Expert Advice on Managing 1-to-1 at Home

September 16, 2013
Kelsey Herron
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES Common Sense Resources, Parents and Families

School 1-to-1 programs are new for everyone, especially parents. So it’s up to schools to be proactive and work to include parents in the rollout process -- something that Don Orth, director of technology at Hillbrook School in Los Gatos, California was working on when we spoke with him last spring.

“One of the things we’re trying to improve on is involving parents in the [rollout] process,” Orth said in an interview about our 1-to-1 Essentials Program. “We always talk about parents being involved, making sure that they know how students are using [the devices] and what our expectations are as well. If you don’t involve the parents, it could cause the program to fail.”

And he’s right, too. Experts like Jason Brand, author of the recently published 1-to-1 at Home: A Parent’s Guide to School Issued Laptops and Tablets, say that the effect of school-issued technology at home is a critical piece of the 1-to-1 setup. “School districts must do more than just pass out iPads,” wrote Brand at Edutopia. “They must also prepare families for the revolutionary nature of these boundary-blurring devices.”

By “boundary-blurring,” Brand is talking about the line between "tool and toy." While 1-to-1 programs play a crucial role in preparing students for their technology-saturated futures, they also undoubtedly make it more complicated for parents to tell when students are working, socializing, or playing online. These devices may also complicate the rules that are likely already in place in many families’ homes.

Brand’s book is a guide of sorts that addresses the home side of 1-to-1 programs and the ways these devices often upset the delicate balance parents may have struck with their children regarding their use of technology in the home. At Edutopia he lists a few points for educators and school administrations to consider before beginning a school-wide rollout, some of which include:

  • Remember that parents are now put in a difficult spot where they must manage a device that they do not own, the purpose of which has been established by others.
  • 1-to-1 programs also require parents to respect the school’s acceptable use policy in the home. They ask parents to respect school values about the role that technology should play in their child’s life -- values that may contradict their own.
  • At-home access to these devices may require parents to take an entirely new approach to their parenting and to the technology itself.

“Parents did not grow up with laptops and tablets," Brand says, "and certainly not ones that were school-issued. Thus, parents may lack the necessary perspective to know what to encourage and what to limit with the devices.” This is precisely why it's important to include parents in each step of the implementation process.

Orth’s solution? Talk to parents directly. “We have a meeting with parents to talk about iPads and expectations,” he said. “We want them in that conversation.” Orth added that parents actually participate in students’ homework for the first few weeks of his school’s 1-to-1 program, which is now going into its fourth year and begins with students in fifth grade. The school also provides additional online resources for parents.

“There are generations of parents who just don’t understand what academic use of a device looks like,” Orth said.

Educators we interviewed said they were surprised by the parent anxiety that came up when they started 1-to-1 programs.

“By educating the parents about how to get in, how to access the files, how to look at different things, it’s a sense of comfort for the parents,” middle school Technology Coordinator Kali Summer Baird said in this video we put together for 1-to-1 Essentials.  “And really the bottom line, it’s taking away the fear. “

Our 1-to-1 Essentials program offers additional guidance and resources for schools going 1-to-1, including resources for educating parents. These include a Family Media Agreement and Customizable Device Contract, both of which are age-specific tools to help parents talk about technology guidelines at home and set up boundaries that their kids feel comfortable with. We also have an online glossary of educational technology terms to help parents who are new to 1-to-1 programs familiarize themselves with digital classroom tools and a series of videos we suggest sharing at professional development workshops, on your school's website, or at a family engagement night.

All of these resources are designed to help parents feel comfortable enough to regulate students’ usage of these new devices inside the home, creating an environment that upholds the same kinds of stipulations as the classroom. As Orth said, “We are empowering parents to set those guidelines. Our job as a school is to help them know that it is in their jurisdiction.”