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Gearing Up for 'Back to School'

As the year begins, the teacher must also prepare herself to use technology to communicate with students and parents on a continuous basis, and this in turn can create a teacher-student-parent triad partnership throughout the year, which can further academic causes.
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A little more than a decade ago, "back to school" season meant buying new stationery, lunch boxes and backpacks. The evolution of "blended learning" in the past decade has expanded the purview of school supplies to include technological tools - laptops, software, smart phones and online-lesson plans. A "Back-to-School Consumer Pulse Poll," conducted in mid-June 2015 by Rubicon Project found that 56 percent of parents plan to spend more money on school supplies compared to last year, with K-12 parents planning to spend an average of $873 per child, and college parents planning to spend an average of $1,124 per student. 38 percent of parents admitted to buying technology specifically to meet classroom needs or requirements.

Beyond merely supplying hardware to students and teachers, the start of the academic year also entails choosing the best learning tools that will help students, parents and teachers have a productive and enjoyable learning experience. It is relevant at this time, for teachers to recall and reiterate that the introduction of technology into the classroom is a collective learning process; in the course of the year, the teacher will often become the learner and this can, in fact, create better bonds within the classroom. Learning is fun at all ages, and showing students that the teacher is willing and excited to learn can do wonders to the child's attitude towards education.

As the year begins, the teacher must also prepare herself to use technology to communicate with students and parents on a continuous basis, and this in turn can create a teacher-student-parent triad partnership throughout the year, which can further academic causes. Committed teachers can, through newsletters, announcements, virtual tests and assignments, calendars, discussions and tips extend learning beyond the classroom.

Parents are equal partners in education and their participation and involvement is important, especially as the year begins, in setting up a safe digital space for children. Most schools have prescribed Code of Conduct and Acceptable Use Policies to set ground rules in the use of technology and devices in school, in order to protect children from the possible risks of technology, devices and the Internet. It is important for both children and parents to become familiar with the terms of the policies at the start of the year so that they can be upheld throughout the year. Parents must also clearly know what constitutes a transgression of the policy and how such transgressions are handled by the school.

The new year could also result in fresh need for protection tools to keep the youngster safe with her devices. The free availability of Internet in schools raises many issues related to safety on the Internet, such as inappropriate messages, dissemination of misinformation, harassment, obscenity, impersonation, viruses, privacy invasion spamming, fraud and exploitation. While school and teachers can only control and monitor the students' use of Internet and technology in the classroom, it is up to the parents to decide at the onset of the academic year, the level of monitoring their wards would require. There are aids to help parents manage and monitor the online activities of their children at various levels. There are also resources (such as this) available to help the parent set limits and rules to children at home as well, and such responsible parenting will go a long way in making the net and technology a safe medium of education. It is also important to establish a healthy parent-teacher communication network at the start of the year so that any issues faced by the student in the digital classroom may be addressed in the course of the year.

But safety is not the only issue to be addressed at this time. There are serious ethical conundrums in the use and abuse of technology in the classroom. With access to an array of devices that can store digital notes, communicate with classmates and scour the Internet for answers during a test, honesty can become a dicey issue and both teacher and parent must devise strategies to address such issues. Technology-induced distraction is also a real problem that can be overcome by designing lesson plans that integrate the Internet with instruction, and a certain amount of monitoring. It is important for both teacher and student to know that technology is merely a tool to teach the curriculum and cannot replace the curriculum itself.

Social networking can pose a series of threats as well beyond being a source of distraction to students, it can have deleterious professional effects on the teacher. In many states of America, schools have the right regulate off-campus speech by both teachers and students if such speech can be demonstrated to have an adverse impact on the school, and it is thus important for teachers, as much as students, to be careful about what they post on social networking sites. There have been reports of teachers being penalized in Florida, Colorado, Tennessee and Massachusetts, because of the content of their social networking sites. While this is fairly straightforward, what is not is that teachers may also be held responsible for content posted about them, either by other individuals such as students or by organizations.

The blending of technology into schooling has indeed caused a paradigm shift in education, affecting interactions among teachers, students and parents. New academic systems and values will be a natural outcome of this change, and after trial and error efforts, an optimum setup will eventually emerge to preserve the health and sustenance of education. The beginning of the new academic year is as good time to review the status and update ourselves on the effective use of technology in education.

Writing Credit: Co-authored by Lakshmi, a Mobiciplogger and parent who loves to wax eloquent on the daily struggles of digital parenting and educational technology.

Mobicip helps parents and educators create a safe experience for students through simple, effective and reliable parental controls for the iPad, iPhone and other mobile Internet devices.