By Amanda Higgins
A three paper thesis Submitted to the Victoria University of Wellington in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Masters of Education Victoria University of Wellington 2015
Electronic portfolios (ePortfolios) are a new phenomenon in early childhood education (ECE) and there is minimal existing research available on their use and effectiveness as a learning and communication tool in ECE.
This thesis presents an exploratory case study of an ECE centre, positioned within a constructive-interpretivist paradigm, which investigated communication between teachers and families via ePortfolios. Data used in the study were drawn from online surveys, document analysis of ePortfolios, individual interviews, and focus group interviews with parents and teachers. Thematic analysis identified three main themes; the benefits and drawbacks of communicating via the ePortfolio, the online tools that supported or constrained communication, and the types of communication that were evident.
Several implications for teachers’ practice arise from this study. First, the ePortfolio enabled communication to easily flow between settings, and provided another avenue for teachers and parents to communicate. Second, the different levels of communication parents and teachers engaged in via the ePortfolio had potential to influence their on-going communication, relationships, and children’s learning. To extend on-going learning and positive learning outcomes for children, online communication could be scaffolded so that a focus on relationships moves toward to a greater focus on children’s learning. Finally, levels of trust between teachers and parents were apparent, though more complex elements of trust such as competence and openness were less evident. Teachers could consider ways to develop these with parents to further enhance trust and communication.
Concluding implications and issues arising from this study
In conclusion, ePortfolios in this case study facilitated communication between teachers and parents, as well as with wider whānau and children to varying degrees. Six main implications from this study were identified:
While not all parents responded to stories written by teachers in the ePortfolio, there was still great value to parents in the one-way communication afforded by the ePortfolio. Teachers have a professional responsibility to work with and support all children and their families (MoE, 2008). It is important that teachers maintain a fair approach to ensure they are not engaging more with parents who are pro-active in online commenting. By monitoring which parents are not engaging with the ePortfolio teachers could explore what the barriers are for these parents, or ensure other methods of communication are being used instead. Having a clear purpose, as
well as systems and processes in place is also important to ensure effective dialogue with parents is developed.
When online communication was more focused on affirmation and showing appreciation, the communication was more likely to support the building of relationships between parents and teachers. However, when information was shared, especially when it was specific and focused on the child, the communication was more inclined to enhance shared understandings, ultimately supporting the child’s ongoing learning. Teachers could consider how to move from more surface online conversations to more substantive ones, especially as trust and relationships develop between parents and teachers. Writing more individual and small group stories that focus on learning, rather than more general stories written to the group, could also provide a private space for substantive dialogue between teachers and parents to develop.
Keeping learning foregrounded when communicating via the ePortfolio is key to supporting and enhancing children’s learning over time. To facilitate this, teachers could articulate the types of comments that are helpful and why, and role-model these in their own commenting. When teachers use information given by parents to support children’s learning, and document how they do this, parents see their comments are valued and how they influence their child’s learning.
The trust element of benevolence was well developed between teachers and parents. To continue to build strong partnerships with parents, it is important that teachers reflect on how they build deeper, more complex elements of trust such as competence and openness, and consider what this might look like in an online environment.
The ePortfolio as a technological tool enabled communication to flow easily between settings. Anytime, anywhere access, instant email notification, and an easy to use platform were highly regarded features of the ePortfolio. It provided another avenue for communication to happen, and ultimately supported face-to-face communication.
Having a wide range of avenues available to communicate with parents enabled more opportunity to reach a greater number of parents and whānau.
EPortfolios are still a very new technology in ECE and to ensure they don’t become just another fad, research needs to continue into whether they are making a positive difference to children’s learning. Drawing on this and other pertinent research while working pedagogically with ePortfolios, teachers can continue to develop practices that make a positive difference for children and their families.
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