School web sites can engage hard-to-reach parents

Good school web sites can engage parents who want to help, but just aren’t comfortable setting foot in school, or talking to teachers.

In talking to Mhairi Stratton today about developing the Humbie Primary site, and class blogs there, she told me the story of how she discovered from her pupils at a previous city primary that parents were going to great lengths to get access to the internet so that they could get involved via the school’s web site. Yet these same parents, the children explained, would not come into school, or talk to teachers.

This suggests that there may be an unexpected benefit here from East Lothian’s plans to develop class blogs as a key part of the new Parental Involvement arrangements.

Today’s eduBuzz service interruption

Today there was a repeat of the problem which interrupted the eduBuzz service for an hour or so last Friday morning. The service was down first thing, and the fault reported at 07.30am. I haven’t been able to use it until within the last hour. As far as I can tell, normal service has now been resumed.

The problem was caused by a DNS fault at the datacentre which hosts the server, which meant that the server could not perform lookups of internet domain names to get their corresponding IP addresses.

Apologies for any inconvenience this may have caused.

Engaging Citizens: Communities for the 21st Century

Future Forum Logo Today Matthew Taylor, former chief adviser on political strategy to the Prime Minister and current head of the RSA, gave a lecture to Scotland’s Future Forum on:

how best to encourage communities and citizens to become fully engaged in progressing matters that are important to them and society at large.

    I was particularly interested to hear his views on how this might relate to our attempts to increase engagement in education by parents, carers and others in the school communities.

    His main argument:

    • It’s not about getting policy right – there is no right answer to many modern problems
    • It’s not about “Who do we choose to run things?” – the question now is “How can we become the people we need to be to create the future we want?”
    • The role of politicians is to support this citizen-centric process – there’s broad agreement on the kind of future we now want: free, fair, decent and environmentally sustainable.

    It was interesting that he took the time to explain to the group the huge difference between “Web 1.0” technologies, which he described as just speeding up existing relationships, and “Web 2.0“, which he described as having “immense scope”.

    He raised a number of points in relation to education, in particular what he saw as a “vital need for change in the nature of schooling“. Continue reading Engaging Citizens: Communities for the 21st Century

    Where’s my “Latest eduBuzz posts” widget?

    A recent update to this means it will have vanished from the sidebar of any eduBuzz blog using it.

    If you’ve been using it, and you want it back, the good news is that it can just be dragged back again. Go to Presentation / Sidebar Widgets and drag “Latest eduBuzz Posts” to wherever you want it to appear. Don’t forget to save the change.
    The changes were:

    • title: changed to latest eduBuzz posts (not Exc-el)
    • config settings: now default to showing both title and author, both were defaulting to hidden

    Maybe you’ve tried it before, and wondered why you didn’t see anything? If so, why not give it a try? It has proved one of the most popular ways for people to keep in touch with what’s being posted across the site.

    eduBuzz – now with added Widgetbox Widgets

    Widgetbox LogoEdubuzz blogs now offer Widgetbox Widgets in addition to the standard Text and RSS ones.

    Thanks to a new plugin from incsub and ringofblogs it’s now easy to incorporate Widgetbox Widgets into a WPMU site. The plugin has been developed originally for the blog hosting service, and is being shared under the GPL licence.

    Widgetbox offer a huge range of Widgets, many of which have direct educational uses. For example, I’ve just been experimenting with one which offers instant translation of the web page into various languages via the AltaVista Babelfish translation service. You can currently see that one here:

    James Farmer has done a 3-minute tutorial video here on how to use them. It requires a bit of cut-and-pastery with Notepad, for example, to extract an ID from the Java code provided by the site, but it’s simple and quick.

    I now need some willing testers to try it… feedback welcome.

    Class Blogs to Support Parental Involvement

    LongniddryDuring today’s In-Service, Longniddry Primary staff got some hands-on practice with the eduBuzz blog system so more people can update the school site, and so that they’re ready to make a start with class blogs.

    The school’s Development Plan for the year includes work on parental involvement, and the blog-based school web site is one of the tools they’ll be using. They’re also keen to develop class-specific web pages which will provide a more to-the-point channel of communication with busy parents.

    East Lothian’s Parental Involvement consultation found that primary parents liked the idea of a class-specific web page. A survey finding was that today’s busy parents might want to be involved with the school, but only had time to be involved with their own children’s classes. For that purpose, a whole-school site can be a turn-off, as these people don’t have time to dig around in search of class-specific informatiion.

    After the CPD session, Melanie Bertram and I explored some other new ways to use the school blog:

    • Subscribe by email: we used Feedblitz to set up an email subscription service for the school site (subscribe here)
      • This is set to provide a nightly email with the latest posts.
      • Feedblitz is a powerful RSS-to-email service which offers a free basic service.
    • Linking class blog posts to the school site: using Chris Hatcher’s firstRSS plugin, we explored how up-to-date headlines from a class blog can be syndicated to that class’s Page on the main school site (example here).
      • This enables interested readers to click-through to see the full post on the class site.

    I’m looking forward to seeing what new ideas this group come up with over the next few weeks.

    eduBuzz sign-up back to normal

    The fault with eduBuzz sign-up has now been fixed and tested.

    For the curious: the fault was being caused by an incorrectly configured plugin, danalog’s site-wide tagging solution, which we’ve been experimenting with. This plugin doesn’t read the domain name automatically, but requires it to be coded into the plugin. And until you do that, it has a placeholder in there of – you guessed it – “domain.tld”.

    Next parent blogger?

    I’m hoping I might have found some company for guineapigmum in the form of a new parent blogger.

    It was just one of those ad-hoc conversations which led to the sudden realisation that I’d met someone keen to contribute towards improvement, but not sure how best to do so. The offer of a blog was enthusiastically accepted.

    Interestingly, the parent forums weren’t seen as any more attractive than the legacy school board arrangements. I wonder if we’re doing enough to differentiate them in people’s minds?

    Anyway, watch this space…