Technology is becoming more and more prevalent in all aspects of life—and your child’s classroom is no exception. Thanks to the ever-expanding availability and capabilities of technology, coupled with the growing push for personalized learning experiences, its use in the classroom is no longer a question of if but how. Often, these tech-infused classroom initiatives are referred to as “blended learning.” This is an important term for parents to understand; chances are your child is participating in some kind of blended learning activities. The Clayton Christensen Institute, a leading education research group, defines blended learning as follows:
A formal education program in which a student learns:
1. At least in part through online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace;
2. At least in part in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home;
3. And the modalities along each student’s learning path within a course or subject are connected to provide an integrated learning experience.
With that definition in mind, here are four things to pay attention to when it comes to your child’s use of technology in the classroom:
Devices Make a Difference
Every school is in a different position when it comes to what devices it provides for students’ use. Many schools simply have technology labs or carts that are shared among the students in one or more classrooms. However, more schools are pursuing one-to-one (1:1) initiatives, where students are provided with their own devices (typically a laptop or tablet), which they are able to take home with them. This helps schools and districts take full advantage of online learning programs they use and allows students greater flexibility and accessibility to complete their coursework. Still other schools are using a bring your own device (BYOD) model, where students are required to bring their own devices to the classroom on a daily basis to complete in-class assignments as well as homework.
Especially if your child’s school uses a 1:1 or BYOD model for tech devices, it’s important to be clear on what policies are in place regarding how your child uses his or her device. Closely read and hang on to any handouts about tech policies that your child brings home at the beginning of the school year, talk to your child about responsibly using and caring for his or her device, and make sure that the device has a good protective case.
Understand the Instructional Model
There are several ways that blended learning instruction is delivered, and knowing which model (or models) is being used in your child’s classroom can help you effectively support him or her throughout the year. The Clayton Christensen Institute provides a great overview of the major blended learning models, but we’ve outlined the format for a couple of the most common ones below:
In this approach, the elements of lecture and homework are essentially flipped. At home, students take in standard course content by completing readings or watching videos either made or recommended by their teacher. Because students complete this learning on their own time, they can do so at their own pace, repeating portions that they didn’t understand or moving quickly through concepts they’re familiar with. Then, in the classroom, students complete exercises that would traditionally be considered homework with the support of their teacher and classmates in the room to provide more opportunities to ask questions, gain clarification, and work collaboratively. This approach also frees up in-class time for larger scale, more hands-on projects and activities that help students deepen their learning.
This is a very common and effective approach for children in a grades K–5. In this model, students rotate through different learning stations during the school day, getting the opportunity to work in different learning modalities. These stations typically include teacher-led small-group instruction, online learning, independent practice, and collaborative work. One of the most significant benefits of this approach is that teachers are able to customize instruction for each child by dividing students into groups and honing in on specific concepts or skill gaps. Online learning stations provide even more personalization by offering students time for individualized practice at their own pace and in the areas they need it most.
See the Value in Data
One of the biggest advantages of technology in the classroom is that it provides teachers with easy access to meaningful data on each student. Online assignments and assessments can be quickly scored, with results provided to your child’s teacher in real time. Many online programs also incorporate technology-enhanced (TE) item types, like drop-down selection, fill-in-the-blank, sequencing, graphing, and constructed-response questions, which help teachers assess understanding at a deeper level. With this data easily in reach, teachers can effectively identify where students excelling and where they are struggling and make the appropriate changes in instruction to help them succeed.
As with all other types of “big data,” there are some negative connotations associated with student data. Fears about data privacy and what schools, districts, and education technology companies are using student data for are common and not unfounded. However, federal legislation under FERPA has long been in place to mandate responsible use of student data, as well as to guarantee parental access and some degree of control. Many companies have also been proactive about making sure that they have responsible data practices in place—to date, over 200 companies have signed the Student Privacy Pledge. Check out this blog post for more important info for parents regarding student data.
Communication is Key
All parents want to be involved in their children’s education and be there to celebrate their successes, as well as help in the areas where they’re struggling. Classroom technology can be very powerful in facilitating communication between parents and teachers and building a connection to the classroom. Many online programs feature portals and messaging systems that allow parents continuous access to real-time data on their child’s progress, as opposed to parents having to wait for conferences or report cards. These tools also help parents communicate directly with teachers in a fast, organized manner.
Be sure to talk to your child’s teacher about any online tools that are available to you as a parent. It’s also a good idea to talk to teachers about their preferences and expectations for communicating with you. Setting the precedent of involvement early on can make a big difference throughout the school year.
Online tools aren’t just for the classroom—they can help connect learning at home as well! Check out Study Island for Home, Edmentum’s solution for parents and students at home, and help your child discover how fun learning can be!