I have just finished attending a web seminar, my usual Saturday-morning activity. Glad our power was restored in time for this! The livebinder of links for this webinar is at livebinders.com classroom20live. The actual webinar is available for playback at live.classroom20.com archives (there is a link to archives at the top of the page). It is also available on iTunes U!

I am excited by Joe Mazza’s presentation. The way this principal has integrated technology into a robust home-school program is inspiring. And to my question about what to do for the families who lack tech connections, the answer was simple and obvious: they maintain a list of those families, and EVERY communication that goes out via the web or cell network goes home to those families in hard copy. The school also has awareness of community resources that can help families become connected (cut rates for cable internet was an example).

The school district I am applying to is very rural. Cellular service is questionable, let alone smart phone access, and cable internet will be sporadic as well. Affordability of technology will be an issue for some families in this district. Some families might be able to access or afford technology but decline to use it. I want to be sure that anything I do online does not disenfranchise families!

So I am thinking about using a telephone-based call-in feature where I could leave a homework update or family notices about tests and conference times. My local school had something like this when my boys were little, and it was very helpful to me. Paper communications don’t always make it home in a timely manner! But that would be a common way for me to send information home also. Class sizes in this district will be small, so printing won’t be a huge deal. But in a larger, still rural or low-income community, cost to print might be an issue.

One of the participants in today’s webinar in the chat room mentioned Remind 101 as a tool that can both text families/students and email. This would be a good tool where cell service is reliable, and most families have cell phones. I know that just because families are in an urban location does not guarantee that they have access to computers. Even public access computers in libraries are not always available (as I mentioned in my Master’s Paper). So wherever I am, whatever I am teaching, I will have to be sure I make communications with families as broad and inclusive as possible.

I have a lot of things to think about! A different person in the chat room was insistent that online communications are not safe or secure. I think this person is unfamiliar with technologies, as many families are, and has read too many alarmist reports. However, there are some very real and important personal security issues that need to be addressed with online communications. I am going to do some research and thinking about how to convey to families (and other teachers) the knowledge they need to be able to address those concerns. For example, I understand how to disaggregate data and keep it anonymous, but I think most people don’t. I should be able to explain this better! I should also be able to talk intelligently about firewalls, restricted-access sites and communications, and what a “hacker” does – and doesn’t.

Finally, these webinars make me think about how tech can be used to support learning, both within and outside the classroom.

I am always trying to wrap my head around how to integrate tech into instruction without losing the developmentally appropriate tasks of non-tech activities. I think students of ALL ages benefit from using physical crayons, paints, scissors, glue… I think students of ALL ages need to know how indexing systems work in physical texts, how to ask a question and hold it in their minds longer than the time it takes to click a link, how to communicate face to face. I think students of all ages also benefit from being able to move quickly past a stumbling block by using online resources, to communicate with teachers or project team members outside of school time, to be able to publish their original work to websites where classmates and far-flung friends and family can view and comment! So when I think about the home-family connection, I think about things like posting student work to a class website that parents can access (with a password) and comment on. I think about a web-based chat room where parents can ask questions or suggest things and I can respond so all the parents can be part of the conversation (emails don’t allow this!). I think about giving students the tools to post notes from class so peers can benefit from the group process — who noticed what? Why would that be important? I think about an online class calendar and notification system so that my students can see what I have taught as well as what is coming up (projects, tests, special guests).

So much to think about, to be excited about.

I hope I get a classroom of my own soon so I can start working on this!