Partnerships for Change: Conclusion


This report has explored the transformative ways in which CIRCLS community members have engaged in research with a variety of partners, including educators, administrators, youth, community-based organizations, high-tech industries, and IRBs. Their stories exemplify how to engage deeply with partners to conduct ethical research and development that results in technology-supported learning experiences that benefit the communities. All the stories focus on structuring the work to ensure that educators, community members, and students have power to decide how cutting edge technologies can help the learners they are being designed to support. Although each of the cases in this report has its own unique characteristics, taken as a whole, there are a number of lessons that can be learned from them about productive partnerships.

Establish partnerships before developing projects. Researchers should establish partnerships early in project development because these relationships will change their vision for the work. As we saw in Louw and Byrne’s piece, they wanted to focus on the issue of documentation in self-directed learning. By inviting interpretations of documentation from the perspectives of practitioners and youth, the researchers changed their vision of what meaningful documentation can be. Litts, Tehee, and Vouvalis’s piece also speaks to the need to focus on partners before conceptualizing research projects. Because IRBs often require research approval before “recruitment” begins, research needs to be designed and planned prior to partner involvement. Defining what is research and who are partners/participants in collaboration with an IRB is an innovation that others can replicate.

Allocate time and attention to establishing equitable procedures for doing partnership research. Authentic involvement of a diverse set of partners strengthens our projects, but as both the Edwards and Ruiz and Richard pieces argue, researchers have to be mindful that structuring equitable and supportive partnerships takes time and effort. Partners come from various cultural and professional backgrounds and can have a wide range of needs, interests, limitations and expectations. Edwards describes many practical considerations that guided how she structured interactions with neurodivergent co-designers during COVID restrictions to ensure everyone was comfortable and their voices were heard. Ruiz and Richard also provided advisory group partners the time to define their collective goals and share their experiences, and were proactive about structuring virtual meetings so that everyone could participate in ways that made sense for them.

Co-design the ideas for research, development and programs with partners. In authentic partnership work, there should be no need to create “buy-in” among practitioners for the outcomes of a project or innovation, because the practitioners will have suggested it. Lindgren and Planey’s piece provides a good example of this. These researchers co-created the technology-enhanced experiences with community college instructors from the early stages of development so that their knowledge of what students need drove the design. Locket’s piece describes a program that none of the partners could have designed alone. Working collaboratively, the project drew on the strengths and connections of all the partners to provide a unique opportunity to youth.

Establish the emerging technology as a place for dialog and synergy, where all partners have something valuable to contribute. When a project involves novel technologies, it is typical that some members of the team are positioned as experts on those technologies, while the rest of the team are “users” or “adopters.” In the projects described in this report, partners were more frequently positioned as equal contributors, not just to the research or activity design, but to the technology itself. It is essential for teams to recognize that teachers and students have as much to add to the design of new learning technologies as programmers or graphic designers. However, establishing this equal-footing requires more than simply stating so at the onset of a project – design spaces need to be open and accessible. In other words, when a technology design suggestion gets made, the process for implementing that change should be made visible (what resources are required, what side effects it may have, etc.).

See changing the research designs, questions, and processes based on partner input as a feature, not a bug. We engage with partners, especially practitioner and youth partners, not to get their approbation on our designs, but their honest opinions based on the experiences they have using them in real-world situations. All of our co-design case authors were honest and open about the changes that they needed to make to their designs based on practitioner input. Wu, Sharkey, and Wood describe how their computer science teacher partners made many significant contributions to the design based on their deep understanding of what students know and how a 3D coding system could help them express what otherwise they could not. Chang shares a tool that can facilitate change by enabling partners to map their assumptions, conjectures, and possible outcomes and identify where contradictions might arise.

Build capacity for valuing partnership research. This report makes clear that partnership research is challenging but also well worth the effort in creating effective designs for technology-enhanced learning. While many in our community have embraced, or at least attempted, this way of working, we need to acknowledge that this is not what many research communities or academic disciplines understand as “research.” One way to help make partnership research more accepted is to be part of the transformation. The MathFinder contributors demonstrated how they are working to transform the culture to value this kind of research. The PIs made sure to give many opportunities for emerging scholars to learn how to do this work. The new scholars have entered into it wholeheartedly and are in the process of sharing their experiences through publications and conferences.

All members of this community can be a part of this transformation. We are the reviewers of journal manuscripts, conference abstracts, and proposals. We are the academics and project directors who mentor early career researchers and make hiring and tenure decisions. We develop new projects, suggest special issues for journals, and attend and host conferences. We are the ones who communicate with, and sometimes become, members of the funding community. Most importantly, we are the ones who have relationships with practitioners, community-based organizations, cultural institutions, developers, industry representatives, and IRBs. The CIRCLS community has already started to transform research on learning technologies by forming valued partnerships and engaging in innovative, groundbreaking work. We can learn from these examples how to empower those who have not traditionally had easy access to innovative technologies to decide how such innovations can enhance their lives. The most important thing we have learned together by preparing this report is about sharing knowledge: detailed stories of research partnerships have been hard to find. We learned that partnership stories offer compelling and surprising details. To grow research communities that proceed through deep, lasting and successful partnerships, we need to make the detailed stories of partnership more readily available.

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