Home-School Connections

Using technology to extend learning beyond the classroom environment and into the home is not new. The technologies used are:

  • Voice Mail- Telephone recording system for teachers to leave specific message for parents as a group or individually.
  • Bulletin Board- Parents call in via telephone or computer modem connections and access information on a specific topic.
  • Help Line- Telephone hotline that allows students or parents to call in for help.
  • Interactive Television- Two-way video/audio that allows access of information on demand.
  • Instruction Video- Videos designed to teach specific learning objectives.
  • The Web- Network of computers around the world that can be accessed on many subjects.

However, the lack of parental involvement can still be noted. The programs that do attempt to reach a home environment for learning point to successful implementations.

Some Examples of New Offerings
For example, Lightspan Partnership, Inc. provides digital video "play stations," software and instructional material in mathematics, reading and language arts for grades 6-8. Schools use Lightspan curriculum and programming with digital video technologies such as multimedia PCs (classroom), Sony PlayStations (home) and the Internet (anywhere) to connect schools and homes. Parents who work with their children receive kits that include a CD-ROM and print-based material.

At the National Educational Computer Conference (NECC) held in Seattle, Wash., June 30 - July 2, 1997, Bernice Safford, vice president, School Marketing and Evaluation, Lightspan, stated that students spend a half hour or more per day at home using Lightspan material. This replaces time typically spent on TV and video games, and she further noted that both teachers and families perceive significant impact in students' level of interest and motivation toward classwork. Data on relationships between involvement in the Lightspan Partnership and student achievement is continuing to be gathered and evaluated.

Also at NECC, NETSchools Corp. demonstrated a new product and system for K-12 education that specifically involves the parents. Thomas W. Greaves, president and CEO, demonstrated their laptop computer weighing less than 6 pounds. It is envisioned every child has a laptop computer and all these computers are linked to a server and to the Internet.

NETSchools will install four infrared network-access points in the ceilings of each room in the school. When students open their laptop, its IR transmitter/receiver points to one of the access points. The NETSchools system features an Academic Information System on the server, through which students can easily monitor their work and teachers can easily send home assignments for parents to be aware of students' progress.

Indiana's Buddy Project, Circa 1988
Older projects involving parents are also in existence. An interesting state-wide (Indiana) project called the Buddy System, which involves families, dates back to 1988. The home is equipped with the same personal computer, printer and modem found at school. The goals of the project are:

  • Families of all backgrounds will have equal access to the educational opportunities of the Information Age.
  • Children will develop their abilities to use computer and telecommunications technologies to enhance learning and develop skills necessary for tomorrow's workplace.
  • Teachers will use technology to transform and extend the classroom into an interactive learning environment, guiding children to seek, question, interpret and use information.
  • Parents will have a unique opportunity to improve their own skills for personal and professional growth.

The prospects of the Buddy System project are promising. A comprehensive report is available from Alan T. Hill, which describes in detail the research methodologies and results, as well as the changed attitudes, behavior, and view of the teaching/learning process by students, teachers and parents.[1]

New Report Issued
Indiana is not the only state interested in home/school connections. Most are anxious to involve the community at large in the use of technologies and to assist parents in working with their children.

A very interesting report, dated March 27, 1997, is from ACHIEVE, A Resource Center for Governors and Business Leaders on Academic Standards, Assessment, Accountability and Technology. ACHIEVE was formed as a result of the National Education Summit, convened by the National Governor's Associate and IBM Corp. This first annual report (found at www.achieve.org) highlights state-level summits in 12 states: Alaska, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nebraska, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota and Oklahoma.

It can be noted from the report that businesses are increasing their commitment to education and to the use of technology by providing funds, equipment and personnel. Programs that award scholarships are encouraged. Communication and distance learning techniques are being used to educate parents for present and future employment. Legislators are promoting partnership with the business sector and with non-profit foundations to ensure a constant stream of funding. Strategic plans are being created by the community, for the community. However, a great deal more needs to be done.

New Horizons?
Applications involving home connections can be noted in a number of fields. Peter Drucker, the well-known management consultant, stated in a recent Forbes article (March 10, 1997) that "higher education might get a few pointers from health care just as the health care industry benefited from the airplane's industry rebirth after deregulation."

For example, researchers at the Medical College of Georgia and the Georgia Institute of Technology are developing a system for individuals whose chronic health problems require constant attention and therefore frequent visits to doctors. Jones Interactive, Inc. supplies the dedicated cable service for it, while the computer system uses a commercially available conferencing program that enables nurse or doctor and patient to see each other and talk.

Georgia Tech's Biomedical Interactive Technology Center developed the system using touchscreen monitor. The electronic prototype also accepts data from a variety of medical devices, which allows patients to have their blood pressure and blood oxygen levels checked, and their temperature and weight measured.

The system is still in the prototype stage, considered expensive, and the full potential of the "electronic house call" has not been explored. Could this be the time to combine medical and educational infrastructure?

1. Hill, Alan T., Corporation for Educational Technology, 17 West Market St., #960, Indianapolis, IN 46204

This article originally appeared in the 08/01/1997 issue of THE Journal.