Connected Parents: Sharing Classroom Practices through Social Media

Originally posted on the Connected Learning Research Network blog, 2.22.13:

Classroom and afterschool programs sometimes organize competitions or recitals as a way to connect parents and friends with student achievements, generating excitement and motivation for all involved. Fashion Camp provides an example of how openly networked practices with new media, or environments that design links between institutions, home, and interest communities, engage parents with student classroom practices. For example, the Fashion Camp Facebook page is host to a great deal of content shared by Anne1, the business owner and camp facilitator. Some updates are event-specific, advertising upcoming camp events (“Join us Saturday for the Sketching Workshop!”) or displaying recent news about the camp from other media outlets. The bulk of the content shared on the page, however, consists of colorful photographs and video taken during the camps themselves. A common form of the photographs is a split screen that includes three images: an instructor giving a lesson, students applying the lesson to their particular assignment, and the student showing their final product.

After speaking with Anne, as well as parents of camp attendees, I learned that the Facebook page provides a key link between parent, teacher, and classroom experiences. Camp updates through social media provide parents with a window into the minutiae of their child’s educational practices, and also serve to engage parents with the material that students learn in the classroom. The camp facilitates connected learning through openly networked practices with social media, rendering classroom activities more transparent and visible to intergenerational audiences. Platforms like Facebook allow student work to gain public and parent recognition.

Many parents send their children to Fashion Camp because they themselves know very little about fashion, design, and sewing, but want to support their child’s interests. Yet Anne expressed that conveying to parents exactly what they do in the classroom is a challenge given public perceptions that frame fashion as frivolous:

“There are a lot more [camps] popping up that are sewing-based…but it makes me cringe when I see these because it’s like, ‘Come and play dress-up, look in the mirror, look at how pretty I am, walk the runway, let’s put makeup on,’ and we do nothing of the sort here, you know? I want to take the skills behind fashion—sketching, sewing, designing, creating—and put them to work in projects that are applicable for a ten-year-old.”

For Anne, connecting classroom practices with other audiences allows her to demystify the structure and content of what they do. In order to connect parents with the learning activities in the classroom, Anne shares updates from the classroom with parents on their Facebook page:

“Parents are kind of like, ‘Okay, [students] do what?’ So along the way I’m taking pictures, you know, like, ‘Hey look…the sketch is right here on the cutting table. And here’s the little girl with her dress, and she’s putting studs on and you can literally see…whatever we’ve done. Then take another picture and it’s the girl at the sewing machine and then the girl wearing the dress. To me, it couldn’t be more clear what we’ve just done. And the comments, you’ll see they’ll be like, “Oh my gosh,” “Wow!”

For Anne, the camp’s social media presence accomplishes dual purposes: it engages parent audiences with upcoming camp events and publicity, and it also accomplishes the difficult task of connecting parents with the many dimensions or stages of classroom practices. In Anne’s words, it shows parents “we’re a learning space…if the parents come and drop their kids off, by the very end they’ve missed the stages. So this is a good way for us to communicate that.” Dispelling preconceived notions about the pursuit of certain interests and their academic relevance is a theme across our other cases, as well (StarcraftWWE). Through use of new media, Fashion Camp is able to render their activities openly networked to parents and make learning activities much more clear intergenerationally.

Exploring the camp Facebook page reveals the parent impact of connecting classroom practices through social media. The page’s wall includes image after image of different students working on various projects: receiving lessons, sketching, sewing, and showing off their final work.  In one example, a parent reacts to her child’s work being showcased through an image on the Facebook page. The image includes a split screen of students’ work on sketches, sewing, and modeling their completed garment. Georgia, the mother of the displayed student, leaves a comment on the picture:

“My daughter had the best time of her life and couldn’t stop talking about the camp event all day long. Thank you for giving her such a terrific environment to express her creativity and learn about fashion design!”

In another example, Joanne commented on an image of students studying fashion magazines and other media:

“My daughter came home today and expressed that this was her favorite class by far!”

And in yet another example, Linda left a comment on a picture of students sharing their designed garments on dress forms, or miniature models for creating designs:

“Look at all the smiles in this picture. Those girls had the best time this morning!”

Parent reactions demonstrate their excitement in viewing the intersection of their child’s own interests with academically relevant practices. In all cases, parents used social media to engage with different stages of the learning practices that students pursue during their Fashion Camp lessons. This reflects a tenet of Connected Learning through an emphasis on openly networked design: educational practices should be crafted with mind to the many dimensions of students’ lives, including not only the classroom activities but also the important connections youth have at home.

Social media provides new means for parents to become connected to student learning, and celebrate their child’s achievements in a friendly, public forum with other parents. As these examples show, new media enable unprecedented forms of parent involvement with student learning experience by making these practices visible intergenerationally. In particular, with activities like fashion design — including sketching, sewing, and garment construction — social media provide a new venue to share and receive feedback.

(1) All group and individual names have been changed to protect the identity of respondents.

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