George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How To Help Families Integrate to 1:1 Programs at Home

Jason Brand

Family and Individual Therapist, Workshop Leader and Author
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The Los Angeles Unified School District's recent decision to provide each of its 600,000 plus students with an iPad makes sense. The technology drumbeat is growing louder and louder. Training children to use the tools of their future is a must, and the LAUSD is smart to take a proactive approach.

But as the technology revolution proceeds in the classroom, a critical piece of the equation must not be overlooked: the effect on the home. The iPads that L.A. school kids will receive are not going to sleep in a school locker at the end of each day. The iPad is coming home.

Far-Reaching Impact

This new reality is a wakeup call for school districts and the families they serve. School districts must do more than just pass out iPads. They must also prepare families for the revolutionary nature of these boundary-blurring devices.

The school-issued laptop or tablet is not just another gadget or gizmo in the home. Consider:

  • The fact that they are issued by the school district puts parents in a difficult spot because they have to manage a device that they do not own and whose purpose is being dictated by others.
  • They increase "screen time" -- the time kids are engaged with digital technologies.
  • They blur the distinction between tool and toy -- it will be harder to know if kids are studying, playing or socializing.
  • They complicate the challenges of keeping kids safe online.
  • They change the way parents establish rules and set limits. When a device is necessary for school, parents are less able to use technology as a carrot or a stick.
  • They require parents to respect school rules regarding the acceptable use of technology, rules that might conflict with the delicate balance that families have already established for technology in the home.
  • They ask parents to respect school values about the role that technology should play in their child's life -- values that may be odds with their own.
  • Most critically, they may require parents to take an entirely new approach to their parenting as well as to the technology. Parents did not grow up with laptops and tablets, and certainly not ones that were school-issued. Thus, parents may lack the necessary perspective to know what to encourage and what to limit with the devices.

School districts need to resist the temptation to charge ahead with laptop and tablet programs without allocating sufficient time and resources to partner with parents during the bumpy multi-year transition.

I have worked with many parents whose home lives are disrupted by arguments, distraction and late-night disputes over the use of school-issued digital devices. For these parents, the emotional cost of an iPad far outweighs any benefits. These are the kinds of headaches that dull parents' ability to get on board with 21st century learning.

It's the People, Not the Technology

For school districts to be prepared for these challenges, they must provide adequate resources to help families understand the importance of new digital technologies to a child’s success in school and beyond. This is easy to note, but hard to carry out. When school districts spend their limited resources on technology like iPads, they are vulnerable to criticism and may act defensively rather than recognizing the need to support understandably anxious parents.

There is no easy formula for how school districts should go about attending to the home environment. Nonetheless, there are steps that can be taken. Holding parent education forums (both online and offline) is critical. Thoughtful policies to promote a good relationship among parents, children and schools (in the form of specific contracts to help sort out expectations) are also important. Clear documentation explaining the logistics of the program (insurance policies, responsibilities and who to contact with issues or concerns) is a necessity. Input from other schools, parents and teachers who have successfully navigated this terrain helps to relieve anxieties and focus the dialogue. And, at the heart of the matter, the schools must stay focused on people and not the technology itself. All of the dilemmas created by blurred boundaries between home and school are best faced through trust and stronger relationships.

The bottom line is that schools need to be proactive to help parents navigate this new terrain. The district should clearly explain the challenges and benefits of digital learning to parents, and provide them with suggested guidelines to follow in a supportive home structure. Schools need to assume the attitude that laptop and tablet programs are complicated for all families, and live by the credo "we are all in this together." They must understand that learning in a digital environment creates a bridge between home and school that is unprecedented and requires a new level of collaboration. Only then can the best interests of parents, students and, ultimately, the entire school community be served.

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Comments (6) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Derek Pule's picture
Derek Pule
Distance Education Specialist

Honestly, I think classes early on should teach children how to code, not just use the ipad. If we had more people that knew how to code, we would take technology to even higher levels. People don't learn how to code until they're out of school, that's the problem.

Jenna Stoddard's picture
Jenna Stoddard
3rd Grade Teacher from Wellsville, Ohio

I too am very skeptical about sending the Ipads home to families. I think before any piece of technology is sent home we need to get parents on the same page. A relationship needs to be formed between the family and teacher. this relationship does not exsist at my school. Teachers have set up breakfasts, dinners and family nights with only a handul of parents attending. My school is having real issues getting parents involved. I am concerned other schools are as well and sending home a peice of technology will not help matters.

Keyra's picture
Special Education Teacher, Texas

My 7th grade daughter was issued a school laptop without my knowledge and that caused some problems. We had to define clear rules about the laptop. After finding out that she was using the laptop to get on Facebook and Skype throughout the night we only allowed her to use the device in clear sight of an adult. The laptop was issued to provide tutoring in the area of math using Skype with her teacher at certain times each day. As an educator I understood the purpose and appreciated the extra help that my child was given but at the same time I wish someone would have informed my family of how things were going to work before issuing the laptop so that we could have been more prepared.

Jill's picture

Our district recently announced we will be a 1:1 district for students in grades 5-12. Our fifth and sixth graders will be 1:1 with iPads and students in grades 7-12 will have MacBooks. Students will be signing out a device for the entire year and will be allowed to take them home. Although our technology department is doing a lot to provide parents with information and answers to their questions, I recognize parents still have many valid concerns. I am a parent of a sixth grader who will be receiving one of the iPads, so I understand the fears of putting such a device in the hands of a child. It is our district plan to train teachers, parents, and students on utilizing technology appropriately and to its fullest potential. As other districts and states move to a 1:1 technology ratio, we will all learn and grow, with the hope that we are developing 21st century learners, preparing our students for college and careers.

EdTechSandyK's picture

If anyone doubts the truth of this post, please visit my blog to see the story of a parent who reached out to me with concerns about her son's use of his school issued iPad at home. The comments generated by the post are also very insightful and share many good ideas.

Another good resource in this area is Eanes ISD in Austin, Texas, which has made intentional efforts to include parent education in their 1:1 iPad initiative.

Andrea Cummings's picture

I think the idea behind giving every student an ipad is a good idea, but when you take a closer look that is where you see the flaws in the idea. Students can use ipads at school and know the teacher will be keeping an eye on what they are doing, when students take them home there may be many parents who do not have time or the want to check on the their child when they are using a school issued ipad. This is one more thing a parent will have to monitor and ensure students are using properly under their supervision.

Living in a small rural community where most of the students come from low-socioeconomic status homes I expect parents to not monitor their children very well. This may lead to many of the problems stated in the article. I also could see issues with internet connectivity, many parents have internet for their phones, but not in their home. They do not own a computer just a smartphone. This would create issues in many places if there wasn't research conducted before ipads were sent home.

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