Engaging Every Student
October 12, 2023
Determining the Inclusivity of Edtech: Four Questions to Ask
Pear Deck Team
This piece written by Earl Turner III, Senior Researcher - Equity Research & Development for GoGuardian (Pear Deck's parent company), was originally published in Equity & Access in Pre K-12 Education.
There are a variety of educational technology options available on the market, many of which are extremely valuable when it comes to engagement, classroom management, grading, lesson development, and more. But with the plethora of options available, the selection process is not always easy. As a classroom teacher, technology allowed me to assign curriculum-aligned homework and instantly provide students with feedback – an essential yet overwhelming task for many educators.
When administrators and teachers purchase or implement technology in their classrooms, evaluating this technology’s commitment to equity and inclusivity is essential. Teaching and learning through and from technology should embody the same best practices taken from teaching and learning without technology. Therefore, we must ensure that our educational approach values and incorporates students' cultural backgrounds into the learning process (Gay (2010).
By understanding and integrating diverse historical, social, and cultural perspectives, education becomes more relevant and engaging for students. This approach maintains high academic expectations while embracing diverse learning styles, fostering strong teacher-student relationships, and promoting critical consciousness. By creating an inclusive and validating classroom environment, all students, regardless of their backgrounds, feel valued and can achieve academic success. However, this is certainly much easier said than done. As a researcher focusing on equity research and development, I recommend asking four telling questions to determine a product’s commitment to inclusivity in the classroom.
The first and arguably most important question that buyers need to ask is “What is the product intended to do, and why?” Intention is everything. In order to determine whether a product will effectively serve students, we need to know why it was built. Intent tells us a lot about a product, to understand its potential for learning impact, as well as to understand how it will function in a diverse classroom.
Education technology is sometimes created to attempt to diminish the role of the teacher. Any technology built to do this, should, in my opinion, be immediately dismissed from the selection process. We never want to take the teacher out of the equation. Instead, the best technology augments and supports the teacher. Teachers know their students best, and are best equipped to serve the needs of all students. As a result, equitable and inclusive learning is impossible to achieve without the teacher involved.
Products that are built with the intention of celebrating students and improving learning outcomes will produce inclusive outcomes. The rationale behind why a product is used needs to be tied to best pedagogical practices, supported by research.
When we think about the intention behind a product, we have to determine whether the product acts on this intention in a way that makes sense. The second question to ask when determining whether a product will support inclusive classrooms is how the product was researched. Products created in a silo do not work. They need to have context, such as supporting logic models, background research. To determine inclusivity and equity, buyers should combine knowledge of research with the understood intent of the technology.
We need to determine whether the product has the flexibility to address unforeseen circumstances. The efficacy of technology in an inclusive classroom cannot be viewed in isolation; it requires consideration of the broader educational ecosystem. Investigating aspects like technology resources and support can reveal disparities, emphasizing that tools effective in high-tech environments might not translate well in resource-limited settings. The understanding of integration of technology determines if tech is an educational enhancer or a mere replacement for traditional tools. Preparedness of educators and learners, as highlighted by technology knowledge, skills, and attitudes, is vital for maximizing the benefits of these tools
Furthermore, considering both the dimensions and environments provides a structured way to evaluate technology's impact. While teaching and learning offer insights into educational outcomes, understanding whether these occur in-school or out-of-school adds context. For true inclusivity, technology should integrate seamlessly across these environments. Yet, without the engagement and understanding of change agents like policymakers, the potential of such tools may remain unrealized, underscoring the importance of their role in the inclusive education landscape.
To this end, GoGuardian’s Equity Research and Development (ERD) Team (a division of Pear Deck's parent company) recognized the necessity of a grassroots understanding before diving into these complex categorizations. To get a comprehensive grasp of the real-world scenarios, the team initiated an extensive internal and external listening tour. This tour aimed to gather firsthand information on the existing inequities in schools, focusing especially on marginalized communities. The unprecedented impact of Covid-19, which accentuated the digital divide and further marginalized certain groups, became a central theme of our exploration. Engaging directly with educators, students, and parents from these communities provided the ERD team with invaluable insights, laying a solid foundation for subsequent research and framework development.
The third question we need to ask is “who created this product?” While the mission and vision of the organization behind the product is important, the actual team at that organization is even more important. The team behind a classroom product should have diverse backgrounds, various points of view, and should include teachers.
The best products are built for teachers, by teachers. Involving educators who understand the ins and outs of not only classroom technology usage but also what students need, what motivates them, and how to keep them safe in the classroom is extremely important. We pride ourselves in involving teachers at every point in the process. Not only do we have teachers on our product teams, but we also solicit constant feedback from teachers during the iteration process.
Environmental conditions like demographic and socioeconomic status have an impact on student learning day-to-day. Teachers get this, and are best equipped to understand the implications of different technologies and strategies for different groups of students.
Students do best when they can see themselves in the technology they use. They need to feel reflected in the technology, which can manifest in a variety of ways. The first is through virtual, inclusive representations. The product team behind our gamified solution Giant Steps, alongside lead researchers like myself, developed avatar options by consulting with DEI experts from the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education to ensure all students could see themselves represented. As a result, students playing Giant Steps can craft an avatar that includes a wheelchair, cast, insulin pump, hearing aids, cochlear implants, hijab, patka, and so much more, in addition to a variety of hair, ear, eye, skin, and nose options.
Other options for student representation include using inclusive language, accessible solutions that support ESL students, and celebration of student learning and outcomes.
Research shows that students’ outcomes are directly impacted by the design of the virtual classroom. In a 2011 study entitled “Classrooms matter: The design of virtual classrooms influences gender disparities in computer science classes,” researchers found that students’ success and sense of belonging were linked. When women in the experiment were faced with what was considered a “stereotypically” male environment, they were less likely to enroll, and ultimately saw less success. When you removed the stereotypes, there was a noticeable difference.
There are a ton of technology options on the market, all serving different purposes. But as it becomes an increasing percentage of how students learn and how their time is spent in the classroom, we need to be increasingly aware of the importance of choosing solutions that support all students, and reflect the diversity of classrooms. By taking the time to reflect and asking the right questions, educators will be able to identify the solutions that not only make the most sense for their students from a learning perspective, but also from the perspective of maximizing inclusivity.
1. Gay, G. (2010). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. Teachers College Press.
2. Cheryan, S., Meltzoff, A. N., & Kim, S. (2011). Classrooms matter: The design of virtual classrooms influences gender disparities in computer science classes. Computers & Education, 57(2), 1825-1835.
3. Easton-Brooks, D. (2013). Ethnic-matching in urban education. In H. R. Milner & L. Kofu(Eds.), The handbook on urban education (pp. 97–113). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.
4. Easton-Brooks, D. (2013). Ethnic-matching in urban education. In H. R. Milner & L. Kofu(Eds.), The handbook on urban education (pp. 97–113). New York, NY: Taylor & Francis.
5. Farindea, A. A., Allenb, A., & Lewisca, C. W. (2016). Retaining Black Teachers: An Examination of Black Female Teachers' Intentions to Remain in K-12 Classrooms. Equity & Excellence in Education, Volume(49), 115-147.
6. Henfield, M. (2011). Black male adolescents navigating microaggressions in a traditionally white middle school: A qualitative study. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development (39), 141-155. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-1912.2011.tb00147.x
7. Milner, H. R. (2006). The promise of Black teachers’ success with Black students.Educational Foundations,20(3–4), 89–104.
8. Noel, J. (2018). Developing multicultural educators. Waveland Press, Inc.
9. Wallace, D., PhD., Bol, L., PhD., Hall, K., & Cousins, E. (2022). Black male educators matter: Modeling and expectations in K-12 settings. Journal of African American Males in Education, 13(2), 1-19.
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