Digital Natives and their Digital Immigrant Parents

As we continue our attempts in helping adults understand how children are learning– and how they need to learn in school– we tend to forget about one very important group of adults: PARENTS.

At one point, I assumed parents would advocate for finding new ways to engage students in their own learning. Who wouldn’t want their own children to have the best possible learning environment? What I’m finding, at least in our area, is that parents sometimes are the ones more concerned with standardized test scores, with how their child is competing with the next… and the Web is simply something that kids do on their own time.

eSchoolNews posted this yesterday:

“American parents agreed by a wide margin that digital media skills are important to kids’ success in the 21st century, but they also expressed skepticism about whether digital media could contribute to the development of skills such as communicating, working with others, and establishing civic responsibility…

• 67 percent of parents said they did not think the web helped teach their kids how to communicate.
• 87 percent of parents said they did not believe the web helped their kids learn how to work with others.
• Three out of four parents did not believe the web can teach kids to be responsible in their communities.”

Maybe they haven’t heard about students at Wells Elementary School in Wells, Maine who use blogs and podcasts to learn collaboratively. In this Apple Education featured profile, teacher Bob Sprankle is quoted,

“Instead of me teaching the kids discrete skills in isolation… in the process of making podcasts they’ve started teaching each other these skills… Creating the podcasts has completely changed their writing and language skills.”

And maybe parents haven’t noticed that young people are creating groups daily in Facebook, such as  “Helping Orphans in Myanmar” or “Relay4Life”  where important information, dates, donation websites, and other calls for action may be shared with anyone who joins the group and wants to help. These groups don’t always make the traditional news media… and a lot of parents don’t have a clue what their kids are doing on Facebook. It’s not just about stocking up on friends anymore.

My kids are so much more globally aware than I was at their ages. They have genuine concern for what’s going on in their world, and they want to do something about it. When they can’t find an avenue to help, they blog about how they feel and ask if anyone else feels the same way.

And maybe these same parents haven’t heard about The Pitot House entry on Wikipedia. Will Richardson talked about this particular Wikipedia entry at a conference I attended recently. This entry in Wikipedia was first added by an elementary teacher and her 3rd grade students, not by any historians or community experts in New Orleans. Here’s a real-life experience for these kids… they had to research the landmark and then decide what to tell the world about it. This wasn’t a report that only the teacher would read.

To be certain, there are some concerns about the chaotic nature of the Web. As a parent, I can understand the hesitancy. But as we continue to press educators to open their minds to the educational possibilities of the Web, it becomes more and more obvious that we need to invite all the stakeholders into our discussions… and parents most definitely need to be involved.

Web 2.0 as Teacher-to-Home Communication

A question was posted regarding how the home-to-school connection (I also like calling this “teacher-to-home communication”) is coming along with new technologies and schools. Talk about a “rock and a hard place.”

I think there are a few factors that make the seemingly simple act of communicating through Web 2.0 more difficult than we would like to think.

1) TIME- yes, teachers in a lot of school systems have access to their own teacher web pages (or at least a building web page). However, how much time and money has been allotted to teaching the teachers how to use those pages? For some, this won’t be that big of an issue. For others, this is a very, very steep learning curve.

Also, it takes time to populate that web page, even when it’s a template-based system. If I want to make sure students can see a copy of the assignments we did in class, whether the student was absent or just misplaced the assignment, that will take time for me to add to the web page. Teachers already have minimal planning time for instruction. When do they find the time to add to their web pages? And what about Wikis? Blogs? Photo-sharing sites? TeacherTube?

2) INTERNET SAFETY- like it or not, it’s a federal requirement that schools keep kids safe . In some districts, that means blocking most of what we consider Web 2.0 tools. Our district blocks a lot of blogs, wikis, and photo-sharing sites because they aren’t regulated or moderated. My personal opinion, which I’ve posted many times, is that we can’t teach kids to use the internet safely when we block everything, but federal funding speaks louder than those of us “trying to make a point.” Regardless of my opinion, the situation is some Web 2.0 tools simply aren’t available in public schools.

3) USE by Parents & Students- if a teacher communicates through Web 2.0 tools ( for this example, let’s assume the teacher uses a wiki published on the web), will the students use it? Will the parents use it? Maybe a better question is: will the parents and/or students who need this communication MOST actually use it? There are so many factors here, it’s nearly impossible to know. Important questions to consider: do the families have internet access? if they do have access, will they check the wiki page every day? If they don’t have internet access, then what?

On top of all those issues, there is a HUGE divide between what some parents know and are able to do with Web 2.0… compared to what their kids know and are able to do. Web 2.0 education for the families is another need. Do parents and kids know they can add to a wiki? Or leave a comment on a blog post? Or comment on an instructional video on TeacherTube? Again, this is another learning curve that requires attention.

I don’t have any magic answers or solutions, but I do see some issues that we could begin to tackle. Dialogues need to occur amongst learning communities about how we should/could be communicating with Web 2.0.

Short side note: As a parent, I appreciate Web 2.0 as communication… and I use it. But a) I understand how to use it, b) I’m not blocked from using it, and c) I have access at home to it. How many of your students’ parents are like me?