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Diverse stakeholders on educational technology development teams: supporting software developers and children

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Many approaches have been employed in the creation of educational technologies. One of the lesser explored approaches is that of participatory design when it includes children as direct contributors. In such cases, specific strategies for supporting the effective participation of software developers and children are necessary. This article discusses a participatory design project that was initiated to support the learning of music students, aged 11 through 17, as they practiced the piano. To design this educational technology, these students worked with a team of piano teachers, their parents, researchers, and software developers over a two-year period. This paper describes challenges that arose as the developers and students worked together to create a new application that supported student learning. The findings include practical strategies that were adopted throughout the design process for building trust, balancing power, and aligning values. Implementation of these strategies is discussed as a way to provide effective support for software developers to empower them to work successfully as part of a participatory design team that includes children. The implemented strategies and suggestions should help others to integrate children and developers as active contributors to the design of educational technologies.

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Correspondence to Heather J. S. Birch.

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Conflict of interest

The members of the research team (authors), and/or their partners or immediate family members did not receive any personal benefits from engaging in this research study or seeking to publish this writing.

Ethical approval

TCPS 2 (2018). The study protocol was reviewed by the Research Ethics Board of the authors’ university on July 2017, with an approved amendment in July 2018, and an accepted study completion report in January 2019.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all the participants in the research study: piano teachers, software developers, and student participants ages 11 through 17 (along with their parents) signed a written consent form to indicate understanding and agreement to participate.

Research involving human participants and/or animals

This research study was conducted in compliance with standards of research involving humans as subjects, according to the Government of Canada Tri-Council Policy Statement.

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Appendix A

figure a

Appendix B: Inviting software developers into conversations about power

Prompts for sparking discussion

  1. 1.

    What barriers might children have to participating fully on this team and ending up with a mobile app they want to use? What is one way you can minimize or remove that barrier?

  2. 2.

    What is an advantage you have as a developer that no one else on this PD team has? What is one way you could share the benefits of this uncommon advantage with someone else on the team?

  3. 3.

    What is one difference you notice between the ideas that tend to be expressed by your software developer peers and the children? Why might this be? Is there any common ground? Can we build consensus, or do we need a compromise?

  4. 4.

    What is something a child might be better at than adult, or vice versa? What can adults learn by watching children and vice versa?

  5. 5.

    When you were a child, what is one thing you were good at?

  6. 6.

    There is more than one way to communicate an idea. If someone draws an idea, or makes a sculpture of an idea, what are the advantages over writing an idea out using words?

  7. 7.

    What might make a child on this team feel nervous? How can you help reassure them?

Suggested activities

The Flower Power reflection (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, 2016), as well as the Brave Spaces Toolkit (The Mosaic Institute, 2020), are recommended resources for helping software developers understand their inherent power and privilege on a design team, and to equip them with knowledge of the importance of inviting and including marginalized voices in educational technology development, i.e., the voices of young children, as well as specific strategies for doing so.

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Birch, H.J.S., Demmans Epp, C. Diverse stakeholders on educational technology development teams: supporting software developers and children. Education Tech Research Dev 71, 2021–2046 (2023).

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