A different view of digital documentation

Hello from the dark side!

With all the talk of using digital platforms in documenting our early learning programs, I feel the need to fly the flag for those with another point of view; those who can’t quite cross over; those who wrestle with the ethics of digital documentation of children; those who wonder about consent, and fret about workloads; and those who worry that parental voices are becoming louder than our most important stakeholders, the children.

How is it, that our collective of professionals who place relationships and the experiential learning environment at the heart of our early childhood practice have come to believe that an artificial system of communicating the daily lives of children is the imperative?

This change in thinking poses a quandary for many practitioners who wonder how they can continue building strong interpersonal relationships with the children and their families while adopting the digital platform approach to how we document and communicate everyday living and learning?

As practitioners we are faced with the dilemma: do we remove learning from where it is created and out of the reach of its creators: the children or run the risk of being mocked as ‘out of touch’ or ‘old school’ if we resist the pressure to jump aboard the digital platform juggernaut.

There has always been tension over the need to document, and the debate about this expectation continues. Digital platforms whilst selling the utopian dream of salvation will not wrest us from this tension. Whether we document digitally or not, this conflict will remain with us.

Those of us working in services that are already using digital platforms are often faced with other choices. Do we document with devices whilst we are ‘with’ the children to meet the expectations of their ‘digital native’ parents and organisational expectations, or do we engage wholeheartedly with the children and meet digital expectations later?

Even when we choose to focus on the child during our sessions, we are still required to document, but in our own time, during breaks and after hours. With the list of expected tasks expanding to include digital group learnings, daily observations, monthly individual learning plans, and group chats, it’s our well-being that becomes compromised.  Added to this is that those in management positions can be on call 24/7, alert to every notification received by the work mobile. Before we arrive at work, there are messages from our digital native families who expect an immediate reply. In some services, policy prevents staff posting out of hours, so they draft messages from home to be sent during worktime to avoid a policy breach and to keep ahead of their workload.

There are also unexpected consequences of posting during your lunch break as the following anecdote demonstrates:

An educator observed a child, so excited to share his first painting with his mother on collection time but whose bubble was broken when the parent responded with:

‘You don’t need to bring that home; I’ve already seen it online.’

Our profession is sitting on a knife edge.  If we choose to preserve our well-being by refusing to perform the digital expectations in our personal time, we create an unmanageable workload that will escalate.  If we document during work hours, we compromise the quality of our learning environment and the relationships with the children.

In a field that has always espoused the belief that Less is More, is this elaborate form of documentation merely a profit-driven marketing tool, that does less to improve our interactions and more to distract us from the most important task of bearing witness to the child and their learning? Now is the time for a healthy debate.


Cathy Northam

Cathy Northam has spent her entire career working alongside children in a range of ECE and primary aged settings including occasional care, long day care, family day care, out of school hours and preschools in rural and regional areas. Cathy’s commitment to building networks and services that are connected and meaningful to their local community, drives her practice. Cathy is currently the Director of a community-based preschool in regional NSW. Cathy cares deeply about children and their rights, she also cares deeply for the people who work alongside children every day.

9 thoughts on “A different view of digital documentation”

    Gabrielle Macdonald says:

    At our beautiful center we have purposely not gone digital. We clearly state that our main priority is developing meaningful relationships with the children. Our aim is to be with the children to guide and work with children. None of our educators take work home or work through their lunch break. We also don’t have a turnover in staffing. Our approach in teaching has children at the center. I will never move to a center that is over-the-top in documentation, as it just simply means less child and educator interactions and staff burn out. No thank you.

    Courtney Tepper says:

    I would love to see digital devices used less as so many children now come from digitally distracted worlds with people not always present (I’m guilty of this to). I would prefer to use the time to be present and engaged with children while also being actively available to scaffold discussions and learning. I think there are times for observing and listening to children using digital devices but there should be planned time for face to face periods without a screen between Educators and children, this is so important on many levels. I am so glad that I had no digital observations done of my children 15 years ago. I enjoyed reading the board each day and getting my book at the end of the year. I valued the authentic conversations with my children about their day, this showed them I valued them as well as building their language and communication skills. Also there is an ethical question to this also as children need to learn about consent, when should they be asked is it ok if we take a photo/video of this and use it for this? Are they given the option to say no, do they know they have a choice.

    A good question for a healthy debate.

    Flavia says:

    Amazing reading! I will share with my colleagues today ?? Thanks for sharing Cathy!

    Karla Almeida Pereira says:

    Great post! Thank you

    Kensie Almarinez says:

    First and foremost, I thanked all the teachers who dedicated and sacrificed their time to be able to deliver their very best in terms of our children’s learning and development reports. This is a work overload and to think that you still have to do it outside your work hours is just unbelievable. Very interesting topic.
    With all the gadgets and technology around us. I am still missing the old school where you can read and see all your kids work that they do at school and to interact more with the teachers. I know it’s not enough time but having a conversations see the real reaction, passion and dedication of the teachers and parents when we make that conversations. All digital stuff sets us boundaries from approaching each other, thinking (“I’ve seen it online, I don’t need to ask the teachers again or follow up”) I’m a typically shy person as still struggle with my approach, culture and language barrier. But in saying that even there is a barrier when we speak to a person face to face there is a connection, in terms of body laguange, facial reaction and the way we speak personally is a very genuine gesture.

    I don’t know if I am getting the point. But I don’t really mind the old school type, where everyone is connecting through conversations.

    Sandra Morgan says:

    I rely heavily on my clients use of the digital platform I use to run my business and communicate with my clients. So I totally understand the time saved when clients engage. I do not feel my child is in any way hindered by the use of digital documentation and communication. I think the children a Corowa Pre School, and certainly can confirm my son, receives all the one on one attention he needs and wants. While I do receive communication digitally. I also have verbal conversations with the staff.

    I always take home what my son has made share in his joy of showing it to me. I don’t think digital communication can be blamed for the response mentioned in the article.

    Great article!
    I am a firm believer of writing your program, observations and reflections. So much so that I created a planner.

    The feedback from those who use our planner, is that they are far more connected to the curriculum they provide, from the simple act of hand writing it.

    Others set time in the day where they ‘do their work’, they have provided space for the children to do ‘their own work’to. Meaning that the educators (primarily fdc educators) are competing all their work, including compliance documentation, within work time.

    I think there can be a place for digital, at rest time educators will often share pictures with parents. However the write up of the day is shared in a day book set up next to the sign out space.

    Emma Parr says:

    This is an important conversation to have!
    I am reflecting more about this topic as someone who’s child is only recently started at an EC centre and I even more recently begun as an educator.

    I want to believe somewhere there is a healthy balance between the face to face and the digital. As the parent in my household who doesn’t pick up our child, I love to read and see a snipet of my child’s day via the app and can communicate with educators here too as I don’t get to see them face to face very often.

    Eugenie says:

    I am very new to the sector – but I am already feeling the burden of having to photograph what seems like every interaction with children.

    It’s tiring, stressful and ruins any true connection between the children and us. It feels performative and false.

    Plus, I’m sure it is annoying for the children having an iPad in their face all day!

    This is such an important conversation to have. Love the article.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

To Top