Blackboard Launches Teacher Communication Platform to Improve Parent Engagement, Student Success

Blackboard has introduced Blackboard Connect for Teachers, a new feature of its mass notification platform that lets teachers communicate with students’ families in their preferred language, helping to improve parent involvement and student engagement in the classroom.

School district officials nationwide already use the Blackboard Connect platform for outreach around urgent situations and academic issues. Now teachers can harness that same capability to better involve parents in their child’s classroom performance. Using the service, teachers can reach parents wherever they are with phone messages, and parents no longer have to wait for a quarterly report card to discover they need to intervene in their child’s academic performance or behavior.

“Blackboard Connect for Teachers has been a tremendous tool for parental involvement in our district,” said Blake Chism, IT director at Orange Unified School District in California, which has been working with Blackboard to test the system. “It’s especially helpful for parents in our lower-income schools and those who don’t have regular access to email during the workday. Now teachers can reach every parent through a phone call that is sure to reach them quickly.”

Parental involvement can have a powerful impact for schools and for student achievement. A recent study by researchers at Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire found that if parents sometimes talk with their children about student activities, study habits, and course selection—as opposed to never discussing these topics—districts could achieve student performance outcomes equivalent to an additional $1,000 in per-pupil spending.

Teachers can play an important role in spurring those parental interventions, but the competing demands of lesson planning, teaching, and grading make it hard to reach parents through traditional means. Handwritten notes or phone calls can take hours, time that teachers simply don’t have. With Blackboard Connect for Teachers, instructors can choose from more than 100 commonly used messages or combine messages into a communication tailored to an individual student’s needs.

“Teachers today are busy enough,” said Ed Miller, president of Blackboard Connect. “By making communication with parents easier and more effective, we’re helping them respond to the challenges of large class sizes, extended work hours, and increased cultural diversity to engage parents and their children and improve overall student achievement.”

Many parents want to be engaged but struggle to understand reports from teachers and schools because of language barriers. The U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006-08 American Community Survey estimates that 19.6 percent of households speak a language other than English at home, and the percentage is far higher in a growing number of states and large districts. Blackboard Connect for Teachers automatically sends message translations in 22 languages, ensuring the message is received and understood.

During preliminary service testing, more than 2,700 teachers sent more than 1.4 million messages to parents using Blackboard Connect for Teachers. Cecile Nedellec, a National Board Certified teacher and World Language Department chair at Serra High School in the San Diego Unified School District, used the service to send more than 2,500 messages last year to families representing various cultures and languages. “This is the first time in five years as a teacher that I’ve been able to reach all my students’ families, regardless of the language spoken at home,” she said. “If a student is falling behind in class, I can send a message and by the next day find that the student is on task, working harder in class, and has completed the homework assignment. Parents regularly thank me for keeping them informed, and students appreciate the positive reports I relay back home.”  

While consistent communication is critical to parental engagement, over-communication can be detrimental. When messages are sent from more than one teacher to a student’s home in one day, the Blackboard Connect for Teachers service will bundle the messages so that parents are not overwhelmed or inconvenienced.

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