In the wake of Littleton, schools are searching for new ways to help parents stay in touch with how their children are doing in school. Technology-savvy teachers and other school leaders are turning to the internet with increasing success.
Using identification numbers and passwords to safeguard privacy, teachers are showcasing student work and posting information about course syllabuses, homework assignments, progress reports, quizzes, standardized test scores, final exams, and grades. And today’s time-pressed parents love it.
“I think the web has become a popular avenue for communicating with parents,” says Jeff Arnett, APR, director of communications for the Rockwood School District in Eureka, Missouri. “Particularly with those who are more in tune with the internet, it gives them an opportunity to regularly keep track of what’s being expected of their child and also how their child is perfoming in class.”
In February, Rockwood Summit High School became one of the first in Missouri to post grades on the web. The brainchild of instructional media technologist Dennis Rogers and science teacher Mike Ruby, the site is gaining rave reviews from parents.
In addition to grades, teachers can post their eMail addresses, provide feedback on homework assignments, and give weekly, if not daily, progress reports. Teacher-approved links that relate to classroom projects also have been added. Department chairpersons can post information about course content, graduation requirements, pre-requisites for advanced courses, and course schedules and calendars.
To ensure confidentiality, only two district employeesthe district web administrator and Rogershave access to the site, using a password-secured server.
Using a template designed by Rogers, teachers eMail him the updated grades and web information as an attachment in Microsoft Word or Excel. The files are then downloaded and automatically converted into hypertext mark-up (HTML) text in pre-set templates designed in either Microsoft’s Front Page or Publisher web authoring programs.
Once the initial design work is completed, updating the web site once a week is surprisingly easy. From start to finish, the entire process takes approximately 20 minutes: 15 minutes for Ruby to update his grades, homework assignments, links, and other information, and five minutes or less for Rogers to make the conversions and load them on the district server.
Participation in the program is voluntary. So far, about 25 percent of Rockwood Summit’s 100 teachers are taking advantage of this new communications tool.
Both Rogers and Ruby say that having a building-level “gatekeeper” who is responsible for the web site and providing ongoing staff development opportunities are critical to their program’s success.
“Rockwood has spent a lot of time in staff development introducing new technologies and training staff,” says Rogers. “Once teachers find out how much information is out there, they really embrace it.”
“You have to jump into the technology some time,” agrees Ruby, who decided to create a web page after taking a week-long summer institute on using the internet in the classroom. “I am not a techie. I’m as computer phobic as they get. But the kids already know how to do it. I feel like I ought to be able to discuss and at least understand this learning technology as much as they do.”
Not surprisingly, Rockwood Summit’s innovative web site is generating an increasing number of “hits,” and the new section is by far getting the most traffic. If Rockwood Summit families do not have access to the internet at home, they can use a school computer or access the web at the public library. Students can log in at school or at home.
“If students are caught up on their work they have the chance to look ahead to see what future assignments are,” says Mary Siebert, a Rockwood Summit parent. “The eMail helps students keep in touch with the teacher.” And, since grades are posted once a week, parents can spot problems in their children’s performance more quickly and can contact the teacher immediately to discuss their concerns.
“For parents who have access to the internet, I’m probably talking to them once a week specifically about their kid,” says Ruby, who makes responding to eMail messages from parents a top priority each day. “eMail is so much more effective as a communication tool than the phone because you don’t play phone tag. I can check my eMail, pull everything up I have on a kid and reply in just a few minutes. If the parents have more questions, they can eMail me back or set up an appointment. It is a great tool for communicating with parents.”
District administrators say that they’re getting an increasing number of requests from parents for online access to student records. The site’s popularity with teachers is also growing.
“This has been so popular at Rockwood Summit, and so many parents have requested that other schools and other teachers do the same thing, I think it is going to be much more prevalent throughout the district,” predicts Arnett. “I think the success of this site illustrates just how integral the internet is becoming in terms of communicating with students and their families. And it’s also one more example of how its being used as an instructional tool as well, because it allows students to monitor their progress and adjust their efforts accordingly.”
Rockwood School District
Rockwood Summit High School
Mike Ruby, Science Teacher