Web-Based Home School Collaboration System Design and Development

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1 Web-Based Home School Collaboration System Design and Development Liming Zhang, Dong Li University of Macau Macao, China lmzhang, The importance of the effective home-school collaboration is well accepted by researchers. Currently the type of home-school collaboration in Macao maintains the traditional ways: through paper work and parents-teachers meetings. Interactive communication between educators and parents is not emphasized. In this paper, an interactive web-based home-school collaboration system is introduced in detail. Parents can receive updated daily information about their children and communicate with the teachers in private through the system. Meanwhile, the system keeps the low workload for educators through designing. The system is being tested and further experiments are to be conducted in the future. 1. Introduction and Background The issue of home-school collaboration is addressed by many studies. It is concluded by the American National Association of School Psychologists (NASP, 2005) that home-school collaboration leads to improved student achievement, better behavior, better attendance, higher self-concept and more positive attitudes towards school and learning. This view is well accepted by researchers in this area. Home-school collaboration has been emphasized by different countries governments. The Macao Education and Youth Affairs Bureau has been making efforts to increase the academic, behavioral and social competence of all students through effective home-school cooperation (DSEJ, 2007). Parents Association becomes one of the important modes for maintaining sustained and closed interactive relationship. The aims of establishing parents association is to help to formulate the education policies and to protect and promote the rights and interests of the members children in the educational affairs (DSEJ, 2007). Besides Parents Association, the normal home-school collaboration in Macao keeps the traditional ways as follows. Most schools inform parents about their school activities through newsletters once a week or even longer. Students progresses are reported to parents through test papers a couple of times a semester, on which parents signatures are requested. There is a parents-teachers meeting every semester. The above established home-school collaboration in Macao performs well. In carrying it out, however, there exist some disadvantages. First, the information goes in one direction from educators to parents. There is no much interaction happening. Secondly, the information received by parents is at long intervals. This situation is complained by parents who are concerned about their children s daily school life. They would like to know more information than what they received from newsletters. Sometimes they would like to discuss some specific situation with teachers as well. To solve the problems, web-based home-school collaboration becomes one of the choices

2 Some practices in the web-based home-school collaboration area have been reported. Currently there are two kinds of technology. One is to combine the web server with the mobile phone system and to transfer the web information organized by educators to parents mobile phone messages. The information includes school daily news, students daily homework arrangement, teachers comments on students behaviors in school, and even the students test results (Yang, Wang and Han, 2007). This system is accepted by parents. However, due to the technique inconvenience in data processing, information sent to parents is usually in group. Different parents with children in same class receive the same contents. Students privacy is not taken into account. This situation is not acceptable in Macao, as students privacy is considered to be important in Macao schools. Another disadvantage of this technology is the extra equipment cost to schools and extra mobile phone message charges to parents. As most Macao schools are private ones, it is not easy to persuade them to invest for it. The other technology is to use the website directly. There are well developed commercial web platforms with similar functions in the markets (Chen, 2007). Functions usually include the following. School news, including homework information, school activities and so on. Supplementary learning supporting materials, including computer courseware, exercise topics, courseware websites, etc. Parents are assumed to use them to help their children learning at home. Some platform also provides bulletin board system, in which teachers can answer parents questions about learning materials. Parenting consultation, including articles provided by school psychologists, bulletin board system and chat room for consulting and discussing among parents, school psychologists, and teachers. Teacher s Blog, including teacher s teaching diary, articles of teaching experience, etc. Students project exhibition, including selected excellent students products. These commercial web platforms are able to provide rich interactive connection between educators and parents. During the practices, however, some problems are reported (Liu, Zang, and Zhang, 2007). First, the platforms request too much information for educators to keep updating often. Parents complain about the updating periods. Meanwhile educators complain the heavy workload on them. The collaboration might break down in the middle of the semester. The second, the commercial web platforms have extra cost of the software to schools. The third, the students privacy is not carefully considered either. In this study, we propose a new method which can be treated as an additional part of the traditional home-school collaboration, and at the same time insists the interactive principle and treats the disadvantages described above. It is so called web-based home-school collaboration (WHSC) system. It is easy to link it to the school existing websites. It is not so difficult for school computer system supporting people to further modify or develop by themselves. There is low extra working load for educators. Information can be easily updated everyday with the students help. Parents can receive the daily news and teachers possible comments on their children s behaviors from school in private. The system is being tested in a school since a couple of months ago. It runs well and seems to be accepted by the educators, parents and students. Further experiments have been designed to be carried out in Macao schools. 2 Roles of the WHSC System We adopt the definition of home-school collaboration as establishing and maintaining productive, working relationships between families and schools to facilitate children s learning (Esler, Godber, & Christenson, 2002). We us the following two definitions from NASP (2005). "Parent" is defined as any adult who fulfills a parenting role for a child; it should not be interpreted to mean only birth parents. "Educators" is used to emphasize that collaboration involves the entire school community, not just teachers

3 Epstein (1992) proposes six major types of home-school collaboration. Each type has its distinctive goal for schools in parent work, including Parenting, Communicating, Volunteering, Learning at home, Representing and Collaborating with Community. It is accepted by our study. In Macao, Parents Association takes the responsibility on Volunteering and Representing and Collaborating with Community. Our WHSC system focuses on the roles of Communicating and guiding students Learning at home. It acts as an additional part to the traditional home-school collaboration. Namely, WHSC runs together with Parents Association, School Newsletters, and Parents-Teachers Meeting at the same time. 3 WHSC Website Design i. Feasibility Study Based on the Statistics Report on Macao Internet Utilization (01/2008) (Zhang, 2008), about 80% family computers have Internet connection in Macao. It is a good hardware supporting for our WHSC system. A brief interview was conducted to some parents, school teachers in Macao about their attitude and contents towards WHSC system. The feedbacks were positive. The expected contents include everyday homework information, students personal transcripts, objective comments of the students possible personal daily behaviors, supporting learning materials, private communication platform between educators and parents, and so on. ii. Design Principles The design principles are as follows. Respect students privacy No extra cost to both schools and parents Keep low working load for educators Easy connection with the existing school website iii. Website Layouts The information provided by the WHSC system is divided into three parts. The first part is a public one in which every parent and student receive the same information, including school news and activities that are inputted by school office staff. That information is usually one part of the existing school web pages in most Macao schools. The only thing to do is to link those web pages to parents and students. There is no extra workload needed for educators. The second part is a semi-public one in which every parent and student in the same class receive the same information, including semester course timetable, daily homework information, and class news and activities. Parents and students in different class receive different information. The information in this part can be inputted and updated daily by the class teacher assistants or in most Macao schools by student helpers who are on duty for the day. There is no extra workload for teachers in this part. The third part is a private one in which different parent and student receive different information, including personal password management, student s test transcripts and teachers comments on student s behaviors if available. Teachers can manage to send the comments only to the designated parent or the designated student. Each parent and student can communicate with the class teachers in private. Teachers need update the information in this part by themselves. The workload depends on the frequency they communicate with the parents and students

4 There are four kinds of users in WHSC system. System administrator. This role is usually taken by the school computer system supporting coordinator who will help to create and manage every teacher s private account in the system and maintain the whole system. Teachers. They are one of the main users of the system. They are responsible to create the private accounts for each parent, student and teacher assistant/student helper. They are also responsible to direct the teacher assistants/student helpers to input the semester course timetable, daily homework information, class news and activities, and links to the school news web pages. The main task for teachers is to manage the private communication with the interested parents or students in their class. That is the only extra workload for teachers in the system. Estimated workload is averagely about half to one hour a day. Parents. They are main users of the system, too. Each parent can receive all the school and class news, daily homework information, teachers private comments and private test transcripts for their child. They can send private messages to the teachers to discuss their concerns for the child. Students. Students are assumed to know all their school and personal learning information. This part is just supplementary information for them. Main function in this part is that each student can communicate with his teachers privately to discuss the topics he is interested. Teacher assistants/student helpers. They are responsible to update the daily homework information and class news. The user layout chart is illustrated in Fig. 1. The teacher s interface is shown in Fig. 2. The interfaces of other users are similar with the teacher s one. System Administrator Class 1 Class i Class n Teacher 1 Teacher m Parents Students Teacher Assistants/Student Helpers Parent 1 Parent k Student 1 Student k Teacher Assistants /Student Helpers 1 Teacher Assistants /Student Helpers j Fig.1. The layout chart of users iv. Developing Technique The WHSC system is developed by using HTML+PHP+MySQL. HTML, an initialism of HyperText Markup Language, is the predominant markup language for web pages. It provides a means to describe the structure of text-based information in a document by denoting certain text as links, headings, paragraphs, lists, and so on and to supplement that text with interactive forms, embedded images, and other objects. HTML can also describe, to some degree, the appearance and semantics of a document, and

5 can include embedded scripting language code (such as JavaScript) which can affect the behavior of Web browsers and other HTML processors (HTML Wikipedia,2008). PHP is a widely-used general-purpose scripting language that is especially suited for web development and be embedded into HTML (The PHP Group, 2008). MySQL is the world s most popular open source database (MySQLAB, 2008). Most information used in the system is managed through a database based on MySQL. The above three software is in common use and easily adopted by computer system supporting people in schools. The first page of the system is shown in Fig.3. Personal Settings Parents Account Create Account Students Account Delete Teacher Semester Course Timetable Daily Homework Information Teachers Assistant/ Student Helpers Account Search Student Transcript Teacher-Parent Private BBS Logout Fig.2. Interface of the teacher 4 Conclusions The WHSC system is designed and developed by the Center of Information and Communication Technology Education, Faculty of Education, University of Macau. It is a freeware to support the interactive home-school collaboration for all Macao schools. It is going to be installed in more Macao schools soon. Feedbacks are to be collected and further study is to be conducted in the future. References Esler, A.N., Godber, Y., and Christenson, S.L.(2002). Best Practices in Supporting Home-School Collaboration. In Grimes, J., & Thomas A.(Eds.). Best Practices in School Psychology 4th Edition. ( ). National Association of School Psychologists: Washington, D.C. DSEJ. (2007). A Brief Introduction of Home-School Cooperation. HTML Wikipedia. (2008). HTML

6 H. Yang, L. Wang, and X. Han. (2007). Web-Based Home-School Interactive Platform Design and Applications. E-Education Research. 174(10), J.L. Epstein. (1992) School and Family Partnership. In Alkin, M. (Ed.) Encyclopedia of Educational Research, 6 th Edition ( ). New York : Macmillan. MySQLAB. (2008). MySQL::The world s most popular open source database. NASP. (2005). Position Statement on Home-School Collaboration: Establishing Partnerships to Enhance Educational Outcomes. The NASP Delegate Assembly. S.Chen. (2007). Introducing Information Technology into Home-School Education Education to Home System. China Educational Technology. 241(2), The PHP Group. (2008). PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor. Y.Liu, Y.Zang, and D.Zhang (2007). A Review of the Research on Home-School Cooperation. Psychologist Science. 30(2), Zhang, R.X. (2008). Statistics Report on Macao Internet Utilization (01/2008). Acknowledgements Fig. 3. The first page of WHSC system This study is support by the research grant of the University of Macau

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