Digital documentation for families – quality or quantity?

Digital devices are of great use when documenting a child’s learning. They are particularly useful for capturing photos and videos of children to include in daily or weekly communications with families.

Documenting the program and the child’s progress within the program can make a child’s learning visible to their family. It creates valuable opportunities for starting meaningful discussions with families about their child’s progress and involvement in the program and routine.

National Regulation 76 and Element 1.3.3 of the National Quality Standard outline the requirement to provide families information about their child’s participation in the educational program. In addition, Quality Area 6 of the National Quality Standard focuses on building supportive and respectful relationships with families. These relationships are based on active communication, consultation and collaboration, which in turn contribute to children’s inclusion, learning and wellbeing.

With all aspects of documenting children’s learning there are opportunities and challenges. We often hear that educators feel overwhelmed by the amount of documentation and are not sure about the best ways to document meaningful learning experiences, rather than just capturing what has happened during the day. It may be timely to review practices at your service to mitigate the challenges and maximise the opportunities.

The challenges

A digital portal, emails, social media and online newsletters are commonly used to share children’s photos or videos with families. Some services will often set a target for the number of digital items to be sent to families each day and educators will be expected to meet this.

Is this reflective of the digital age in which we live, where we have come to expect a constant stream of information? On the one hand, sharing each day with families what you capture provides them with the reassurance that their child is settled and happily engaged at the service. On the other hand, the images or videos that are shared may not be a true reflection about the child’s learning, play and time at the service.

To meet the challenge of providing a large number photos or videos – and particularly ones that are ‘picture perfect’ – an educator may end up choosing ‘clickable’ moments showing what has transpired, rather than the child in the context of their learning and development. As a consequence, other aspects of quality may also fall by the wayside, such as ensuring the images or videos serve as a springboard for meaningful conversations with families about their child’s learning and progress, and planning to extend children’s thinking and learning.

Another possible effect is that the dignity and rights of children may be impacted (Element 5.1.2) when numerous photos or videos are taken. The children’s voice may also be absent if they do not have the opportunity to consent to having their photo or video taken.

For families, multiple content each day can result in saturation. Consider at what point will the child’s family stop paying attention to what the child is learning and doing, and the images or video simply become a passing distraction.

For educators, there is a possibility that churning out photos and videos of each child may become a drain on their time, detracting from quality educator-child interactions which support children’s learning and development.

An educator’s role is also to model the respectful and moderate use of digital devices within a child’s routine, and their over-use to capture images and videos may send mixed messages to children.

The opportunity

A reset of the expectations around digital documentation for families is recommended. Involve all stakeholders – the service team, children, families and the community – in a reflection on what is needed, what is wanted and what is realistic for your service community and context.

Questions to explore

You can use the following questions as conversation starters at your next team or family meeting:

  • What parts of the program can be documented with a photo or video?
  • How does what we document contribute to the program and practice and the outcomes of the approved learning frameworks?
  • How can we ensure that we are respecting the rights of children and involve them in decision-making on documentation? For example, can we invite them to take the photos and videos of their play and experiences, or can we invite them to choose which ones we take?
  • How often should we document the children’s program and progress? Are photos and videos needed every day or is there an opportunity for ‘camera-free’ days?
  • What are the ways in which our families want to receive photos and videos of their child’s involvement in the program?
  • How do we ensure that we are meeting children’s individual needs while capturing their play and learning in the program?
  • How can we provide children with an opportunity to view and revisit their photos and videos?
  • How does our digital documentation of the program link to any paper-based documentation?

Continuous improvement

Quality, not quantity, is the old adage, and it rings true when it comes to documenting a child’s program and progress for families. Meaningful photos and videos that make learning visible are of far greater value than an overabundance of daily content.

As long as expectations are established at the outset, families will appreciate the quality and meaning of your rich documentation and the story that it tells about their child.

Resources to support your ongoing learning

  • The National Quality Framework: Documentation and linking with communities

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