ePortfolios: Parent Engagement

If we wind the clock back to last year, I discussed parent involvement through commenting in eportfolios in my research report

Having parents comment and provide feedback is one of the main benefits described by the teachers … they expressed their disappointment in the lack of comments from some families. In particular the parental involvement from the year 5 and 6 parents was on the whole significantly lower than the year 3 and 4 parents. As of the end of the second term of using the web based eportfolios, the year 3 and 4 parents commented a total of 100 times contrasting to the year 5 and 6 parents who commented only 55 times.

What is most significant is that 34 of 55 year 5 and 6 parent comments were for 3 students only and 14 students had no comments at all. In the year 3 and 4 class, 6 students had received no parental comments.

Jumping forward to 2009, little has changed. As of today, only five out of my 30 students have received comments about their learning from their parents. While I will be the first to admit that I have not actively facilitated this so far, I was hoping for a natural increase from last year due to the an increased awareness and familiarity now with the online portfolios. We have sent home a letter, outlining the student’s URLs and login details but it seems that this had little impact.

Why is this? The authenticity and immediacy of sharing learning as it is created and receiving feedback from the stakeholders in the student’s learning has often been discussed at our school as one of the main benefits of online eportfolios. But if it is not happening, what are the possible reasons?

  • Do parents have the time to sit down and view the shared learning? Having access 24/7 from anywhere only contributes to more time and flexibility. One would think this is increased due to learning being uploaded as it happens rather than all at once at the end of the term when traditional portfolios are ‘sent’ home.
  • Do parents have the technical knowledge to leave a comment? My belief is that the parent should always view the portfolio with their child. While parents can and do look at the learning independently of their children, the true value comes from it being a social experience. Asking questions, probing for deeper understanding, praise etc and give some constructive feedback in the form of a comment. The student can act as a teacher and guide their parents through the process of leaving comments removing this possible barrier.
  • Do parents know how to give quality feedback? Parents are great at praising their child’s learning but are they knowledgeable about how to give feedback that leads to improved learning? The comments received to date, including last year, support the idea that parents do not or don’t know how to feed forward. Do they understand the purpose of the learning that is being demonstrated?
  • Are parents of Year 3/4 students generally more involved in the learning of their children than Year 5/6? The data would support this claim but perhaps it is a bit early to make a definitive call. Will closely monitor this data but always mindful of the quantity vs. quality of comments.
  • Is access to computers and broadband inhibiting parents ability to fully view and leave comments? I know this is the case for a few families but not all.
  • Are parents just not as excited as I am in the potential of these online environments to enhance learning? Quite possibly! But I believe strongly in this so I will persevere!

The good news is that this issue forms the basis of my teacher inquiry for the year and already a few strategies are planned for Term 2. I will post more thoughts in the next day or two.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/torres21/

6 thoughts on “ePortfolios: Parent Engagement”

  1. We found the same thing- after all the effort to create an online portfolio parents at a recent feedback meeting said it was a waste of our time. Maybe we are a little ahead of ourselves and more time needs to be spent bringing parents along with us on our journey.

    I think there are a variety of reasons for lack of parent buy in to digital portfolios..

    Lack of computer knowledge/hardware- most families at our school have some sort of computer access but for those that do there always seems to be a reason why the computer isn’t functioning as well as it might- viruses, lack of up-to-date software, it’s broken, it’s really slow, it’s running an old OS, the printer is out of ink/broken, it doesn’t have the software needed to view pdfs, it’s on dial-up, it’s not on the net at all, it’s in at the shop having something done to it, the list goes on.

    Parents do seem fairly keen to leave comments on our blog so that’s a positive start. Maybe we’re trying to be too schooly with our desire for quality feedback- it does take practice to frame good feedback and even now I, as a teacher, have to consciously think about framing good feedback- it doesn’t come naturally to me- yet!

    Keep up the good fight.

  2. I look forward to the ideas you have in the pipeline to increase the engagement of the parents commenting on the portfolios.

  3. Really interesting info about the e-portfolios, Nick. It would be useful to hear what parents’ feelings are re commenting/feedback. Your post coincides with what I’ve been reading lately around parent engagement in general, e.g. http://tr.im/j598 and http://tr.im/j59U
    I agree with Allanah’s comment about bringing parents along, and I’d venture to suggest that enhancing engagement generally, throughout the process, would pay off in all sorts of ways, not least parents commenting or providing feedback on portfolios.

  4. @AllanahK
    Allanah, thanks for your comments. It is always good to know that I am not alone in the developing these parent attitudes towards elearning and how it has the potential to contribute to improved learning! I wonder if we are right in thinking that we are just ahead of ourselves, how long do we persevere?

  5. @Regan
    Regan, I may touch base with you to see if any of the informal feedback you received regarding the eportfolios last year may give me a heads up for my inquiry.
    Thanks for the comment.

  6. @Miriam
    Hey Miriam! Nice to have you commenting here! Thanks for the links too, always valuable to seek multiple perspectives on the topic. Totally agree with your last comment, solving the big picture of parent engagement would trickle down in to a range of different areas in the school.

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