Data Model and Smartphone App in an Observational Research Social
Cristina Mesquita
and Rui Pedro Lopes
Polytechnic Institute of Braganc¸a, Campus St. Apol
onia, Braganc¸a, Portugal
IEETA, University of Aveiro, Aveiro, Portugal
Observational Research, Children Observation, Smartphone App.
Children observation is a time consuming and complex process that involves time and knowledge. However,
when performed adequately, it is fundamental for both child and professionals development, allowing a sound
basis for reflection and action around learning experiences and teaching environments. Following specific
guidelines and programs can help the teachers reduce inherent subjectivity. The EEL/DQP was developed to
evaluate and improve quality in preschool education. This program is enhanced by using a rigorous observation
process of children and adults. In this paper we propose an unified data model to structure the information
from the thirteen steps of the EEL/DQP. Moreover, we also describe a smartphone application to assist the
observer, recording notes, sound, photos and video.
Children observation is a time consuming and com-
plex process that involves time and knowledge. How-
ever, it provides a valuable tool to support both child
and professionals development, allowing a sound ba-
sis for reflection and action around learning expe-
riences and teaching environments (Belfield et al.,
2006; Schweinhart and Weikart, 1997).
There are several programs in which observations
are used to assess children physical, emotional, social,
and intellectual development. Well-planned observa-
tions can give us important information about specific
areas, such as social interaction, learning experiences,
space management and creations, and others. Obser-
vation can also help to better understand how different
areas of development are interrelated, as well as help-
ing recognizing what behaviors are typical of various
age groups. In turn, this understanding will help the
teacher to improve as a person and as a professional.
Specific and well-known guidelines allows the
teacher to be more focused in the observation and to
make more objective interpretations. Some initiatives
and projects that provide such guidelines have been
implemented, such as Effective Early Learning (EEL)
(Bertram and Pascal, 2004), known in Portugal under
the designation Desenvolvendo Qualidade em Parce-
ria DQP (Bertram and Pascal, 2009). These ini-
tiatives define a systematic and rigorous four stage
process of Evaluation and Development Framework
(Pascal et al., 1997).
This four staged framework includes the Evalua-
tion of Quality of early learning, followed by Action
Planning. In this step, priorities are identified and an
action plan is generated. The Development phase fol-
lows, during which the quality improvement action
plan is implemented and, finally, the Reflection phase,
focusing on reviewing the impact of the former.
In this paper we propose using a smartphone based
application to record the observation materials di-
rectly in the device. The application is already imple-
mented and fully working, according to the following
sections. This allows recording videos, photos and
sounds, with the possibility of exporting to a specific
social network for observational research (Lopes and
Mesquita-Pires, 2014). This online, web-based, regu-
lated community, provides a central and secure repos-
itory of observation data, results and annotations that,
together with the smartphone application, mediates
communication between participants and maintains a
memory of observational data.
The next section describes the observation pro-
cess as described in the EEL/DQP initiative. It pro-
ceeds with the design of the smartphone application,
namely the user interface, data model and user input
approach, in section 3. Section 4 closes the paper with
some conclusions.
Mesquita C. and Pedro Lopes R..
Data Model and Smartphone App in an Observational Research Social Network.
DOI: 10.5220/0004837701310138
In Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU-2014), pages 131-138
ISBN: 978-989-758-021-5
2014 SCITEPRESS (Science and Technology Publications, Lda.)
The evaluation of quality of early learning in the
scope of EEL/DQP requires obtaining a considerable
amount of data through several techniques, includ-
ing detailed observations of children and adults, inter-
viewing parents, practitioners and children, documen-
tary analysis and others. This complex and somewhat
subjective process requires well-trained teachers and
researchers. In particular, the EEL/DQP initiative de-
fines a four phase/thirteen steps procedure, compris-
1. Evaluation
1.1. Initial preparation
1.2. Initial data gathering
1.3. Interviews
1.4. Child Tracking Observation Schedule
1.5. Child Involvement Scale
1.6. Adult Engagement Scale
1.7. Development of evaluation report
2. Action planning
2.1. Development of the action plan
3. Development
3.1. Document and support the implementation of
the action plan
3.2. Child Involvement Scale, following the same
procedure from 1.5
3.3. Adult Engagement Scale, following the same
procedure from 1.6
4. Reflection
4.1. Reflection on the impact of the plan in the fu-
4.2. Final report
Data is gathered and systematically organized in
research portfolios, that will be used in a cyclic pro-
cess of thinking-do-thinking to research and create
change (Mesquita-Pires, 2012). This process is en-
hanced by the utilization of observation techniques
which measure the effectiveness of the learning and
teaching processes, such as the Child Tracking Ob-
servation Schedule (step 1.4), to gain a snapshot of
the childs day and providing information of learning
experiences (Bertram and Pascal, 2006), the Child In-
volvement Scale (step 1.5), an observation technique
which measures the level of a childs involvement in
an activity, the Adult Engagement Scale (step 1.6), to
evaluate the interaction between the practitioner and
the child (Laevers, 1994).
2.1 EEL/DQP Procedure
The EEL/DQP overall procedure follows the four
phases described above. It starts by an initial orien-
tation of the work to be performed, in which all the
process is prepared and all the participants informed
in detail. Initial data gathering follows, where the in-
stitution is characterized, including the interior and
exterior spaces, its education philosophy, the differ-
ent learning activities, and others.
The third step includes performing interviews
with the dean, staff (about 50 %), children (20%), and
parents (20%). It is very important that all the stake-
holders are well informed and have a full understand-
ing of the process. The teacher records the interviews
and take notes of key phrases, to support the written
report. In the end, access to interview transcripts must
be given to participants.
2.1.1 Child Tracking Observation Schedule
The fourth step requires an observation process, using
the Child Tracking Observation Schedule (CTOS),
with the main purpose of understanding the child’s
daily routine. This technique gives information about
the learning experiences, the level of choice, child
involvement, the group organization and interaction
with adults.
In broad terms, this step starts by choosing a set of
children, considering gender, ethnicity, age, and oth-
ers. Each child is observed two sets of two times, with
each session in a different day. In other words, each
child is observed four times, where each observation
should not last longer than 5 minutes. The details are
registered in a specific form (Figure 1).
2.1.2 Child Involvement Scale
The Child Involvement Scale (CIS) seeks to under-
stand the learning outcomes and the underlying pro-
cesses. Essentially, it gathers information about the
participation in activities and projects, thus giving in-
dicators of concentration and motivation as well as of
High levels of motivation reveals that the children
are truly interested and driven to engage in the activ-
ity. The impressions and experiences obtained by a
motivated child are very strong, assuming an influ-
ence that will not occur otherwise. High level of in-
volvement also results in a high level of satisfaction.
Children spontaneously take initiatives to get into this
particular state. This is also achieved through the in-
terest that the children have to discover or explore.
The concept of involvement refers to the human
quality (visible in children and adults) characterized
Date: Child: Age:
1 GG CA<-->A 1 FPS
2 PG 2 ED
3 P 3 LiNG
4 I GC->CA 4 CM
CA 5
Project: E'ective Early Learning/Desenvolvendo a Qualidade em Parceria
Child Tracking Observation Schedule
Schedule description – 5m each (M) Morning / (A) Afternoon
Total Children:
Present children: Total adults:
Figure 1: Child Tracking Observation Schedule.
by intense involvement in activities, being considered
as a necessary condition to carry out a deeper level of
learning and development (Laevers, 2005). Involve-
ment contributes for a deeper way to learn. When
lacking, chances are that the children development
will stagnate, and all the actors in the education pro-
cess should do everything in order to create an envi-
ronment in which children can engage in a wide vari-
ety of activities.
Under the EEL/DQP this step requires to select
50% of the 3, 4 and 5 years old up to a maximum
of 12 children. Each child is observed three times,
with each session in a different day. In other words,
each child is observed in a total of six times, where
each observation should not last longer than 2 min-
utes. The details are registered in a specific form (Fig-
ure 2).
Figure 2: Child Involvement Scale.
2.1.3 Adult Engagement Scale
The Adult Engagement Scale (AES) evaluates the in-
teraction between the practitioner and the child (Laev-
ers, 1994). It targets the effectiveness of the teaching-
learning process through observation of adult-child
interaction. The quality of the adult’s intervention is
a critical factor for the child’s knowledge building.
Up to a maximum of 5 adults should be observed,
paying special attention to the sensibility, stimula-
tion and autonomy categories. Each adult is observed
twice, with each session in a different day. Each ses-
sion should include ve observations of 2 minutes
each, in a total of 10 minutes. In other words, each
adult is observed four times, 40 minutes total. The
details are registered in a specific form (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Adult Engagement Scale.
The observation process is translated into an eval-
uation report, to be used in the following (2-4) phases.
2.2 Challenges
The EEL/DQP process is heavily structured around
paper based forms and reports. In this approach,
many details are usually over summarized or even
lost. This also prevents broader studies from being
made, such as inter-school or inter-country assess-
ment, unless the notes and observation portfolios are
physically shared.
In this paper we propose the design and develop-
ment of an online, web-based, regulated community,
providing a central and secure repository of observa-
tion data, results and annotations. This service al-
lows each teacher to manage each observation pro-
cess, sharing information with authorized colleagues
and improving their experience and knowledge. It is
complemented with the tools to generate PDF reports
and spreadsheet either for individual as for collective
We also propose using a smartphone based appli-
cation to record the observation materials directly in
the device. This allows storing a portfolio of observa-
tions in a single device, as well as recording videos,
photos and sounds together with written annotations.
Smartphones present a set of restrictions that are nec-
essary to consider when developing applications for
these kind of devices. Although processing power,
battery and memory are potentially limiting issues,
the most important aspect to consider is, probably, the
display size. It is used both to present information to
the user and to collect input from him. This charac-
teristic influences the user interface, designed around
sequences of pages, switched (or flipped) according
to the context.
In the previous section we presented an overview
of the process for quality enhancement in preschool
education, comprising several paper-based forms and
specific observation techniques. The form occupies
all the available paper space, allowing the observer to
immediately see the whole picture. If the data grows,
it is necessary to move to an additional sheet of paper.
Moreover, each observation is registered in an indi-
vidual sheet, being necessary to organize and archive
all the sheets in a portfolio.
Another limitation of the paper based form is that
it does not allow to record photos, sounds or other me-
dia, requiring additional tools, such as video-camera
or digital sound recorder. The process also requires
that the observer pay rigorous attention to the time
through a stop watch, for example (Mesquita-Pires
and Lopes, 2013; Mesquita and Lopes, 2013).
3.1 User Interface
The design of the user interface has to incorporate
all these aspects, in a small touch screen. Each
form is accessible through a tabbed panel, allowing
switching between forms with a single touch (Fig-
ure 4). The main panel allows the user to switch
to the Child Tracking Observation Schedule (CTOS),
the Adult Engagement Scale (AES), the Child In-
volvement Scale (CIS), and the synchronization tool
Figure 4: Tabbed panel, allowing access to other forms.
In each form, the master-detail interface paradigm
is used to present a tree of contexts and associated
data. This allows organizing all the portfolios and ob-
servations in a drill-down navigation model, in a com-
fortable to use approach (Figure 5).
Figure 5: Observation views: listing, adding and details.
The user creates a child’s portfolio by touching the
‘+’ button, in the screen’s upper right corner. A new
view is shown to allow entering the observation de-
tails. Each entry in the main list shows the child’s
name, in bold, and, below, the observer’s and insti-
tution’s name. Touching an element in this list, will
push a new view with the remaining details. Touching
the child’s name, will advance to the sessions section.
The same paradigm is used throughout the applica-
Just as in the previous case, the main view presents
the list of sessions, identified by the date. Below the
date, the number of children adults is shown (Fig-
ure 6).
Figure 6: Session views: listing, adding and details.
By touching the ‘+’ button, the user will be able to
create new sessions. When selecting a session from
the list, the view is replaced by the session details,
to allow entering the related information. The initia-
tive level, the predominant group and the involvement
level is entered by selecting the corresponding button.
The interactions and learning experiences will present
a new view to the user where he will be able to select
from a list of choices.
3.2 Data Model
As mentioned above, the observation process in the
EEL/DQP project is implemented in three proce-
dures: the Child Tracking Observation Schedule, the
Child Involvement Scale and the Adult Engagement
Scale. Each observation detail are registered in paper
based forms (Figure 1, 2 and 3).
The CTOS form starts by identifying the institu-
tion and the observer name, the date, time, and the
child’s name, sex and age. In addition it also records
the number of children and adults present during the
session. It also registers the child’s level of initiative
(1 to 4), learning experiences, predominant group, in-
volvement (1 to 5) and interaction, either verbal or
non-verbal (Table 1).
There are four levels of child’s initiative:
Level 1. No possibility of choice is given to the child
performing the activity
Level 2. A limited number of possibilities of choice
is offered to the child
Level 3. Some activities are not allowed to be chosen
by the child
Level 4. The child has total freedom of choice
Table 1: Child Tracking Observation Schedule interaction.
CA ←→ A Balanced interaction between tar-
get child and adult
CA ←→ C Balanced interaction between tar-
get child and child
CA A Target child interacts with adult
CA C Target child interacts with child
CA GC Target child interacts with group
of children
A CA Adult interacts with target child
C CA Child interacts with target child
CA Target child talks to himself
CA No interaction
GC CA Group of children interacts with
target child
CA ←→ GC Balanced interaction between tar-
get child and group of children
The predominant group situation is registered as
follows: Large Group (GG), Small Group (PG), Pair
(P), Individual (I). Learning experiences fall under:
Personal and Social Education (FPS), Physical Ex-
pression (EMot), Representation and Dramatical Ex-
pression (ED), Artistic Expression (EP), Musical Ex-
pression (EMus), Oral Language and Approach to
Writing (LING), Mathematics (MAT), Knowledge of
the World (CM).
Children involvement follows five levels:
Level 1. Absence of activity
Level 2. Activity frequently interrupted
Level 3. Activity almost continuous
Level 4. Activity with intense moments
Level 5. Maintained intense activity
The CIS form uses the same values from the in-
volvement level and the learning experiences, chang-
ing the way the observations are made. This allows
us to simplify the data model, by reusing the same
entities defined for the CTOS module.
The Adult Engagement Scale has a different
header as well as focus. It defines three sub-scales,
measured from 1 to 5:
Sensibility: the attention and care the adult demon-
strates towards the feelings and enotional well be-
ing of the child. It also considers the honesty, em-
pathy and affection;
Stimulation: the way as the adult fulfills the learning
process and the content of the intervention;
Authonomy: the degree of freedom the adult con-
cedes the child to experiment, judge, choose
learning activities and express ideas and opinions.
Using the paper based forms as a starting point,
all fields are collected and corresponding data types
identified (Table 2). The fields from the CIS form
is clearly a subset of the CTOS form, allowing some
simplification to the data model. On the other hand,
the AES form introduces different fields, that must be
Table 2: Data fields and corresponding data type.
Data Type Field Name CTOS CIS AES
String school X X X
String observer X X X
Date date X X X
String childName X X
Number childAge X X
String childSex X X
Boolean nes X X
Number nChildren X
Number nTotalAdults X X X
Number nTotalChildren X X X
Number involvementLevel X X
Number initiativeZone X
String[] learningExperiences X X
String group X
String[] interaction X
String adultName X
String adultSex X
Number nTotalNes X
Number sensibilityLevel X
Number stimulationLevel X
Number autonomyLevel X
In complement to the information from the paper-
based forms, we also want to record different media,
such as text, photos, sound and videos. This data is
associated to each observation, so we have to specify
additional data names and types (Table 3). The fields
are common to all the observations, regardless of the
form structure.
Table 3: Additional fields and corresponding data type.
Data Type Field Name CTOS CIS AES
Date timestamp X X X
ActivityType type X X X
String descr X X X
Blob activity X X X
The resulting data is structured in two concep-
tual groups, one for the fields from the CTOS and
CIS forms and the other for the fields specified in
the AES form. Each group will have two one-to-
many associations, starting with the Observation
(AESObservation for AES) entity for it is the most
generic. Each Observation has many Sessions
(AESSession for AES). In turn, each Session
records the child’s behavior acting on a set of
Activities (Figure 7).
int childAge
String childName
String childSex
String observer
String school
Boolean nes
Date date
String[] learningExperiences
String group
String[] interaction
int nTotalAdults
int nChildren
int involvementLevel
int nTotalChildren
int initiativeZone
Date timestamp
ActivityType type
String descr
Blob activity
String adultSex
String observer
String adultName
String school
Date date
int nTotalNes
int nTotalAdults
nt nTotalChildren
int sensibilityLevel
int stimulationLevel
int autonomyLevel
Figure 7: Entity diagram.
The Observation stores general information
about each target child, namely, the institution’s
name (school), the observer’s name (observer), the
child’s name (childName), sex (childSex) and age
(childAge). It also registers if the target child re-
quires Special Education Needs (nes). Objects of this
type are the umbrella to all the information about a
single target child.
The AESObservation stores general information
about each adult, namely, the institution’s name
(school), the observer’s name (observer), the
adult’s name (adultName) and sex (adultSex).
Session entities registers each observation. Re-
member that the procedure require four total ses-
sions per child (six for CIS). Objects of this type
store the summary of the observation details, such
as the date the session took place (date), the set
of learning experiences (learningExperiences),
the predominant group (group), the set of in-
teraction indicators (interaction), the involve-
ment level (involvementLevel), the initiative zone
(initiativeZone). Each session starts by register-
ing the number of children in the group (nChildren)
and in the room (nTotalChildren) and the number
of adults (nAdults).
AESession entities registers each observation to
an adult. Remember that the procedure require
four total sessions per adult. Objects of this type
store the summary of the observation details, such
as the date the session took place (date), the
sensibility level (sensibilityLevel), the stimula-
tion level (stimulationLevel) and autonomy level
(autonomyLevel). Each session starts by registering
the total number of children with special education
needs in the group (nTotalNes), the total number of
children (nTotalChildren) and the number of adults
Each Observation has multiple Sessions
which, in turn, can have several Activity. The latter
represent all the media than can be registered, such as
text notes, audio, photos and video. The remaining
AESObservation and AESSession are specific of the
Adult Engagement Scale. The Activity is the same
format, since the type of media does not change.
3.3 User Input
In the paper form, each activity is described textu-
ally by the observer. We tried to maintain the same
approach although allowing the user to take pictures,
make videos and record sounds from the observation
(Figure 8). The combination of photos, videos and
text allow associating the observation to the opinion
of the observer for latter assessment. It also can be
used to train new observers.
Figure 8: Activities: listing, adding and removing.
This is the view that the observer will depend the
most. During the observation session, the user will
write in the smartphone, take pictures and, eventually,
make videos of all or pieces of the session. All these
information is associated to the session that, in turn,
is under an observation, thus organizing the data in an
easy to browse, top-down approach from the more
general information to the more specific.
The top of the screen show a record button, to start
and stop recording the video, previewed in the small
window besides it. When clicking in the preview im-
age, a photo is taken and added to the list of activities.
Further to the right, there is a timer, to allow observers
to keep track of the time at the same time they are pay-
ing attention to the child or adult. We added a timer
(countdown) that can be set between 1 and 5 minutes.
It is always visible, thus allowing for better time and
observation control.
Moreover, there is also the possibility for the ob-
server to select template phrases, thus reducing the ef-
fort of typing in the smartphone screen. The user can
customize template phrases and add placeholders, to
quickly type one or two words. A template phrase has
the following structure:
The c h i l d walked t o t h e ### an d g r a bbe d t h e # # # .
The user can jump between placeholders (###)
and type, transforming the template phrase into some-
thing like:
The c h i l d walked t o t h e t a b l e and g rab b e d t h e book .
Template phrases are appended to the text area by
touching it. The text is added to the activity list after
pressing the ‘+’ sign in the tool bar (Figure 9).
Figure 9: List and usage of template phrases.
The other tabs, in the main screen, allow the user
to use different observation forms, as well as synchro-
nizing with his area on the server. The data is stored
and cyphered, so that it is protected at all times.
Observational research is a non-experimental re-
search method in which the ongoing behavior is ob-
served. This allows for a high degree of flexibility,
because the subjects are in their natural setting. Care-
ful and rigorous observation procedures can provide
valuable data to assess and improve quality in the pro-
cesses at hand. In particular, the area of preschool
education allow the professionals to improve the in-
tentionality of their actions, the learning experiences
of children and, consequently, the whole pedagogical
In this paper we described the adaptation of paper-
based forms and methodologies to electronic format.
The form fields are translated into a data model, struc-
turing an electronic observation record. We also de-
scribed a smartphone application to be constantly ac-
cessible to the professional to quickly make a note or
to register a video or even photos. This data is stored
in a tree structure and is later used to build observation
The data can also be exported to the user personal
area in a specific social network, fostering the partic-
ipation of members and the maintenance of previous
knowledge, that can be used for training and further
Belfield, C. R., Nores, M., Barnett, W. S., and Schweinhart,
L. (2006). The High/Scope Perry Preschool Program:
Cost-Benefit Analysis Using Data from the Age-40
Followup. Journal of Human Resources, 41(1):162–
Bertram, T. and Pascal, C. (2004). Effective Early Learning
({EEL):} A handbook for evaluating, assuring and
improving quality in settings for Three to Five Year
Olds. Amber Publishing, Birmingham.
Bertram, T. and Pascal, C. (2006). The baby effective
early learning programme: Improving quality in early
childhood settings for children from birth to three
years. Birmingham: Centre for Research in Early
Bertram, T. and Pascal, C. (2009). Manual {DQP} - de-
senvolvendo a qualidade em parceria. Minist
erio da
ao, Lisboa.
Laevers, F. (1994). Adult Style Observation Schedule for
Early Childhood Education ({ASOS-ECE)}. Centre
for Experiential Education, Lovaina.
Laevers, F., editor (2005). {Sics/Zicko.} Well-being and In-
volvement in Care Settings. A Process-oriented Self-
evaluation Instrument. Kind & Gezin e Research Cen-
tre for Experientel Education, Lovaina.
Lopes, R. P. and Mesquita-Pires, C. (2014). Observational
Research Social Network: Interaction and Security. In
6th International Conference on Computer Supported
Education - CSEDU 2014, Barcelona.
Mesquita, C. and Lopes, R. (2013). Preschool Observation
Supported by Smartphone Applications. In 3rd In-
ternational Conference on Wireless Communications
and Mobile Computing (MIC-WCMC 2013), page 13,
Valencia, Spain.
Mesquita-Pires, C. (2012). Children and professionals
rights to participation: a case study. European Early
Childhood Education Research Journal, 20(4):565–
Mesquita-Pires, C. and Lopes, R. (2013). Preschool Ob-
servation Supported by Smartphone Applications. In
International Conference on Innovation, Documen-
tation and Teaching Technologies: New Changes in
Technology and Innovation, Valencia, Spain.
Pascal, C., Bertram, T., and Ramsden, F. (1997). The
Effective Early Learning Research Project: Reflec-
tions Upon The Action During Phase 1. Early Years,
Schweinhart, L. J. and Weikart, D. P. (1997). The
high/scope preschool curriculum comparison study
through age 23. Early Childhood Research Quarterly,