For some time now Alexander Hayes and I have been researching body worn video recording devices within the context of education & training. In 2009 when we started brainstorming about possible PhD projects we thought about engaging with all levels of education across sectors- from the way body worn video recorders would be used with young children at child care centres, all the way up to the vocational training sector, universities and beyond.
I want to write here about the Muffin Man. Who is he? What does he look like? How can the Muffin Man be connected to body worn video recorders like digital glass?
Watch this video first to get a better understanding of where I’m headed in this post. The video is simply titled: “Nathan Playing” and has in excess of 11,000 hits. Not bad for a 5 minute home-style video which records children at play making muffins…
My first exposure to day care centres (also known as preschools, although there is some distinction) came in the beginning of 2006. I rang several listed centres close to my place of residence and was fortunate enough to gain access to the most reputable for my firstborn. Any parent will tell you that a great day care/preschool makes life for a working mother/father so much easier. Absolutely wonderful when the environment you are part of is one of continual learning for both carers and children alike (not to mention parents). Juggling work life and family life is difficult at the best of times, and every parent wishes for the best start for their child to be in a loving environment.
As fate would have it the carers of my children with so many decades of experience between them not to mention a plethora of accredited qualifications, began to deliver lectures at the University of Wollongong’s Early Childhood program in 2009, participated in honours research projects, and sourced great talent when required.
But I do remember on joining the Centre how much the owners looked forward to having a techy mum on hand and how technology agnostic they were… every morning for months I would drop off my child and spend some 10-15 minutes talking about “computers”, tutoring lightly, and providing clarity to visions of the owners of how they would incorporate technology for benefit.
I remember the carers going on a course one day and coming back with a book and a CD filled with templates for Microsoft Word/ Powerpoint all inspired about how computers would be used, such were the courses on offer back then. Consultants made mega $ just by showing day care owners how to open and close a Microsoft Word file! I chose otherwise as there was a direct benefit to my children and those of my neighbours.
So the challenge- “integrate computers”… No, the carers were not talking about some funky electronic $7,000 whiteboard although they did later buy a sizeable screen and several laptops… and no they were not talking about showing the kids videos with computers, but about capturing the special moments of the day and allowing the mums and dads some time to reflect on their child’s development upon pick up in the afternoon.
I offered my services to the carers of the “little angels” and on many occasions I found myself training the carers of my child… only it did not feel like training, it felt more like an adventure. We started from the very basics- “this is a workspace”, “this is how to INSERT>PICTURE”, “this is how you add TEXT”, and “this is how you save”. I was not interested in making it difficult but making it practical and easy and directly satisfying what the carers imagined they could do with computers. When I once demystified the process, they realised how simple it actually was and then ideas began to flow very quickly. They were “off and running” as they say.
The owners/carers had ideas about:
- how to capture the spirit and activities of the day through visual evidence;
- how to log the child’s weekly milestones as identified in the national curriculum.
We started thinking pictures as in photos of the kids at play, we started thinking audio, we started thinking visual recordings… that Christmas I bought the day care a digital recorder- it seemed only natural that we progressed that way, this is despite my active role in Australia’s Privacy Foundation and my research into surveillance devices… within weeks, the owners had an even better idea, they bought a digital camera that took good movies and used it every day while the kids played to capture milestones and record them in both a powerpoint presentation that would be shared to all the mums and dads of an afternoon; and pictures of kids they would print and stick into the child’s life book with personalised comments. Every Christmas, the carers would wrap the life books up and give them to the kids as their end of year present. They dubbed the life book, “the treasure book” and I’ve held onto those treasures and often reflect at how fast early childhood goes… way way too fast.
Much later I learnt of Steve Mann’s glogging of his own children which are hard to miss on glogger.mobi. But we’ll come back to that one a little later…
Today most parents take lots and lots of photos- I’ve spoken to some mums who purportedly have tens of thousands of photos of their firstborn, less of their second child, and scant of their third, and very few of their fourth. Regardless, most people don’t print and document and reflect on photos despite that we take so many of them! I can categorically say, as my children get older, that those treasure books are priceless.
The general practice was great- greet your child for pick-up, spend some time looking through the treasure book and then watch the day’s video clips with your child. Five minutes of a summary was a great way to reflect and share on the day that was. It’s a special way of connecting with your child after being apart for 8-10 hours.
That’s pretty much the story I wanted to share… but there is another side to all this that might cause some readers of this post to be alarmed. Controls are super important when dealing with kids. While there are ethical guides what is absent from the literature are practical regulations, that provide some bounds when it comes to recording young children and disseminating that ‘data’.
I write this piece because there is still much to learn about the following:
- will parents begin to demand access to this footage?
- will owners be tempted to stream this data securely over the web?
- should children be filmed at all?
- what safeguards might be introduced?
- how should data gathered be stored? should it be destroyed daily?
- should audio settings be muted on cameras recording?
- might records be demanded by authorities for liability, eyewitness reporting?
All of these questions must be asked… and I have to say that the carers and I discussed these issues at length at the outset. The owners were meticulous in their practice:-
- no sharing of video files directly with parents via external media (USB or otherwise) no matter what had been captured of exceptional personal value
- only positive exchanges were to be retained and shared showing children at play or learning or enhancing skills
- all children were to feature on the videos without one child dominating over another.
Almost all owners of day cares/preschools want the best for their Centres, and most steer clear of even a web site or online repositories of data. Most Centres also cannot afford expensive storage services, although almost all Centres now have broadband access given government requirements for fees and rebate calculations based on income testing.
Yet here are some aspects that people for now have put into the “too hard basket” but answers are required and pressing:
- Do children act differently when they know they are being recorded?
- Is it right to film children at all? Is audio totally off limits? What are the jurisdictional comparisons on this point?
- Will drones replace the camera held by the human and what are the implications of this? Positive/negative?
- What if children were handed the pair of glasses to wear and film the space around them? Is the child’s point of view different to that of the adult point of view?
- How should visual evidence of minors be stored, if at all?
- What kinds of policies should be instituted when Centres use recording devices in their workplace?
- Are their learning outcomes for children when visual recordings are taken OR are the outcomes only enjoyed by parents in sharing in the joint development of their child?
- Should children have access to their “lifelogs” beyond their treasure books when they grow up? Will it help in resolving certain behaviours, and emphasising others in a positive way?
Those are just some of my reflections… so much work is being done in the surveillance field and children. See for example the exceptional research work of Tonya Rooney of Australia. A PhD worth reading titled: “Growing up in Surveillance Society: The Changing Spaces of Childhood Experience”.
I do hope that people will take this post and consider it deeply- especially those in the Early Childhood/Tech space. So much to ponder! Welcome aboard.
May I use this opportunity also to identify the work of Dr Holly Tootell, my former PhD student and colleague at the University of Wollongong, who is now researching heavily in the intersection of early childhood and technology.