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School websites as platform for home-school communication and parental involvement?
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education.
2016 (English)In: Leading Education: The Distinct Contributions of Educational Research and Researchers, Dublin, 2016Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

General description on research questions, objectives and theoretical framework

Parental involvement in education and home-school collaboration have been given increased emphasis during the last decades. Previous research has provided evidence of the positive correlations between parents’ active engagement in their children’s schooling and better outcomes and behavior of their children in school (Cooper et al., 2006; Epstein, 2001; Erikson, 2009; Högdin, 2006; Ravn, 2005). They find that parental involvement has a positive effect in that children take more pleasure in school activities, and that a more positive climate results in the classroom with a high level of interest and approval of work done by the school work. Better academic results are achieved when there are open channels between home and school.In Sweden, like many other countries, parents are regarded as having an important role as resource persons in school as stated in national educational policies (Lpo 94, 1994; Lgr 11, 2011). Since the last decade, the traditional family-school relationship characterized by separated responsibility between school and home, and teacher’s authority in this relationship are emphasized, has been challenged through the shift from a macro democracy to a more micro democracy, in which “partnership”, “user influence”, and “choice” are the main principles for structuring and managing school and family relationship, as well as changing the role of both teachers and parents (Eriksson, 2011, 2012). However, research in this field has mainly stressed parents’ right and opportunity to choose school for their children they prefer and the consequences brought about by this. Studies of how school understands and deals with the new conditions for relationship with family, and what strategies school applied in practice are scarce.Access to meaningful and effective communication between home and school enhances home-school relationship and collaboration as well as parental involvement and influence. The utilization of technologies through the use of Internet for information to and communication with parents is growing rapidly as an additional means for school-home relationship. Nowadays almost all Swedish schools have own websites that serve as prime locations for public advocacy and communications, including for parental use. It will be interested to find out what and how information is presented by local school actors on their websites, which in some way reflects their understanding of and attitudes towards relationship with parents and opportunities for parental influence. Moreover, parents are not a homogenous group, their accessibility to web-based information and communication and their ability to utilize the resources are influenced by their social, cultural and economic circumstances that could be a challenge for home-school relationship in terms of issues such as inclusion and exclusion (David, 2003; Ravn, 2005). The purpose of the study is to explore, describe, and compare the content and design of the schools' websites to identify and analyze how schools inform and communicate with parents and to deal with parental involvement through the use of their websites. The research questions are:

-          What information is presented on school websites and what is the intended parental use of the information?

-          How and to what extent the school websites provide the parents with the opportunities for two-way communications and possibilities of actual parental influences?

-          How schools relate to different parental groups in terms of cultural and educational backgrounds regarding accessibility and usability?

The framework containing six important factors with regards to parental involvement (i.e. parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision-making and collaborating with community) developed by Epstein (2009) is used as theoretical basis to examine and analyze school web settings and their strategies for working with school-home relationship.

Methods/methodologyTo explore how school websites are conducted and used to inform and communicate with parents, websites of 12 schools from four municipalities are selected to be analyzed during autumn 2015 and spring 2016. The municipalities are geographically located in north, south, east and west of Sweden respectively. Three K-9 schools, in which two are public schools and one is independent school, are strategically selected from each municipality regarding representative contextual factors such as school size, proportion of students with foreign background, as well as parents’ educational levels (Database Siris, Skolverket, 2014).Because each school website consists of dozens to hundreds pages, to analyze all pages was not possible and not necessary neither. At the first step, I studied the main site of each school as a whole and considered the relevance of information and communication for parental use, which is the focus of the study. At the second step, the relevant pages (sub-pages) were selected and saved by using a free software program “Local Website Archive Lite”. The changing content of a webpage could be problematic for data collection in terms of stability of the data, this program enables to download and save the websites to the local hard drive for later reading, coding and analysis. In the analysis process, content analysis approach was applied to study and gain insights into website-establishers’/owners’ intensions and preferences as well as into political, social and communicational trends and patterns generated by them (Schreier, 2012). Content analysis enables the analysis to be structured through coding in relation to the research questions and to make replicable and valid inferences from data to their context (Bryman, 2012; Krippendorff, 1980). In this study, the step model of category development suggested by Mayring (2000) was adapted. Four determinants (variables) of the content and design of websites were measured in relation to parental use: transparency/information, interactivity, accessibility and usability (Parajuli, 2007). At later step of the analysis process, the theoretical framework was integrated to gain an understanding of the empirical data and through this to capture and/or change perceptions on the study objectives (Hsieh & Shannon, 2005).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 Expected outcomes/resultsThis is an ongoing study because the analysis process has not been completed yet. The results presented below is rather preliminary.There are quite large differences between schools' websites in terms of the scope and type of information and the graphical design features. Some schools give the opportunity to click through to a lot of sub-pages with more detailed information and explanations, while other schools have very sparse information, often with a few lines of text. Another impression from the primary analysis is that many schools prefer to provide parents with more information about how schools work with the students' health, mood and their social development (e. g. lunch menu and intern working group for student health) than information and knowledge related to school academic work (e. g. lesson schedules, syllabuses, the descriptions of pedagogy, as well as mother tongue instructions and homework etc.). It seems that the schools’ expectations and trust for parental involvement in schooling is limited in the social aspects of student development rather than pedagogical issues regarding teaching and learning.

About half of schools provide information about the parents' council or other types of parental organization. Only few schools have web media such as feedback/commends feature, chat room or other two-way communication and interactive channels. This might be an evidence of the obstacles for real parents' influence on education and opportunity for parental involvement in decision-making.

Some schools use multimedia functions with mix of texts, audio, pictures and videos, while other schools mainly use texts on their homepages. Only few schools provide options for other languages, while most of schools use only Swedish on their websites. These features could be related to the accessibility and availability of parents with immigrant backgrounds who have difficulty with the Swedish language – the issue of inclusion and exclusion. 

 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Dublin, 2016.
National Category
Pedagogy
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-139871OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-139871DiVA: diva2:1144153
Conference
ECER 2016, 22-26 August, Dublin
Available from: 2017-09-25 Created: 2017-09-25 Last updated: 2017-09-25

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