Saturday, May 7, 2011

Capturing the Journey of Early Learners

Our District has formed a small focus group of early learning teachers I spy with my little eye...to experiment with documenting the learning of K-3 students (starting with a few Kindergarten classes) in an unconventional way.  Teachers will use video cameras, digital cameras, and audio recorders to capture students learning.  The intent is to make the learning transparent, to capture artifacts that can be used for various forms of reporting.  Parents could access their child’s “portfolio” of learning and see how they’re progressing relative to the curriculum.  Teachers will see how they could use this type of documentation to replace the traditional “report card” for formal reporting as well.
At this age group, play based learning is often the norm.  Video will be used to capture kids in action creating things, acting in a play, working in groups, drawing, and just playing together.  Student work will be photographed at stages and the pictures assembled to show a Little Boyprogression over time up to the finished work.  Pictures will also capture snapshots of action oriented learning.  Teachers will use audio recordings of student conversations while they are working and playing.  Students will tell stories, describe processes, and outline their decision making for the work they are doing.  Portions of the audio may be transcribed into text to augment pictures.  Students will be videoing, taking pictures, and recording audio of their work and other students along with their teachers.
Something I found surprising is how many of the technology items (cameras, laptops, audio recorders / mobile phones, etc.) teachers bring to class.  It's great how our District supports teams of teachers learning together.  One teacher was showing me a booklet that included pictures and text to narrate her students learning journey.  I asked about the text and she said she transcribed it from audio recordings.  One of her colleagues piped up and showed an app on her iPhone that she uses to record and automatically convert to text to save time.  By the way, the teacher who created the booklet printed it at home on her own printer because she didn’t have adequate technology in her classroom… hmmm…
These teachers are on their own learning journey.  They have to learn what samples of learning to capture with video vs pictures vs audio vs text or various combinations.  This will vary from student to student and for different learning objectives.  They have to learn iStock_000007128193XSmallhow to capture reasonable quality video, pictures, and audio.  Then they need to edit the content down to usable forms and clips.  There is a lot of process involved – fortunately the technology has become pretty straight-forward to use.  Students will use their learning evidence for self reflection.  They may also use the artifacts for teaching – to be taught how to do things.  Pictures and text need to be printed and placed on walls to show.  Easy access to digital portfolios is important to support the transparency goal.  This information will serve as a communication and information tool for parents.
The group came to me for advice on how they might store and share the learning artifacts.  Electronic storage is relatively easy today.  There are numerous easy to use free services “in the cloud”.  However, the information they wish to store has personal identifiable information all through it so that’s not an option.  Raw video can be huge as well so there needs to be offline storage capability.  There are interesting security and privacy requirements to address.  For example, video, pictures, and audio of groups of students may have to be edited to remove a particular student who is protected or whose parents don’t want their image or voice shared with others.  Eg, parents accessing their child’s portfolio would see and hear other children in group work.  Simply putting this online on a public website won’t work either – it needs to be password protected.  However the portfolio is stored it must be possible to “transfer” it to the students teachers in subsequent years.
Other issues were identified such as the need for a basic set of tools: laptop, LCD projector, digital camera, audio recorder, video camera, extra batteries, and color printer.  Some teachers may bring their own but it wouldn’t be appropriate to make that an expectation.  As well, tools need to be durable since kids will also use the tools to capture their own and other students learning.
I described our idea for a Student Space and related Parent Space.  The Student Space will provide students a place to store their portfolio and engage in communication, collaboration, and sharing with other students.  This may be the ideal tool for storing and iStock_000008573353Smallsharing the early learning artifacts.  Parents could see their child’s documentation via their Parent Space.  Parent Spaces will be automatically connected to the parent’s children’s Student Spaces by using information from our student information system.  The group thought this could work well.  The need for and importance of these two ‘spaces’ just increased…  We have our work cut out for us this coming school year to be able to enable the type of documenting and sharing of learning our early learning teachers are experimenting with.  I’d be interested in hearing ideas from others on they have or would support this type of requirement.