Deliberate Development in Ed Tech

Temple Lovelace
Feb 22, 2020 · 6 min read
Deliberate Development is one of the cornerstones of the Emancipatory R & D framework.

Research and development (R & D) in education is one of the most durable ways for determining the instruction and intervention methods that are used in school districts across the country. Supported largely by governmental agencies and national foundations, U.S. based R & D is one of the primary forces that establishes what is taught and how teaching occurs in today’s classrooms. Research and development for America’s increasingly diverse schools has largely been done by white organizations, universities, researchers, and developers. In an early 2019 visual analysis of the Institute of Educational Sciences’ (IES) funding of 26 national research and development centers from 2004 to present, none of the primary investigators of these centers seem to be racially diverse, and of the 272 key personnel, only 15 were non-white.

In an examination of the almost $221 million that has been disbursed to these centers, only three centers, or $40.6 million mention direct impact for systemically marginalized populations or contexts.

In an examination of talent diversity at ed tech companies, a similar pattern emerges. Carli Etherington at eLearning Inside found barriers to understanding the current state of talent diversity. Through that investigation, it was found that companies were unable to share racial diversity data, would only publicly posted gender diversity data, and others simply did not respond to the request for diversity data. In order to transform the way advanced R & D is done, the equityXinnovation Lab (located at Duquesne University) created Emancipatory R & D (ERD). ERD is a liberatory process of creating educational technology that advances students, educators, and the larger community to be empowered intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically. Emancipatory R & D (ERD) includes three components: (1) an ecosystemic design process, (2) a taxonomy for deliberate development, and (3) a power index.

What is Deliberate^Development?

Due to be released in Spring 2020, Emancipatory Research & Design tackles some of the most inauthentic ways that individuals promote inclusion and equity in ed tech development. So what is Deliberate^Development? Our approach to Deliberate^Development is a pathway for teams to examine how they are approaching inclusion. Many researchers and developers have been at the point where a request for proposals (RFP) has been released for funding. As a response to increasing representation, funders are asking specific questions about equity as it relates to team composition. This is good! But it is in how teams approach representation that structural inequity is typically upheld.

At the core of the ERD framework is emancipation (we’ll tackle this word in depth in our next article). Emancipation is the process whereby individuals gain freedom. For systemically marginalized individuals, this freedom or liberation is rooted in being able to learn, create, and grow in environments that aren’t oppressive. So how does this apply to development in ed tech? Let’s walk through how development teams might tackle creating a more racially diverse team for an RFP.

We define mature development teams as those that have been working together for a long time or have been a part of exclusive communities of like-minded organizations. They may be located at a single organization or company, or they have a long-lasting partnership. Mature development teams have established a culture of working together that has been honed over time. This culture includes many things, such as established team member roles, preferred communication methods, or a shared ideology around their approach to creating educational technology.

Most often, when mature development teams see an RFP and realize there is a need improve the racial composition of their team, they begin to search for new, yet temporary team members. These recommendations may come from someone they know, an internet search for someone with an established record of research in the area that matches the RFP, or even cold “emailing”. Researchers, such as myself, often get “the email” that starts with:

“Hi ________, I got your name from ___________. We are (insert amazing company). We thought you’d be a great addition to our team. We are submitting a proposal for ___________, and we’re on a really tight timeline. It’s due in 3 days. Are you interested in joining our team?

When I get this type of email, there are two things that jump out at me. The first is, Who recommended me? I ask myself, did you get my name from an internet search or is it the result of a thoughtful recommendation from a colleague. The second is, How far are you into idea development? For many, the proposal is due in less than a week and they have already developed their idea, the research methodology, and the roles of team members.

So, why does this matter?

My roots are in special education and when we used to teach about inclusion in special education, we always talked about mainstreaming vs. partial inclusion vs. full inclusion. When teams reach out to temporarily expand their team, it can’t be a unidirectional relationship or partial inclusion. Teams can’t just throw a person’s name on a proposal or take their intellectual property and tack it on to the end of a proposal. This type of “inclusion” reinforces a colonial approach where ideas are taken from systemically marginalized people or communities and used by others for their gain — with little or no compensation, credit, or transformation for that person or their community. For many, they are an “advisor” or “consultant” without being granted status as a co-principal investigator. There is power and status in being a co-PI for researchers. Especially for those at research-based organizations and on the tenure track at universities.

How do I deliberately include?

Our model for inclusive development under Emancipatory R & D (ERD) disrupts this practice by pushing teams to be deliberate in the construction of their development teams. This means being intentional in how they include people, their ideas, their epistemologies, and their ideologies. In deliberate development we focus on the full inclusion of team members, where they are considered co-PIs and are respected and included in all matters of proposal development. In ERD, we also advocate for funders to allocate resources for new ed tech development teams to be formed in communities that don’t represent a traditional R & D approach. This means that funders and others in ed tech must reconcile what is considered “real R & D” and that rapid cycle evaluation can look different and still make an impact.

Ultimately, the eXi Lab wants to be an instigator and propose new ways of looking at what we hold in education as true. As we all work towards a goal of improving the education provided to systemically marginalized students, we must continually question our praxis — to make sure it results in equity and emancipation.

Note: The Emancipatory R & D framework was funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as a part of Big Bets in Innovation.


Disrupting structural inequity through innovation