Partnerships for Change: Transforming Research on Emergent Learning Technologies


The community of researchers served by the Center for Integrative Research in Computing and Learning Sciences (CIRCLS) designs and studies emerging technologies for teaching and learning, often in close collaboration with youth, practitioners and multidisciplinary partners. In this Community Report, we explore how such partnerships have enabled research projects to respond to educational needs, focus on capacity building, and pursue transformative visions for teaching and learning. Our intention with this report is to share examples of how members of our community have employed strategies for engaging in productive and impactful partnership research.

The innovative, interdisciplinary researchers who make up the CIRCLS community explore the potential that cutting-edge technologies have for creating exciting new learning experiences. Through solicitations such as Research on Emerging Technologies for Teaching and Learning (RETTL), the National Science Foundation (NSF) has encouraged this research community to take chances and propose bold ideas to move the field forward. Because the community is deeply committed to equity and to understanding how innovations can work in real educational contexts, many in the community have developed partnerships to achieve goals that include translating research into practice, collaborating across disciplines, and co-developing programs with diverse communities.

Researchers rarely get a chance to write about their experiences with their project partners. In developing this report, we asked our contributors to do just that. We define partnerships broadly. Partners include teachers and administrators, students, community-based organizations, tribal communities, industry representatives, and even Institutional Review Boards. In all cases reported here, the research teams structured processes that enabled them to collaborate meaningfully and equitably with partners – sometimes by co-designing, sometimes by collaborative decision-making, and sometimes by starting a project from a problem of practice defined by a partner and designing solutions around practitioner needs. By sharing these examples, we aim to enable additional research teams to engage deeply with partners as they investigate how emerging technologies can transform learning.

Community Context

At the CIRCLS’21 convening, which had the theme “Remake Broadening,” members of this research community (which includes Research on Emerging Technologies for Teaching and Learning (RETTL) awardees and others doing similar work on emerging learning technologies) described strategies for having a meaningful impact. CIRCLS staff came away from that meeting with shared core ideas about moving away from the concept of “broadening participation” to one of creating equitable, empowering partnerships. Some of the key areas of focus for creating better partnerships made by the community included:

  1. Preparing Researchers: Researchers should be prepared for research that balances considerations of use and fundamental knowledge; prepared to be good partners; prepared for multidisciplinary teamwork; prepared to set and measure equity-relevant goals; and prepared to expand who is included as a researcher.
  2. Changing the Design Focus: Future design-based research should insist on accessibility, tackle tensions between realistic and futuristic technologies, develop tools that improve the process of co-design, and leverage platforms so that designs might more readily scale.
  3. Improving Partnerships: Researchers should commit to partnerships early in their projects and seek partnerships that last longer than a three-year project cycle; they should listen in order to transform their work; they should value what communities are already doing and use co-design processes to incorporate community assets; and they should value capacity building (and capacity limits).
  4. Rethinking Broader Impacts: Researchers need to (1) develop values and norms around ethics; (2) focus on what user communities value most; (3) invest more in emerging scholars; (4) rethink dissemination to give back more to participating communities; and (5) find policy hooks for research insights.

This report builds on what we discussed about the importance of partnerships at that convening and goes beyond the convening by providing clear examples of effective partnership strategies. The cases are grouped under three themes, which follow a preliminary section that provides overall context about the CIRCLS community and their partners based on data that CIRCLS has collected over a number of years.

To continue reading the report, click on a Partnership Theme on the left side of the page.
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