Parents as stakeholders in of the use of Digital Technology in Elementary Classrooms
Parental involvement in education is becoming more and more commonplace; however, parental decision-making has been limited in the last several decades to participating in parent organizations. The impact of families on student achievement has been established in the past. The roles of parents in the U.S. educational system have progressed from simple involvement to more empowered, recognized involvement (sometimes referred to as engagement), leading to decision-making roles that ultimately benefit a student’s success. In order to understand this, this study will seek to explore and identify these perspectives and the factors that may affect their decision-making. Using Epstein’s 6 types of involvement, as well Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, this study will use an ecological lens for a deeper exploration of the perspectives.
My interest in studying parents as stakeholders originated from the barriers to technology use in Saudi Arabia. In 2002, I implemented the first computer-assisted language learning program in Saudi female public schools. At the time, public schools lacked computers or any form of digital technology in the classroom. Finding a way to bring in computers to assist my English as a Foreign Language students was crucial for me. This was at a time when cell phones were forbidden for students at schools and parents resisted the thought of including the Internet at their daughters’ schools. I asked myself how I could, as a teacher with a few years of teaching experience and a thirst for anything technology related, convince the parents that technology would have a positive impact on their children. Teachers were already bringing in their own laptops and projectors to help with lessons, but I felt I wanted to find a way to provide the opportunity for my students to learn through computers autonomously and maybe even connect the students to other native English speakers from around the world to help strengthen their English language skills. Unfortunately, it was a culturally complex obstacle that was unattainable with the status of public schools and the cultural climate at the time.
I recall once providing my students with websites to learn English for free since I did not think the curriculum was robust enough to provide all the needed language skills to prepare them for the job market. At the time, a few objections came through to the school, and I was told by the school’s administration that I was not to say the word “Internet” in front of my students. The male schools and private schools were using technology and I wanted to know why my students could not use it. This was in 2002, a time when the world was exploring ways to learn through digital technology by accessing the Internet, e-learning, and much more. I have vowed since that time that I would do everything in my power to remove any obstacles or barriers to digital technology use in schools. This brought me to where I am today: studying parents as stakeholders in order to better understand their perspectives. When parents are acting as stakeholders, especially a mixed audience of parents that includes international parents, I want to find out what they are reporting as their perspectives and what circles are implicated in their thoughts and actions.
While published research addressing parental perceptions and beliefs about technology use has been extensively researched, there is limited research on parents’ perceptions of their roles as influencers in their children’s education, specifically regarding digital technology. Understanding how parents view their roles as decision-makers can provide insight into their current positions as stakeholders and could be beneficial for teachers, school administrators, and policy makers in improving their strategies to increase parental engagement.
According to the 2017 National Education Technology Plan (NETP) update, it is vital to engage educational stakeholders to work side-by-side to improve education through technology (U.S. Department of Education [DOE], Office of Educational Technology, 2017). The Indiana DOE (IDOE) Family Friendly Schools Assessment Tool includes Sharing Power (Standard 5) by “strengthening the family voice in decision making” (IDOE, 2017, p. 12). The stakeholders include teachers, parents, and policy makers who have crucial roles in educational outcomes (Ashfari, Abu Baker, Luan, Abu Samah, & Fooi, 2009; Odhiambo & Hii, 2012; U.S. DOE, Office of Educational Technology, 2017).
The benefits of engaging parents in the educational process are increased academic achievement and closing the gaps in educational opportunities (Castro et al., 2015; Epstein, 2010; Kong, 2017; Larocque, Kleiman, & Darling, 2011; National Education Association, 2008; National Education Association, 2015). The absence of sufficient information that students’ parents can obtain from schools to base their decisions on and having the confidence to approach teachers and administrators can affect parent-school engagement. While researchers have investigated parents’ perceptions and involvement (Epstein & Sheldon, 2006; Lawson, 2003), there is a need to understand the complexities of the various stakeholders in education, especially concerning parents’ perspectives of and roles in the use of digital technology in elementary classrooms (J. Yin & Schmidt-Crawford, 2017; Sad, Konca, Ozer, & Acar, 2016). Indeed, studies show that parental involvement is a crucial element in a child’s academic achievement (J. Yin & Schmidt-Crawford, 2017; Sad et al., 2016).
Accordingly, the purpose of this study will be to explore parents’ perspectives of their role as stakeholders in the use of digital technology in an elementary school in the Midwest based on individual semistructured interviews. The esearch questions are as follows:
- What are parents’ perspectives on their role in the use of digital technology in their child’s elementary classroom?
- What are teachers’ perspectives on parents’ roles in the use of digital technology in their elementary classroom?
Many researchers have examined teachers’ perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes towards technology use (Ertmer, Ottenbreit-Leftwich, Sadik, Sendurur, & Sendurur, 2012; Kimmons & Hall, 2016; Sadaf, Newby, & Ertmer, 2012). A growing body of research has been dedicated to parent-school-community engagement leading to a wider recognition of parents’ roles (Berger & Riojas, 2012; Epstein, 2011; Hoover-Dempsey et al., 2005; Weiss, Lopez, Kreider & Chapman-Nelson, 2014) Many studies are available on parental involvement, its correlation to student achievement, and parental perceptions of technology use; however, there is a lack of research highlighting the complexities of considering parents as stakeholders and their attributes (Kimmons & Hall, 2016). Hence, important questions include what their roles are, if any, if they view themselves as stakeholders or decision-makers, to what extent they understand their roles in technology use in their children’s classrooms, and how much do they voice their concerns to teachers and administrators.
This study will adopt Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) socioecological approach for exploring the influence or role of parents in a school’s use of technology. The American Academy of Pediatrics highlights the importance of parental engagement in the development of children’s social and emotional development (American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media, 2016).
This study aims to expand on the current knowledge base of parental involvement and engagement literature, specifically in regard to digital technology, by understanding parents’ perspectives and roles as decision-makers in their children’s primary education. The term parent here refers to “those who act in a primary caregiver or parent role whether they are the biological parent, a relative, adoptive parent, foster parent, or nonrelated caregiver” (Berger & Riojas-Cortez, 2012, p. 3). Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (1997) reported parental involvement in their children’s education is initiated by their personal role construction and positive self-efficacy to help their children succeed. Parents wield significant authority as the most important decision-makers in their children’s lives and without understanding students’ families’ social, and cultural backgrounds, effective communication and trust between home and school would be impossible (Bryk & Schneider, 2002; Epstein, 2011; Weiss, Lopez, Kreider, & Chatman-Nelson, 2014). Consequently, their decisions have crucial effects on their children’s education.
While each state has laws mandating school attendance (ages 7-19), it is parents who decide whether their children attend school or are homeschooled (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017). J. Yin and Schmidt-Crawford (2017) discussed the need to explore parents’ perspectives on the use of digital technology in the elementary classroom by involving parents as stakeholders and decision-makers in education. The 2015 update of the Every Student Succeeds Act calls for Title 1 schools to include parent and family engagement. Gaps in both educational opportunity and engagement can be addressed by allowing parents, families, and communities to share in decision-making.
The increase in the call for enhanced familial roles in children’s educational development in educational policy has led to a shift in the importance of parental roles (Epstein, 2011). While it is argued that a child’s use of technology in early childhood education is influenced by parents’ and educators’ beliefs, this does not allow a deeper understanding of the role of technology (Edwards, Henderson, Gronn, Scott, & Mirkhil, 2017). Parents’ participation can empower families, allowing them to actively participate in decision-making roles (Daniel, 2011). Parents’ involvement through digital technology enables them to actively supervise their child’s academic and social well-being (Sad et al., 2016). Policy makers can address this need for increased parental involvement by developing policy that informs parents’ and teachers’ (i.e., stakeholders’) ways to address these concerns.
The main research questions are as follows:
- What are parents’ perspectives on their role in the use of digital technology in their child’s elementary classroom?
- What are teachers’ perspectives on parents’ roles in the use of digital technology in their classroom?
The purpose of this study will be to explore parents’ perspectives of their roles in digital technology use in their children’s elementary classrooms. The following review of relevant literature reviews current parent perspectives on digital technology, the importance of their roles as stakeholders, and the influence of parents’ perspectives.
Stakeholders in Education. Reimagining the Role of Technology in Education: 2017 National Education Technology Plan Update (U.S. DOE, Office of Educational Technology, 2017) emphasized the importance of including learners and their families as stakeholders. Although this update targeted teachers, policy makers, administrators, and teacher-preparation professionals, it specifically highlighted the importance of involving parents, families, and the community as stakeholders in a child’s education. The plan update also suggested that for teachers and teacher professional development programs, technology should be aligned with state standards and be treated as an integral part of teacher professional development (U.S. DOE, 2017). The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) did not require states to include parents in decision making when designing their state plans, yet it raised an important national dialogue on the challenges within the act in regards to parental involvement and on more focused accountability in educational reform (No Child Left Behind Act [NCLB], 2002).
On a federal level, the call for family engagement represents an important aspect of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESSA), which states that Title I schools must outline how parental involvement policies will be implemented for the two stakeholders (parents and schools) to work together to improve student achievement (Mapp & Kuttner, 2013; U.S. DOE, 2017). Similarly, the U.S. DOE’s Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family–School Partnerships called for effective teamwork to support student achievement and school improvement. On a state level, the IDOE includes the Family Friendly Schools Assessment Tool, which provides educators with goals for each standard. For example, in Standard #5, Sharing Power, Goal 1 is Strengthening the Family’s Voice in Shared Decision Making, and Goal 2 is Building Families’ Social and Political Connections.
In general, especially in kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) education, stakeholders’ input is usually absent or overlooked and the U.S. DOE encourages involving parents in program planning and lowering barriers that could impede parental involvement in program planning, review, and improvement (Kimmons & Hall, 2016). A lack of buy-in from all stakeholders could obstruct schools’ improvement; thus, key stakeholders’ commitment is essential to school effectiveness (Mendenhall, Iachini, & Anderson-Butcher, 2013; Odhiambo & Hii, 2012).
Over the years, the U.S. DOE’s Office of Educational Technology has published the NETP that addresses the fundamental aspects of educational technology in the U.S. educational system. This includes, but is not limited to, the number of schools with access to technology, the costs associated with technology integration in schools, technology leaders’ procurement of digital technology in the schools, new research supporting early learners’ technology use, emphasis for teacher professional development for technology integration, and emphasizing digital citizenship and data security (U.S. DOE, Office of Educational Technology, 2017).
The plan is supported by yearly feedback from educational stakeholders, and although the plan is specifically written for teachers, administrators, policy makers, and teacher professional development professionals, it heavily stresses the importance of learners and their families as stakeholders. District policies and reforms help determine which stakeholders can participate in school decisions, whereas district culture restricts stakeholder participation at the school level (Gordon & Louis, 2009). Parent and community involvement has become more institutionally acceptable and critical to school policies and reforms, as well as reflecting the expectations underlying the democratic schooling in the United States. It stresses learners’, families’, and community members’ perspectives be taken into consideration in the early stages of planning development and implementation of digital technology in schools. Hence, it is imperative that educational stakeholders commit to working together.
Teachers are no longer the sole educators, and the importance of involving parents in their children’s education and acquisition of technology skills, especially the earlier years of formal education, is often viewed as crucial (Groves & Baumber, 2008; Palaiologou, I., 2016; Preradovic, Lešlin, & Šagud, 2016). While parental involvement programs are a prominent part of federal, state, and local education policies, these policies need to be set up in a holistic manner in order to accommodate parent and family concerns (Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003; Kong, 2017). A lack of
The center of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory is the child (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Darling, 2007). He argued that parenting practices in general shifted according to child development experts, pediatricians, and dominant cultural conditions. Parents’ beliefs and perceptions about how children develop and what they should do for them to succeed help shape parental perceptions, decisions, and role construction (Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler, 1997; Hoover-Dempsey et al., 2005). These beliefs and perceptions are influenced by parents’ experiences, such as their upbringing and schooling; moreover, they are socially constructed and can change. Regardless of the definition of parental involvement, its positive relationship with academic achievement, as described in the literature, is relatively the same (Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003; Jeynes, 2005; Wilder, 2014).
It is essential to include all stakeholders, such as teachers, parents, students, and the community, in decision-making processes, especially considering that parental support affects the use of technology in education (Ashfari et al., 2009). The term parent refers to “those who act in a primary caregiver or parent role whether they are the biological parent, relative, adoptive parent, foster parent, or nonrelated caregiver” (Berger & Riojas-Cortez, 2012, p. 3). In a study about teachers’ perceptions of barriers to using technology in the classroom, the results indicated one of the largest barriers was a lack of support and a lack of administrative and parental support was cited more so at the elementary than the secondary level (Wood, Mueller, Willoughby, Specht, & Deyoung, 2005). There is a need for more qualitative, in-depth information from parents to help provide diverse perspectives, useful insights, and a voice for stakeholders to understand the complexity of parents’ beliefs regarding the use of technology in schools (Blue-Banning et al., 2004; Inan & Lowther, 2010).
Parents’ Perceptions of Technology. Neglecting stakeholders’ perceptions and values can create inefficiencies and frustration in K-12 schools that can impact K-12 technology decisions. To combat the issue, schools may employ technology coordinators and technology integration specialists to help bridge the gap between stakeholders who include superintendents, principals, teachers, students, and parents (Kimmons & Hall, 2016). Parents are not always willing and may feel anxious allowing their young children to use technology for fear of overexposure while at the same time facing challenges in monitoring their children’s media use (American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media, 2016; Edwards et al., 2017; Preradovic et al., 2016). Evidence points to parents preferring a balance between technology and outdoor activities, as well as concerns about threats to their children’s well-being, both social and physical (Kong, 2017; Sad et al., 2016). Risks such as bullying, antisocial behavior, and exposure to unsuitable content may be some of the reasons why parents are reluctant to allow their young children to use technology (Kong, 2017; Plowman, McPake, & Stephens, 2010; Sad et al., 2016). Their beliefs and decisions are often a result of childhood experiences and cultural values (Sad et al., 2016).
A number of recent studies reported that, while parents may be concerned about their children’s well-being regarding technology use, they believe that technology can increase their children’s technological awareness and have a positive influence on their educational development (Preradovic et al., 2016). Parents also consider technology to be an essential component of a high-quality education (Preradovic et al., 2016). Furthermore, parents did not view their children at risk when technology was regulated with appropriate levels of supervision (Plowman et al., 2010).
Parent involvement is a known predictor of students’ academic achievement, including better study habits and fewer discipline problems (Hara & Burke, 1998; Gordon & Louis, 2009; Sheridan et al., 2012). Researchers have stressed that parental involvement entails actively participating in school-related decision-making and have called for stakeholders to participate in shared leadership (Edwards et al., 2017; Gordon & Louis, 2009; Hara & Burke, 1998). Researchers have also explored teacher and parent perceptions of digital technology use and found that many parents reported a lack of confidence in technology use as family and cultural experiences normally dictate role definitions, which may neglect a wide variety of norms that exist in the school community (Davidson & Case, 2018; Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003; Peters, Seeds, Goldstein, & Coleman, 2007; J. Yin & Schmidt-Crawford, 2017).
Parent–Teacher Relationships. Previous studies have shown that establishing caring and trusting relationships between parents and teachers is a key factor in school success (Davidson & Case, 2018; Ferlazzo & Hammond, 2009). Teacher and school staff engagement with parents in a caring and engaging way can help validate the importance of parents as partners in a child’s education (Mapp, 2003). In a study by Epstein (1986), a teacher’s instructional and interpersonal skills were not rated by parents as high as a teacher that involved them in their children’s education. There is also evidence of an overlap between family, students, and teaching practice that influences educators’ instruction (Epstein, 2018). Because teachers interact the most with children, after parents, preparing teachers to involve and engage parents is crucial and requires the development of a sociocultural consciousness (Berger & Riojas-Cortez, 2012).
Parents’ Roles and Influence. Parents, guardians, and families have historically been involved in children’s education (Collins & Halverson, 2009; Hiatt-Michael, 2001). Until the early 19th century, education was mainly the parents’ responsibility, evolving from apprenticeship to a more universal schooling system during the Industrial Revolution (Collins & Halverson, 2009). Subsequently, education shifted from a family’s duty to the state’s duty, with strong political and socioeconomic influences (Collins & Halverson, 2009).
There have been numerous studies to investigate parents’ roles, including role construction and influence. Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (1997) stated that parents’ role construction is defined by parents’ beliefs about what activities and participation they envision as important in their children’s education. These roles affect how digital technology is being used by children and how the elements of technology use are affected by parents and educators’ technology use beliefs (Edwards et al., 2017). Moreover, Preradovic et al. (2016) stressed the importance of involving parents in their children’s acquisition of digital technology skills in early childhood education. Increasing parents’ and schools’ capacities in the involvement process can invite increased parental involvement (Hoover-Dempsey et al., 2005). While elements of the setting derived from Bronfenbrenner were used in Edwards et al. (2017), the results only indicated how activity, time, place, and role influenced technology use in the home; the researchers did not explain parents’ perspectives of their roles in school technology use. While much research is available on parents’ perceptions or attitudes toward technology use or integration in schools (Grimm, 1998; Kong, 2017; Plowman et al., 2010; Preradovic et al., 2016), there is a lack of studies on their roles and their views of being stakeholders.
Whereas much literature has focused on early childhood education (birth to 8 years), middle childhood (6–12 years) is when children start spending more time away from the family (Weiss et al., 2014). Thus, I want to include parents and teachers of children in this age group, so a school comprising Grades 3–6 was chosen because the allure and novelty of technology may have subsided. Stanley, Vaterlaus, Tulane, & Beckert (2017) investigated technology in parent education to help parents stay current with technology trends. Trust, mutual respect, and shared decision-making are essential in school–family partnerships (Davidson & Case, 2018). Davidson and Case (2018) also stated that when schools value parents’ voices, parents are more likely to assume leadership roles in the school community.
Teachers are no longer considered the sole providers of knowledge and instruction and continuously rely on parental support, which may in turn impact student achievement. Teachers, however, yet teachers tend to be the decision-makers, along with administrators, on how parents should be involved in their children’s learning experiences (Davidson & Case, 2018; Waters & Leong, 2014). For effective school-home partnerships, teachers should consider and broaden their own knowledge and beliefs about parents, including families’ diverse child-rearing practices that exist in schools (David & Case, 2018). Parental support for technology can also impact teachers’ perceptions and beliefs about their own technology use, as well as social support for teachers, thus impacting teachers’ own decisions on integrating technology (Inan & Lowther, 2010; Sadaf & Johnson, 2017). Current research revolves around technical and pedagogical factors, while disregarding “institutional realities that teachers face when integrating technology,” especially within the broader culture (Kimmons & Hall, 2016, p. 309). Wilder (2014) suggested conducting more qualitative studies based on parents’ and teachers’ beliefs and experiences. The present study will focus mainly on the parents’ beliefs.
It is essential to include all stakeholders, such as teachers, parents, students, and the community, in decision-making processes, especially considering that parental support affects the use of technology in education (Ashfari et al., 2009). One of the leading barriers to teachers’ perceptions of technology use in the classroom was the lack of administrative and parental support and was referred to more so at an elementary level than a secondary level (Wood et al., 2005). Inan and Lowther (2010) cited the need for more qualitative, in-depth studies from parents to “provide diverse perspectives and useful insights into understanding the complexity of technology integration in K-12 schools” (p. 149).
The terms parental involvement, parental engagement, and parental partnership have been used interchangeably in the literature (Weiss et al., 2014). The development of these terms, however, illustrates a shift in research on how parents should be involved or engaged in a child’s education and expands on the term parental involvement. For example, earlier literature defined the construct as parental involvement (Dempsey & Sandler, 1997), whereas newer language, like that in the Every Student Succeeds Act (2015), is more inclusive and refers to the construct as parental engagement. The call for family engagement at the federal level has been an important aspect of Title I of Elementary and Secondary Education Act. It states that Title I schools must outline how parental involvement policies will be implemented for the two stakeholders (parents and schools) to work together to improve student achievement (Mapp & Kuttner, 2013).
The term parental involvement is a “generic term to represent all home, school and community-based activities involving parents in supporting their children’s educational development” (Daniel, 2011, p. 166). Parental involvement ranges from good parenting at home to contact with schools, participation in school events, and participation in school governance (Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003). Goodall and Montgomery (2014) described the terms involvement and engagement as a continuum of the two terms, shifting from “parental involvement with school to parental engagement with children’s learning” (p. 400).
Greater parental involvement is a factor in higher reading and math scores (Shaver & Walls, 1998), better attendance (Epstein, Clark, Salinas, & Sanders, 1997), and academic achievement (Jeynes, 2005). Levels of involvement increase according to the extent to which parents are engaged in a school partnership program, regardless of families’ backgrounds and income levels (Henderson & Mapp, 2002). In a metasynthesis of parental involvement’s effect on academic achievement, Wilder (2014) stated “parental involvement appeared to have a more significant impact at an elementary level than later grades” (p. 393).
Early literature in the 1980s and ’90s used the term parental involvement, whereas the term changed to parental engagement (Epstein, 1986; Epstein & Becker, 1982). Epstein (1986) claimed parental involvement had been replaced with school-community partnerships, thereby causing further confusion in what term is used throughout the literature. In the last decade, the literature has focused on the use of either parental engagement or partnerships (Daniel, 2011; Smith & Sheridan, 2019). Absent from the earlier literature are the terms parent empowerment and family support (Lawson, 2003). Lawson (2003) also noted the apparent disconnect between the terms used to support the school–family relationship in the literature and in practice.
In Moving Forward: Ideas for Research on School, Family, and Community Partnerships, Epstein and Sheldon (2006) referred to partnerships as the newer term. Epstein and Sheldon preferred the use of partnerships to involvement. Terms like parent engagement are also being replaced with family engagement because not all caretakers are biological parents; that is, they could be grandparents, adoptive parents, or guardians. Thus, Weiss et al. (2014) defined family engagement as “beliefs, attitudes, and activities of families to support their children’s learning, whether at home, at school, or in the community” (p. xviii).
Rather than involving parents in school-centered projects, there is a need to engage them actively in the school community, which, in turn, supports school staff (Ferlazzo & Hammond, 2009):
When schools involve parents they are leading with their institutional self-interest and wants—school staff are leading with their mouths. When schools engage parents they are leading with the parents’ self-interests (their wants and dreams) in an effort to develop a genuine partnership—school staff are leading with their ears. (p. 4)
Teachers and parents have different views of what parental involvement or engagement means. In Lawson’s (2003) study, parents’ interviews revealed doubt about whether the system worked to foster parental involvement for them and their children. Parents choose their level of involvement based on their skills and knowledge, demands on their time and energy, and requests from the school (Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler, 1995).
Teacher training programs emphasize the importance of school-family engagement and are significant in preparing teachers for such engagement (Smith & Sheridan, 2019). Smith and Sheridan (2019) analyzed 39 studies on teachers’ family-engagement attitudes, knowledge, and practices and found that teacher-training programs had a marked effect on teacher-family engagement outcomes.
A Systems View: Theoretical Framework. The theoretical framework for this study will include Epstein’s (1987) six types of involvement and Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological systems theory. Both were chosen to give a perspective of the relationship between parents and home, school, and technology. Each also supplies a framework in which this study’s data can be viewed and analyzed.
Six Types of Parent Involvement. Epstein (1987), a pioneer in the parental involvement literature, outlined six types of parental involvement: parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision-making, and collaborating with community. In this work, these six types will help describe the parental engagement setting and parents’ roles as stakeholders. Epstein defined decision making as involving parents in school decisions and helping to develop parents as leaders. Epstein also outlined the results for students, parents, and teachers. Epstein (1987) illustrated collaborating with a community as identifying its services and resources that help strengthen family practices and school programs. Finally, Epstein (2011) depicted the challenges and outcomes for all involved. In Moving Forward, Epstein and Sheldon (2006) referred to partnerships as the newer term and preferred it to involvement. To preserve these terms’ consistency, involvement will be used throughout the present study.
Over the years, an extensive amount of research has been devoted to linking the effects of parents’ and teachers’ perceptions on the use of digital technology in schools and their involvement in their child’s academic achievement, with the most frequently investigated factors being socioeconomic status (SES), parents’ beliefs, and experiences. Ample evidence exists on the involvement of parents and families with more influential, European American, middle-class backgrounds, whereas there is a failure to acquire the input of parents of more diverse backgrounds, and citing lack of educational attainment, cultural norms, and lack of financial resources (Daniel, 2011; Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003; Lee & Bowen, 2006; Malone, 2017; Plowman et al., 2011; Wilder, 2014). Considerable research attention has been focused on parents’ involvement or social networks as predicting their degree of involvement, with different types of parent involvement depending on parents’ networks, individual beliefs, and past experiences (Lee & Bowen, 2006; Sheldon, 2002). To date, little research has been conducted on parents’ perceptions of their roles as stakeholders in the use of technology, an integral part of the decision-making process, while taking into account their social network and status, a valuable resource for teachers and schools alike.
Ecological Systems Theory. Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) ecological systems theory provides a social and environmental lens through which to better understand the importance of family and home life in a child’s development, as well as the relationships between family, home, and school. This lens, which seeks to optimize the comprehension of the social and environmental factors of human development, comprises several systems surrounding the child and delineates how to understand their effects and their influence. According to Bronfenbrenner (1979), “In ecological research, the properties of the person and of the environment, the structure of the environmental settings, and the processes taking place within and between them must be viewed as interdependent and analyzed in systems terms” (p. 41). This ecological approach acknowledges that a child’s learning is inseparable from their environment, of which people and technological resources are components (Plowman et al., 2010).
In ecological systems theory, the microsystem is the child’s immediate environment, such as the family, school, and peers, including roles and interpersonal relationships (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). The mesosystem consists of the relationships (sometimes referred to as networks) between these microsystems (family, home, school, etc.). This is the most fundamental aspect of the theory regarding parent involvement, which is conveyed through the connections between the adults in a child’s microsystem, through their involvement in their children’s school, and through values, behaviors, and attitudes about education at home (Lee & Bowen, 2006). According to Bronfenbrenner (as cited in Daniel, 2011), this family-school relationship, whether as policy or professional practice, represents “a formalization of one of these supportive relationships within the mesosystem” (p. 167). The exosystem refers to the influences of both micro- and mesosystems, such as the educational system. Finally, the macrosystem comprises the overarching beliefs and culture that affect belief systems (Bronfenbrenner, 1979).
The microsystem is the closest level to the child, and it is defined as the immediate environment or surroundings with which the child interacts. The term family engagement is adapted from ecological systems theory, which highlights the direct and indirect contexts of a child’s development (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). The Figure 1 helps illustrate how the different systems interact in regarding a student, parent, teacher, and school:
A role, as defined by Bronfenbrenner (1979), is “a set of activities and relations expected of a person occupying a particular position in society, and of others in relation to that person” (p. 85). Smith and Sheridan (2019) further explained the relationship as
children’s cognitive, behavioral, and social-emotional development is affected directly and indirectly via interactions that occur in their immediate environments (e.g., home and school). Within an ecological framework, family engagement is a shared responsibility, wherein both teachers and parents play a vital role. (p. 2)
These definitions can guide researchers to better understand the roles of parents as decision-makers and stakeholders, as well as their prospective influence. Both Epstein (2006) and Bronfenbrenner (1979) demonstrated the contextual evidence of the significance of family-school relationships, as well as involving families and community in educational programs at schools.
Implication for Policy, Schools, and Teacher Education. While the NETP (U.S. DOE, Office of Educational Technology, 2017) underscores the importance of education stakeholders’ commitment to partnering to improve the American educational system, these stakeholders’ roles and influences, if any, should be understood, because they may disrupt this partnership. The NETP outlines how to help parents navigate and make informed decisions about technology, leveraging the power of connections between school and community, and helping strengthen relationships among educators, families, and their young children.
Numerous studies showcase the importance of teacher educators’ roles in preparing teachers to engage with parents (Grimm, 1998; Lindberg, 2018; U.S. DOE, Office of Educational Technology, 2017;). Therefore, identifying any challenges and helping build trust between school and parents (i.e., stakeholders) are essential parts of educational reform (U.S. DOE, Office of Educational Technology, 2017). This also contributes to understanding not only the practices, but also the roles of educators and families in technology-supported learning.
In addition, parents who are more involved in a child’s education are more likely to contribute to collaborative decision-making with the educational institution (Greenwood & Hickman, 1991). As decision making is not restricted to teachers and administrators only, involving parents can benefit the educational system more holistically. The present study, however, will not focus on parent-teacher power dynamics; rather, it will seek to explore the complexities of what parents think about digital technology in their child’s classroom, how they feel about it, and what they might do regarding how they feel.
The need to understand the complexities of parents’ roles in decision-making in a classroom is an extension of the parental engagement practices and may provide insight into the school-parent relationship using an ecological systems view. Key perspectives can help provide important components that may be missing from teacher professional development programs, especially with the increased integration of digital technology in classrooms. It can also help support Standard #5 in the IDOE’s Family Friendly Schools Assessment Tool (2014), which specifically addresses strengthening the family’s voice in school-family decision-making, as well as promoting collaborative planning, interventions, teacher professional development programs, and the design of family-friendly digital technology integration practices in the elementary classroom.
The purpose of this study is to explore parents’ and teachers’ perspectives of the roles of parents as stakeholders in the use of technology in an elementary classroom. This research study will follow a qualitative, instrumental case study design. To triangulate data, the researcher will use data from three sources: parent semistructured interviews and teacher semistructured interviews. In this chapter, the researcher will describe the research questions, participants, settings, research design, data sources, and data analysis methods that will be implemented within this study.
The following research questions will be addressed in this study:
- What are parents’ perspectives on their role in the use of digital technology in their child’s elementary classroom?
- What are teachers’ perspectives of parents’ roles in the use of digital technology in their elementary classroom?
The participants will include parents and teachers of third- through sixth-graders at an elementary school in a technology-rich district in the Midwest United States. This school was chosen because it is one of the higher SES schools in its district. Research indicates that students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds tend to have more parental involvement; the higher SES enables more parents to participate (Desforges & Abouchaar, 2003). I anticipate a high level of parental engagement in this study due to previous research that links higher parental involvement or engagement with increased child academic achievement (Hoover-Dempsey & Jones, 1997; Wilder, 2014).
I have obtained approval from the university’s and the school district’s institutional review boards (IRBs) and will secure the assistance of the school’s principal to assist with recruitment. The principal is considered the gatekeeper of access to parents and teachers; a gatekeeper is someone who can provide access to research participants (Creswell, 2014). I will meet with the principal in person to explain the study and answer any questions about it. After the meeting, I will send a follow-up e-mail to the principal and provide the Study Information Sheet (SIS; Appendix A). The SIS contains information about the current study, including confidentiality, the participants’ rights, and contact information in case participants have any concerns. I will then ask the principal to contact the teachers at the school regarding the study, its purpose, and the participation process.
Following this initial contact from the principal, I will send an invitation to participate in the study to the teachers via e-mail, which will include the SIS. Additionally, teachers will be asked to recommend parents for participation in this research study and, once written approval has been e-mailed back to the teacher, the teacher will then forward their contact information to me. I will then e-mail or call the parents who agree to participate and send them a copy of the SIS and determine a time for the interview. Participants will be asked for permission to audio record their interviews. Prior to the interviews, the researcher will confirm that the telephone and voice recorder are operational. Interviews will be captured with a voice recorder and the application Voice Record 7 in case of a malfunction in either of the devices or applications. I have obtained approval by the university’s IRB # 1710566636 to conduct the study, as well as the school district’s research request acceptance.
Participants will be recruited for this study from grades three through six at an elementary school in a technology-rich school district in the Midwest. Notably, 526 students were enrolled in the school during the 2018–2019 school year (IDOE, 2019). The school serves many university-affiliated parents, both employees and students, as well as a diverse international population. This diverse population includes students and parents of various nationalities, religions, backgrounds, SES, levels of English proficiency, and levels of parents’ education attained. The school consists of 18 classrooms for Grades 3d through 6h, with a total of 18 teachers and a staff of approximately 100. The school’s building consists of one floor for Grades 3rd through 5th, a lower level for Grade 6h, and a preschool classroom at the end of the building that has its own doors. The school also contains a reception office, health office with a nurse, a gym, music room, library, cafeteria, English as a new language room, and other resources for the students.
The hallways are lined with lockers and students’ artwork, many of them with uplifting messages for the students, student rules, and encouraging messages for the students, all of which portray an environment of inclusivity and kindness. It seems to be a “safe space” for students of all backgrounds and ethnicities. The classrooms consist of approximately 22-24 student tables and chairs, a BlackBoard, teacher’s station with a computer, and an iPad storage/charging station. This school is one of many schools in the district with a 1:1 iPad initiative. All doors are double doors for security, and one cannot enter the school without pressing the buzzer and stating the reason for entering the school.
This study followed a qualitative, instrumental case study design. The use of qualitative methodology was chosen because it provides a method for me to seek to understand people’s spoken or written words in a way that emphasizes personal experience to produce descriptive data (Stake, 2010; Taylor, Bogdan, & DeVault, 2015; R. K. Yin, 2015). I attempted to shed light on understanding how people experience events and construct meaning from them in their lives. A qualitative method is inductive, flexible, holistic, context rich, and meaningful and can provide deeper understanding of the complexity of technology integrations and decisions about technology (Corbin & Strauss, 2008; Inan & Lowther, 2010; Taylor et al., 2015; R. K. Yin, 2015).
This case is intrinsic in that it is not intended to represent other cases; instead I will use this design to gain an understanding of how these parents’ perspectives fit in an ecological context. Previous researchers identified greater participation at higher SES schools (Green et al., 2007; Turney & Kao, 2009). This research method also includes analyzing and synthesizing descriptions and emerging themes (Creswell, 2014). The goal is to determine how the immediate environment can impact parents’ decision-making processes.
Semi structured telephone interviews were chosen for convenience and to provide relative anonymity or the perception of anonymity to the interviewees (Sturges & Hanrahan, 2004). Telephone interviews also use resources efficiently, allow the interviewer to take notes without the interviewee’s discomfort, which may reduce response bias (i.e., social desirability) and are helpful to contact hard-to-reach participants (Musselwhite, Cuff, McGregor, & King, 2007; Sturges & Hanrahan, 2004;). While telephone interviews may involve a loss of visual cues, such as body language and facial expressions, verbal cues can be noted, such as hesitations or sighs (Sturges & Hanrahan, 2004).
These phone interviews will be conducted using the Voice Record Pro application on an iPhone. The researcher will check this application prior to interviews to ensure it is working correctly. To establish rapport, a brief phone call will be conducted to set up the interview. Alternatively, if the interview is set up through e-mail, a few minutes will be spent at the beginning of the interview to establish rapport.
A series of field test interviews were conducted to help refine the interview questions (a total of four interviews). The interview process consisted of 12 questions, which were divided into three subsections: current perspectives, expectations or concerns from parents, and influence of parents. The participants in the field test interviews had at least one child that attended formal schools in the last a few years, except for one parent (Parent #2) who homeschooled their child for the past couple of years. I was caught off guard during the interview with this parent, especially for Interview Questions 8 (teacher’s responsiveness to expectations or concerns) and 9 (how often the parents voiced their concerns). From that interview, I probed a little more to get the answer to Question 8 from the answer from Question 9. The parent explained about an unfavorable experience at a smaller school her child had attended prior to homeschooling that affected her decision to homeschool her child, who was diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). I added some in-depth probing questions to my interview tool for questions where parents had more to say, such as Question 12 (the ability and extent of one’s ability to influence the use of digital technology):
|Feeling of Power||Lack of Power|
|Can you help me understand why you expressed yourself about this…?||Can you help me understand why you did not express yourself about this?|
The use of digital technology in elementary classrooms was overly positive in the parent field-test interviews. However, there seemed to be conflicting perspectives on how the parents view a teacher’s roles in facilitating technology use (Question 7). The parent that had the least interaction with the school viewed a teacher’s role in technology use in the classroom as a tool for testing and grading only; the parents’ role was only for access (Parent #2). Conversely, the other parents seemed more engaged and understood both roles to be more supportive and trusting. There were some objectionable perspectives on the safety of their children regarding how the parents envision digital technology use in the classroom (Question 3). This is another question where I will add in-depth probing as well.
More field test interviews were conducted with two teachers from other local schools using the teacher interview questions (Appendix B). One was at a lower SES school (Teacher 1), while the other previously taught at a higher SES school and currently teaches at a low SES school (Teacher 2). Both teachers communicated considerable interest in the study and wanted to discover parents’ perspectives. They stated that few parents voice their concerns at their schools, whereas Teacher 2, who taught at the higher SES school, called it a “helicopter parent school,” confirming a higher probability of parental engagement. Both teachers spoke of the 1:1 iPad initiative at their schools as the main digital technology resource. Teacher 2 said, “I’d be interested in knowing why that school in Silicon Valley, California, doesn’t allow their students to use technology in elementary. What do they know that we don’t know?” In asking questions of the teachers, I revised some grammatical errors, such as in Question 5 where I changed “what” to “how.” I also removed “PTO” (parent teacher organization) from Question 9, as both teachers expressed that technology use was rarely discussed at these meetings.
This study comprises two phases. In the first, an initial semistructured interview will be conducted with a purposeful sample of respondents to emphasize an in-depth understanding of the topic (Patton, 2002). The goal is to conduct 12-16 interviews, divided equally between parents and teachers (six-eight each) by interviewing two to three parents from each grade level, if possible (third-sixth). Demographic data will be collected at the end of the interview. I will note here that I have secured a second IRB from the school district, which involved naming some teachers who may be willing to participate. Of these, four have agreed so far, with the possibility of them recruiting other teachers. The research design includes contacting the teachers for interviews directly through publicly accessible e-mails on the school’s website, and recruiting parents of their students from the intended grades.
Once I set up a time for the teacher interviews, I met with the teachers at the school for the first semistructured interview. During that time, I e-mailed the parents who responded and met the study’s requirements to request permission and to set up a time for to interview them. The e-mail included the SIS (Appendix A). The parents’ interviews were conducted over the phone so that it can be convenient for the parents, provide some form of anonymity, be more cost effective, allow the discussion of sensitive topics, and help reduce response bias (Musselwhite et al., 2007; Rahman, 2015; Sturges & Hanrahan, 2004). Sturges and Hanrahan (2004) stated that in qualitative research, telephone interviews can be used productively and can help improve the quality of the data collection. The teachers were given the option of either face-to-face or telephone interviews. It must be noted that I offered to conduct the call to avoid any financial burden that may be carried by the parents and/or teachers. All interviews were recorded with a Sony™ and the Voice Record 7™ application on my iPhone. The use of two separate recording devices was to insure there was a backup of the recorded interviews in case one or the other malfunctioned.
After transcribing and analyzing the data, the second phase of the research was to perform follow-up, semistructured interviews to pursue new information or other viewpoints on the topic (Kvale, 1996; Merriam, 2009). The participants were contacted for this follow-up interview, which also served as a transcription review. At this stage, they were able to include any thoughts or ideas about technology use omitted from the first interview to provide additional insight into their perceptions (Creswell, 2014).
The importance of rigor in qualitative research arises through recognizing essential underlying criteria (Krefting, 1991). Guba’s (1981) criteria for trustworthy qualitative research include credibility, transferability, dependability, and confirmability (Shenton, 2004). Credibility (i.e., truth value) consists of adopting well-established research methods, familiarity of context, triangulation of data, member checks, and debriefing between the researcher and his or her supervisor. To ensure this, I used the works of leaders in qualitative research methods to guide the study’s design, familiarize myself with the context, triangulate data with the use of more than one data source, conduct member checks to ensure accuracy of themes, and debrief with the researcher’s committee members. Transferability (i.e., applicability) consists of the extent the study can apply to other contexts or settings, though Stake (1995) suggests that each case is unique.
Dependability (i.e., consistency) employs the researcher’s in-depth “methodological description” (Shenton, 2004, p. 73). To confirm this, I kept a journal to detail the research process. The final criterion is confirmability (i.e., neutrality), which places emphasis on reducing a researcher’s bias by ensuring the findings are the experiences or ideas of participants, and by triangulating data (Krefting, 1991; Miles & Huberman, 1994; Patton, 2002; Shenton, 2004). I confirmed this by triangulating the data and conducting peer debriefing. Member checks were also conducted to ensure the emerging findings (i.e., preliminary analysis) appear appropriate to the context (Merriam, 2009, p. 217). All interviews were transcribed for data analysis and participants had the opportunity to review these transcripts during their follow-up interviews. To guide the data analysis, I ensured the interview questions aligned with the research questions (Castillo-Montoya, 2016). This is illustrated in an interview protocol matrix (Appendix C). An interview protocol was drafted for use in both the parent and teacher interviews (Appendix B and D).
As mentioned above, this study employs a qualitative methodology. Thematic analysis consists of categorizing themes in emergent categories that are “most relevant and the best fitted to the data” to help answer the research questions (Merriam, 2001, p. 183). Data was analyzed with a sociological and ecological lens using Epstein’s six types of parental involvement and Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory to help explain the relationship and status of their views. Thematic analyses of the interviews was utilized to view the themes emerging from the data using Braun and Clark’s (2006) six-step thematic analysis method (Figure 4).
This process involved Braun and Clark’s (2006) six-step process of thematic analysis in order to reflect and unpack the “reality” of the data, making sure to clarify the role of the theoretical frameworks and how the data are situated within these frameworks (Creswell, 2014). The first stage of this six-step process was to familiarize myself with the data by listening and transcribing the interviews, reading and rereading the data, and noting any initial thoughts during this stage. It is important to note here that the data was in written form (verbatim) at this stage and was checked for accuracy. I used Atlas.ti, a qualitative data analysis software, to help aggregate the emerging themes and their instances at this stage.
In Stage 2, I began open coding to generate initial codes that are more “theory driven,” meaning the data was approached with the specific research questions in mind and to break down the discrete parts for close examination and to examine the data for similarities or differences (Saldana, 2016; Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Once initial themes were established, I conducted a member check by presenting the initial analysis to participants to provide an opportunity for them to confirm or challenge possible interpretations and to reduce personal bias in the analysis phase (Morrow, 2005).
In Stage 3 of Braun and Clark’s (2006) thematic analysis, I began to search for themes by grouping the codes in themes and subthemes. This stage also involved thinking about the relationship between different codes and themes, as well as the overarching themes. At this stage, I began to identify the corresponding categories in Epstein’s six types of involvement, while being open to more than six types.
Stage 4 consisted of reviewing themes as not only coded extracts, but of the entire data set. Here I refined those themes, which resulted in the possibility of combining some themes, eliminating themes without enough data to support them, and breaking down some themes into separate themes as needed. I also assessed the data to corroborate parents’ influence or roles from the interview data (Saldana, 2016). This is where I undertook the task to identify the relationships regarding the parents’ perspectives and situating them in Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory.
The next stage, Stage 5, consisted of defining and naming each theme in order to generate clear names and definitions. By the end of this stage, the themes were clearly defined. To establish reliability in the coding process, another researcher who is familiar with the field and qualitative research helped validate and confirm the codes (Neuendorf, 2017).
The final stage was the final analysis and write up of the report, which involved providing a clear and concise account of the data in a logical manner. It is important to note here that the results were not be generalizable to a different school but reflect what is happening at this particular school. As a former teacher and current parent, my familiarity with the context is what Krippendorff (2019) describes as “coders’ familiarity with the phenomena under consideration” (p. 130).
The purpose of this study was to explore parents’ perspectives of their roles in digital technology use in their children’s elementary classrooms. The researcher generated six themes to address the following research questions and sub questions:
RQ1. What are parents’ perspectives on their role in the use of digital technology in their child’s elementary classroom?
RQ2. What are teachers’ perspectives on parents’ roles in the use of digital technology in the classroom?
The researcher presents the findings from the data analysis in this chapter. These are organized thematically and based on the research questions. Six themes were generated from the data in relation to the research questions. The relationships between the research questions, themes, and subthemes are presented in Table 1.
Relationships between Research Questions and Themes
|RQ 1a||1. Wanting a Voice in the Classroom||1a. We want a voice in our child’s classroom
1b. We have a voice if we need to use it
1c. We want teachers to be responsive to us
|2. Knowledge of Roles||No discernible subthemes|
|3. Personal Beliefs About Appropriate Technology Use||No discernible subthemes|
|4. Concerns about Digital Technology Use||4a. Technology and socialization
4b. Resistance to Exact Path software
4c. Impacts of technology on health
|RQ 2||Theme 5. Teachers Want to be Approachable||No discernible subtheme|
|Overarching theme||Theme 6. Communication Gap about Classroom Technology Use||No discernible subtheme|
Theme 1 addressed part A of RQ1, which asked: What are parents’ perspectives of their role in the use of digital technology in their child’s elementary classroom? This theme was created based on statements made by parent participants about perceptions of the voice they had to influence teachers’ use of digital technology in the classroom. Parent participants felt they had no voice or influence over digital technology use in their child’s classroom. While some parents wanted a voice, others did not expect to be able to dictate the use of digital technology in their child’s classroom. Three subthemes emerged to support the creation of Theme 1: we want a voice in our child’s classroom, we have a voice if need to use it, and we want to teachers to be responsive to us.
Subtheme 1a. We want a voice in our child’s classroom. Parents felt resigned to the fact that they did not have a voice in their child’s elementary school classrooms. While some parent participants reported voicing their concerns to other parents, they were less inclined to do this with teachers and administration. Some participants stated this matter-of-factly, like Lauren, who stated, “I don’t think I have any influence at all.” Other parent participants spoke with emotion, indicating that they did not feel they had a voice but wanted one. Parent Participant 8, Leslie, said, “I do kind of feel like what they’re doing, I just have to accept,” and when asked specifically about the feeling of having a voice in the classroom, Leslie said, “I have zero.” As a result of feeling like she had no voice, Leslie expressed hesitation to speak up if needed.
I worry that it would negatively affect how a teacher perceived my child and that it would hurt my communication with a teacher. I used the term squeaky wheel to describe how I might be viewed as someone who complained too much or voiced opinions too forcefully. (Leslie)
Parent Participant 4, Liyao, felt similarly. This parent said, “I think I have no influence in the classroom for the way we are doing influence,” Liyao said, “We have no power, so we never have a voice.”
Some parent participants referred to a recent meeting of the school board that they attended or had heard about from other parents, using this reference to highlight just how small their voices felt.
I went to a school board meeting recently, and a lot of people are voicing concerns about Exact Path and the amount of time spent testing. And the school board is very polite, and they listen and…But it feels like all of these decisions are made just so far above the local classroom level, that it does kind of feel like I can say something but nothing’s gonna change.
Parent Participant 9, Lauren, discussed the same school board meeting, having come away from this with the same feeling of being unheard that Leslie described.
A group of parents even went to a school meeting earlier this spring…I think that when the parents spoke up at the school board, I thought it was noteworthy that the school board listened and didn’t say anything. They didn’t answer questions, they didn’t say…Parents came with four very specific areas of concern and they just listened. And to me, as someone who’s worked in different fields, to me that is just a sign of people’s wanting to look like they care and wanting to look like they listen, that they’re listening, but they’re not actually going to change anything.
Both Leslie and Lauren felt that in the school board meeting, the board members listened such that parents would be pacified and feel heard, but that the school board was not going to do anything to directly address these concerns.
Two parent participants did share the feeling that they had at least a small voice in the use of digital technology in their child’s classroom. “I think I’m heard,” said Stacy (Parent Participant 2), “But there’s so many things, variables to consider that I definitely understand that they’re doing the best they can.” Parent Participant 7, Betsy, also believed that she had a “very narrow” voice to influence technology in the classroom, but this would be limited to influencing a teacher of one classroom and not multiple teachers or the school administration or district.
No matter how much of a voice parents perceived they had in the use of digital technology in their child’s classroom, these parents were clear that they wanted a voice. Lauren said, “I would like to have a voice. I would like to know that people would either tell me why they won’t change or be open to changing.” Parent Participant 3, Emma, agreed and cited a specific purpose for which she would use her voice: “I would like to have an influence to decrease the use of digital technology in the classroom.” Parent participants envisioned collaborating with teachers and school administrators on how technology was implemented in the classroom.
Parent Participant 6, Rebecca, imagined the school or school district conducting a survey of parents to gather parents’ perspectives because, as she pointed out, “I don’t believe to this point I’ve ever been asked how I feel about the technology.” Rebecca thought a survey would have the advantage of ensuring parents felt that their voices mattered to school administration. Leslie also thought surveys could be quite effective for gathering parents’ perspectives on technology use in the classroom. Parent Participant 10, Michelle, also desired a proactive approach by school administrators when listening to parents.
From the school districts, no one is coming to me and saying, “What would you like your role to be?” Or, “What do you think about this?” Or even, “Look here, this is what we’re using in your kid’s class this year. Why don’t you look at it and tell us what you think?” So, I’m not being approached, and parents in general I don’t think are being approached, I think it would be good. I think partnership between the schools and parent should be really important. So, I think that would be a great, a great step if they were just to do that. (Michelle)
While most parent participants felt that they had little-to-no voice in influencing digital technology use in their child’s classroom and wanted some voice, one participant stood out in opposition as a discrepant case here. This participant, Lynn, was not especially concerned with having a voice in her child’s classroom because she felt that in the classroom, the teacher was responsible.
I don’t know if I have to have…I’d like to defer to the expertise of the teacher and how they choose to teach. I don’t feel like it should be some consensus among the parents on what it is… That is not what I want, and I do defer to the teachers they have, especially during classroom time. (Lynn)
Subtheme 1b. We have a voice if we need to use it. Though parent participants expressed the feeling that they had no voice, some acknowledged that they could make their voice heard if necessary. Five participants believed that if a situation arose in which they needed to make their voices heard, they could influence their child’s teacher. They believed if something was really wrong with the way teachers were handling the children’s use of classroom technology, they could speak up and be heard. Leslie described being more likely to speak up if there was a situation or incident that required addressing. Betsy stated:
I think if I really wanted to raise a storm, I could probably get [him or her] to not be able to use [classroom technology]. Like, if I was like, “Oh, this website makes me angry,” or, “This computer time they went on…,” I could probably stop something from happening, but I don’t think I could start something if I found, like, what I considered to be a really awesome program or something. I don’t think I could go in and be like, “You guys should check this out.”
Even Lynn, who was happy adopting an attitude that the teachers were the experts, said that if something the teacher did felt counter to what she believed was right for her child, she would use her voice. This was how Lauren felt. This participant said that she only wanted some influence in the classroom, “If I thought there was a problem that needed to be solved,” but was otherwise happy trusting that the teachers know best. Emma would use her voice based on the situation as well. The previous school year, Emma thought that teachers relied too heavily on classroom technology to teach.
I feel like if this year had been an issue like it was last year, I would have become more involved and try it a little harder to make something happen. I guess when the school year started, it no longer seemed to be an issue for this particular teacher, in this particular classroom. And so, I haven’t had a need to. However, I do plan next year, if I encounter something like I did last year, where I felt like it was just way, way overused, that I would definitely be contacting the first teacher probably and then going from there. (Emma)
Lauren also recognized that she was lucky in that her child’s teachers have not overused classroom technology, based on what she has seen. “I am aware of other teachers at the same schools that are much worse than the teachers I’ve had,” reported Lauren, “I think if I had been in those classrooms, I would have spoken up, but I think I’ve been lucky in that regard.”
Two participants, Leslie and Lauren, avoided using their voice because they feared being perceived as squeaky wheels. Lauren, for example, stressed that voicing concerns took time and energy. “Having to be a squeaky wheel…[it] takes a lot of time and energy to squeak,” said Lauren. Leslie also voiced how this concern affected her ability to have a voice in her child’s digital use by using the term and when prodded in a follow up interview, explained, “I used the term squeaky wheel to describe how I might be viewed as someone who complained too much or voiced opinions too forcefully.” Leslie stated:
Again… my understanding is just that even the teachers aren’t necessarily making all of these choices themselves for their own classrooms, and so I think the people that would be available for me to talk to, my child’s teacher and their principal, aren’t even necessarily making these choices, all of them. I guess I could talk to my child’s teacher and be a squeaky wheel, but I like to have a good relationship with the teacher, and I don’t wanna be constantly questioning and criticizing them. And so, I feel like that also influences how much I’m willing to voice my concerns. Yeah, I feel like I would be questioning how they do their job, and how they plan their days, and… I don’t wanna have a bad working relationship with them because they’re with my child all day, so I try to give them deference to do their job. (Leslie)
Subtheme 1c. We want teachers to be responsive to us. Whether parent participants felt that they had a voice in their child’s classroom and whether they wanted a voice, parent participants did want their child’s teachers to be responsive to their input. When asked if participants believed their child’s teachers were responsive to parents, answers were mixed. Five parent participants believed teachers were responsive to them. “The teachers are great,” said Stacy, “I’ll email them about other stuff and they’re quick to reply to email.” Similarly, Liyao felt that her child’s teacher, “is always very responsive,” and that this teacher, “always gives great advice about what parents can do to assist them.”
These parents believed that if a concern arose related to classroom technology use, teachers would be equally responsive. “I feel like the majority of people, if I had a reasonable request, would go through the pluses and minuses,” said Betsy, “So, I think they would be responsive.” Michelle knew from previous experience that her child’s teacher would be responsive if she raised a concern. “I talked to the teacher about my concerns earlier this year, and she listened and responded, so I really appreciated that,” said Michelle.
Other parent participants expressed concern that their child’s teachers were not responsive enough. Emma stated bluntly, “Typically they’re not responsive. That’s correct.” These participants described situations where they have felt unheard or shut out when expressing their concerns with teachers and school administration. “I have not personally found the principals to be very responsive when I have contacted them about various topics,” reported Lauren.
Sometimes the principals don’t really seem that welcoming of feedback. I have not spoken up specifically about digital technology, but I’ve had to speak up about something else and it’s not always welcome. They don’t always want to hear. They don’t always want to hear from parents. (Lauren)
Leslie shared an experience when she did try to address the use of digital technology in the classroom with the principal, only to come away feeling that the principal had not been receptive to her concerns.
There was something that happened only a few times a year, when certain grades were practicing for a music program, they would be doing it inside the gym of the school, and so the classes who were supposed to be having gym at that time could not have gym inside…It was in the spring and the weather was really nice, and instead of the gym teaching taking the children outside, they were sat down in front of a show, in front of a TV basically. And so, I just brought it up to the principal…I went in and volunteered at the school…And it was the response, it was just not well received. It was very defensive.
Since this happened, Leslie has been hesitant to express other concerns, because she worries that she will be shut out again.
This theme contained no discernible subthemes.
Parents tended to be pessimistic and unaware of their exact roles. All parents acknowledged that they had little to no power on decisions regarding digital technology and did not anticipate that their perspectives had any effect on the decision-making process. Lynn stated, “I don’t have a role. I guess if I chose to take a role, I could have a minimal effect on my child.” Stacy reiterated this sentiment and referenced her influence as “slim to none” and that her main role is “to support the teachers.” Emma, on the other hand, felt a bit more optimistic and stated, “I don’t really play much of a role in that other than to just voice my concerns and hope they are listened to…I don’t feel like there’s ever been a defined role given to parents to provide input on that.”
Several parents stated that they believed their role was mainly in a supportive capacity. Liyao said, “My role is to support, and we support, but not really able to give any practical support,” and Parent Participant 5, Emily, described her role as, “being the support and/or information provider or gatherer…My role would just be to also help them and provide support.” Rebecca provided a more detailed position of her role.
You know, I have chosen, as a parent, to not get too involved, but I did deliberate about getting involved for some time. I have taken the opportunity to just share my concerns, like at a parent-teacher conference….I share it with the teacher, but I’m not very proactive; I’ve decided to just let my kids be kids in the school system they’re in, and not set any restrictive rules for them when they’re there at public school…I think we’re all just playing the role we need to play, doing what we need to do, and so they’re not able to maybe modify the environment as much as they might even want.
Some parents envisioned their roles as advocates for their children. Betsy was a cautious advocate, referring to her role as “very minimal”. Betsy stated:
My own personal opinions about situations aside, there is a trend of, yes, you should be concerned, and you should be involved, and what’s the word, advocating for the person? But when people, and I’m sure…And I’m not an educator, so I don’t know, but I’m just imagining all fields. If you start trying too hard to control what another place is doing, it just tends to make people upset…I’m not in the decision-making process or even any monitoring.
Leslie expressed a more limited take on her role by stating, “I feel like I don’t have much of a role. I don’t ever see my elementary students’ devices, they’ve never ever come home, and so I feel like I have no role in their experience.” Leslie felt like the decision to implement technology was made at a level that did not involve parental feedback, based on her experience. “I guess my role is to try to help them with work,” said Leslie, “With digital technology, like when they’re using their device to do work, when they have questions or they need help learning… Knowing how to do something, I can help with that.”
In contrast to parent participants, teacher participants believed that parents had more of an influencing role. Teacher Participant 1, Rachel, stated, “I think that parents can influence their students. They can influence them to make good choices; they can influence them to listen for instructions all the time, but that’s not just technology that’s everywhere.”
Their role? I want them to always see and be aware of what we’re doing. So, I don’t really know about monitor, but I want them to be an audience for one thing; that’s one role that I want them to have is an audience. I want them to also be the cheerleader, so whenever their child brings them something and shows them something, I want them to encourage them; so always encourage their best work, always encourage them to make the good choices on the iPads. (Rachel)
Teacher Participant 2, Tim, stated that parents have a “hefty influence” at the school due to “highly educated, very involved set of parents.” Tim considered parents as “more of a spectator than a…participant.” When pressed for a term to call parents, Teacher Participant 3, Evelyn, responded by concurring with parents and called their roles a “supporter”.
Participants’ Personal Beliefs on Appropriate Classroom Technology Use
|Participant||Technology Function||Approve / Disapprove||Example|
|Lynn||Screen time||Disapprove||“I have bad vision, and I don’t want them to get it from reading too much screens.”|
|Curriculum supplement or resource||Approve||“I am not anti-digital technology, but I think it should be used to supplement.”
“I think it can be a good source of information.”
|Entertainment||Disapprove||“I would hate for it to take the place of entertaining the kids, babysitting them.”|
|Stacy||Screen time||Disapprove||“…them, staring at a screen…It didn’t really agree with me.”|
|Curriculum supplement or resource||Approve||“I think it should be more of a tool.”
“I would like to see it used as a tool…to research, to connect with people in other countries about what they’re researching and what their perspectives are, what their culture is.”
|Assessments||Approve||“I really understand from a teacher’s perspective, that it helps them get through the evaluation process and they have a lot of pressure on them for [it].”|
|Emma||Screen time||Disapprove||“I think it takes up valuable time that should be used to learn in other more productive ways.”|
|Curriculum supplement or resource||Approve||“I would say that there really isn’t a need for it, other than possibly maybe Google collaborations on Google files, Google Docs…”|
|Liyao||Screen time||Neutral||“Screen time can be in the afternoon or something.”|
|Curriculum supplement or resource||Approve||“As an assistant tool, it is great.”
“They are finding information at school and that’s great.”
|Entertainment||Disapprove||“Use the technology to make them to be quiet [sic] or to take a rest. That is something we don’t want.”|
|Emily||Screen time||Conditional Approval||“I’m not opposed to any of it as long as we still have human interaction and not just robots and computers teaching classes.”|
|Curriculum supplement or resource||Conditional Approval||“Yeah, I’m fine with it. It’s just, you know, have everything in moderation.”|
|Rebecca||Screen time||Neutral||“It would be great to know how the screen time breaks down.”|
|Curriculum supplement or resource||Disapprove||“I feel like [teachers] don’t have the tools… or the e-textbooks, or the e-resources there for them.”|
|Betsy||Screen time||Disapprove||“I have no actual idea how much time our children spend on digital technology.”|
|Curriculum supplement or resource||Approve||“It would seem like it would be even easier to set up a learning platform where…you could easily see, ‘this is how much time they spent and what they did with it,’ on the iPad or computer.”|
|Entertainment||Neutral||“Obviously, for fun, at free-time, I know the kids play games and things like that.”|
|Leslie||Screen time||Disapprove||“Concerns would be just the amount of use, the amount of screen time… What are they not getting, what has it replaced?”|
|Curriculum supplement or resource||Disapprove||“I would prefer they read out of a book, I would prefer a teacher teach them math, rather than, ‘Click through this math lesson on your iPad.”|
|Assessments||Neutral||“I went to a school board meeting recently, and a lot of people are voicing concerns about Exact Path and the amount of time spent testing.”|
|Lauren||Screen time||Neutral||“Parents do care about screen time. There are a lot of concerns about looking at screens.”|
|Curriculum supplement or resource||Approve||“It can be a tool for differentiation to make sure that each student is getting challenged, I support that as well.”|
|Assessments||Approve||“There has to be some sort of assessment, the assessment’s never gonna go away.”|
|Michelle||Screen time||Disapprove||“The assessments can’t be accurate if it actually gives her a headache to look at the screen.”|
|Curriculum supplement or resource||Conditional Approval||“I would just want it to be used in meaningful ways where it was really supporting a thoughtful curriculum.”|
|Assessments||Disapprove||“Exact Path is the one that I particularly dislike…there’s no transparency about it.”|
Theme 3 addressed RQ What are parents’ perspectives on their role in the use of digital technology in their child’s elementary classroom? Parent participants reported different factors that influenced the way they viewed digital technology use in their child’s classroom. These parents expressed very specific beliefs about what constituted appropriate use of digital technology in the classroom. There were no discernible subthemes within Theme 2.
Parent participants overwhelmingly believed that digital technology served a purpose in their child’s classroom. Parents recognized that their children are growing up in a digital age and, as Lauren stated, “I think it’s important for the citizens of tomorrow to be familiar with technology.” For some parents, this purpose was to enhance the class material rather than replace that material. Lynn, who earlier in her interview expressed no qualms about the use of classroom technology, said, “I think it should be used to supplement…I just think it should be used to enhance but I don’t think it should be a default, or take the place of the teacher.” Similarly, even though Lauren knew that learning computer skills was valuable for her child, this participant thought, “the teacher’s job is to limit it and to be really smart and innovative.” Michelle also expressed this sentiment:
I would want it to support the teacher’s vision for the class and the explorations of the class, doing so it would be a tool of that intentional thoughtful design teacher. I wouldn’t want it to be driving the curriculum, I wouldn’t want it to displace things like field trips and connections in the communication, so, I would want it to support all these things…I would just want it to be used in meaningful ways where it was really supporting a thoughtful curriculum.
Emma felt somewhat differently. “I would say that there really isn’t a need for [classroom technology], other than possibly maybe Google collaborations,” stated Emma. However, Emma did acknowledge that classroom technology could be okay, “when used sparingly (less than once a day), and for the right reasons (not to fill time on mindless apps, but to actually collaborate with students on a Google doc, for example).”
Parent participants also felt the place of digital technology in the classroom was to teach students valuable skills and so should be used as a tool. For Stacy, using digital technology as a tool meant, “Separating it from whatever iPad is at home and that they use for entertainment.” Stacy wanted teachers to clearly delineate for students that classroom technology was a tool and not a toy. This participant felt that it was the role of teacher and parents to model what appropriate use of technology looked like for children.
It’d be great if it was shaped a little differently so that it was in their minds like something different. But I don’t think it should have any kind of recognized ability towards something that’s entertainment. I think it should be more of a tool…I would like to see it used as a tool specifically to be faster at math, to research, to connect with people in other countries about what they’re researching and what their perspectives are, what their culture is. I think that would be useful. (Stacy)
Liyao felt like Stacy. “As an assistant tool, it is great,” said Stacy of digital technology. “I think the digital technology is great for assisting the students. For example, they are doing the research…They’re finding information at school, and that’s great,” Stacy elaborated. In a follow-up with Stacy, this participant stated, “We do not think our kids are overly exposed to the technology.”
Rebecca also acknowledged the benefits of classroom technology for her children, and wants her children using technology in the classroom. “They would need to have all of the skills,” said Rebecca, “I want them to stay on level with the skills of their peers, so I would want them to know the platforms and programs and pathways that all kids around the US are learning.” Rebecca felt it was important for her children to keep up with current trends in technology use.
Rather than using technology to use math or research skills, Leslie wanted her children to learn specific technological skills like programming and coding.
It would be to teach my kids to be innovative with technology, so I would love for them to learn coding and other kinds of computer programming and to stay abreast of how technology is changing…If they were using it to learn technological skills like coding, or…I’m sure there are some really awesome computer programs that they would have to be on a device to use and so…So, I want them to be comfortable on technology. (Leslie)
Theme 4 addressed RQ 1 What are parents’ perspectives on their role in the use of digital technology in their child’s elementary classroom? Parent participants knew that learning technological skills would serve their children well in the future and so recognized the benefits of using digital technology in the classroom. However, parent participants also had hesitations about the widespread implementation of classroom technology. Many parent participants attributed these concerns to the research they had done on children’s use of technology. Parent participants also drew from their own experiences and watching how people around them interact with technology to inform their perspectives on digital technology use in their child’s classroom. Parents were concerned about their children learning technological skills at the expense of interpersonal and social skills. Finally, parents expressed concerns over the health impacts of too much technology and screen time. Theme 4 contained three subthemes: technology and socialization, resistance to ExactPath software, and impacts of technology on health.
Subtheme 4a: Technology and socialization. Four participants expressed concern that teachers were using technology too much in the classroom and did not like the idea that technology seemed to replace teachers in some cases. Lynn, for example, had seen that some teachers, though not her child’s teachers, using technology very heavily and in a way that made her think the teachers were using technology as a form of entertainment for children. “I would hate for it o take the place of entertaining the kids, babysitting them,” said Lynn. Stacy also used the term babysitting in reference to classroom technology use. “It just looked less social and strange for a device to be babysitting in the classroom setting,” Stacy stated. Emma and Liyao also felt teachers were using technology too much in the classroom. “I think that iPad use has increased to a degree that’s not healthy for students,” said Emma, and Liyao said of this amount, “I’m guessing probably every day, it’s probably more than I want it to be.”
Parent participants worried that as digital technology became increasingly widespread in their child’s classroom, use of such technology would impact the socialization of their children. “We’re interacting with other people; the social element of that is important,” said Michelle. “But, removing people’s faces and being able to see their reactions and hear their voices does make it easier for kids to be mean to each other,” Michelle continued. This participant was concerned not only with socialization but also increased ability and opportunity for children to bully others.
Lauren was also concerned about how her child’s socialization might be impacted by digital technology use.
Digital technology is everywhere…I remember the first time I saw a couple on a date and one person was trying to look at his phone under the table without his date noticing…Face-to-face communication and interaction is important. Human connection is important. Being able to communicate and think critically are two very important life skills…Many people spend a lot more time socializing on social media now than actually talking or connecting in person. I think digital technology can be a helpful asset in the classroom, but schools must also make sure that each student is learning how to interact and communicate with others face-to-face. (Lauren)
Subtheme 4b: Resistance to Exact Path software. Leslie was concerned with digital technology use in the classroom in a more general sense, but also very concerned with one particular program her child’s teacher used. “Concerns would be just the amount of use, the amount of screen time…So, if it’s replaced human interaction then that would be a concern; if it’s replaced time spent outside that would be a concern,” said Leslie. This participant also expressed specific concern about Exact Path, a program that teachers are implementing in the classroom. Exact Path is a state-approved, formative-assessment program that according to the developer’s website, it offers “individualized instruction to promote growth”, with targeted intervention that claims (https://www.edmentum.com/resources/brochures/edmentums-individualized-learning-solution). The program is used for kindergarten through 8th grade math and English language arts assessments in the school district and is marketed as a personalized learning solution.
“I don’t like how often my children talk about using Exact Path,” stated Leslie, “My understanding of it is that it doesn’t teach lessons in a very engaging or interactive way, and I feel that time spent there would be better used learning from a teacher.”
Participants’ expressed the opinion that Exact Path provided little to no benefit to children. Michelle explained that, “My daughter’s great dislike of it prompted me to learn about it, so yes, I talked with parents of her friends as we hung out on the playground after school. I found that other parents were often unaware of Exact Path.” Regarding her own child, Michelle shared, “I would say that it impeded her learning by wasting her time, boring her, and frustrating her.” Leslie expressed a similar concern: “Yes, all the parents who mentioned it said it bored their children, wasn’t a dynamic way of learning, reduced time spent interacting with teachers, and didn’t accurately reflect what their children know.”
Some parent participants spoke of their concerns regarding Exact Path in the context of the school board meeting, while others monitored the developments. Michelle referenced directly attending the school board meeting out of concern for the tool, stating:
I also met with my daughter’s teacher to explain my daughter’s dislike of Exact Path…I also attended a school board meeting to register my concern about the program; I used my three minutes of public comment time. At that point it was less about my daughter; her teacher had drastically reduced the time my daughter was spending on it. I had a problem with the school district using it widely. I had talked with middle school kids who detested it and were spending 1.5 to 2 hours doing homework for it. One of their complaints was the complete lack of relationship between the teachers’ lessons and the Exact Path work.
Subtheme 4c: Impacts of technology on health. Parent participants were also concerned that using too much digital technology took time away from other valuable classroom time that, according to Emma, “should be used to learn in other, more productive ways.” Leslie said she felt frustrated by the amount of time spent using digital technology in the classroom.
I think I like a more interactive education, where they’re interacting with each other and the teacher. I would love for my kids to get more time outside and do more outdoor learning…I would like for them, their experience day in and day out, to be less focused on turning on a device so that they learn to entertain themselves and cure their own boredom in other ways…I don’t think all school hours need to be spent doing academic learning, but I would rather see my children play outside, learn a sport, play a board game, or read to themselves than play digital games. (Leslie)
Lauren also wanted to see less time spent on digital technology and more time spent on play or exercise. “One of my big concerns is at recess that they’re watching TV for recess. And so, they’re not exercising, they’re not moving,” reported Lauren, although how this participant knew this was unclear.
Parents expressed concern about their children’s physical health in terms of their children’s vision, posture, and headaches. Stacy described her worry about several health-related issues for her child, “Yeah, eyes, eyesight, and posture, the neck dropping… like they got tech neck.” She further explained that, “They say the kids who are the millennials are gonna have horrible arthritis in their thumbs, and all this stuff.” Eye strain seemed to be a pressing concern for the parents. Rebecca reported:
I have a little bit of a pessimistic view of how technology is playing out for the majority of time within our schools, at the schools my children attend. I find that I hear a lot of activities and assignments and work is being done on them, and sometimes…I feel like the technology is utilized for most every activity in the school, more so than I would imagine is perhaps optimum for a child to be sometimes self-directed with, or sometimes eye-strain exhaustion, some screens…One of my primary concerns with using technology is the amount of eye fatigue I know affects your ability to perform well, and feel good, and your stamina throughout the day. I know what eye strain can do on a daily basis when you use technology more than your eyes can comfortably handle, so I would…My primary concern would be for the technology to be safe for all types of kids with different vision problems.
Michelle expressed previous concerns for her child stemming from a previous vision condition coupled with iPad use, “She has amblyopia, so she has a lazy eye, I guess you could call it. And you can’t see it when you look at her, but she has one eye that sees a lot better than the other eye. And so, I think related to that, time on the iPad would give her a headache… So, she’s in general not challenged, that’s not a challenge for her. But the time on the iPad was physically taxing for her in a way that was not… It’s difficult to understand, then when we realized there was a vision issue, then it sort of was brought home to me.”
Other parents expressed concern with digital technology affecting their child’s other ways. For instance, Emma expressed her concern with the possibility of Wi-Fi signals affecting her child in the future. “I think that iPad use has increased to a degree that’s not healthy for students. I think it’s not always the best way to learn and a lot of times it’s a distraction. And that it can be used in place of real people teaching, which saves money for the schools but is not in the best interest of the students. Not to mention, that Wi-Fi and cell signals have been shown to cause cancer.” Teachers were also of parents’ concerns about their children’s vision, specifically when there was a previous concern. Tim noted:
There may have been times when for a medical reason, for eye strain or something. “Hey, could my kid have some kind of alternative way of doing that activity?” I’m trying to remember if that’s actually happened. I know I’ve had…Again, I know I’ve had students whose eyes hurt, and I said, “Let’s do this a different way.”
Lack of physical activity and play were other concerns parents raised related to technology use. Leslie relayed her concern on what she perceived to be digital technology time versus play:
I think I like a more interactive education, where they’re interacting with each other and the teacher. I would love for my kids to get more time outside and do more outdoor learning. I think there are just a lot of other things I would rather them spend their time with, than a device. I worry most about the loss of outdoor play, physical activity, and the arts.
Lauren expressed her concerns about the lack of physical activity. This participant believed that technology is overused in the classroom. “For example, elementary schools where there’s only one recess,” said Lauren, “If the weather isn’t good, sometimes they watch the TV show sitting and they’re sedentary and they’re not moving…I think young children need to move…Children aren’t playing. Literally, they’re not playing.”
Theme 5 addressed RQ 2: What are teachers’ perspectives on parents’ roles in the use of digital technology in the classroom? Teacher participants wanted parents to feel like they could approach teachers with any concerns at any time, and these teachers were clear that they receptive to parents’ concerns. Teacher participants, like parent participants, wanted parents to have a voice or influence in the classroom. Teachers wanted to encourage parents to support teachers’ efforts to responsible technology use at home. There were no discernible subthemes contained within this theme.
Teacher participants appreciated when parents gave them feedback on their use of digital technology in the classroom and wanted parents to feel comfortable approaching them with concerns. Tim said, “I’ve had several parents say, ‘I appreciate that you’re not using [iPads] constantly’…I mean, I could be doing all of our math instruction from those resources.” However, this is not how Tim wants to teach and Tim’s parents appreciate this.
I think like anything; I would want a parent always to let me know if they were uncomfortable with something. Because most of the time, their discomfort doesn’t require some massive overhaul of my pedagogy or my class philosophies or our class protocols. It requires a conversation and some slight change. And so, I would always wanna know if they were feeling uncomfortable with either a high volume or a low volume of technology use, just like I’d want them to feel comfortable contacting me about any concern that they have. (Tim)
Similarly, Teacher Participant 3, Evelyn, wanted parents to feel comfortable approaching this participant, because Evelyn welcomed that feedback. “Well, I’d wanna know if they felt that there was something lacking,” said Evelyn, “I would wanna know that they would voice that. And that we would look into what it is, an clarify whether it’s a misconception or if it really is something that we need to work on.”
Teacher participants viewed the role of their students’ parents as supporters. When asked about this in interviews, teacher participants described how they wanted parents to actively encourage appropriate use of technology at home and support teachers’ implementation of this technology in the classroom. Rachel stated:
Just keep encouraging to use it, use it for school, use it as a tool, use it as a way to enhance your learning. Kids always want to…they beg, “Can we go to Cool Math? Can we go to coolmath.com?” I’m like, “Well, if those were math games and yes, we would, but they’re not. So, we’re not gonna use Cool Math.” And they [say], “But my parents let me use it.” “Well, that’s at home. So, that’s different than school.” So, I think probably just keep encouraging them to make good choices with they’re at school.
Evelyn echoed this, stating that the parents’ role could be as a supporter. “They can support many of the things that we do. So, we’ll do something, and then I’ll send a message, it says, ‘Today we worked on this. They can continue to work on this’,” said Evelyn.
Theme 6 addressed both research questions as it highlighted an important phenomenon found through data analysis. A communication gap between parents and teachers exists in relation to use of digital technology use in the classroom. This gap stems from parents, who report they do not know the extent to which technology is used in their child’s classroom and report that teachers do not communicate with them about technology use, and teachers who perceive themselves to be communicative about this and that parents have not reached out to them to find out how technology is used in the classroom.
Parent participants felt they were not well-informed about how and how much digital technology was implemented in their child’s classroom. These participants had their own suppositions about technology use but reported receiving only minimal communication from teachers. Interestingly, parent participants also acknowledged that they were uninformed about what was happening in their children’s classrooms because they were not actively communicating with teachers as well. As Lynn admitted, “I’m actually not aware of how it’s used enough to probably make a true…These are all just conjectures. I can’t really say how it is. Maybe the school should actually explain better.” Lynn suggested that at orientation, teachers could provide parents with some discussion of teachers’ perspectives on technology use and how they will use technology in the classroom, so parents are better informed. Like Lynn, Leslie confessed, “So, I think my lack of awareness about what’s going on means I don’t even know what to ask them, so I’m just pretty unaware, which is not great.”
Not all parent participants blamed themselves for their lack of knowledge of digital technology use in their child’s classroom. When asked specifically how much communication or information on digital technology use parent participants received from teachers, most participants reported none or very little. Stacy said, “Not much at all,” and Emma said, “Nothing specifically about digital technology use has been disseminated” (emphasis in original). Leslie and Lauren also stated they had not received such communication. Betsy described how this lack of communication makes her feel lost.
I don’t know what websites they go to, unless like, they have to send a thing home. I don’t know how much time they spend on them. I don’t’ really have a gauge of if it’s even working. Like, I mean, I know there’s a website. He comes home with a packet that he clearly transcribed, you know, but it just doesn’t come up that much. I mean, to the degree that I have one of those, like, homeschool things…A subscription or whatever. And when we have a break or something, I just pick lessons for them to do on there because I don’t have any idea what’s going on in the classroom, so I just supplement it on my own. (Betsy)
Emma wanted some type of notification or message about technology use from her child’s teachers. “I would like to be engaged and notified up front at the beginning of each school year…so that I could communicate any concerns at that point,” said Emma. Rebecca also had to rely on conjecture to determine how much classroom time was spent on technology.
We do not have any of those accounts where we can see what the class is doing, or see they projects they’ve done, so we’re very much removed from knowing what they’re doing and how much time they’re spending on there. I really don’t know how much time my fifth grader spends on there, and I don’t know how to determine that, I guess, without maybe asking him. (Rebecca)
Similarly, Betsy wanted more communication from teachers because “I don’t really know what they’re doing,” and Betsy thought keeping track of time spent on technology could easily be mapped out in a spreadsheet for the parents.
Teacher participants, on the other hand, asserted they were communicative with parents about how they used technology in the classroom, and that parents had not communicated concerns with them. Rachel sends a printed biweekly newsletter to parents and is in frequent communication through email as well. This newsletter highlights what students are working on in class with digital technology, like creating slide shows and doing research on topics like national parks, Rachel elaborated. At the beginning of the school year, Rachel sends a packet home with parents, “Where I have itemized all my lists of everything that we do in here.” Evelyn also communicates with parents at the beginning of the year about digital technology use but does not do so regularly throughout the school year.
I don’t generally communicate with parents what specific digital technology we’re using in class on a regular basis. I try to keep them informed in general on what we’re doing in class (i.e., drafting or publishing our writing pieces). I do give them a parent letter at the beginning of the year outlining ways we’ll use digital technology throughout the year, and then I use a lot of digital technology myself to communicate with them. (Evelyn)
Teacher participants also reported that parents did not come to them with concerns, so teachers were left to assume that parents were supportive of what teachers did in the classroom. “I have never had any parent say, ‘I think my child is on the iPad too much at school’,” said Rachel. This participant stated having an open-door policy and reported, “I’ve maybe been asked [about technology in the classroom] five times in five years. So, not often” (Rachel). Similarly, Evelyn stated repeatedly that teachers had not vocalized any complaints or concerns about technology in the classroom. “I don’t hear complaints from parents,” Evelyn said, and, “I haven’t had any share digital concerns with me.” Evelyn reiterated, “I’ve never had a parent say anything to me about digital technology…Haven’t had them say a word.”
Tim reported receiving feedback, but the feedback was in relation to projects that were not technology intensive. “I’d say I get comments like that three or four times a year,” reported Tim, “It seems to me that I hear them most often when we have a class event where students are demonstrating their work on a project in a way that wasn’t screen-heavy.” Otherwise, Tim has not heard any concerns from parents.
The researcher presented this study’s findings in relation to the research questions in this chapter. Results of data analysis included four themes, each of which served to address a research question in whole or part. Parents perceived that their role as stakeholders in digital technology use in their child’s classroom was limited. Parents wanted a voice in how digital technology was used in their child’s classroom, but felt that, at best, this voice was limited. Some participants felt that if they really wanted to make a big deal, they could get their voice through to their child’s teacher, but that this voice would likely fall on deaf ears at the administration level. This led to feelings of frustration and, in some cases, hopelessness among parents. Parents expressed clear ideas of how they wanted teachers to use technology in the classroom – what parents saw as appropriate or inappropriate. Appropriate uses included when technology was used to supplement other forms of classroom learning, or technology used as a tool to learn a specific skill. Inappropriate uses, on the other hand, included using technology as a babysitter, or in a way that took time from other important forms of learning, like recess or physical education. Parents were concerned about the overuse of classroom technology but admitted they did not have a clear idea of how much technology was used in their child’s classroom, and the interviews with parents seemed to have an eye-opening effect on some parents.
Teachers, on the other hand, wanted parents to feel comfortable with how technology was used in their child’s classroom, and with approaching teachers. Teachers were glad when parents approached them to talk about this technology but were concerned that more parents had not come to them if these parents had concerns or complaints. Teachers reported reaching out to parents to keep parents informed of how digital technology was used in the classroom. They did this at the beginning of the school year and through regular communication. However, parents felt that they were not receiving enough communication from teachers to keep them informed in the ways they wanted to be. A communication gap between parents and teachers became apparent during this study, highlighting how parents perceived their own and teachers’ roles in digital technology use, and how teachers viewed these roles. This incongruence in perspectives led to questioning and assumptions made by parents and teachers. In Chapter 5, the researcher will discuss these findings in greater depth and in relation to the literature.
The emergence and challenge of building and strengthening family–school–community partnerships are of major importance in public education (Gary & Witherspoon, 2012; U.S. DOE, Office of Educational Technology, 2017). Parents, especially, are vital stakeholders in their child’s formal education, and the importance of their role cannot be ignored. This qualitative study was designed to gain more comprehensive insight on parents’ and teachers’ perspectives of the roles of parents as stakeholders in the use of digital technology in the elementary classroom. It is important to mention that the complexity of stakeholders’ perceptions extends beyond this research project. In my analysis of parents’ perspectives, I sought to understand what qualities they value in teaching/instruction, what influences may affect their opinions or ability to voice their opinions, what knowledge they expressed in regards to the use of digital technology in their child’s school, and where they feel they stand in terms of their roles.
I chose to analyze this study in terms of Epstein’s six types of involvement (1987), traditionally used in parental involvement and/or engagement research, as well as through the ecological and social lens of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, which helps explain relationships in these social and cultural contexts, outlined in his book, The Ecology of Human Development: Experiments by Nature and Design (1979). In this chapter, I discuss the results of the present study in relation to the findings of previous literature, the study’s limitations, and recommendations for further research.
The following research questions (RQs) were explored in this study:
RQ1a. What are parents’ perspectives of their role in the use of digital technology in their child’s elementary classroom?
RQ2. What are teachers’ perspectives on parents’ roles in the use of digital technology in the classroom?
Six themes emerged from the analysis of the data. For RQ1, there were four main themes: 1) Wanting a voice in the classroom, 2) Knowledge of roles, 3) Personal beliefs about appropriate technology use, and 4) Concerns about digital technology use. Theme one consisted of three subthemes: 1a) We want a voice in our child’s classroom, 1b) We have a voice if we need to use it, and 1c) We want teachers to be responsive to us. Theme two contained no discernible subthemes. Theme three did not have any discernible subthemes, while theme four consisted of three subthemes: 4a) Technology and socialization, 4b) Resistance to Exact Path software, 4c) Impacts of technology on health. For RQ2, there was one major theme and no discernable subthemes: Teachers want to be approachable. Finally, one overarching theme emerged that seemed to answer all two research questions was the following: Communication gap about classroom technology use.
Bronfenbrenner described human development as occurring “in the midst of a vibrant, complex environment” (p. 3). He goes on to describe this environment: “From a psychological perspective, the environment is largely defined by social and cultural practices and institutions that provide most of the experiences people have” (p. 3). He further describes his ecological systems theory as follows:
Perhaps the most unorthodox feature of the proposed theory is its conception of development. Here the emphasis is not on the traditional psychological processes of perception, motivation, thinking, and learning, but on their content—what is perceived, desired, feared, thought about, or acquired as knowledge, and how the nature of this psychological material changes as a function of a person’s exposure to and interaction with the environment. (p. 9)
Furthermore, this theory consists of broader social policies that, although may appear as a distant context, affect a child’s everyday experiences and directly affect a child’s interactions, with parents and teachers as having the most influence on a child’s learning (Weiss et al., 2014).
Epstein’s six types of involvement (1987) include parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision-making, and collaborating with community. While somewhat outdated, this framework is still being used as a guide to parent–school engagement, especially with schools becoming more and more aware of their students’ and families’ diverse backgrounds (Epstein, 2011). These categories of involvement helped me frame the study in terms of what is traditionally known as aspects of parents’ involvement/engagement with their children’s schools. Parents’ views on communicating and decision-making stood out as the most acknowledged perspectives, which is supported by Epstein’s model of internal spheres of influence. This model presents the complexity of interaction and influence in interpersonal relationships and the different patterns of influence (Epstein, 2002; Epstein, 2011). To help illuminate the reader on these parent–school–community relationships, Figure 5.1 below illustrates Epstein’s overlapping spheres of influence and demonstrates the importance of all three aspects (not sure if this is needed). This helped me frame the study in terms of what is traditionally known as aspects of parental involvement/engagement with their children’s schools. Parents’ views on communicating and decision-making stood out as the most acknowledged perspectives in this study.
Both frameworks helped provide a more holistic approach to parents’ perspectives of their roles and what influences parents regarding their roles by looking at not only the different ways parents can participate in their child’s learning but also the different complexities that can affect their participation. The multiple complex factors affecting parents’ involvement in their child’s learning was found to be beyond the scope of this study and cannot be represented in a single research study.
RQ1a. What are parents’ perspectives of their roles as stakeholders in the use of digital technology in their child’s classroom?
Theme 1: Wanting a Voice in the Classroom. Parents’ perspectives of wanting to have a voice in the classroom regarding technology use correspond to federal and state level parental involvement policies that emphasize the importance of including both learners and their families in decision-making and sharing power, regarding parents as vital stakeholders in the educational process (IDOE, 2017; U.S. DOE, 2017). While parents’ perceptions of their roles are important to understand their view of decision-making and role construction, there seemed to be a consensus among the parents surveyed in this study about their lack of definition of their roles. This is consistent with the growing body of research into parent–school–community engagement and wider recognition of parents’ roles and role construction (Hoover-Dempsey & Sandler, 1997; Hoover-Dempsey et al., 2005). Although I recognized parents’ perspectives as seeking social and institutional change in the way stakeholders are usually viewed and regarded, their lack of definitive roles were impediments to accomplishing this.
The first theme that was evident was that parents were clear about how they wanted their children to use digital technology in the classroom, and they wanted to be able to express their views about it. This is supported by Epstein’s (2011) fifth type of involvement in decision-making, which presents parents’ roles in governance and advocacy for their child. As discussed in chapter 2, empowering parents as stakeholders in their child’s education is part of the NETP 2017 Update. The belief that parents are decision-makers in a child’s education goes as far back as the 1970s when Cicourel and Kitsuse (1963) described a child as a social construct.
In the Hoover-Dempsey and Sandler (2005) study, parents’ role construction is defined by parents’ beliefs about what activities they envision as important in their child’s education. The setting with time, place, and role can influence parents’ decision-making, as demonstrated in Edwards et al. (2017).
In this present study, parents expressed their ability to have a voice if needed and that if they joined forces, their voices were more likely to be heard. Shared experiences with other parents gave them a sense of a stronger voice. This illustrates how a parents’ social network can predict their involvement in schools and decision-making (Sheldon, 2002). The school climate can also be an indicator of the level of support parents perceive is being given (Epstein, 2011). While parents overwhelmingly felt that they did not have much of a voice, they recognized their power when they did need to speak and especially when they joined forces. Parents who felt that the school environment was not welcoming tended to feel discouraged to speak up. While not the topic of this study, this dates back to Bandura (1977) and can help explain parents’ perceptions of their roles and the self-efficacy beliefs that drive people’s behavior.
Whether parents felt that they had a voice in their child’s use of digital technology, parents did express their expectations of teachers’ responsiveness to their concerns. They believed that, if needed, their voice would be heard and an appropriate response would come if the concern was contradicted in the following two groups of parents: those who believe teachers are responsive to their needs and those who believe teachers do not have a choice in the matter. In Bronfenbrenner’s ecological perspective, parents and teachers are the two most important environments in a child’s life, and the relationships between them, the mesosystem, is demonstrated through their interactions and communication. While some parents expressed a strong relationship with their child’s teacher, others were hindered by previous experiences with the teachers or principal. This is in line with Bronfenbrenner’s systems view in that other parents or peer groups can have an indirect effect on parents’ perceptions and influence the broader social aspect of the context of these relationships (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Weiss et al., 2014).
Theme 2: Knowledge of Roles. Theme 2 involved parents’ knowledge of their roles. As discussed in chapter 4, parents seemed to be unaware of their exact roles in regards to the decision-making process, and all of the parent participants admitted that they had little to no influence in this process. Some parents, such as Leslie and Lauren, had more active roles and demonstrated leadership qualities by taking the initiative to speak to the principal and/or attend school board meetings. Even though they advocated for their voices to be heard, little occurred in regards to digital technology use in the classrooms. This aligns with the research of Hanafin and Lynch (2002), who found in their study of parents involved in parent council meetings in which parents who attended this meeting with the goal of becoming parent representatives revealed that their roles were limited, especially regarding decision-making and policy.
Parents’ relationships with other parents are essential to parental role construction (Curry & Holter, 2019). In this present study’s findings, parents were more likely to speak to other parents, usually in a casual manner, about their concerns about digital technology in their children’s schools, yet they found their voices somewhat curtailed when it came to speaking with the other stakeholders such as the principal or school board. Studies, such as the one by Curry, Jean-Marie, and Adams (2016), revealed that creating an environment for parents to engage positively with one another regarding their children’s education may enhance partnership efforts, which is consistent with parents discussing how they reach out to other parents when they have concerns.
A role, as defined by Bronfenbrenner (1979), is “a set of activities and relations expected of a person occupying a particular position in society, and of others in relation to that person” (p. 85). Smith and Sheridan (2019) have further explained the relationship as when
children’s cognitive, behavioral, and social-emotional development is affected directly and indirectly via interactions that occur in their immediate environments (e.g., home and school). Within an ecological framework, family engagement is a shared responsibility, wherein both teachers and parents play a vital role. (p. 2)
Parents who seemed to be more educated and well-connected or more proactive seemed to express their opinions more, such as Leslie and Lauren, who attended a school board meeting and participated. These findings align with Lin (2001), who found that social connections and ties “enhance the opportunities for individuals to obtain better education, training, and skill and knowledge” (p. 97). However, again, the ill-defined roles that the parents surveyed in this study had with regards to their children’s learning with digital technology seemed to prevent the parents from affecting change.
Theme 3: Personal Beliefs about Appropriate Classroom Technology use. One of the most important aspects of parental involvement in a child’s education is that the child is the center of these relationships, and engagement from parents, teachers, etc., guides the development and success of a child in school (Bronfenbrenner, 1979; Epstein, 2002). Epstein’s model would be situated within Bronfenbrenner’s in both the microsystem (first level – child and immediate influential environment) and mesosystem (second level – the relationships between these environments). Figure 5.1 further illustrates how both frameworks are crucial in understanding the importance of parental involvement and influence. Consider that the more families and schools operate as partners, the maximum the overlap will likely be (Epstein, 2011). (I am trying to illustrate the systems/relationships here)
Figure 5.1 Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory microsystem and mesosystem; Epstein’s spheres of influence
The importance of the time of day in digital technology use in the classroom was expressed by Parent Participant 4, who preferred the afternoon over the morning to protect her child’s senses. This is consistent with the Edwards et al. (2017) study in which it was revealed that the time of day influenced parental decision-making. (unsure if I will keep this part)
Theme 4: Concerns about Digital Technology Use. As explained in chapter 4, parents exhibited many concerns about digital technology use in their child’s classroom. The figure below has been modified to demonstrate the different influences in and between the different systems in Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory.
Parents appreciated the role of digital technology in their child’s classroom, specifically if it were to help their children to develop crucial digital technology skills that would benefit them in the future. This is consistent with/differs from the literature on parental perceptions and attitudes in regards to digital technology in their child’s classroom (CITE).
Some parents expressed that their child’s exposure to digital technology in moderation and with supervision was expected, and this was echoed by the teachers in this instance. This is consistent with the Plowman et al. (2010) study in which parents considered their children’s use of digital technology in moderation and with supervision to be harmless. The context in which the children use digital technology is shaped by their social interactions. This can be seen in studies such as the study by Edwards et al. (2017), in which the context of how and when children use technology is seen as the exosystem layer of Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory, in which social relationships are the focus and the macrosystem consists of social beliefs and values that influence parents’ beliefs and perspectives.
One of the most surprising findings was how strongly parents felt about the Exact Path software. As mentioned in chapter 4, Exact Path is a program used by the district for diagnostic assessments with individualized learning paths. Parents expressed that it provided little to no benefit for their children, with Leslie expressing her concern about her children talking about the program, while Michelle expressed her daughter’s dislike of it.
In this study, parents also expressed concerns about their children’s health and exposure to digital technology. Several parents preferred more person-to-person interactive education, while others were concerned for their children’s vision and lack of physical exercise. These perceptions are in line with a study by Stitt and Brooks (2014) in which parents recognized shortfalls of the school’s curriculum and pursued other opportunities that supported their children’s physical and emotional needs. In this present study, parents’ were aware of the risks of digital technology on their children’s physical, emotional, and social well-being. This is consistent with the Plowman et al. (2010) study in which parents also reported awareness of these dangers on their children’s social development and health. Parents were well aware of technology in relation to being physically active, such as in the Edwards et al. (2017) study. In that study, “‘outdoors’ was synonymous with being social and physical” (p. 12).
RQ2. What are teachers’ perspectives on parents’ main roles in the use of digital technology in their classrooms?
Theme 5: Teachers Want to Be Approachable. While once parental involvement was limited to volunteering …parent-teacher association/organization (PTA/PTO) Developing an understanding of parental perspectives and effective parent–school partnerships is an important aspect of teacher education and professional development (Daniel, 2011). To co-construct parental involvement or engagement, educators must consider potential challenges that may face these parents, such as work schedules, etc. Jeynes (2005) states that “parents and teachers need specific information to maximize the efficacy of parental involvement.” (p. 239). Although role construction and self-efficacy help guide parental involvement, parents who have more passive roles tend to benefit from invitations from the school and/or teachers (Hoover-Dempsey et al., 2005). To help further illustrate this and increase understanding of parental involvement, Hoover-Dempsey et al. (2005) separated parents’ motivations to be involved into three categories: parents that positively believe they should be involved, parents that feel invited by the school to be involved, and parents’ life-context that either allowed and/or encouraged involvement. Along with their beliefs on parents, invitations from teachers support parents’ decisions to be involved and can help parents understand and advocate for their child’s learning (Epstein, 1991; Hoover et al., 2005).
In order to nurture a child’s enthusiasm for learning, both parents and teachers must work together. From a theoretical perspective of the ecological systems theory, the microsystem, which consists home and school, has the greatest effect on a child (Weiss et al., 2014). By helping keep parents informed on innovative classroom practices, teachers can present a unified parent-school environment that fosters learning. Weiss et al. (2014) goes on to describe how instances such as modifying student evaluations through assessments, teachers must help parents by providing feedback to help them understand their child(ren)’s progress.
Oftentimes reducing barriers to effective school-family communication can aid both teachers and parents in decision-making processes, especially with the ease of access through digital technology. Teachers are aware of parents’ attendance to open houses, parent-teacher meetings, etc., further supporting that both parents and teachers are equal partners thus supporting the view that they share responsibility (Curry and Holter, 2019).
Overarching Theme: Communication Gap about Classroom Technology Use. The importance of keeping parents informed about classroom practices is essential, and parents regard prioritizing their opinions as to the single most important issue when it comes to their concerns (Hanafin & Lynch, 2002). Parents in this study expressed their discontent with the lack of communication in regards to their children’s use of digital technology in the classroom, with some admitting to their minimal communication between themselves and their child’s teacher. Teachers, in contrast, seemed to assume that parents were well informed and mentioned handing out digital technology guides, some parents contradicted the teachers about whether or not they received them, therefore causing a disconnect. Tim, a fourth grade teacher, said, “I would always wanna know if they were feeling uncomfortable with either a high volume or a low volume of technology use, just like I’d want them to feel comfortable contacting me about any concern that they have.” However, parents seemed to have a difficult time expressing their views to the teachers due to feeling that they have no voice.
The results cast a new light on the importance of involving parents in a district and/or school’s digital technology decision-making process. (Expand here?)
Bronfenbrenner (1979) has stated that “in ecological research, the properties of the person and of the environment, the structure of the environmental settings, and the processes taking place within and between them must be viewed as interdependent and analyzed in systems terms” (p. 41). This ecological approach acknowledges that a child’s learning is inseparable from their environment, of which people and technological resources are components (Plowman et al., 2010). While both Rachel and Tim both stated that they had not experienced parental resistance to digital technology use in their classroom, yet many parents expressed their desire for their children to participate in other activities such as outside play.
The microsystem is the child’s immediate environment, such as the child’s family, school, and peers, including roles and interpersonal relationships (Bronfenbrenner, 1979). The mesosystem consists of the relationships (sometimes referred to as networks) between these microsystems (family, home, school, etc.). This is the most fundamental aspect of the theory regarding parent involvement, which is conveyed through the connections between the adults in a child’s microsystem, through their involvement in their children’s school, and through values, behaviors, and attitudes about education at home (Lee & Bowen, 2006). According to Bronfenbrenner (as cited in Daniel, 2011), this family–school relationship, whether as policy or professional practice, represents “a formalization of one of these supportive relationships within the mesosystem” (p. 167).
Parents’ perspectives in this study were consistent with the parent–school relationship literature on the importance of cultivating an environment for parents that welcomes and values them as well as helps reduce any potential barriers to effective parent participation (Berger & Riojas-Cortez, 2012; Weiss et al., 2014). Parents knew that they had a voice, and while at times they were unsure of how their concerns would be received, they did not hesitate to relay how they felt. In turn, their ability to influence any decision-making processes regarding digital technology in their children’s classroom requires more authentic participation that is situated in the parental involvement/engagement literature (Berger & Riojas-Cortez, 2012; Weiss et al., 2014).
The degree of parental involvement can be reflected in parents’ networks, individual beliefs, and past experiences (Lee & Bowen, 2006; Sheldon, 2002). The extent to which parents are involved or engaged at school can be predicted by the size and scope of parents’ social networks, as well as both their social contexts and individual beliefs (Sheldon, 2002). This was represented in the individual responses where parents described speaking to other parents within their networks about the digital technology used in their child(ren)’s classrooms.
While not directly referencing any frameworks or theories, parents’ responses fit in with the different roles and systems of the ecological systems theory, with the addition of parent-to-parent networks having a more underlying or unspoken connection that at times takes precedence over parent-school connections. The ecological systems theory is more about embedded influences on relationships whereas Epstein’s six types of involvement are more separate influences on roles (Bornstein, 2002).
Our interest in parental involvement is twofold: First, research indicates that increased parental involvement may promote increased student achievement; and second, it reflects what Gordon and Louis (2009) refer to as “the democratic assumptions underlying the organization of the U.S. school system” (p. 3).
In my analysis of parents’ perspectives, I discovered that parents had strong views on their perspectives yet were unable to clearly define their roles as stakeholders. This led me to believe that there needs to be more transparency on where parents’ roles lie in regards to the public educational system. The disconnect in the communication between parents and teachers was apparent and seemed to be the underlying aspect of the complexity of the relationship, which contradicts former research indicating that communication with parents is easier than… (Zhao, 2003). This study also contradicts the positive attitudes of parents towards digital technology in a study within the same district from only two years prior (Yin & Schmidt-Crawford, 2017). While parents encouraged what they deemed as appropriate uses of digital technology (research, coding, etc.), they were hesitant to support specific district-approved programs, such as Exact Path, in their child’s education. I am hoping that these results can allow parents to make more informed decisions in regards to their child’s education, specifically digital technology.
This study’s findings are not generalizable due to the study being an intrinsic case study that only represented one particular school. I am hoping this study will help provide a stepping-stone into expanding parental involvement/engagement literature that considers the parents’ social and cultural contexts. Using a qualitative method for this case study was purposeful to provide deeper insight that quantitative studies could not (CITE).
My sample consisted of only one international parent, which resulted in little international parent representation. While the initial goal was to encourage and to proportionately represent international presence among the participants, I only received participation from one international parent. I cannot predict as to why there was little international presence, I can only speculate on what may have contributed to this lack of participation from an international student standpoint.
Future research could provide greater insight into topics covered in this study. This was a case study of one school and only 10 parent interviews, as identified in the limitations of this research, they are still 10 important voices that could be an indication of other parents’ perspectives across the United States. While I cannot know why some parents participated and other parents did not, I can imagine there are important reasons why the parents who chose not to speak up did not participate, therefore encouraging an anonymous survey for greater inclusion of these parents.
Developing a survey based on this study that includes all stakeholders besides parents and teachers for a more comprehensive understanding of parents’ roles could be a logical next step. Also, the survey could encourage more participation from parents, especially since, in this study, some parents who wanted to participate could not take the time to participate with their busy schedules. It is also recommended to develop a multiple case study involving more schools in the district as well as more data sources, such as parent participation at school board meetings, PTOs, and PTAs, which would provide a more comprehensive view of parents’ roles.
Moreover, future studies could focus on what constitutes parental voice in this context and how parents can make their voices heard. Due to my interest in international contexts, an international study could also be conducted to provide a worldwide view of the attributes of common parental involvement. During this study, I also began to observe the role of nearly invisible parent-to-parent networks that can shed light on other sources of influence such as social capital and can be predictors of parental involvement. These findings raise a number of questions regarding the whole picture of how they occur and how it may effect parental decision making in regards to digital technology use in schools, as well as at home. Previous studies on parental networks, an aspect of social capital, relied on social class differences maintaining that middle-class parents tend to unite when encountering problematic situations at their child’s school (Horvat, Weininger, and Lareau, 2003; Sheldon, 2002). In recent years, parental networking has been shown to aid in influencing policymaking with both public and private returns including, but not limited to, higher student achievement (Park and Holloway, 2017). And while many studies focused on middle-class versus working class parents, low SES parents can gain social capital through volunteering at their child’s school or in local support groups (Bryk, Sebring, Allensworth, Luppescu, and Easton, 2010). A closer examination of what influences these social parental networks and how they evolve over time using Bronfenbrenner’s ecological systems theory could be a logical next step.
Setting Reflexivity: Qualitative studies allow the researchers to reflect on their role in the study and how their personal background and experiences can shape the interpretations (Creswell, 2014). As a parent and a former teacher, I felt the parents were better able to relate to the researcher/me and once they learned I was a parent as well. (Should I add this in chapter 3? Expand? Remove?)
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