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Using ICTs to improve parental involvement, engagement and communication in learning

Andrea Alderman, Memorial University of Newfoundland


One of the biggest challenges in education in the last 20 years is that teachers expect parents to be more involved in their child’s education and parents expect teachers to provide more information about their child’s education (Selwyn et al., 2011). The problem is that expectations from both parents and teachers creates a disconnect between home and school (Sanders, 2008). Modern parents’ work schedules interfere with their ability to participate in their child’s education (Zieger and Tan, 2012). Additionally, parents have expressed frustration that communication only occurs when students are in trouble (Zieger and Tan, 2012). Johnson (2000) also remarked that while letters are occasionally provided, “print material sometimes doesn’t make it home or out of the backpack” (p. 49). Moreover, parents struggle to coax information about grades and homework from uncooperative children (Merkley et al, 2006). Finally, parents feel that the traditional forms of parent involvement do not take into account the diverse background and ethnicity of parents (Harris and Goodall, 2008). Diversity can cause barriers related to language, culture, socio-economic status and comfort with traditional forms of communication (Rogers and Wright, 2008).

Teachers also struggle to form strong relationships with parents because they lack the training to effectively communicate with parents (Ozcinar and Ekizoglu, 2013). Additionally, schools are becoming larger and more centralized and teachers no longer live in the communities in which they work “increasing the need for meaningful and frequent communication” (Zieger and Tan, 2012, p. 32). Finally, teachers have large classes and maintaining communication with each family is too time consuming so interaction is limited to a couple report cards and a one to two meetings per year (Weinstein, 2005).

Role of ICTs

ICTs give parents more opportunities to gather information about their child’s education promptly and conveniently (Ho, Hung and Chen, 2013). “In today’s ‘information age,’ communication between teachers and parents have advanced beyond phone calls home and notes tucked into students’ backpacks” (Parkter and Chen, 2013, p. 356). ICTs have become increasingly used in schools to facilitate interactions between parents and teachers since they are not limited by the problems of time and busy schedules (Merkley et al., 2006).

Websites are a frequently used ICT to facilitate communication because they provide timely feedback to parents (Olmstead, 2013). Websites, which can be password protected, can display photos and videos of fieldtrips and school activities (Ray, 2013). Olmstead (2013) also noted that teacher websites can provide parents information about homework assignments, tests and other important news. Websites are beneficial to families where English is not their first language because they can be translated easily into any other language—to reach a group that is often forgotten in school-home communication (Zieger, 2012).

A second ICT used to connect with parents is online grade books (Weinstein, 2005). With online grade books, parents can login to the website to verify that their child has not been missing assignments or failing tests (Johnson, 2000). Online grade books enable parents to get valuable information about their child’s progress, while not overworking teachers since teachers who simply continue to use their existing grade book (Weinstein, 2005).

Email and text messaging are ICTs that provide the option for two-way communication (Olmstead, 2013). Busy teachers appreciate email for its ability to instantly communicate with many different people and large school divisions save money by using automated communication (Weinstein, 2005). Busy parents appreciate that they are not bound by school hours and can respond to emails when it is convenient for them (Zieger, 2012). Text messaging is also used to facilitate home-school communication because of its popularity of today’s millennial parents (Ray, 2013). Teachers can easily use SMS applications such as Remind 101 to quickly and securely send mass messages to families (Olmstead, 2013).

Various other ICTs are being used by schools to “improve links between home and school learning and close the gap between parents, teachers and learners” (Lewin and Luckin, 2010, p. 756). Social media, such as Facebook and Twitter are used to keep parents informed of school events (Olmstead, 2013). Teachers also provide links to online textbooks and educational websites where students and parents can learn and play together (Olmstead, 2013). Lewin and Luckin (2010) noted that teachers are even making parent-teacher conferences easier to schedule by using Skype or Facetime; thus reaching parents who work away from home or who face other obstacles to attending.


Parents’ access to technology was cited by Pakter and Chen (2013) as being an obstacle to using ICTs—specifically in schools where many families are underprivileged. However, Rogers and Wright (2008) reported that 72.2% of families had access to a computer and the Internet at home (with 83.3% of families in the low socioeconomic status category having access). Schools and governments can provide families with the devices and connectivity to ensure access, as the UK Government agency for technology throughout learning has done with the Home Access Initiative (Lewin and Luckin, 2010). Finally, the use of technology does not have to exclude families without access since webpages, emails and other online information can be printed and provided by traditional methods (Ray, 2013).

However, simply having access does not mean that is will be used effectively (Lewin and Luckin, 2010). Ozcinar and Ekizoglu (2013) admitted that computer literacy prevented parents and sometimes teachers from effectively using the technology. Schools using ICTs regularly can help users by offering sessions (in person or online through videos) to train users and by providing support after implementation (Lewin and Luckin, 2010).

A final concern regarding the use of ICTs to support parents’ involvement was safety (Johnson, 2000). Selwyn et al. (2001) noted that both school officials and parents worried about e-safety and access. This obstacle is easily overcome by ensuring sensitive information is password protected and by asking parents to personally visit the school to collect passwords (Johnson, 2000).

Works cited

Broderick, Z., O'Connor, C., Mulcahy, C., Heffernan, N. & Heffernan, C. (2011). Increasing parent engagement in student learning using an intelligent tutoring system. Journal of Interactive Learning Research, 22(4), 523-550.

Harris, A., & Goodall, J. (2008). Do parents know they matter? Engaging all parents in learning. Educational Research, 50(3), 277–289. doi: 10.1080/00131880802309424

Ho, L., Hung, C., & Chen, H. (2013). Using theoretical models to examine the acceptance behavior of mobile phone messaging to enhance parent–teacher interactions. Computers & Education, 61, 105-114. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2012.09.009

Johnson, D. (2000). Teacher web pages that build parent partnerships. Multimedia Schools, 7(4), 48-52.

Lewin, C., & Luckin, R. (2010). Technology to support parental engagement in elementary education: Lessons learned from the UK. Computers & Education, 54(3), 749-758. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2009.08.010

Merkley, D., Schmidt, D., Dirksen, C., & Fulher,C. (2006). Enhancing parent-teacher communication using technology: A reading improvement clinic example. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 6(1),11-42. Retreived from:

Olmstead, C. (2013). Using technology to increase parent involvement in schools. Techtrends: Linking Research & Practice To Improve Learning, 57(6), 28-37. doi: 10.1007/s11528-013-0699-0

Ozcinar, Z., & Ekizoglu, N. (2013). Evaluation of a blog based parent involvement approach by parents. Computers & Education, 66, 1-10. doi: 0.1016/j.compedu.2012.03.012

Pakter, A. & Chen L.-L. (2013). The daily text: increasing parental involvement in education with mobile text messaging. Journal of Educational Technology Systems, 41(4), 353-367. doi: 10.2190/ET.41.4.f

Ray, J. A. (2013). Family connections: Today's young families: Successful strategies for engaging millennial parents. Childhood Education, 89(5), 332-334. doi: 10.1080/00094056.2013.830920

Rogers, R., & Wright, V. (2008). Assessing technology's role in communication between parents and middle schools. Electronic Journal for the Integration of Technology in Education. 7.

Sanders, M. G. (2008). How parent liaisons can help bridge the home-school gap. The Journal of Educational Research, 101(5), 287-298.

Selwyn, N., Banaji, S., Hadjithoma-Garstka, C., & Clark, W. (2011). Providing a platform for parents? Exploring the nature of parental engagement with school Learning Platforms. Journal Of Computer Assisted Learning, 27(4), 314-323. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2729.2011.00428.x

Weinstein, P. (2005). All in the family: New technologies, federal legislation, and persistent parents have spurred a vast array of products for school-to-home communication. Technology and Learning, 25 (9), 7.

Zieger, L., & Tan, J. (2012). Improving parent involvement in secondary schools through communication technology. Journal Of Literacy & Technology, 13(2), 30-54.