The Internet provides new and effective ways of
strengthening the lines of communication among parents, teachers, students, and
the larger community. Email and World Wide Web capabilities facilitate discussion
and increase community members' and students' awareness of and participation in
school and community activities.
Teachers have long been concerned about enriching communication between home and school. Parent-teacher conferences, back-to school nights, and opportunities for parents to help out in the classroom are examples of ways that schools try to keep parents "in the loop" with respect to their children's education. Some research indicates that periodic reports to parents about the progress of their children can increase the involvement of some parents in their children's learning. The amount of time it takes for teachers and parents to communicate with each other in these traditional ways is an obstacle, however, despite the potential benefits to teachers, students, and parents. Parents have relatively few opportunities to ask questions, get to know their children's teachers, and learn about meaningful ways they might become involved with their children's education.
Recent advances in Internet technology allow teachers to strengthen connections between schools and their communities. Through the use of the Internet, classrooms can provide parents and the larger community with current snapshots of student work and curricular projects in action, as well as better facilitating the learning process for students. For instance, many teachers who use the Internet in their teaching have also chosen to publish parent newsletters on the Internet, supplementing or even replacing the older format of weekly paper newsletters. Students who have missed class can use the Internet to review the learning that occurred in class, both by communicating with the teacher over email and by using the World Wide Web to access assignments and notes that the teacher provides. Students may also use Web resources as they review for exams or prepare class projects.Teachers may use email to communicate with parents or students who have questions during after-school hours. Other teachers catalog their class curricula and activities on the Web for students' use. These options provide teachers and students with the opportunity to extend their learning experiences even after the school day has ended.
Through Web connections, parents have a chance to become more involved in the day-to-day learning of their children. Parents no longer have to rely on biannual conferences to hear the teacher's explanation of classroom projects and curricula. Teachers can foster additional parent participation by outlining their curricula and activities on the Web and by describing activities and projects for parents to pursue with their children. Such activities can extend children's learning and help parents develop a clearer sense of how their children are spending their time in school. The use of the Internet in school may prompt its use outside of school, as students frequently find themselves in the position of being able to teach their parents about the wealth of information that is available to them on the Internet.
The Web also provides students and teachers with the opportunity to make contributions to their communities through the electronic publication of descriptions of upcoming or recent community service projects, such as recycling drives or volunteer days at local hospitals. Making the results of student service projects available on the Web serves to further inform community members of the school's activities as well as providing a service to community members by making available information relevant to the community's needs. Indeed, service projects can become an integral part of a curriculum, as students' Web presentation of their experiences serving their communities encourages them to develop their organizational and writing skills, not to mention their creativity! In a similar vein, students may also have the opportunity to create home pages for businesses and services in their communities, such as the local police station or grocery store. The opportunity to make contributions to their communities in such ways may help extend students' sense of civic pride and increase their community activity.
Thus, the benefits of community-school information exchanges and collaborations may extend not only to community members, but to students as well. Another example of the potential benefits of community connectedness for students is the fact that Internet connections and email can provide students with "virtual" access to people in professions that may interest them or whose subject matter and duties may be relevant to their current projects. Students who participate in community service projects or who have greater access to community members may discover that the things they learn in school are part of a rich context that extends far beyond the classroom.
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