Technology in Education: Parents are the Missing Link

kid in minecraft creeper mask
He dares me to take away his computer.

I’ve been thinking a lot of technology in education since attending the MIT Think Tank and Town Hall. Like fellow #DellDozen Ambassador Sarah Kimmel of Technology for Moms, I’ve decided to share a few more thoughts on the topic.

Sarah knows tech; she lives tech. She’s also younger than me and her kids are just starting out in school. I’m in my mid-forties and my “young ones” are in 7th and 9th grade. It’s not unexpected that although both of us are excited about the potential for tech to make a positive impact on education, we differ in how we’d like it to be applied.

We both seem to like 24/7 access to school information and such, but I’m a fan of old-fashioned book, pen and paper homework. It’s easier to keep an eye on them and track their progress. (Counterpoint: computer-based learning programs can truly track progress–and growth–over time, I know.)

This all got me thinking about the technology generation gap, something I think will be an issue for another 5 or so years.

I mentioned that my son received a netbook at his freshman orientation. The high school is three years into the netbook program and it’s not without it critics.

Students complain the Asus netbooks are lame (but are generally glad to have their own computers). As a parent, I appreciate this nod to educational equity. Each child has the same computer; each child has access to a computer at home. In some cases, the netbook might be the only computer in the home.

There are teachers who embrace technology–incorporating it into lessons, posting homework, study materials and other resources. And then there are teachers who resent the netbooks and the fact that students easily distract themselves during lessons.

Parents may embrace the technology or, like some teachers, bemoan its introduction. For example, the child of a friend was practically doing a poor job academically freshman year, but was one of top five high scorers in Tetris in that grade. How awesome does that look on a college application?

While our household is generally tech-friendly, we’ve always had rules about how, when and why my boys use technology. They’ve had computers designated for their use, but there have always been limits. Now that the teen has his own netbook, the balance has been thrown off.

The principal assures parents, “It’s still your house, your rules. Don’t let the kids tell you otherwise.”  But the reality is, the kids suddenly have the upper hand.

At freshman parents night, there was a brief explanation of the netbook program and the district’s IT guy said a few words, but it was clear that parents had many more questions than he was able to answer during his allotted time.

The more I reflect upon it though, given that the netbook has been a big source of stress for us the cause of nightly arguments, the missing piece isn’t the information the IT guy might have shared, it was a piece that would have best been facilitated by a school social worker or a guidance counselor.

Our concerns aren’t so much about internet safety and site filtering (unless we can filter out every site except for the one he is supposed to be working on at any given time) as they are about expectations, rules and the guidelines that other parents are setting. Limits recommended by educational leaders can empower parents and help ensure the netbook is a tool for learning rather than as well as the Biggest Distraction Ever.

Such discussions would also be useful to the families who aren’t as familiar with technology. And I know there are many. Two years ago I helped a group of moms from a local English Language Learners Parent Center start a blog. I brought the project to life thinking it would be a fun way to build literacy skills, while also building tech skills. (It was!) But I was surprised that some group members lacked even basic keyboarding skills. I can imagine how how clueless parents like these might be when their child tells them, I don’t know, that the netbook is to be kept on all night long in his room.

As my teen looked over my should when I was on my computer the other night he asked in a voice heavy with frustration, “Why do you have that Alexa tool bar? It’s so distracting!”

Admittedly, it seemingly demands my attention at inopportune moments (Whoa, the guy who caught the giant tuna had to throw it back?!), but it’s also a convenient way to keep up with trending stories and breaking news.

I explained to him that it takes discipline, even for adults, to focus on the task at hand and not get distracted.

I understand every modern student’s struggle involves learning how to put on the virtual blinders and focus their attention on what matters. Heck, it’s part of every modern person’s struggle, too.

But when the school, rather than the parent, decides that it’s time to give a child a computer of his or her own, the school needs to work with that child’s parents to make sure the shine of new technology doesn’t cast a shadow of the enhanced learning potential technology is supposed to unleash.

Does your child have school-issued technology? Does it impact previous limits on technology?

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  1. Karen Smith says

    I worry sometimes about the wedge of people who don’t exactly represent the tech generation shift, but people of our age who did not have early/young access to tech and who pursued careers where significant tech didn’t become a major part of the job until very recently. It’s a weird kind of sandwich generation – the one just before the Digital Natives. While I’m old for a Digital Native (40) – my family was an extremely early technology adopter. Our first computer became a permanent resident when I was about 8, and I began using a computer’s word processor regularly for school assignments by about 7th grade. Before the web and the information access (and newly required filtering skills that come with) but still – I was using, and therefore troubleshooting simple computer problems, from a very young age. Most of my agemates who are now parenting school-aged children did not have this kind of tech experience when they were young, and many are still hesitant with tech (some teachers are among the worst at feeling like tech is something to be afraid of…a POV I find frustrating.) But I worry about these people who have never been big tech users in terms of how they will need to adjust their parenting with home-based tech assigned to their children. In our area there are some 1:1 iPad programs. Same problem. How does a family navigate the terrain of ubiquitous tech when the parents are not comfortable with tech themselves? While my own parenting journey is not without bumps and bruises (mostly my own,) because I have been involved in tech all my life and use tech for my work and writing, I feel pretty prepared to handle things w/my kids and I have been preparing and teaching them from very early on. My biggest concern is my kids understand that I can’t shield them from all inappropriate content online, but instead I need to equip them with their own internal compass and own awareness and respect for family rules so that if they come across an objectionable site they shut it down or come find me to show me first, then we shut it down and brainstorm different search strategies or I pre-load some appropriate sites. But even I find this to be a really consuming job. Will my tech-fearful or even just tech-agnostic/inexperienced peers be up to the task? Not just the setting rules about screen time task, but about navigating the ambiguous terrain of “But you’re on the computer all the time, why can’t I?” and “Well I just downloaded it because a kid from my class said he did too and it didn’t hurt his computer.” and “Why shouldn’t I say my real name in this forum?”Sigh. No solutions, but loads of worries and questions!

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