April 11, 2023

Building Equity into Edtech Product Design — Starting Now

Dionna Smith
Dionna Smith headshot

In education technology, it's essential to understand that diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is not merely a "nice to have.” When considering K-12 public schools in the US, 54% of students identify as a minority. Moreover, 15% of students receive special education services, 10.4% identify English as their second language, and 53% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch. When we look at those statistics and think about the population of students, why do we think we can build things that are one-size-fits-all? It’s clear that’s not an option. 

I have a saying I always tell my team: “If we build for the most marginalized of us all, we're going to catch all the rest of us in between.” So if we think about those at the margins and build to ensure their needs are addressed, those in between will likely also be served.

However, the tech industry (and edtech in particular) has gaps in representation, which means diversity and inclusion initiatives are necessary. Companies must start building for everyone now, even as they work to improve diversity and inclusion over the long term. 

Here are a few ways we’re addressing that at GoGuardian:

Co-creation with internal groups

Co-creation is tapping into others who can identify with different backgrounds and including them in your process. At GoGuardian, there are two parts of product development where this is key — the first is ideation. We want everyone in the room to focus on who we’re building products for and how we can make their experience better.

One way we engage in co-creation is through our internal communities from our company of 700 employees. Many employees at GoGuardian are former teachers from all different walks of life and all different backgrounds. As we're designing — not after we’ve created something — we may ask, “This sounds like a good idea for the four of us in this room, but what do you think as a former teacher?” or “As someone who identifies as neurodivergent — when you look at this, what do you see?” 

Co-creation with partners with specific expertise

We are also fortunate to partner with a number of nonprofits, schools, and universities that have expertise and representation in areas we may not. In developing student avatar options for our new practice experience Giant Steps, our team consulted with DEI experts from the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education to ensure all students could see themselves represented.

As a result, learners playing Giant Steps can craft an avatar that includes a wheelchair, cast, insulin pump, hearing aids, cochlear implants, hijab, patka, and so much more. When I was visiting one of our early-adopter classrooms, a student excitedly approached me because he had dreadlocks and it was a choice for his avatar. He said, “I've never seen that in any game, choosing hair that actually looks like mine!”

Inclusive testing

The second place in product design where we often need more representation is testing. Frequently, the most resourced schools volunteer to give feedback because they have more time or are encouraged by their administration to participate. It’s critical that we find ways to invite all schools, including those with fewer resources to engage and share their points of view.  To do so, we need to adjust our testing models to invite schools into the conversation in ways that work for them.  
When building Giant Steps, we created an Innovation Incubator for feedback and testing that included 80 teachers, 5,600 students, and 55 districts across 22 states, with a focus on Title I schools. These were schools, teachers, and students willing to try out Giant Steps in their classrooms to provide feedback as we were creating it. We were intentional about making sure we had different voices in the room and the result of their input can be seen in every facet of the product design. 

Product development

One of the reasons I joined GoGuardian was the opportunity to guide our product development in partnership with other leaders across the organization. We now have an equity research and development team that spends its time ensuring we hear the voices of students, teachers, and caregivers from all different walks of life as we build products. Having an internal research and development team solely focused on equity is a dream come true for me and many others.

Going into conversations for projects and programs and leading with equity gives us the opportunity to ask critical questions from the outset: Can we measure an improvement in outcomes? And at a more rapid pace than usual? How do we scale that and make it available for students across the U.S.?

The future of edtech must focus on equity

DEI is crucial to the future of edtech if we’re truly serving students. By considering DEI in product development, edtech companies can ensure their products cater to everyone, including marginalized groups — which ultimately benefits everyone.

If you’d like to learn more about GoGuardian’s commitment to DEI initiatives, be sure to read this interview with Dionna.