Parents monitor their kids in class with new online tool

Lana, Layaan and Ali from Cranbourne Carlisle Primary School are using an app called Seesaw, which allows them to update ...
Lana, Layaan and Ali from Cranbourne Carlisle Primary School are using an app called Seesaw, which allows them to update parents on their progress in class.  Photo: Jason South

Is this the helicopter parent's fantasy?

Parents are receiving daily updates on their children's progress in class, as dozens of Australian primary schools adopt new technology aiming to make classrooms more transparent.

Students and teachers send test results, photos of class work and footage of students' presentations, via an app called Seesaw.

Parents receive email notifications when their child has uploaded new content, and can offer feedback to teachers.

Dr Ibrahim Latheef is either giving a lecture or working in his office at Monash University when he receives alerts about his children's progress.

He receives up to nine notifications a week for three of his children at Cranbourne Carlisle Primary School.

"I'm aware of how they're progressing ... I know what they're working on," said Dr Latheef, a lecturer in education. "It's a good starting point for conversations whenever we meet with teachers."

Depending on the student's age, and the priorities of the school, notifications are sent from once a fortnight to a few times a week per child.

The teacher may choose which projects are uploaded, or students are asked to send their favourite projects of the week.

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Both students and teachers can annotate the content sent to parents, and students are often asked to upload audio reflections on the work.

The app is described as Facebook for the classroom, as parents can add other people to the account, allowing family members to receive updates on the student's learning.

Nearly 70 Australian teachers are named "ambassadors" for the app by the US company.

Principal at St Kilda Primary School, Sue Higgins, said her school has reduced the amount of detail provided in school reports, as the feedback on student progress now comes "as a continuous stream from February through to December".

She said the app had been particularly helpful to parents who frequently travel and work.

Research director at the Australian Council for Educational Research, Dr Mike Timms, said any attempt to involve parents in their child's education was positive for student development.

However, parents should also be informed about how the child is performing against academic benchmarks, which would contextualise the information they receive, he said.

The frequency of the updates would need to be monitored to ensure parents were not being bombarded, he said.

"If this is the way things are going, then we might need to do some further work on how we manage the flow of information," he said.

"If I was a parent, how would I pick out the things that I should pay attention to in order to help my kid ... I would like to know whether they're on target, not on target, or way ahead."

Tobin Cuss, Cranbourne Carlisle Primary School's ICT co-ordinator, said the app, which was introduced last year, erased mountains of paperwork that had long burdened teachers, as it stored the students' work online and could be accessed at any time.

It also increased transparency in the classroom, he said, as year level co-ordinators and the principal could access the students' work on the app and help teachers monitor grading.

Mr Cuss also said it helped "bridge learning barriers" with non-English speaking families, and the visual updates were particularly helpful to families who did not have a formal education experience themselves.

Seesaw did not respond to questions by deadline.