Are you hearing a lot lately about “edtech”? Is your school beefing up its educational technology — setting up computer labs, getting wired, buying devices, and investing in teacher tech training? Are you hearing more about “blended learning,” “flipped classrooms,” and “adaptive software”?
Edtech can be intimidating, but basically it means everything from learning to read to pushing initiatives in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) and coding classes, and it’s finally becoming part of many K–12 classrooms. It’s being incorporated into teaching, communication, grading, and homework — a lot in some schools, a little in others. But all edtech adopters promise it’s a way to give students essential 21st-century skills.
As with anything new, edtech takes patience and flexibility. By asking three questions of teachers and administrators — and taking three actions of your own — you can help your kids get the most out of it, foster their learning and support your school.
- Which edtech tools will my child be using in your class? The word “edtech” applies to a wide variety of things, from educational videos to social networks that connect students and teachers. Your teacher or school should be able to provide a list of the resources being used. A well-prepared teacher will know about them, be able to discuss their learning potential, and possibly be connected to professional support networks for additional information and ideas.
What to do: Ask for a demonstration of the software or check it out online yourself. Our organization, Common Sense, has a collection of free, award-winning digital literacy and classroom curricula, for example. It includes important topics teachers will want to cover with students, from how to cite resources found online to how to fight cyberbullying. We also have resources and interactive games parents can use at home with their children to make sure they’re navigating the digital world in a safe and responsible way. Check out Digital Passport for grades K–5 and Digital Compass for grades 6–8.
- Will my kid need access to these tools at home?At-home edtech requirements vary a lot among classes and schools. Teachers should recognize that not all students have computers or high-speed internet access at home, and they usually make sure their online assignments can be completed at school during the day. But that’s not always possible.
What to do: Get your teacher’s input on the kind of device, the programs and accounts, and which apps and other software your kids might need for homework. If you’re looking for supplemental resources to support your child’s learning at home, your school may be able to provide some. Our Common Sense Media offers “Best for Learning” recommendation lists of other great tools.
- Will I be able to access or monitor my child’s work/interactions with these tools?When your kid has a printed worksheet, you can easily track her progress. But when she’s entering information into a software program? Not so easy. And the internet is a wild and woolly place. Edtech requires everyone — teachers, students, and parents — to work differently and a lot more carefully.
What to do: Ask your teacher how you can continue to support your kid’s online learning and monitor interactions (if necessary).The software may have a parent login or a teacher dashboard that can be shared with parents, giving you a window into your kid’s account. Restricted-access capabilities should be part of the picture, too.
Media and technology are at the center of our lives today, especially our children’s. Schools increasingly see the value of incorporating technology into the learning process, providing more engaging experiences that allow children to learn at their own pace and monitor progress over time. But it’s ever more important that kids — and parents — have the necessary skills to navigate the digital world safely and responsibly.
Linda Burch is the Cofounder and Chief Education and Strategy Officer at Common Sense Media, a nonprofit dedicated to helping families make the most of media and technology through smart decision making. This essay is part of a series on parent engagement produced by the philanthropic foundation Carnegie Corporation of New York.