Seesaw: Using a Portfolio-Based LMS in Elementary Classes

Teacher Blogger  |  By Marie-Eve L.

SeeSaw LogoSeesaw is a 2 tiered learning-management system designed to showcase students’ work, just like a personal portfolio. There are two different applications or levels to this system: Seesaw Class which is used by teachers and students in the classroom, and Seesaw Family, where parents and other family members can view students’ showcased work. Although this blog will describe both aspects of Seesaw, Seesaw Class will be mostly discussed.

In order to access Seesaw, a student must have a code: either a QR code or a temporary text code provided by the teacher. Other login options are also available (such as email or Clever) as long as they are linked to the student who is logging in. Once the student logs in, they have access to different tabs such as: the journal, where all of their approved work is showcased, the activities, where students can view and complete interactive activities assigned by a teacher, the inbox, where students can receive class-wide messages from their teachers, and the blog (if activated) where they can view and post work that is available to a wider audience than just family members that have access to Seesaw Family.

As an educator, you have access to every class that you teach by clicking on the class to have access to all of the students’ portfolios. Teachers can also communicate with their class as well as with parents through inbox, and can create a class blog where specific students’ work can be showcased to whomever has the blog address. Finally, educators have access to an activity-creating and assigning platform, where they can create and assign interactive activities as well as view and assign activities from a bank of lessons created by Seesaw users from around the world.

A little background knowledge

Liam typing his name and drawing his teacher via the Seesaw AppSeesaw was co-founded in 2013 by Carl Sjogreen Adrian Graham and Charles Lin, who transformed their unsuccessful app Shadow Puppet into a sharing and digital activities center geared for elementary students and teachers. The app is geared toward young student accessibility and safety: Even in the free version of Seesaw, there are no advertisements, and teachers have the same privacy controls as with the paid version in order to protect the privacy of all students. The content created and/or posted on the app never becomes owned by Seesaw, but stays the property of the poster. Seesaw has strict privacy protocols and is compliant with many international privacy laws such as FERPA, COPPA, GDPR, MFIPPA, and the Australian Privacy Act. Data is stored in Amazon servers in the United States by default, although Seesaw for Schools paying customers can choose to have their data stored in Canadian, Australian, or EU servers.

What makes Seesaw a worthwhile tool?

Seesaw, as opposed to other learning management systems, is designed with younger audiences in mind. The overall platform design is bright and simple, and uses both words and icons in order to make it easier for younger learners. Seesaw is fully customizable to suit the teacher’s needs: settings can be set to 1:1 or shared device classrooms, and permissions can be set for students to be able to see and/or comment on each other’s work or not. Settings can also be set so that students can collaborate on work and then “tag” all of their partners so that the work appears on every student’s portfolio but teachers will only be viewing and grading one activity. Teachers have the option to record their instructions for their young learners so they have access to both written and auditory directions. Once in an activity, students can take pictures or videos using the camera icons, and can record their voice using the microphone icon making it easier for “ learners with weak writing skills that may be hesitant to contribute in class activities that are primarily text based” (Rice, 2012 P. 51) .

There are many interactive ways to create Seesaw activities, such as adding words and images that students can drag-and-drop, and creating “Fill-in-the-blanks” work. For older students, Seesaw activities lets you link to other sites and videos in order to provide context to the activity, as well as other tools such as text or draw so that the student can show their understanding of a concept.

Teacher and student on tabletActivities and comments must be approved by a teacher before they appear on Seesaw Family. This provides students with a way to receive feedback from their teacher and to return to their activity to correct or polish it before it is viewed. Teachers (and students) can also post pictures and videos directly to the journal, giving parents the opportunity to view their child’s work in class as a whole. As opposed to traditional portfolios where parents can only see certain, hand picked projects, Seesaw can showcase in-progress photos, and even oral presentations for parents to view.

Finally, Seesaw portfolios are downloadable, so that parents can keep a digital copy of their child’s work at the end of the school year. (for example: a K-6 school can digitize a student’s portfolio from Kindergarten through 6th grade, and provide the parents with a copy of all of the years’ portfolios once the student graduates). This is not only a great keepsake, but it also shows the student’s learning progression throughout the years.

Is there anything wrong with this platform?

With every learning management system, there are disadvantages to using a portfolio-based tool like Seesaw in an elementary classroom. The main disadvantage, in my opinion, is the need for different platforms. If using a laptop or computer, one only has to go to the website and click on “parent, teacher, or student”, but the vast majority of students and parents prefer to use mobile devices. When using a tablet or phone, a student will only be able to complete activities if they have Seesaw Class installed, and a parent will only be able to communicate with teachers if they have Seesaw Family installed. This has created confusion, especially during this time of confinement, where parents were complaining that they could not access their children’s activities to complete because they only had Seesaw Family installed.

There is also the lack of individual communication: although a parent can communicate with their child’s teacher using Seesaw Family, they can only do so after the teacher has initiated a conversation. Teachers can send messages to individual parents as well as to all parents and all students within a class, but cannot message individual students. Students do not have the option to message their teachers using Seesaw class. Although I understand that Seesaw is primarily a portfolio application, being unable to connect with teachers through the app is a disadvantage, especially during this time where students are learning from home, but also when students are working on Seesaw for homework, or have a question during a class activity but have difficulty with voicing their questions in front of the class. Furthermore, some studies, like Nkhoma’s out-of-class communication study in 2018, have shown that having a way to communicate with an educator “ creates social bonding between students and lecturers by allowing students to clarify the ambiguity of concepts learnt in class and create a sense of connection with their lecturers which leads to better student engagement and hence improved learning outcomes.” (Nkhoma and al, 2018).

Finally, There is a steep learning curve for teachers beginning to use this platform, as some of its features take some time to get accustomed to. Although taking pictures and videos of students is quite straight-forward, creating activities for students to complete can be a challenge for a beginning user. The activity creator platform is text-based with its own set of icons that use colons to code in the icon for the student to use. Once the activity is created and completed by students, it can be a challenge to sort and correct every activity, as the only way to add corrections is through the comments section (one can edit the activity and add corrections that way, although every time a teacher does this, they are sent back to Seesaw’s main page and must go back to their activity to approve it, which is extremely time-consuming). There is also the problem of class-sharing, where, when more than one teacher is assigned to a class, all of their notifications are combined, making it tedious to sift through to find your own work to correct and approve.

How can we make this platform better?

Students on laptopsAlthough Seesaw is a great portfolio tool, the fact that they have added interactive components means that they should look into upgrading some of their features in order to make their platform more user friendly. Adding student-teacher communication is a must for a platform that uses interactive tools for student-driven activities. Finding a way to combine Seesaw Class and Seesaw Family into one application with different available features according to login is another upgrade that would greatly improve this platform. Finally, looking at either making the teacher features more user-friendly such as having:

  • visual cues for activity creation
  • a built-in icon tool so that teachers can drag-and-drop their icons into their instructions
  • a way to correct activities without having to edit the student’s work
  • the option to see only your notifications as a teacher.

How can this be used in a classroom?

As Seesaw is primarily a digital portfolio with integrated work features (as opposed to Google Classroom and Nearpod which are primarily activity-based) the main way that this platform should be used is as with its intended use: as a way to shift student portfolios from paper to digital. As parents are continuously updated with new content, Portfolio Nights are no longer needed for parents to see their children’s showcased work. Seesaw can be used to enhance learning opportunities for students by creating interactive activities to evaluate student understanding and evaluate whether a student is mastering or struggling with a concept. As Rice (2012) stated: “ When we align the learner-centered attributes…we can envision a practical and usable framework for making sense of the wide variety of options and opportunities that can inform our instruction.” This platform, if used properly, can do just this: combine a variety of interactive methods for students that go beyond simply assigning work on a device because it is available.

Seesaw can be used as a class-wide showcase for larger audiences using the blog feature. Classes can feature events, such as class trips or shows, or academic showcases, such as a virtual class art gallery or work of the month.

In all, this LMS, with its features tailored for younger audiences and instant parent viewing makes it a great tool for an elementary classroom!

What do you think? Are LMSs a viable option in an elementary classroom? Have you experienced other platforms like Seesaw?

References

Clara Akuzike Nkhoma, Susan Thomas, Mathews Zanda Nkhoma, Narumon Sriratanaviriyakul, Trang Huyen Truong, & Hung Xuan Vo. (2018). Measuring the impact of out-of-class communication through instant messaging. Education + Training , 60 (4), 318–334. https://0-doi.org.aupac.lib.athabascau.ca/10.1108/ET-12-2017-0196

Constine, J. (2016, June 25). How Seesaw accidentally became a teacher’s pet at 1/4 of US schools. Retrieved July 13, 2020, from https://techcrunch.com/2016/06/25/seesaw-education/

Rice, K. (2012). Making the move to K-12 online teaching: research-based strategies and practices. In Making the move to K-12 online teaching: research-based strategies and practices (p. 66 and 151). Allyn & Bacon.

About the Contributor

Marie Eve profile

Marie-Eve Lapierre is an elementary school teacher and educational technology resource based in Terrebonne, Quebec, Canada, currently enrolled in Athabasca University’s BOLT program. She has experience with a plethora of different computer-based programs geared towards elementary students. She has many digital certifications, including Google Educator Level 2 and Seesaw Ambassador.

Creative Commons License
Except otherwise noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.