Engaging the Parent Community

Last week, I stole borrowed a page from my friends and colleagues at UWCSEA East and had students run a session with parents on social networking and other concerns. As I wrote in the school newsletter:

Thao , Tommy and Max did a fantastic job of presenting a student perspective and discussing their own personal use of social networks and other aspects of technology use, both in school and at home. It was great to hear them address the concerns raised by parents as well as share their experiences. According to one of the students, “It was helpful to listen to the questions from parents, and it helped me understand what kind of concerns parents have about the integration of technology into a student’s life.” Another added: “It was good for the students to see the point of view of the parent, so they would understand what the parent is seeing. It good to tell the parent about what we as student are doing on our tablet.”

The parents were also appreciative of the chance to speak to young adults and about the challenges and opportunities that are faced in an increasingly digital environment from their different perspectives. There was also a great roundtable discussion among the parents once the students had returned to class about some of the questions and concerns they have as parents.

One of the big discussion points that came from the parent roundtable (and actually, it has been brought up before) was the need for an online community for parents (primarily) to discuss some of the issues, questions and concerns that go hand-in-hand with the implementation of emerging technologies for learning.

I learned at ASB Unplugged 2010 that they are using a Ning for their parents. If I remember correctly, it is now completely moderated by parent volunteers and members of their PTA.

I’m wondering if any schools have successfully implemented BuddyPress as a community forum? As we are looking to finally start with edublogs, I wonder if this is a path that we can take? I’ve done some initial poking around, but I can’t solve the privacy issue: How do I make a BuddyPress installation so that parents can register themselves (moderated by an admin from the school) and so that the forums, groups and postings are private?

I’m also wondering if BuddyPress is even the way to go? Are there alternatives out there that you would suggest from experience?

How is your school engaging your parent community in discussion? Are you using social networking to improve parent communication and interaction? How concerned are you and your parents with the privacy of that social network? 

Image Credit: Grade 8 Student by Clint Hamada licensed under CC BY NC SA

Social Networking for Parents

Michelle and I had our first PD session (Parent Development) this morning and had about 25 parents show up! It is by far the biggest crowd I’ve ever had for one of these technology sessions. Our plan was to pick a hot-button issue to get more butts in seats and boy did it work. At one point, we didn’t have enough computers in the lab to accommodate all the parents!

We started with quote from Prof. Helen McGrath (.pdf):

Young people on the other hand see technologies (and especially the internet) as a vital part of their social life and the building of their identity. Mobile phones seem to be the key to young people’s social lives (ACMA, 2007)… (T)he most significant milestones towards adulthood are now acquiring a mobile phone and joining online social networking sites. [emphasis added]

Social networks are now a fact of life and won’t diminish until something bigger and better takes their place. As parents we have the choice to ignore it (not recommended!) or to get involved with our children’s interactions.

We then showed the awesome Common Craft video Social Networking in Plain English

I love the ideas behind this series; I wonder if we could contact Lee and ask him if he could make a ‘student-friendly’ version?

When discussing the benefits and drawbacks, the focus from parents was mainly on the negatives, including:

  • time wasting
  • devalued meaning of ‘friend’
  • online dangers
  • damage to one’s image and the idea of a digital footprint

As we have a very international population, a lot of parents recognized the benefits of staying connected to ‘home’ and to friends across the globe. This did not, however, have as a big an impact as I thought it would.

We spent some time introducing parents to Club Penguin (most had never heard of it) and going through some of the more controversial aspects of the Facebook Terms of Service. Like their children, most parents with Facebook accounts had never actually read the Terms of Service and were a bit shocked to see language such as this:

You specifically give us the following permission, subject to your privacy and application settings: you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook (“IP License”).

We ended by talking about what parents can do to help encourage discussion with their children about social networking. They included:

  • Set boundaries
  • Be interested! Ask questions, just like you do with their F2F friends.
  • Ask to be shown their profile page … tomorrow.
  • Ask to be their ‘friend’ with an understanding that you will not actively participate.
  • Remember: Most kids really do use social networks just to communicate with their friends.

I had hoped to spend some time going through specific privacy settings but we ran out of time. I will include the related links in our weekly school newsletter however.

Overall, we tried to stress that social networking sites are the cordless telephone and mall of the current generation. It’s how they communicate and  it’s where they sometimes hang out. When one parent said something about children creating Facebook accounts behind their backs, I related it back to watching R-rated movies: If she’s told her child that s/he cannot watch a certain movie, how does she know s/he won’t just go watch it at a friend’s house? What’s the difference?

Thanks to Kim Cofino and Jeff Utecht for sharing their previous experiences on this subject. It helped us a lot in preparing for our session!

I’ve embedded the slides from our presentation here. I’ve also got an hour’s worth of audio that I will try to sync up to the visuals at some point…

Parents, Tablets, and the IB Learner Profile

This week we will be holding an information evening for parents of students who will be receiving tablets for the first time next year. That’s a total of four grade levels: next year’s Grade 5, 6, 7 and 8 will all be getting their hands on the magic next year! This is the third time we’ve run one of these sessions in the Middle School/High School — our rollout has been pretty gradual: grades 10 and 11 the first year, then grades 8, 9 and 10 (plus 11 and 12 from the previous year) and now the entire MSHS.

For this group of parents, I have been tasked with talking about some of the specifics of the 1:1 program and how it will affect their children and themselves. Along with some of the usual big themes – How are we going to support the students?; How are we going to support the parents? – I thought I would use the IB Learner Profile to put the rationale into perspective. As stated by the IBO, “The IB learner profile is the IB mission statement translated into a set of learning outcomes for the 21st century.” Our move to a 1:1 program is an extension of what we have always been doing!

The following images and descriptions are in draft mode. I would appreciate any feedback (positive or negative!) or suggestions to improve them in the comments below. All images are taken from Flickr under a Creative Commons license except where noted.


Inquirers – Students will have the ability to access meaningful, up-to-date and relevant information whenever they need it. Learning environments can be set up to encourage inquiry and discovery.



Knowledgeable – Students will have the ability to reference facts, skills and resources like never before. Their notes will be searchable and easily organized. Gives an opportunity to show their knowledge in different and authentic ways.



Thinkers – Critical thinking skills become increasingly important, due to the flood of information available. Students need to analyze and evaluate information.



Communicators – Allows our students to communicate and collaborate with others, either in our school or across the world.

Two to choose from! Which do you prefer?




Communicators 2


Principled – Students and teachers must examine what it means to be a principled member of society in a technology-rich world. This is not something we can bury our heads in the sand about. If we (schools and parents) do not teach them, who will?



Open Minded – Nothing yet… Suggestions?

Caring – Increasingly, interaction is taking place between individuals or groups online. It is important for students to understand the consequences of cyberbullying as well as how to be an effective member of digital communities.

I’m not sure how I feel about this image. It seems to show the opposite of caring…

Note: This image is from the University of Alabama and used based on the permission given there.


Risk Takers – Students, teachers and parents at UNIS are at the leading edge of technological adoption. In a recent survey conducted by Triple A Learning of MYP schools worldwide, less than 1 in 8 schools identified themselves as 1:1.

Risk Takers


Balanced – A balanced education is one that takes into account all appropriate learning opportunities. By adopting a 1:1 program, we are not abandoning non-technological modes of learning. We are, however, giving our students that ability to experience learning in a way that is more representative to how students today and tomorrow will live their lives. I’m trying to figure out how to encapsulate Will Richardson’s sentiment



Reflective – A 1:1 program gives students a wide range of tools that can be used to reflect upon their learning and thus improve the metacognitive abilities of those students. Because of their archive of work, it will allow students to compare their learning from year to year.



Again, your thoughts and feedback are encouraged!

A Long Road

Three weeks on the new job have passed. I’m still finding my feet, so to speak. I’m loving the ability to help teachers both in and out of the class. I just wish there was more of the “in class” part! It’ll come, I know, as teachers figure out how to utilize my services. I guess I need to be more vocal about going into classes and find some friendly faces who won’t mind an unplanned visit.

There is still a long, long road ahead. As I try to organize my thoughts and priorities, as I try to define the parameters of this new position, I realize that there is a lot of work to be done! But where to begin?

the long road ahead by qmnonic (CC BY)
the long road ahead by qmnonic (CC BY)
  • I’ve got a small group of teachers (and one administrator!) interested in starting a Professional Learning Community around the 23 Things workshop. (Check!)
  • I’d like to work with the ES IT Facilitator in finalizing a series of after-school Tech Sessions.
  • I’d like to plan and implement a series of Parent Workshops on issues such as Online Safety, Digital Citizenship, Copyright and Creative Commons, Navigating Our School Portal, Truths and Myths Regarding Facebook, <anything else?>
  • I’d like to establish a culture of Personal Learning Networks, trying to get more teachers reading and learning from other teachers as well as sharing their own expertise with teachers around the world.
  • I’d like to get students blogging, either internally or publicly. At this point, it is most important to establish the culture of blogging, regardless of the location.
  • I’d like to establish a scalable method of tracking (and reporting?) Technology Integration standards (which don’t exist for my school but can easily be based upon NETS, the IB Learner Profile and MYP ATL Skills).
  • I’d like to get a say in the setup of our school tablets. Why are we using Real Player instead of VLC? Is it truly a security risk to include Firefox and IE8? (IE8 is necessary, in my experience, to view and use our MS SharePoint portal.)

Anything else I should keep on my radar?

Technology Facilitator: My New Role

A few days ago, Kim Cofino was wondering about the variations in job titles amongst people doing similar work at different schools.

What is it about technology in education that makes it so difficult to define roles that everyone can agree on and understand? Even though we’ve had technology in schools for decades, it still seems like we’re making it up as we go along.

I missed her original Tweet calling for the different titles or else I would have added my very own brand new title to the mix: MSHS Technology Facilitator.

We’ve been back at school for the better part of a week now and I still am trying to come to grips with what this fancy new title means. Here’s what’s been bouncing around in my head to date:

What I am:

  • I’m there to support teachers, both in the classroom, with ideas on how where our current technologies fit into their curriculum and the best ways to integrate the two, and out, by providing training and support.
  • I’m there to support students by providing co-teaching and out-of-class support.
  • I’m there to support parents by offering workshops to help them understand what their children are doing in our 1:1 school.
  • I’m a filter between the teachers and the tech director.
  • I’m an observer, trying to monitor how teachers and students are progressing with their technology integration and finding ways to advance that integration based on what I see.

What I’m not:

  • I’m not Tech Support (no admin passwords, sorry!) though I’ll try my best to troubleshoot.
  • I’m not a classroom teacher any more.
  • I’m not THE expert.

So far, I’ve been running around putting out fires as teachers get back into the swing of using their Tablets. I’ve also been running some in-house PD on using Outlook effectively and efficiently as well as guiding the staff on what they will need to be showing our students on Day 1 (tomorrow!) when grades 8 – 10 receive their tablets for the very first time. I’ve also run an intro session for our batch of student helpers so that they can help me fight fires over the first few days.

I am absolutely thrilled to be the first person to occupy this position at my school. This position was created because our Admin saw the need for it as a direct result of Jeff Utecht‘s visit last November. I only hope I can fill the already-high expectations placed on this job.

I’m also a bit confused: after 10+ years of getting ready for students on Day 1, I’m not doing that this year. I’m not sure how I feel about that yet…