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Gathering Family Feedback on Edtech Usage

Strengthening the home-school connection through awareness, accessibility, and technical training around edtech tools

Overview

Many classrooms, schools, and districts utilize edtech tools to engage families and caregivers in their students’ academic journeys. These tools range in function from broadcasting announcements (e.g., school newsletters, class websites), to two-way communication (e.g., teacher messaging app), to interactive platforms where students and families can upload assignments, view grades, and more (e.g., Google Classroom, school portals). These edtech tools serve as a channel to engage families in their students’ lives, strengthen the home-school connection, and provide avenues for communication and access to teachers. As edtech tools become the default method to involve families and interact with parents/caregivers, districts need to ensure families are aware of these designated tools and their purpose, can access them seamlessly from any device and in their home language, and possess the technical skills necessary to navigate them. More details about each of these key considerations are shared below:

  • Awareness: Schools can help families become familiar with their edtech tool offerings by providing multiple opportunities to learn about and engage with the tools. Providing a list of edtech tools to families at the beginning of the school year is an easy entry point, in which each tool can be listed with its corresponding purpose. Consider offering this list through the school handbook, class websites, or in person at a back-to-school orientation. For example, Chicopee Public Schools created an online Edtech Tool Gallery where any stakeholder is able to view the tools being used in the district (families can filter the list for family-facing tools). Utilizing predetermined in-person events is another way to increase awareness around edtech – sharing or discussing specific tools at parent-teacher conferences, coffee hours, or school events (e.g., movie nights) provides an opportunity for families to test out or ask questions about specific tools. Schools can also encourage ongoing interaction with specific high-priority tools, such as the school information system (SIS) or learning management system (LMS), by having families log in to view report cards, grades, or assignments (see “Accessibility” below for an example).

  • Accessibility: Crucial to the actual utilization of edtech tools is accessibility for all users, regardless of their language, device, or technical knowledge. Districts need to ensure that access to edtech tools is a key focus of their family engagement strategy and that guidance is offered to provide an equitable experience for all families. Districts can bring in community and family liaisons to partner with families and offer ongoing support, such as logging into platforms from their mobile phones instead of a desktop or providing assistance in translating instructions or documents. Gill-Montague Regional School District saw a successful partnership between their Director of Technology and Community Liaison, which led to increased usage of their SIS among their Spanish-speaking families. If districts have a larger edtech budget, they might opt to set up and provide universal Wi-Fi access for families, either through federal grants or partnerships, or establish a technology center where students and families could use devices for school-related activities.

  • Technical Skills: Districts can set up various supports to help families acquire the technical skills necessary to navigate edtech tools. Districts can offer family orientation events, where family members can meet teachers and staff in person and receive personalized support around using the tools. The technology department can create and share asynchronous how-to videos that detail how parents/caregivers can navigate a tool, find relevant information (e.g., grades, assignments), and explore other important features. It’s important to organize equitable opportunities for all families, such as offering free childcare during evening orientation events or multiple time slots for in-person or virtual trainings to accommodate various work schedules.

Determining Families’ Awareness, Accessibility, and Technical Skills

To effectively gauge whether they are meeting families’ needs around edtech tool usage, districts should gather input from families to better inform their communications and technical strategies. Gathering input from families can vary based on the amount of information that school leaders would like to collect, the depth of the conversations they would like to have, and the amount of time families can contribute to the process. Here are several ways that school districts can solicit family feedback around edtech tool usage:

  • Surveys: Surveys have the potential to engage many diverse participants due to their quick nature and broad reach through email. Surveys may be best suited to gauge awareness of tools, and survey questions can be written to provide instant visualizations to illustrate findings quickly. To avoid survey fatigue, they should take no more than 10 minutes to complete, as families and caregivers may already be stretched for time. Respondents can provide some depth within their answers – however, it should be noted that it can be challenging to follow up or investigate further into responses.

    Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School created a caregiver survey to learn more about how families received information about the school’s events, announcements, and involvement opportunities. The survey included demographic information so the staff could disaggregate the data and see if any trends were apparent within specific subgroups of their school community.

  • Empathy Interviews: When making decisions on edtech tools, it is important to elevate the voices of those most impacted by the tool to ensure their needs and concerns are met. District leaders should focus on engaging families and caregivers who are not typically asked for their opinions, especially those who do not feel supported or seen in the current system. Empathy interviews, which are one-on-one conversations that use open-ended questions to elicit stories about specific experiences, are powerful tools for unearthing the root causes of complex problems. Empathy interviews may help school leaders identify accessibility and technical issues with their edtech tools and gather anecdotal evidence around specific challenges. However, it is important to note that empathy interviews do require significant time and energy to implement.

    Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School knew that highly engaged parents would most likely complete the surveys they sent out, so to gain different perspectives, they used empathy interviews to target specific groups of families from whom they hadn’t regularly received feedback. The school leaders identified specific subgroups of families (e.g., BIPOC caregivers, families positioned furthest from economic opportunity, and families with low engagement rates as identified by teachers) and reached out to them to request their participation in empathy interviews, which could offer more insight into their unique experiences with the school.

    The Learning Accelerator (TLA)’s Conducting Empathy Interviews with Stakeholders activity offers a step-by-step process to effectively facilitate empathy interviews, as well as helpful tools such as an interview planner and a reflection guide for unpacking interviewees’ comments and identifying overarching themes.

  • Focus Groups: Focus groups are a great way to obtain deep insights from a small group of stakeholders, either in person or virtually. The synchronous nature of focus groups allows participants to generate a rich exchange of ideas – and allows facilitators to request clarification and ask follow-up questions. However, focus groups involve a larger time commitment requiring the recruitment of participants, coordination of meeting times, facilitation of the focus groups, and synthesis of the findings. They also solicit perspectives from a relatively small number of stakeholders, so recruiting a representative group is important. Focus groups can help school leaders hone in on specific issues with edtech tool usage, so this may be an effective strategy for awareness, accessibility, as well as technical challenges that families may encounter.

    KIPP MA created a list of focus group questions for each audience they engaged with, including teachers, leaders, students, and families. The questions were grouped into six different themes: student outcomes, student agency, digital literacy, support for all learners, conditions for success, and the school-home connection.

    TLA’s How to Run a Focus Group activity outlines the basics for planning, conducting, and analyzing findings from focus groups, and provides a sample, adaptable script.

As districts increasingly rely on edtech tools to communicate with families and engage caregivers in their students’ academic journeys, district leaders need to ensure all families are equipped with the knowledge and resources necessary to effectively utilize these tools. This is especially important for families and students positioned furthest from opportunity, to ensure that everyone is able to access and take advantage of district-provided resources. Districts can use a variety of tools to gauge this, including surveys, empathy interviews, and focus groups, which can provide critical information around edtech tool usage and help districts outline their plans to better meet family needs, which can ultimately lead to a stronger home-school connection for students.

More information on engaging families and collecting their input can be found in the Massachusetts DESE EdTech Systems Guide, including a supplementary workbook, a throughline example, and external resources.


Strategy Resources


Edtech Focus Group Questions from KIPP MA

KIPP MA created a list of focus group questions for each audience they engaged... Learn More

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Equity Focus

Take a moment to consider the caregivers and families identified for feedback. To what extent is there representation from communities that have historically been positioned furthest from opportunity and impacted by digital inequities? Is the district engaging subgroups that have been traditionally excluded from decision-making processes? How is the district specifically engaging Black, Latino/a, Indigenous, or other stakeholders of color? How is the district engaging stakeholders from low-income backgrounds? How is the district engaging families of students with disabilities? As districts finalize their stakeholder list, they should consider how to prioritize and elevate the perspectives and needs of the traditionally underrepresented communities they serve.