Exploring Storypark's design and use for documenting children's learning: A critical multimodal study of a digital documentation app
As the use of commercial digital documentation applications (apps) in early childhood education and care (ECEC) settings expands, there is a pressing need to understand whether and how they influence documentation practices. A small body of research has highlighted the benefits and challenges documentation apps present for ECEC services, which include enhanced communication between families and educators, but also increased educator workload. As previous research has paid minimal attention to the design and use of specific documentation apps, little is known about the affordances these technologies offer for communicating multimodally, through various modes and media such as writing, photos, video, and sound, and their potential to shape educators’ documentation practices.
Adopting a critical multimodal approach to semiotic software, or software for making and exchanging meaning (Djonov & van Leeuwen, 2018), this study investigated the design and use of Storypark, a documentation app used in many ECEC services in Australia and internationally. To explore whether and how Storypark shapes educators’ documentation practices, this project incorporated a qualitative analysis of the app’s interface and promotional materials, a content analysis of the modes and media employed in 132 stories of children’s learning created with Storypark in two Australian ECEC centres, and a thematic analysis of individual, semi-structured, visual-elicitation interviews conducted with four educators who had created some of these stories about their use of Storypark. Findings reveal that the app’s design offers resources that could help address key goals and challenges in pedagogic documentation, such as making visible and reflecting on children’s learning and perspectives. The app also exerts considerable influence over educators’ documentation practices, alongside factors such as centre policies and educators’ knowledge and time-constraints. The study contributes to knowledge about digital documentation in ECEC and semiotic software, and has implications for educators, ECE service managers, policy makers and software developers.