The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in an increase of technology not only in schools, but in homes.
According to a study by the National Center for Education Statistics, 94% of households with children in the home reported that computers were always or usually available for educational purposes in March 2021 compared to 88% in May 2020.
More students than ever are using school tech at home, but they’re not working alone. Many parents are right alongside them — troubleshooting, supervising, teaching, and mentoring.
This hands-on view of educational technology has helped parents understand more about their child’s learning. But it’s also prompted concerns, fears and frustrations. What are some of the biggest challenges for parents? And how can educators help address them?
1. Hardware challenges
Becoming accustomed to an unfamiliar device can be a challenge even for parents with good tech skills.
Maren Mather is a parent of three children in elementary school. She has experienced this increase of technology in her home first-hand with her children engaged in hybrid learning. Her children came home with Chromebooks, which was helpful for access issues, but did raise problems. “The Chromebook was challenging to use at first,” she said. “It has a lot of limitations on websites, printing and saving files that took some getting used to.”
Google’s Chromebook has a different interface than other laptops. The shortkeys, motions, locations, icons and appearances on different platforms can be hard to get used to. Both children and parents may use different devices at home and for work than their schools use.
Schools can help address these digital literacy challenges by offering a dedicated phone number, a contact form or a list of troubleshooting tips. For example, Alpine School District in Utah has resources broken down by age and a way to access the help desk through a contact form in English and Spanish.
2. Too many sites and systems
Another big hurdle for parents is keeping track of all the technology tools that different teachers use. Mather describes the lack of consistency in hardware and software as her biggest frustrations as a parent.
“The biggest challenge is that each teacher uses different software, platforms and websites. It was challenging to remember how to use each site and remember which child needed which site, too! or platform. I would often talk to other parents who agreed that if all the teachers used the same platform and/or sites, it would be much easier on parents!”
As a parent myself I dealt with this first-hand when my child’s school went remote last year. There were multiple logins, and I had to scour old emails from the school to find those details. Schools can address this frustration by providing “clear expectations.” Jennifer Snelling and Diana Fingal in an ISTE article suggest creating an FAQ for all parents. “Next, prepare a step-by-step guide on how to access and use online learning tools and curriculum. Make sure you present this information in various formats including video and text and include screenshots and screen-casting tutorials.”
Also, school leaders should reference the ISTE Standards for planning around educational technology. Leaders should have a “shared vision for using technology” which means consistency across schools.
3. Too many passwords
Another frustration I dealt with as a parent last year was not being able to log in to one of the learning sites. My child and I couldn’t find the password and didn’t know who to contact to access it. Since the online work was optional and not graded, we ended up just not doing it.
Mather dealt with this as well: “Teachers should remember that a lot of parents have multiple children in different grades and in multiple schools. Consistency in software, reminder systems, learning sites, etc. make our lives much easier.”
Educational technology leaders can help parents by providing FAQs, resources and support for when passwords are (inevitably) lost. They can also use password management systems that store all passwords for one user in one place. Teachers should also know how to help parents with passwords and logins because they are often the first person a caregiver will contact.
Schools and parents learned a lot about technology in the last school year, and some educators have said emergency remote learning ushered in a era where parents are far more involved in their children's schooling. In order to keep parents involved, it's important to be aware of frustrations and address them quickly.
Carrie Rogers-Whitehead is the founder of Digital Respons-Ability and the author of Digital Citizenship: Teaching Strategies and Practice from the Field and the new book, The 3Ms of Fearless Digital Parenting: Proven Tools to Help You Raise Smart and Savvy Online Kids.