Top Tech Essentials for Parent Engagement

01/07/2018  |  By Gregory Hart

Parental involvement has long been part of the schools’ formula for improving students’ academic performance. As the educational landscape shifts to the digital frontier, many schools are turning to technology tools to make that connection between home and school — but the technology alone won’t get 100 percent of parents actively involved in their students’ coursework.

At Florida’s Hillsborough County Public Schools, student and parent engagement has dramatically improved by strategically leveraging a social learning management system (LMS) platform that provides secure online access to grades, assignments, class discussions, collaboration tools and more. Since we launched our system during the 2013-14 school year, we have seen its use steadily rise — with more than a quarter of our students’ parents now checking the system at least once a week.

As any district takes the “LMS leap” to increase parent engagement, three key factors that decision-makers should keep in mind are privacy, security and equity. Beyond making sure that your new system is the best choice for communicating with parents and students, there are federal laws that districts need to follow when sharing student information.

For example, Edsby, our social learning management platform, has a secure, self-service registration process that makes it easy for parents to create an account. To ensure that parents are who they say they are, they need four key pieces of information to register, including their child’s student ID number. Ask potential vendors what kind of steps they take to ensure student information is only accessible to parents.

Additionally, this online security authentication process makes it easier for parents to begin interfacing with the platform. For example, our previous online gradebook required that parent validation codes be sent home with students, and there was never a guarantee these codes would make it home — or that it was really a parent who created the account.

Once a district gets its ducks in a row in terms of privacy and security concerns, another question that remains is equity. With any technology implementation, districts need to be mindful of students getting the same access as their peers.

Because more than three-fifths of our 215,000 students come from economically disadvantaged families, the system we implemented had to be accessible by anyone, regardless of what technology they had available.

If a platform is only accessible via certain web browsers or operating systems, it is not going to be a fit for every family in your district. Technology that is going to be widely used by all teachers, students and parents in the district should function with any computer or mobile device. This provides better access to families who don’t have a computer at home, but who own a smart phone.

Meeting parents where they are — with tools and information that can be securely accessed from any device, at any time — has been the key to our success. With the help of our easy-to-use social learning management platform, we are taking student and parent engagement to a new level in our district.

Gregory Hart is the Manager of Web Communications for the Hillsborough County Public Schools in Tampa, Florida.
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