What happens when a school works with a developer to co-create the perfect product for teachers, children and parents? We look at how KC Snijders School did just that – and what teachers and edtech companies can learn from the process.
Case study: KC Snijders School and Bordfolio
Portfolios are commonly used in early years education to record observations and progress in early learning goals. In 2015, KC Snijders primary school in Rijswijk, near The Hague, decided that it needed a digital portfolio to replace its paper portfolio system that often fell apart or got lost. Rather than picking a product off the shelf, teachers at KC Snijders school worked with an edtech company, Bordfolio, over five years to co-create a product specifically to meet the needs of the school.
The result is a digital portfolio that is fully in tune with the school’s ethos and that children and teachers alike are completely comfortable using. For Snijder’s, the digital portfolio is an important part of the school’s approach to developing children’s independent autonomous and personalised learning. Each day the child logs into the portfolio and chooses what activities they would like to do – for example, from three options such as sand, playing with blocks or doing maths with a teacher – and records these within the digital portfolio. Teachers are able to monitor the choices that children make, talk to them to find out why there are gaps in the activities that they choose and address reasons why, for example, a child may not go to a certain space in the school to do activities there. In this way they use the portfolio to have in-depth discussions with each child, for example, finding out if a child doesn’t want to work in a certain classroom area because they are afraid, they don’t like the teacher or their friends aren’t working there.
Children ask teachers to take pictures for their portfolio and tell the teacher why – they may be proud of what they’ve done or want to show how they have improved what they were making. The teacher writes down the child’s explanation, which is an important part of the personalisation process.
Each activity is tagged with a learning goal that is part of the school and national curriculum. These include objectives such as ‘I like to learn’, ‘thinking in small steps’, ‘being creative’, ‘I can learn new things’, ‘I can read a story’. Photographs in the portfolio are used as prompts to help children explain their learning, for example what happened, why they liked an activity and what they want to learn next.
How did working with the developer make a difference?
For KC Snijders’ teachers, having experienced the frustration of other edtech companies not asking what they wanted in terms of functionality in a digital portfolio product, working directly with Bordfolio made all the difference.
Good communication between the school and the company was a key success factor. Rather than simply coming up with new features they think teachers will want, the Bordfolio team always tests the idea first with the teachers and gets feedback about what is and is not useful. They also work with an awareness of the school day, scheduling any development work that would result in down-time for outside school hours.
The Bordfolio developers had a clear intention to make the entry level for using the technology very low and so little specific technological training was needed. They also listened to teacher feedback that some other portfolios had too many options – for example, having to make 10 clicks before being able to upload a photo – and simplified all processes where possible. Teachers, children and parents find it easy to use.
What happened during Covid-19?
During the Covid pandemic home learning period, the developers made a number of changes at the request of teachers at the school, such as enabling teachers to set assignments for children and supporting videos of teachers explaining to children how to do the assignments. Teachers used these explanation clips to connect with pupils to explain what was involved in an assignment, which helped take some of the pressure off parents. Parents became used to uploading photos of their children’s learning process and work. Bordfolio also improved the comment functionality so that children are notified when they log in if there is a comment or feedback on their activities they can access.
More generally, the move to remote learning and then to blended learning was much smoother than it might have been as children were familiar with the system. Since the return to the classroom, parents have continued to upload independent learning from home, marking a permanent change in linking learning at home and at school.
What impact is it having?
Teachers report that the children’s sense of ownership is a key advantage of the digital portfolio approach. The portfolio forms the basis of discussions between children, teachers and parents, and children have been more open and ready to talk to their parents and teachers about their learning since using the portfolios.
As a result, the portfolio has increased the sense of connection between home and school with parents seeing the benefit of the school’s approach to learning through active engagement with the portfolio. While, at first, some parents find it difficult not having grades, they enjoy seeing the positive evidence of their children learning within the portfolio. There is a heightened understanding and trust between children, teachers and parents about what goes on in the classroom and parents now see the value of sharing the learning that takes place in the home.
For Bordfolio, the work with KC Snijders has led to a product that it now sells to schools across the Netherlands.
What can teachers and edtech startups learn?
KC Snijder’s experience offers some lessons on good practice for the design of personalised edtech solutions and the effective implementation of personalised learning strategies.
Insights for edtech companies
- Communication: Establish good communication channels with teachers to understand requirements. Do teachers need the functionality you are providing? What do they need, if not? Keep the communication channels open once the product is in place so that it can evolve based on teacher requirements, experiences and feedback.
- Flexibility: Understand that schools are not homogenous. They have different needs and different processes. You will need to balance each school’s need to adapt your product with your need to create a product with common features. Talk to different schools to discover the common needs.
- Simplicity: Keep it straightforward and user friendly. In general, teachers do not have time to learn or use complicated additional systems. Any child-facing interfaces need to be age appropriate and every element must comply fully with all privacy and security regulations and guidelines.
- Clarity: Provide straightforward training, instructions and guidance that are as useful as possible with FAQs and examples.
- Patience: Allow enough time in free trials for schools to test the product, find out about it and ask questions. Schools are busy places and this might take longer than you think. If a school’s trial account expires, consider allowing more time, within reason.
Insights for teachers
- Pedagogy not technology comes first: a clear pedagogical approach should be the starting point for selecting the tool as the best one to do the job, along with iterating and choosing new tools as tech affordances change.
- Engage families to explain the pedagogical approach and how the technology supports it. Identify where there is a lack of access to any necessary software, hardware or connectivity.
- Support: personalisation is something that students need to learn and master, as well as educators. Some students will need more support than others in learning how to plan their knowledge journey.
- Develop a professional learning community connected by a shared commitment to improve student outcomes. This may be online as well as within school: technology has the potential to connect teachers to experts who can support them in making the most of digital approaches, as well as to communities of teacher peers.
- Dialogue between educators and the developers of digital tools and platforms helps to ensure that they are aligned to teacher and student needs. Where offered, teachers should grasp the opportunity to have input into the development process