Digital documentation – Who owns children’s information?

This article includes observations from Dr Chip Donohue and Storypark Co-CEO Peter Dixon around the use of digital documentation technology with children and the storage of information. It also answers questions around who owns children’s portfolios and what happens when a child leaves a centre using Storypark. 

Intellectual property, copyright law, digital citizenship and United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child articles are all complex, nuanced and critically important aspects of being a responsible member of the ECE profession both as organisations and for individuals. But we already know what we need to do… right?

Children’s rights are extremely important to us at Storypark and we try to act as a role model in this space in line with Article 3 “All organisations concerned with children should work towards what is best for each child.”

So what is best for each child when it comes to digital citizenship, use of technology, ownership and the control of their data?

Given the gravity of these questions, we work with some of the world’s best minds in early childhood education (plus some great lawyers) to help ensure our designs and approaches encourage the kind of behaviours we want to see more of when interacting with and around children.

Our most recently appointed advisor Dr Chip Donohue has a long career in this space. His work has led to some useful insights:

  • Old theory informs the use of new tools. The work of Maria Montessori, Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, B.F. Skinner, Seymour Papert and Howard Gardner, remind us that even as the tools, technologies and context change rapidly, child development remains constant.
  •  Relationships matter most. Fred Rogers taught us that it is not about technology, it’s about relationships. Educators and parents can select and use interactive media that invites and encourages interactions with others, promotes social-emotional learning, enables co-viewing and joint engagement.
  •  Pedagogy guides the selection and use of technology tools. 

I’d like to explore this last point in particular. The use of Storypark is (mostly) up to the user because most aspects of the tool can be customised to the philosophies and practices of the educators/organisation. As a result, the use of Storypark varies quite significantly based on context, country and pedagogy. Using Storypark with a pedagogical lens can create amazing outcomes for children.

There are some principles that we at Storypark think are important enough to enforce to help ensure we create safer digital futures for children:

  • Children’s information should be able to be shared safely with invited family members within a trusted online community. This applies to sharing pregnancy scans, right through to a child’s first day of school, and everything in between. To enable this, parents or guardians (on behalf of the child) need to own and control who is invited to access this information and who sees what.
  • Parents or guardians should have control over their children’s information, and be able to remove this off the internet e.g. if they have concerns over a website’s safety.
  • A child’s information/portfolio is theirs and should travel with them so that the people who matter most to them can better understand them, communicate and work together and ultimately create the best outcomes for the child by personalising their learning and care.

This has some benefits:

  1. A child’s portfolio can travel from the home learning environment into ECE, into OSHC and school. This enables educators, specialists and family members to support important transitions and work more effectively together.
  2. Children have greater continuity of learning, maintaining the trajectory of their learning over time.
  3. Families can be better supported by educators, building trust more quickly, overcoming communication barriers, building a better understanding of the work of educators and the impact for their child (creating positive feedback and feedforward loop).
  4. Organisations can gain commercial benefit from improving occupancy and retention rates through strong relationships with families, and children experiencing better outcomes.

However it does create some challenges, so let’s pose some questions:

Do ECE centres lose access to information when a child leaves?

A: When you remove/archive a child, their profile sits under the ‘Archived’ tab from your ‘Children page’ in Storypark. That means you can access their portfolio and export a copy (if needed (e.g. to satisfy a government request). Most ECE centres simply leave the portfolios there and only arrange exports on request or if a parent deletes their child’s profile from Storypark (in which case you will get an email giving you seven days to request the export and a link to do so in one click).

Do ECE centres have to print everything for every child that leaves at the end of the year to ensure things are archived?

A: No. In fact, you don’t have to print a child’s portfolio unless specifically requested to by a government authority, or if you choose to for the child or for the parent. On their end, Parents can print this documentation at any time as well.

Can other ECE services see our work?

A: A child can attend multiple ECE environments – e.g. home, before and after school and Kindergarten. Each of these environments can see individual stories and notes created about that child by any of the other environments but that’s all. No plans, community posts, groups stories, conversations or anything else. Just individual stories and notes that might be useful in helping them understand and respond to that child’s current context and interests. There is also an option for services to choose not to share any of their learning stories with other services.

Who ‘owns’ a child’s portfolio?

That’s actually a complicated question. Under copyright law, the person who takes an image or creates the intellectual property owns that work. That means an educator who takes a photo of a child, owns that photo. If they take multiple photos and write a story or observation to accompany them under standard copyright law they ‘own’ that. However, given they are usually working under some kind of employment agreement this agreement may mean the rights to this work is assumed by their employer. A parent/guardian who is the administrator of a child’s Storypark portfolio, therefore, doesn’t ‘own’ a child’s portfolio (other than the content they have created themselves), but under Storypark’s Terms of Use, they are granted a lifetime license to administer and use this information on behalf of the child as part of all parties agreeing to the Terms of Use. The parent/guardian controls the child’s ‘digital footprint’ and has the right to remove their information off the internet (but not from the ECE centres records, as agreed by the parent in the Terms of Use).

Considerations for ECE practitioners

  • Are you effectively using the permissions and various communication forms in Storypark to ensure information is shared in the most respectful and appropriate way?
  • How do you include children in the documentation process and gain their permission when photographing them? 
  • What are your policies around archiving children’s portfolios – are they up to date? 
  • Have all your team attended Storypark’s free online workshops and read our resources on cybersecurity

We are always up for a conversation about security and privacy. Please feel free to get in touch with us at at any time with any questions or concerns.

Here are a few useful resources if you’re keen to learn more:

Posted by Peter Dixon

Peter was born in Auckland and went to Brooklyn Kindergarten. Since then he has helped develop a number of ventures in both New Zealand and North America, and worked to support other organisations who believe in making a difference in the world.

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