Friday, October 5, 2012

Parent Concerns in a 1:1 iPad Initiative

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Last Sunday, I received a note via the contact form on my blog that was a first for me in many ways. It was the first time I had ever been contacted by a parent via my blog, the first time I could not put a comment out of my mind until I had addressed it, and the first time I ever thought about the impact a school's 1:1 take-home technology initiative could have on a family.

With the permission of the parent, I share here the note she left for me, slightly edited to keep her identity confidential:
My son was issued an iPad. I wasn't able to make the iPad meeting at school. I am in panic mode. I want to embrace the new technology but I also want to know how I can set limits. Before we had strict "screen time" rules. Now he just says he's doing homework or studying but it is taking all night (4-6 hours) so I'm convinced he's being distracted by other things on the iPad. I miss him, he is always plugged in when he is home. 
Your name came up when I searched under School District, iPad. Can you point me in the direction of a good book, article or person who might help? 
In all of the amazing things I've been reading over the years about 1:1 initiatives, this was a side of the story I had not read about or managed to consider on my own. 1:1 should bring a paradigm shift to the classroom, but it can also impact family dynamics in a profound way.

The phrases "I am in panic mode" and "I miss him, he is always plugged in when he is home" tugged at my heart. I went to church, hung out with friends for lunch, and ran some errands, but all day I was thinking about what, if anything I could say to help this parent.

Below are the contents of the email I sent back to "Ms. Jones", again edited slightly for confidentiality.  It really was this long and this detailed! I share it here in hopes that it will stir your thinking and provide ideas to educators and parents on how to support students in the home aspect of  implementing of 1:1 learning.

Hello, Ms. Jones,

This email is in response to the comments/questions you left for me via my blog at 

I am glad you see the potential of this technology for your son's learning and that you reaching out for answers in a situation that is new to the teachers, students and parents at your son's school!

iPads in education are very new (the device itself has only been out since March 2010), and I can't think of a specific book or article at the moment that would address your concerns. Based on my overall experience as a former classroom teacher and now an edtech specialist, I have a few suggestions for continuing to address the situation you described in your comments above and seeking balance for your son and your family. This email started getting long so I separated my ideas into sections below.

Communicate With Your Son's Teachers

As a former classroom teacher myself, I cannot stress enough that one of the most important things you need to do is communicate with your son's teachers. Share your concerns with them just as you did with me in your comments above.  Ask what kinds of activities you should be expecting to see him doing for homework on the iPad and how much time you should be expecting him to spend on homework. 

As you approach his teachers, remember that  teaching and learning with the iPad is new to your son's school and his teachers. Everyone is excited by the possibilities of the impact this technology can have on learning, but they are all in the process of learning the best ways to do it together. Approach this conversation from a perspective of being a partner with your son's teachers in his education.

I would also ask if there is a way to gain access to any resources that were shared during the iPad meeting the school held and/or if the meeting was recorded for parents who could not be present.

As an aside, you may be helping other families in this process. There may be others with your same questions who have not spoken up yet. It is possible your son's school and teachers are not aware of these issues yet, and they need to assess if this needs to be addressed in future parent communications/outreach.

Communicate With Your Son and Set Limits

Continue talking with your son about your concerns. Even though the school is providing this wonderful learning tool, it is still not healthy for him to be buried in the screen all night. Your son may push back on some of your comments, but that's partly his age. He is internalizing more of what you say than you may realize.

As your son's parent, I believe it is still your right to limit screen time if you feel your son is spending too much time with his iPad. Realize he probably does need it for homework, but if he was not spending four to six hours on homework pre-iPad (as a former middle school teacher that amount of time seems excessive to me), he is possibly being distracted. His distractions may be non-productive "play" time or they could be self-directed learning. Either way, he should be focused first on completing his assignments. 

You may have to make a rule that at 8:00 PM or 8:30 PM (or whatever you feel is a reasonable amount of time before his bedtime) the iPad gets put on the charger for the evening and doesn't get used again until the morning. The charging station should probably not be in your son's bedroom if you choose to do this. A rule like this will hopefully help your son focus on getting his homework done before the "iPad put away" deadline. You will also have to be firm on the deadline; he may have to suffer the consequences of a few incomplete assignments or low test grades before he adjusts his time management. (If you choose to do this, please be in contact with his teachers about it so they will understand why some assignments may be incomplete.)

Put Some Supportive Structures in Place at Home

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Establish a homework area in your house that is NOT in an isolated area. Perhaps at the kitchen table or in the living room. It should be an area where other members of the family will at least occasionally be but where there won't be distractions. Realize this may impact how the rest of your family utilizes the space during homework time. For example, if there is a TV in the room it might not be on during this time. Homework should always be done in this area whether it requires the iPad or not.

Over the course of the evening, check in once or twice with your son.  Ask him what he is working on for his homework and ask him to show you how he's using his iPad to do it (if he is using the iPad at that time; check in even if he isn't using it!). If you can do this in an "I want to learn about the iPad and how it's helping you learn" attitude as much as possible, as opposed to an "I'm policing you" attitude, the communication will probably go better.

As Time Goes On, It Will Probably Get Better

Realize that with time some of the "newness" of the iPad will wear off and your son should grow in his ability to self-regulate. As he matures, you may be able to back off on a few of your rules. I would probably keep some structure in place at least through the first semester, then re-evaluate in the Spring.

I am reminded of a presentation I attended this summer where high school students talked about their first year in a 1:1 iPad environment. They said the day the iPads were issued, lunch time was silent because everyone was buried in their screens! But over time the novelty wore off and people started talking with each other again. The students also noted that even in class they were sometimes distracted by their devices, but they learned quickly that they couldn't afford to continue being inattentive and still keep up their grades. Your son is in middle school, but with time and your support, he too will grow and mature in his technology use.

Concluding Thoughts

Ms. Jones, you may have gotten way more than you were asking for in this email. If that is the case, I apologize. But your questions/concerns struck a chord with me and I wanted to share what I was thinking. I've been thinking about this response all day!

I hope you find these suggestions valuable and that you will reach out to your son and his teachers to partner in finding solutions to your concerns.

Good luck as you and your son move forward on this new learning frontier!

I was relieved to receive the following reply from Ms. Jones yesterday:
Hi Sandy
I was blown away by your response. Thank you so much for taking the time to help a stranger. Of course you may quote my original email.
Like you, I believe many parents are facing the same issues. I really appreciate your advice and plan to implement some of your suggestions.
I'll let you know how it goes!
Thanks again,
Ms. Jones

Yay! I didn't completely overwhelm her, and I can't wait to hear back from her!

What Would You Say? What Are You Doing In This Arena?

What other advice would you give Ms. Jones and parents like her who undoubtedly have similar questions? Do you disagree with any of the suggestions I made?

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Keep in mind, the child being able to say, "I'm working on my homework" is somewhat of a game-changer when it comes to supporting and setting limits. How easily could you tell your child to just put the technology away when it could be impacting their grades?

If you are in a school or district that is doing one-to-one, are you making parent/family support part of your implementation, and if so, how?

I hope you'll contribute in the comments section below!