Co-design of Educational Technologies: Navigating Critical Tensions towards Hopeful Futures

This is an expertise exchange in the CIRCLS’23 Expertise Exchange session

Session Leaders: Breanne K. Litts, Utah State University; Michael Alan Chang, UC Berkeley, NSF Institute for Student-AI Teaming (iSAT); Yolanda A. Rankin, Florida State University

In the design of educational technologies, researchers increasingly prioritize stakeholder and community partnerships in the design process. Co-design and community-based approaches vary widely across projects and contexts, but the agency of co-design participants is often a guiding principle in participatory and community based research. Within this framing, technological tools are envisioned to transform the lives of the participants and their communities in ways that they find significant. Embracing this commitment of participant agency, however, also introduces a number of tensions in co-design contexts where technological innovation is emphasized. First, interdisciplinary design teams are often formed before co-design processes involving community members emerge. As such, the agency of participants may not be well-aligned with an organization’s existing commitments, structures, or varying degrees of expertise. Second, when it comes to designing educational technologies, dominant practices, norms, and design sensibilities in computer science may run contrary to those held by the members of the community. These tensions – specific to educational technology contexts – are overlaid on top of the existing relational, historical, and ethical challenges that exist in partnering with historically minoritized groups, and more importantly, centering their agency.

In this session, we, as both facilitators and attendees of the session, make an effort to embrace these tensions that we expect many others in the CIRCLS community have encountered. We present three case studies that each highlight a different tension in co-design, and offer up how we, as researchers working in partnership with communities, are actively navigating and understanding those tensions. Rather than being prescriptive, we intend for this session to serve as a springboard for attendees to surface other tensions that emerge in their own co-design work, and for us to collectively document and generate new ways forward for the CIRCLS researcher community. Most importantly, we seek to invoke a sense of agency for communities and their constituents who express real concerns and possess ingenuity and hope in the context of co-designing technology.