Cork-designed app aiming to improve early years teaching

Cork-designed app aiming to improve early years teaching

Dr Wendy Oke’s research at CIT has led to an app which she says reduces the amount of time early years teachers spend on paperwork.

EARLY years teachers are spending 20 hours a week on paperwork, according to research carried out at Cork Institute of Technology.

Dr Wendy Oke recently achieved a PhD from CIT for her research in early years education and care.

“My research indicated that some teachers spend as much as 20 hours per week on paperwork, with the average teacher spending two hours per day in non-contact time,” she told The Echo.

“I was shocked by the amount of time early childhood teachers spend on paperwork.”

Dr Oke explained that such conditions are having a negative impact on both staff and children as time is focused on paperwork and not on development.

“There is a 25% staff turnover rate in early childhood services, teachers are underpaid and burnt-out,” she said.

“They are spending hours on paperwork in an effort to demonstrate compliance during inspections, which are important.

“However, my research indicated that quality in education is heavily dependent on the quality of the teacher,” she added.

“Therefore, if we want quality early childhood education and care to be a reality, then we must support our teachers.”

Dr Oke’s research involved input from teachers, parents and experts in the sector, and culminated in the creation of TeachKloud, an online application that she says can help reduce paperwork in the field by up to 50%.

The app enables teachers to prepare for the range of inspections they face while also giving them more time to spend with their students.

TeachKloud also uses artificial intelligence to auto-suggest early childhood curriculum framework goals in real-time as the teacher documents children’s learning.

The app suggests sample learning opportunities based on the interests and abilities of the child and can track attendance as well as communication with parents via pictures, videos or in-depth learning journals.

Dr Oke says the app also enables early childhood services to manage accident and incident forms which can be signed by the parent digitally, online billing for parents, risk assessments, fire safety, developmental observations, staff scheduling, safety and GDPR auditing.

Dr Oke explained: “In essence, it supports early childhood teachers in managing everything in one place, guiding them to provide safe and quality early childhood services.

“We have early childhood services using www.teachkloud.com all over Ireland and they tell us that it reduces paperwork by up to 50%.

Dr Oke said 90% of parents that she surveyed agreed that TeachKloud promoted home to school collaboration as it makes their child’s learning visible.

“TeachKloud can also be tailored to suit individual early childhood services.”

The app has seen Dr Oke win several awards for her research, namely, Ireland’s Best Young Entrepreneur for the Munster Region; Best Pitch for the Ingenuity Programme at the Ryan Academy at DCU; Best Business Plan at the New Frontiers Programme; and Best Pitch at CITs Prize for Innovation.

The DCYA are offering a grant of up to €2,000 for early years services to integrate management and attendance software like TeachKloud.

Dr Oke explained that the grant usually covers between 70% and 100% of the cost of TeachKloud.

“There are no installation fees and TeachKloud can be used on any device,” she said.

“We normally find that parents use mobile phones while teachers use tablets and laptops.

“TeachKloud is the most affordable software in Ireland as it’s only €1 per child, per month,” she added.

“Early childhood providers can even pause TeachKloud when they are closed.

“Every early childhood service receives free live online training, live chat and telephone support with a dedicated early childhood and TeachKloud expert.”

Dr Oke said she is hopeful TeachKloud will go some way towards preventing further burnout and departures from the early years sector.

“Preventing burnout is directly linked to lowering staff turnover rate and providing continuity and quality in terms of both care and education for young children.

“This was my mission when creating TeachKloud and I believe that we have achieved this,” she added.

Lecturer at CIT in Child Psychology, Dr Judith Butler, who was one of Dr Oke’s PhD supervisors, said the technology can have a huge impact on the sector.

“Without question TeachKloud is a pioneering and innovative cloud-based management tool. It emerged as a result of research questions posed around quality in the sector during her PhD research here with us at the Department of Sport, Leisure & Childhood Studies in CIT,” she explained.

“Dr Cian O’Neill and I were fortunate to supervise this ground-breaking research.

“TeachKloud was designed by Dr Oke to support structural and process quality in ECEC Centres in Ireland and indeed all over the world; namely, family involvement, monitoring and compliance, professional development, reflective practice and the documentation of children’s learning opportunities, which are all assisted with the use of TK,” said Dr Butler.

Dr Butler said that Dr Oke also recently presented two peer-reviewed papers on the world stage in Prague and Budapest, and has also published a number of peer reviewed journal articles over the course of her PhD Studies.

“Wendy completed her BA degree in Early Education & Care with us in 2015 and from day one, I knew she was a superb student with an outstanding work ethic,” said Dr Butler.

“Cian and I are very proud of Wendy and all that she has achieved, and, to boot, she is also the very first PhD CIT graduate in Early Education. We are privileged to have supervised this research which will certainly make a difference to a profession that is over regulated and swamped with admin and paperwork,” she added.

“The aim is to ensure that practitioners spend their time building relationships with the children in their settings rather than spending hours on paperwork and admin.

“Relationships are the key to quality ECEC so it’s a win win as a result of TeachKloud.” With TeachKloud already making waves in the early years sector, Dr Oke is looking to the future of the application.

“When I first started, I was supported by my inspirational PhD supervisors, Dr Judith Butler and Dr Cian O’Neill in CIT,” she said.

“Without their guidance, TeachKloud would not have been possible. The New Frontiers programme, which was delivered by the superb team in the Rubicon, helped me to validate TeachKloud, while support from my Local Enterprise Office, South Cork and Enterprise Ireland was also invaluable in the early days.”

Currently, TeachKloud has 10 part-time software developers and marketers working behind the scenes. The app will make its first full-time hires in software development, marketing and sales by the end of 2019 and is currently accepting CVs.

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