary and taxing and are concerned (justly) that if their children are constantly on devices they are not moving and socializing enough.

There are a few ways to help parents think about their concerns and understand what we do to protect all of our students. Meet with parents early on to have this conversation and provide the information in a few ways. The best is still face to face meetings.

1. Explain all regulations and protections your district has in place. Most districts have a set of rules about the use of technology in place, make them known.

2. Share your Digital citizenship curriculum and highlight the importance of learning to stay safe and healthy in a world that is increasingly becoming digital. The focus on responsibility and good decision making are what parents want for their kids.

3. Talk about the benefits of using technology. It is easier to consider risks if there is a clear upside. I find that parents are always more willing to have the conversation when they realize that there are excellent learning opportunities for their children in and out of school. It is great to show parents some fantastic tools and student products.

4. Provide opportunities for parents to learn about ways they can use devices with their children to benefit learning. Opportunities can be in meetings but also through monthly app recommendations sharing websites (e.g. Commonsense Media).
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