Tech Be Nimble
If you're reading this as a parent, it's probable you're receiving even less support than most teachers in understanding how to optimize the educational capabilities of your child's digital devices. (In this post, I'll reference my earlier post about the SAMR framework for educational technology integration.)
The most frequent reminder I give parents is to do what it takes to feel empowered. Ask questions, run a Google search (e.g., "free flashcard app"), or find a tech-savvy friend in the PTA. In some cases, you may be able to attend the teacher training your school district offers. More commonly, though, your training will come after your kids go to sleep at night, when you borrow their tablet and just play around with it. Figure out where the power button is; see what apps they've downloaded; work out the basics of the device (this is the substitution level in SAMR: you're fiddling around with the technology, but it's not making any difference in your life yet).
When you're ready to start thinking a little more critically about what this device can do, you'll have to be more nosy about what your kids are learning and doing at school. If you have younger learners at home, this won't be too difficult -- you're likely helping them with their homework or signing a folder or progress report on a semi-regular basis anyway. If you're parenting a middle or high schooler, though, figuring out what they're learning might require going directly to the source: call or email their teacher. Ask, "What unit or lesson is coming up next week?" Then, ask yourself, "What is my child struggling with?" Is there a particular class that's always a problem? Or a particular task, like writing essays? If you can get to the root of the problem -- for essay writing, maybe the issue is with organizing ideas prior to writing -- then you can start searching for a solution.
Alternatively, you may have a learner who isn't struggling with anything, who loves school, and is polite and respectful while voluntarily helping out with chores around the house. (Ha!) With students who aren't struggling, or aren't struggling in all areas, the modification level of the SAMR framework can be particularly powerful. This is where you have a real chance to push your child to explore a subject in depth and it's an area where technology can add a lot to the experience. From virtual tours of museums to interactive video tutorials, almost anything students want to learn is at their fingertips. Parents can act as a great filter, helping "vet" apps and sites so that students aren't led astray by unreliable sources.
Finally, at the redefinition level, encourage your child's creativity. Empower older children to pitch alternative assignment ideas to their teachers -- maybe instead of a written report about another country or culture, they can find a Skype penpal and record an interview to share with the class. Many teachers will appreciate innovative ideas that break up the drudgery of grading 120 identical assignments, especially if the alternative assignment enhances what students are already learning. The big idea here is to let your curiosity (and your child's!) guide you.
Needs change. Technology changes. The best educational technology stays nimble.