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Using Technology to Support Documentation in the Classroom

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I recently wrote a reflection about different examples of hands on learning that I have been a part of lately. Although there was no question as to whether these different situations involved learning, what seemed missing was a means of effectively elaborating upon the intricacies of the various lessons and activities.

Take the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Program for example. Students engage in a range of activities, including exploring how to care for a garden, developing an awareness of seasons and learning the different skills used when cooking food. This is done while working in groups of six. The usual practise of reflection involves students (not groups) answering a series of set questions each session relating to the focus on the session, either while the food was cooking or as the various materials were being packed up by support staff.Now this was useful to help fill out the time and provide a point of summative assessment, but often meant that the questions used were one-size fits all and did not necessarily capture what may have happened while learning. For example, one week I worked with a group to cook a stir-fry. Each member shared the jobs, taking in turn cutting vegetables or cooking the food. What stood out to me though was how some members took initiative and helped out others. Sharing their prior knowledge and understanding to help other members in the group. Although the questions at the end may have touched on this, it was not necessarily the focus.  One answer to this dilemma is to incorporate more formative assessment through the act of documentation.

One of the key values of Reggio Emilia, documentation involves learners engaging with artefacts relating to their learning. These artefacts can be in any form. Maybe a conversation recorded, a piece of incomplete work or a video capturing learning in action. It can be easy to dismiss the idea of documentation as just a portfolio of work, collected together. The purpose though is not necessarily to summarise products and projects, but rather develop a deeper understanding and provide a narrative. The focus is not to represent a 'final' piece of work, but rather a snapshot of learning to focus on. This inquiry may involve questioning what has been done, reflecting on the process and critiquing the product. As Mara Krechevsky, Melissa Rivard, Ben Mardell, Daniel Wilson suggest in Visible Learners,

Documentation supports the social principle of learning by communicating the importance of the experiences captured, the knowledge gained, and those who participated.

An obvious means of supporting this process is through the use of technology.The most common technology used is the digital camera to capture moments. Gary Stager provides an extensive list of possibilities when it comes to photography and documentation. One of the problems though with just using a digital camera is that it is difficult to view the content using the device, meaning that it needs to be uploaded elsewhere.One solution to this dilemma is to use a mobile devices that not only allows you to capture content, but organise it as well. An iPad works really well for this. Beyond the means of capturing learning in a number of ways, it is portable. By allocating an iPad to each group provides a means for different people to capture significant moments as they arise and then use a range applications to organise it. Some options include:

  • Book Creator: A simple application for collecting different artefacts in one place on the go, whether it be images, video or audio. In addition to this, users can add text to provide further context which can be useful when looking back at a later point.
  • Adobe Voice and Slate: Similar to Book Creator, Adobe Voice and Slate allows users to present information in one place. Both have their limitations, but also provide a useful constraint which can help focus the act of documentation. Usually used more reflective, rather than on the go.
  • Google Apps: Whether it be SlidesDocs or Keep, each offer a simple way of capturing content and are available on iOS. They provide the means to share with different members. Google Photos can also be used to simply share videos and images. An alternative to this is Evernote.
  • Seesaw: A cross between a blog and an learning management system, Seesaw provides the means to capture learning in any form. Like spaces such as Edmodo, you can create groups and classes. However, what is different is that even with just one iPad in a classroom you can quickly allocate artefacts to different students. You can also share iBooks created with Book Creator or Adobe Voice videos, as well as continue to develop the conversation further afterwards. An alternative to the various intricacies of Seesaw is having a class blog organised around tags and categories.

So what about instead of students working individually writing their responses they instead got together and considered the various documentation colaboratively? Making their thinking visible. Looking back in order to look forward? As Mara Krechevsky, Melissa Rivard, Ben Mardell and Daniel Wilson assert,

Learners are in groups all the time while they are in school but not all these groups are learning groups. In learning groups, members are engaged in solving problems, creating products, and making meaning; students and adults learn from one another by encountering new perspectives, strategies, and ways of thinking. Members of learning groups also learn with one another by modifying, extending, clarifying, and enriching their own ideas and the ideas of others.

In the end, I don't think that this is isolated. The same could be said for all of learning. So what about you, how do you celebrate process of learning, whether it be camps, cooking or coding? As always, comments welcome.

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Full disclosure: I have not received compensation of any kind for mentioning the products or services mentioned in this post. I was not solicited to write this post and I have no relationship with any of the companies mentioned.

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I am an educator whose life has granted a breadth of opportunities, including working in a small country school, a few traditional 7-12 secondary schools, as well as a large P-9 college. My academic background is English and History, however I also have a keen interest in ICT and 21st Century Learning. In my nine years as a teacher I have had a wide array of experience in regards to incorperating technology in the classroom, from introducing the use of IWBs, to being a Ultranet Lead User. In the end, I think that sometimes technology has a way of finding its own.
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Guest Friday, 09 December 2016