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Moving from paper-based to digital documentation in Early Childhood Education: democratic potentials and challenges

Cowan, Kate and Flewitt, Rosie ORCID logoORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-1986-0644 (2021) Moving from paper-based to digital documentation in Early Childhood Education: democratic potentials and challenges. International Journal of Early Years Education. pp. 1-19. ISSN 0966-9760

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Abstract

Recent years have seen a growing shift in Early Childhood Education from paper-based observation and documentation practices to digital documentation systems such as ‘e-portfolios’ and ‘online learning journeys’. Here, we bring a multimodal lens to these new practices and consider the potential of digital documentation for democratic assessment practices that recognise and value all children’s learning, particularly children who are living with disadvantage or in the early stages of learning English. Reporting on participatory ethnographic case studies of three diverse multicultural early years settings in London, we illustrate how digital documentation opens new possibilities for capturing the dynamic and embodied vibrancy of young children’s learning and can make children’s documentation more accessible to children and their parents. However, many digital documentation systems are currently designed primarily for adults, rather than for children to access and contribute to their own documentation. We suggest that adult-oriented design risks marginalising the child’s voice as documentation moves from paper-based to digital formats. Our findings call for collaboration between researchers, educators and digital documentation systems designers to ensure that these relatively new tools support democratic and inclusive assessment practices, where all children’s meaning-making, in whatever form, is recognised, celebrated and shared.

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