Education apps can help to collate and share learning between children, educators and parents. In this post, I firstly talk about why documenting learning is important. I then review 3 apps – Seesaw, Brightwheel and Storypark – and discuss how these can be used to support children’s learning in both formal and informal education contexts.
Why is documenting children’s learning important?
Documenting children’s learning, whether in the classroom or in informal learning settings, helps to make learning processes visible. Processes such as creativity and critical thinking are difficult to assess against product-driven or standardised curriculum. Generating photos, videos, audio recording and notes of children’s learning processes helps to highlight the complex social, emotional, cognitive and aesthetic processes that shape creative learning instead of just focusing on educational outcomes. Educators can then use these records to reflect on children’s learning process from multiple perspectives and make choices on how to best proceed.
Creating photos and videos of children’s learning is not a pedagogical process in itself. However, when these records are then used as a tool for reflection and change it can become one.
Documenting children’s learning is a great way for educators to:
- Make children’s learning visible and in a form that can then be shared with others,
- Invite new and multiple perspectives on children’s learning – for example, the documentation could be used to ask parents what they think their child is doing,
- Support children’s metacognitive learning processes,
- Reflect on individual and group assumptions that shape education practices.
All in all, documenting children’s learning can allow education practices to become more complex and critically reflective.
Early childhood philosophies such as Reggio Emilia and Steiner position documenting as a core driver of emergent curriculum and formative evaluation. Documenting learning in these education frameworks is built on an understanding that rather than there being one way of doing things, there are many.
Recording children’s learning is not something only teachers do in schools. Practitioners working with children in sites of informal learning, like museums, can also engage in this process and use it to drive curatorial decision making.
Above: Using the Seesaw app to record learning. In the screenshot above I was recording a voiceover of my experimentation with paint and thread.
How can apps support documenting?
Documenting children’s learning processes takes time. Apps can help to collate different records and immediately archive them together in one place. All of the apps below allow for multiple people, including teachers, children and parents to record and share documentation.
While these apps may help to speed up the process of generating and sharing documentation, people also need time to individually and collectively reflect on what is happening in the records. Reflection takes time and educators need to be given ample time to think deeply about what is happening and why. Reflecting is one thing an app cannot speed up!
Before you start using these apps, you may need to think about the ethics of documenting children’s learning. These considerations may include who gets to access the records, how the data will be securely stored and any necessary permission forms that need to be completed.
Seesaw’s motto is to ‘empower students and engage families.’ Educators, students and families can capture learning using photos, videos, drawings, audio recordings, files and hyperlinks to create digital portfolios. Seesaw has developed three interconnected applications, one for teachers, one for students and one for families. Individuals can then independently record and upload documentation to a communal folder. Parents can also login to see what their child has been learning throughout the day. I particularly enjoyed Seesaw’s video recording and voice over features and how these could be used to document ideas as they develop. All content that is uploaded to the app is owned by the students and school. The privacy settings for different content can also be modified. The app has a very clear and intuitive interface that is easy for students aged 5 years+ to use. Seesaw could be used in both formal and informal learning contexts.
Brightwheel has been designed specifically for early childhood education settings. Like Seesaw, people can log in from multiple devices including iPhone, iPads, Androids and computers. As the Brightworks app has been designed especially for formal education learning, it includes features such as the ability to generate daily reports and invoices. This app would be useful for educators and artists working in kindergartens or nurseries.
Storypark describes itself as a ‘purpose-led, values-based’ app that helps children to realize their potential by connecting them with the community around them. I selected Storypark for this post as it came across as the App most informed by ongoing research and evaluation. The team use action research and human-centred design to continuously engage and respond to user needs. I really like this approach as education settings are continuously changing –children’s learning strategies, the curriculum is modified, new teaching methods are being produced – so it is great that the organisation acknowledges the need to include this as an integral part of the app’s development. Storypark also has a great blog that is essentially an education platform for users to access resources and articles related to documenting children’s learning using the program.
All three education apps have a free trial period. Perhaps you could download a couple and suss out which one works best for you. If you are interested in reading more about documenting children’s learning, I highly recommend the book ‘Making learning visible: Children as individual and group learners’ written by Reggio Children & Harvard Project Zero. Also, have a read of my reflections from the Reggio Emilia Australia pedagogical documentation centre.
Best of luck and have a good week xx