Uni of Auckland student innovation could change the way children connect while online
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Uni of Auckland student innovation could change the way children connect while online

by Freya Lucas

August 17, 2020

A group of students from the University of Auckland have generated a new idea for a digital learning platform that could change the way children connect organically while engaging with distance learning.


With much of the Australian early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector having engaged in online learning experiences for children during the COVID-19 pandemic, and with Victoria currently under Stage 4 restrictions, limiting the onsite attendance of children, the innovation will be of interest to the Australian sector. 


The three students, all of whom are completing doctorates in education, identified a need for a safe, inclusive place for children to share knowledge, ideas, and skills with other children online in the midst of New Zealand’s strict lockdown measures earlier in the year. 


Noah Romero, Sandra Yellowhorse and Evelyn Christina teamed up with Engineering student Syeda Wishal Bokhari and Software Engineering graduate Dr Ary Noviyanto to find a solution, creating digital platform CircleOut, which helps young people to learn from each other in a safe and supportive environment, free from the pitfalls of larger platforms, such as likes, comments, and advertising. 


The team entered their idea in the Velocity Innovation Challenge competition, taking out the Social Innovation Prize.


Mr Romero said it was his lived experience with his own children that played a part in the innovative concept.


“My children love to share the things they build, write, draw, and discover,” he said.


During the lockdown period, he noticed the comfort and inspiration his children gained from 

video tutorials posted by other children, which underscored in his mind “how important it is for children to regularly see people who look like them as knowledge bearers.”


An important ethical consideration for Mr Romero, arising from his observation, was that these videos should live somewhere safe where their primary purpose “is to foster learning and autonomy, as opposed to generating capital.”


The group’s shared commitment for social and educational justice helped them to create a vision for the learning platform, with Ms Yellowhorse saying that by winning the Social Innovation Prize, their vision has been “catapulted” into “realms where we have the opportunity to create significant change.”


“Our vision is to convey what is possible when we rethink what education can look like, not only during the time of COVID-19, but in our changing world,” she added.


For Ms Christina, the highlight of the experience was being able to work collaboratively despite the challenges of COVID-19. 


“The faculty created spaces for discussion through reading groups and online classes. Those conversations become the starting point of the project as some of us become more engaged in thinking about what can be done,” she said.


This collaborative space allowed the students the opportunity to work with colleagues across faculties. As a result, she added, CircleOut in its current format exists in an entirely different form than during its conception.  


Ms Yellowhorse said the work of re-visioning futures and learning for children is “a never-ending process” and that while the group awaits funding and resources to continue the project, they are “cultivating the vision” of CircleOut through their individual work and study at the Faculty of Education and Social Work.


We are committed to re-orientating how we as educators understand learning, justice and equity, and how that can transform the lives of our children and youth,” Ms Yellowhorse added. 


For more information about CircleOut, please see here. The pitch for CircleOut begins at 17:35.

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