Storypark as a teaching and learning tool in a curriculum and pedagogy unit in the Department of
Educational Studies, Macquarie University.
Dr Rebecca Andrews and Ms Paula Haalebos.
The staff and second year early childhood students in the Department of Educational Studies, Macquarie University were provided access, free of charge, to Storypark. We found Storypark, as an example of an electronic documentation program, to be a useful teaching tool in our second year curriculum and pedagogy unit. Previously we have taught students about digital documentation in a theoretical sense but having unrestricted access to the platform has ensured that students could really engage with digital documentation and therefore realise the benefits and complexities of an online system. This sparked interesting tutorial discussions as students worked through the debate of “digital documentation”. From a teaching perspective the lecturers and tutors found the mini information videos helpful for their own understanding of the system and used these as teaching tools in tutorials with students. Students were required to write a report about digital documentation. Below we share the report of Paula Haalebos, a second year student. She unpacks key themes on digital documentation, we hope that you find her analysis thought-provoking.
Digital portfolios also known as e-portfolios are becoming increasingly popular, particularly the educational app called Storypark (Education Review, 2013). This report considers the strengths and weaknesses of using an e-portfolio app such as Storypark to plan and document children’s learning and makes recommendations for high quality digital planning and documentation of children’s learning.
- Teacher Surveillance vs Capturing Children’s Perspectives & Promoting Individual Identity
Storypark supports the diversity of learners due to being open-ended and allowing children to express themselves in multiple ways using multimodal forms of communication (Higgins, 2016). This allows children to be in control of their own learning encouraging them to be more motivated and interested in actively participating to learn and revisit experiences based on their strengths, interests and needs and engage in self and peer reflection (Knaus, 2017). Therefore, if used correctly this supports the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy as children use higher order thinking skills to ‘create’, ‘analyse’ and evaluate’ their learning (University of South Australia, 2011). However, critical issues regarding power relations can arise when educators passively rather than actively include children in the documenting process by always taking control as the onlooker who has children under constant surveillance as the inferior ‘onlooked’ child (Sparrman & Lindgren, 2010). This may cause children to change their typical behaviour if they are aware they’re being recorded making it difficult to capture authentic moments (Buldu, 2010).
Educators interpret children’s work without including children’s voice which may lead to misinterpretations (Arthur et al, 2015). This violates the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (1989) which states that all children have an equal right to actively participate and therefore contradicts the aim of using the ‘Storypark’ app to capture children’s perspectives of their learning. Therefore, it is essential to take on a child-centred approach to documenting by allowing children to actively participate in the process by including their voice either by scribing or recording their conversations (Arthur et al, 2015). If these recommendations are followed correctly then ‘Storypark’ is a highly effective documentation tool as children, teachers, and parents can reflect on what actually happened rather than on what educators perceived to have happened to extend children’s learning (Hooker, 2017). This can therefore be used to portray children’s unique individual identities by portraying a biography of their learning over time (Educational Review, 2013).
- Privacy vs Strengthening Relationships Between Educators, Children and Their Families
By receiving information including photos and videos of their child, families stay connected as they gain insight into what their child is doing and learning on a daily basis, how this links to the centres curriculum and philosophy based on the EYLF, and the progression of children’s learning over time (Higgins, 2016). This is vitally important due to the diversity of families including both parents working, families overseas, and single parent families who may not have a lot of time to spend with their child due to an array of commitments though can log into Story park in between their busy schedules at any time of day (Storypark, 2017). They can add encouraging feedback and comments to show their interest and support which strengthens their child’s confidence and encourages them to continue to achieve outcomes to the best of their ability (MacNaughton & Williams, 2009). Parents can use these entries as a springboard to discuss and reflect on what their child did that day and continue activities at home to extend learning as well as add pictures at home to continue learning at the childcare setting (Storypark, 2017).
Parent’s control who sees their child’s information and can invite family members including grandparents and extended family from all over the world which promotes home cultures (Higgins, 2016). They can also invite specialists, such as speech pathologist and occupational therapists to help support children’s individual learning needs as well as future educators so they gain insight into their child’s current understandings, knowledge, skills and needs while families learn about the new educator (Storypark, 2017). This makes a smoother transition from one setting to another and can even continue to be used once commencing school supporting lifelong learning (Education Review, 2013). And in complicated situations, such as parents not on speaking terms, educators can create a duplicate profile of the child, so they can invite each parent to the corresponding profile (Storypark, 2017). Although parents can initially be reluctant to use the app due to the concern of privacy issues regarding who can access their child’s information, their concern is alleviated once informed that the apps privacy settings prevent people outside the child cares social network from accessing children’s profiles ensuring information remains confidential (Higgins, 2016).
- Strengths and Concerns Regarding Methods of Communication with Parents & Educators
The ability to create stories using the story editor and add ‘learning tags’ to include philosophy, pedagogical theories and/or theorists allows educators to effectively communicate an in-depth reflection of children’s learning which reduces the risk of misconceptions (Storypark, 2017). In conjunction, educators can use the ‘conversation tool’ to collaborate privately with other educators by reflecting, analysing, and evaluating their practices and children’s learning and giving each other informative feedback (Higgins, 2016). Educators can use this information to either repeat, modify or change their approaches to planning and documentation entirely (Arthur et al, 2015). Therefore, this tool increases teacher collaboration which reduces the likelihood of educators doubling up on stories and instead elaborating and extending on these (Hooker, 2017). It is also easy to see which children’s e-portfolios lack entries and include more after discussing children’s learning trajectory with other educators (Storypark, 2017).
Communication is also increased due to the ability to share notices, reminders, upcoming events, and converse with parents and receive immediate responses strengthening teacher parent partnerships (Buldu, 2010). In addition, entries are much more frequent and detailed compared to paper back portfolios due to easy access of the app and multimodal tools to document with, the easy but highly detailed formatting templates provided, and the increased motivation to do this due to the increasing frequency of parents reading and contributing valuable feedback (Hooker, 2017). However, research shows both educators and parents are more inclined to make either affirmative or generalised comments rather than provide specific feedback when large group stories are posted due to concern of being misinterpreted by others (Hooker, 2017). Therefore, educators should include more stories related to individuals or small groups of children and include related theories, so educator’s perspectives of children’s learning become visible and encourage more in-depth responses from parents (Buldu, 2010). This encourages shared understandings and builds knowledge of how to support children’s learning needs (Higgins, 2017). There is also the risk of parents who do not respond often missing out on opportunities to communicate leading to feelings of exclusion (Hooker, 2017). Therefore, educators should ensure they include photos and videos of all children to ensure families feel valued as well as monitor which parents are not engaging regularly on ‘Storypark’ and investigate potential barriers to this and ensure they communicate using alternative methods, such as face to face (Higgins, 2016).
- Issues and Benefits of Using Technology in Terms of Time and Cost
Some educators have a negative attitude towards technology such as this due to the amount of time it takes to learn how to operate it (Higgins, 2016). However, due to the increasing usage of technology in today’s society it is a highly beneficial skill for educators to learn, and by role modelling a positive attitude to technology supports children and their family’s usage of this technology (Parnell & Bartlett, 2012). And as this is app fosters communication, educators can collaborate by using it to support each other’s learning of its functions (Higgins, 2016). There are also many online tutorials and online workshops held twice a month and are both located on the ‘Storypark’ website (Storypark, 2017). This app is easy to navigate to retrieve information as educators can use learning tags to easily track and explore children’s progress by filtering and searching for stories to help with future planning which saves time trying to find this information manually in hardcopy (Higgins, 2017). It also saves time and cost of creating and printing hard copies of learning stories, documentation and reporting evidence and improves environment sustainability which supports the Early Years Learning Framework (2009). As it is available on a range of devices including the smart phone and iPad, educators can take photos, videos throughout the day and create these into blog posts and documents which saves on planning time (Bartlett & Parnell, 2012). Additionally, it saves time and worry finding the space to store documents and continuously organise them as they accumulate over time (Hooker, 2017).
Although the app costs a fee for educators, it is affordable as ‘Storypark’ offers a deal of 99c per month per child with a 30-day free trial, and is free for families to join (Storypark, 2017). Therefore, although it may initially take more time to learn how to use this app in the long-term educators will be saving valuable time to interact with the children and money to spend in other areas to support children’s learning (Bartlett & Parnell, 2012).
Strengths of Storypark
Results indicate that the ‘Storypark’ app has many strengths, one of which includes capturing children’s perspectives and promoting individual identity due to being open-ended and the ability to include multimodal forms of communication to cater for the diverse needs of each child, such as recorded conversations (Higgins, 2016). ’Storypark’ also supports communication and strengthens relationships between parents, educators and children due to educators increasing the frequency and quality of entries by including links to theories and pedagogy based on the EYLF as well as the ability to collaborate instantaneously (Hooker, 2017). This makes it easier for parents and other educators to articulate and extend by engaging in deep reflection and analysis together (Higgins, 2016). In addition, entries can be posted and responded at any time of the day keeping families from all over the world in touch with the process of children’s learning (Storypark, 2017). Furthermore, children can continue their account when they enter school to enable lifelong documentation of their learning (Education Review, 2013). Another major strength is although extra time and money is needed to initially install and learn how to use the app, in the long-term time and money will be saved due to easy navigation and access to tools, and no longer needing to print hard copies (Storypark, 2017). This gives extra time to interact with children and money to spend on other learning needs (Higgins, 2016).
However, results emphasise to educators that they must not fall into the trap of thinking that just because they are using an effective documenting tool that documentation of children’s learning will automatically be of high quality (Hooker, 2017). If educators are not aware of what strategies support the use of ‘Storypark’ then this can lead to weaknesses of its usage (Hooker, 2017). This includes the risk of parents not using the app due to privacy concerns if not informed about the secure privacy setting (Higgins, 2016). It also includes surveillance issues where educators passively rather than actively include children which risks misinterpreting children’s perspectives (Sparrman & Lindgren, 2010). Communication issues can also arise if educators use incorrect methods of expressing information including the use of generalised rather than specific feedback as this prevents in depth reflection which jeopardises children’s learning and the development of strong relationships with children, families and other educators (Hooker, 2017). Therefore, the following strategies must be implemented for the ‘Storypark’ app to effectively support children’s learning:
- Role model a positive attitude to using this technology to influence parents, children and other educators in using this app (Parnell & Bartlett, 2012).
- Take on a child centred approach and allow easy access of this technology to encouraging children to actively participate in documenting their own learning by including their voice, such as through recorded conversations to avoid engaging in teacher surveillance and misinterpretations of children’s perspectives (DEEWR, 2009).
- Continuously observing and listening to children’s interactions throughout the day, and asking open-ended questions and further questioning their responses to gain a thorough understanding of their views (Bartlett & Parnell, 2012)
- Create more entries including individual and small groups of children rather than large groups to encourage more in-depth responses instead of generalised comments from parents to gain a throughout understanding of each child to strengthen communication and relationships with families as reinforced in the EYLF (2009).
- Providing specific feedback including specific encouraging feedback to acknowledge children’s efforts, such as “I love the way you added detail to your drawing of house by including windows and a door” rather than providing limited feedback, such as “Great work!” so children know exactly what the educator is referring to and encourages them to continue to do this (Mac Naughton & Williams, 2009). Specific feedback also refers to providing ways to improve skills (Carlson, Hemmings, Wurf & Reupert, 2012), such as “Instead of tipping the bucket of sand over as soon as its full, try patting it down first to make the sand stick firmer together when you are making a sandcastle.”
- Include photos and videos of all children to ensure everyone feels included, valued and a sense of belonging to the centre (Fleet et al, 2011). If parents do not respond regularly to entries than investigate potential barriers and use other methods of communication including face to face interactions (Hooker, 2017).
- Spend extra time and money on the initial set up of the app by engaging in collaboration with other educators and listen to online tutorials and workshops to become confident in using the ‘Storypark’ app (Storypark, 2017). In the long-term time is saved to spend interacting with the children and money saved on printing costs of hardcopy portfolios can be utilised in other areas to support children’s learning (Higgins, 2016).
In conclusion, educators have an important role of showcasing children’s thoughts and perspectives through high quality pedagogical documentation processes which not only reflect the outcomes but all aspects of the Early Years Learning Framework (2009). And due to the increase use of digital portfolios in today’s society, the current investigation has illustrated that there are many strengths in using the high-quality app called ‘Storypark’ app to document children’s learning in childcare settings (Higgins, 2016). This includes saving on time and cost in the long term due to no longer needing to print hard copies which supports the EYLF by promoting environmental sustainability (DEEWR, 2009). This also includes supporting children in projecting their thoughts and strengthening their identity by being open-ended and offering multimodal forms of communicating to cater for diverse needs (Higgins, 2016). It also strengthens communication and relationships between educators, children and their families (Storypark, 2017). This is due to easy access, navigation and usage at any time of day in any country (Education Review, 2013). It also includes the provision of templates to link children’s learning to theories, pedagogies and philosophy’s that reflect the EYLF when creating entries and engaging in instantaneous and increased collaboration which results in higher quality reflections and a deeper understanding of the child’s current and future learning trajectory (Hooker, 2017). Of particular significance is the ability to continue using this tool when commencing school supporting children’s lifelong learning (Education Review, 2013). However, if educators are unaware of effective strategies to implement when using the app then this creates weaknesses that can negatively impact on planning, documenting and assessing children’s learning including teacher surveillance issues (Sparrman & Lindgren, 2010), privacy concerns and communication issues (Hooker, 2017). Therefore, it is essential for educators to apply the above recommended strategies when using the ‘Storypark’ app to ensure they provide highly quality documentation of the process of children’s learning which reflects all aspects of the EYLF (2009).
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Dr Rebecca Andrews is the Deputy Director of Initial Teacher Education and a lecturer in Early Childhood in the Department of Educational Studies, Macquarie University. She has been working in the early childhood sector for the last twenty-five years. Since 2001 she has been at the Institute of Early Childhood (now Department of Educational Studies) lecturing, teaching and studying. Rebecca lectures and teaches Early Childhood Curriculum and Pedagogy, Professional Experience (practicum) and child development. She is interested in early childhood teacher education including early childhood philosophy, curriculum and pedagogy as part of the student experience in early practicums.
Ms Paula Haalebos is a second year student in the Department of Educational Studies, Macquarie University. She is studying for a Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood)(Birth-12 years).