Digital learning and enhancing parental engagement
There is promising evidence that direct communication with parents can improve learners' and parents' compliance with requests from teachers about attendance, behaviour and support for learning.
Teachers are more likely to do this once they are more competent in using digital equipment and tools, and their schools use digital tools such as VLEs to facilitate parental communications.
There is a substantial research literature which shows that where parents are actively engaged in their children's education through their involvement in the school, their support for reading and homework, and their provision of resources which can be used for learning, that this can make a difference to their children's attainment and attitude towards learning.
Schools have begun to recognise that digital tools can be used to communicate more effectively with parents and that parents can enable, if not encourage, their children to use digital equipment, tools and resources for educational purposes. As Formby (2014) found, children learning to read in lower socio-economic groups were more likely to have access to touch screens than books, and this could be exploited to increase their literacy levels.
There is not a great deal of research literature which has measured how schools' use of digital tools and resources has made a difference to their communications, which has in turn changed parents' behaviours, such as their support for learning. The literature which exists shows promising evidence that using digital tools for communication with parents can provide benefits to parents and school management that can enhance learners' attention to learning.
Selwyn et al assessed improvements to parental communications in a small sample of primary and secondary schools in England that had made good progress in using digital tools within the school for learning and teaching. They found that:
- Direct communications increased the probability that parents had a better understanding of information and had received it. This was reflected in teachers' perceptions of greater compliance with requests for learners to change their behaviour and complete work and a better response from parents for information which indicated that more parents had acted on the communication;
- Feedback could reach parents who were not normally seen for face to face feedback about their children. Teachers were able to customise feedback and showcase good work and progress. This was reflected in teachers' perception that they were able to establish some relationship with parents they did not see.
Parents in these schools felt that they were better informed, while teachers felt that they had easier and more effective means to provide information which was beneficial to parents and children's behavior and willingness to learn. The authors concluded that digital tools were 'a technical fix to some of the problems of communication with parents rather than reconfiguring relationships'.
Condie and Monroe (2007) found that reporting to parents is enabled by digital tools. To teachers it meant that the same information could be provided to all parents and customized for parents and learners.
Johannesen (2013) found that in several secondary schools in Norway where teachers had adopted online assessment which was made available to parents and learners (as opposed to oral reporting at a parents evening) the teachers felt that this encouraged better reflection (self-assessment) by the learners and improved their communication to parents. Grant (2011) studied several secondary schools where digital tools were being introduced for direct, more customised communication with parents. He found that teachers believed that they could speed up communication, do it more easily/regularly and avoid the problems of using learners (i.e. that messages were not always conveyed or conveyed accurately).
Jewitt et al (2010) found that digital tools enabled teachers to post homework and message parents about relevant tasks which they could use to assist with homework completion. Some parents appreciated being able to access this information, although only a few parents took up the opportunity to do so.
Jewitt and Parashar (2011) found that providing low income families with a laptop and internet connection appeared, from learners' feedback, to 'help to make visible what they are learning' and 'to create and support opportunities for parents and learners to talk about what they were learning' in households where this was not usual. Several studies which have examined parental involvement in digital learning (coaching) found that it made no difference to learner outcomes (Black, 2009, Cavanaugh et al, 2014).
Ingredients for success
Successful implementation depends not just on teachers' proficiency in using digital tools for communication but the proficiency of school managers and school administrators. Blau and Hameiri (2010) found a relationship (in 10 secondary schools in Israel) between teachers' understanding and frequency of use of a digital learning management system in the school and their use of it for parent and learner communications. Those who were the lowest users of the system were least likely to use it for communication with learners or parents.
Infrastructure and school systems to collect information for parental communications are prerequisites.
Email: Catriona Rooke