New ed-tech service aims to boost parent engagement

Parents can follow a daily link to watch the same videos that their children watched in class and see how their children did on assignments.

A simple text message could clue in parents to the perfect conversation starters with their kids: The Parent Connection, a new feature of Channel One News InterActiv (C1Ni), sends parents messages about what their children learned in school that day in an effort to strengthen the home-school connection.

C1Ni, an interactive video program that allows teachers to pause a Channel One News broadcast and work through accompanying lessons with students on Promethean ActivBoards, launched a year ago as a collaborative effort between Channel One News and Promethean.

The new Parent Connection feature, introduced this summer during the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in San Diego, sends an eMail or text message to parents who sign up, with a link to the Channel One News InterActiv (C1Ni) video their child watched in school that day.

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Parents can watch the video themselves and can see how their child responded to the questions that were asked about the video, as well as how these responses compared with the rest of the class. Parents also receive sample questions to foster further discussion at home.

The National PTA will conduct a research study on the efficacy of the program in the San Diego Unified School District during the 2012-13 school year, and the service will be available nationwide beginning around Labor Day.

Too often, parents will try to ask their children what they did at school—only to get a bland answer such as “not much,” said Kent Haehl, CEO of Channel One News. “How do you change the subtext of that discussion at dinner?” Haehl asked, noting that this new service aims to do just that.

“What this service allows is for this dialogue between son or daughter and parent to open on common ground,” he said.

In the past, parents have used similar services to check whether their children made it to class or turned in their homework, said Jim Marshall, Promethean’s president.

Parents have accessed these basic kinds of services on average about nine times a week, Marshall said—indicating an interest in greater parental engagement.

With the Parent Connection, parents can watch the same videos that their children watched in class and see how their children did on assignments.

Teachers can also look at data available on their end to see which parents are engaged. They know which parents watch the Parent Connection news feed, and how often, which can make parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings more effective, he said.

The Parent Connection is unique in the frequency of parent engagement: Because Channel One News airs a different segment every school day—about 190 shows a year—“there’s something new to talk about every day,” Haehl said.

Promethean and Channel One brought the National PTA into the collaboration after the parent group expressed strong desire to have hard research demonstrating the impact of parent engagement on student achievement, Marshall said.

“I’m hands off; I want it completely clean and independent of what we’re doing,” he said of the research.

The “No. 1 question” the study aims to answer is whether this program will generate more dialogue between parents and children, said National PTA President Betsy Landers.

From there, the group will collect a mix of qualitative and quantitative data to determine whether that dialogue is meaningful, and how it impacts children.

Landers said decades of research have shown that parent engagement improves children’s learning success.

It is essential to “link conversations at home with the learning happening at school,” she said.

Landers raised a current-events example: Parents using Parent Connection would know if their children watched a video of the bullied bus monitor, and could see questions that the teacher covered at school.

“Parent Connection is just another tool,” Landers said. “It’s an exciting tool because it amps up the ability to converse about current events, and to know what [kids] are doing in real time.”

The Parent Connection will launch in 8,000 San Diego classrooms, in grades three through eight.

San Diego Unified School District, with 114,000 students, is investing more than $300 million on educational technology as part of its five year “i21” initiative—and district officials see this service as helping with student engagement.

“We know that an active and involved parent is one of the No. 1 attributes to improving student achievement,” said Bernie Rhinerson, the district’s chief of staff.

Marshall conceded that the program depends on parents having internet access in order to log on and see their children’s results.

He and Promethean spokeswoman Jodie Pozo-Olano suggested that individual districts might need to look into alternative plans, such as encouraging parents without mobile devices or computers at home to access the portal through school computer labs or public libraries.

Schools with an established interactive video delivery infrastructure could use this system for any “media-rich, image-rich, video-rich” material, and not just Channel One News segments, Haehl said.

As long as lesson plans and professional development are in place, it would be possible to push out, say, a History Channel video segment to teachers, students, and parents the same way, Marshall said.

“Once you have the tech fabric in the classroom, it’s relatively straightforward to do the push to parents,” he said.

Marshall said the new Parent Connection service represents a “dynamic, changing” way for parents to keep up with their children’s education.

“To me, that’s what’s so cool—a week from now, you have no idea what’s coming,” he said.


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