Building Educational Technology Partnerships through Participatory Design

Building Educational Technology Partnerships through Participatory Design

John M. Carroll (The Pennsylvania State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch068
OnDemand PDF Download:


Educational technology provides many examples of how efficient software development and deployment is not enough. Teachers work in a complex and dynamic context in which measurable objectives and underlying values collide on a daily basis. Traditionally, teachers work in isolation from their peers; individual teachers have well-established personal practices and philosophies of education. Teachers have enormous discretion with respect to what goes on in their classrooms, yet are also routinely interrogated by supervisors, by parents and other community members, and by educational bureaucracies. This has led to an abiding tension in the culture of schools: Teachers’ innovative practices are often not adequately acknowledged or valued, and at the same time, teachers often passively resist school reforms that are imposed top-down. Technology is a particularly problematic element in the culture of schools. The isolation and discretion of the teacher’s work environment requires that technology for classroom use be highly appropriate and reliable. Yet it is generally assumed that teachers are to be trained on new technologies, not asked to define what those technologies should be. From the teacher’s standpoint, classroom technology often is itself the problem, not the solution. This culture of technologydevelopment in the schools has been singularly ineffective—film and radio in the 1920s, television in the 1950s, and computer-assisted instruction in the 1980s, among others, have been notable failures (Tyack & Cuban, 1995). An alternative to merely efficient technology development is participatory design, the inclusion of users within a development team such that they actively help in setting design goals and planning prototypes. This approach was pioneered, and has been widely employed, in Europe since the 1970s, and now consists of a well-articulated and differentiated set of engineering methods in use worldwide (Carroll, 2000; Clement & Van den Besselaar, 1993; Muller, 2003; Muller, Haslwanter, & Dayton, 1997; Rosson & Carroll, 2002). In 1994, a design collaboration was formed between Virginia Tech and the public schools of Montgomery County, Virginia. The objective was to develop and investigate a high-quality communications infrastructure to support collaborative science learning. Montgomery County is located in the rural Appalachian region of southwestern Virginia. In March 2000, one of its high schools was listed among the top 100 in the US by Newsweek magazine. However, in others, physics is only offered every other year and to classes of only three to five students. The initial vision was to give students in this diverse and dispersed school district access to peers through networked collaboration. We felt it was critical for the teachers to contribute as collaborators in design analysis, implementation, deployment, testing, and refinement, and as leaders in the development of courseware and classroom activities that would exploit the software. For a classroom-technology partnership to succeed, the university researchers must eventually fade and leave the teachers to maintain and develop its achievements. In the end, the technology-development goals of this project were achieved, though this is not the topic of this paper (Isenhour, Carroll, Neale, Rosson, & Dunlap, 2000).
Chapter Preview


We analyzed our participatory engagement with the teachers as “developmental” in the sense of Piaget and Inhelder (1969) and Vygotsky (1978). We believe the teachers developed qualitatively different roles through the course of our collaboration. In some cases, these roles were suggested to them; in other cases, they defined and claimed new roles. But in all cases, these transitions exemplified the defining characteristics of developmental change: active resolution of manifest conflicts in one’s activity, taking more responsibility, and assuming a greater scope of action. Each successive stage can be seen as a relatively stable organization of knowledge, skills, and attitudes that resolves the instigating conflict.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Designers: Users who collaborate with designers as domain experts envisioning new work practices and tools are called designers . This is the third stage in the developmental theory of participatory-design relationships between users and designers.

Participatory Design: Design methods in which users (and other stakeholders) provide special expertise and play active and autonomous roles in design work.

Analysts: Users who collaborate with designers as domain experts analyzing constraints and trade-offs in existing and envisioned work practices are called analysts . This is the second stage in the developmental theory of participatory-design relationships between users and designers.

This work was previously published in Encyclopedia of Information Science and Technology: edited by M. Khosrow-Pour, pp. 307-311, copyright 2005 by Information Science Reference, formerly known as Idea Group Reference (an imprint of IGI Global).

Coaches: Users who help other users participate in design work by coaching them are called coaches . This is the fourth stage in the developmental theory of participatory-design relationships between users and designers.

Educational Technology: Technology used in formal educational contexts, such as classrooms. Recent examples are television, personal computers, and the Internet.

Practitioner-Informants: Users who collaborate with designers as domain experts providing information about work practices are called practitioner-informants . This is the initial stage in the developmental theory of participatory-design relationships between users and designers.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: