Todd Diemer is the User Research Lead at Khan Academy, the non-profit educational organization created in 2006 to provide free, world-class education for students nationally and internationally. He is a user researcher rooted in qualitative methods, which has rooted his career in mission-driven organizations, including the Peace Corps, Fitbit, and Khan Academy.

Todd's work focuses on user research efforts to help build empathy with and design for the students, teachers, district leaders, and parents who use Khan Academy.

He is passionate about education through new media, a part-time photographer, and a full-time Christmas enthusiast.In the inaugural episode of the second series of the Optimistic Design podcast, I talk to Todd about how he has taken the overarching vision of Khan Academy into account when leveraging his skills as a leader of user research. We discuss what differentiates Khan Academy as an education technology company, why Todd’s work itself is at the intersection of both education and technology, and his background in both spaces.

 
"I'm optimistic that the role of ethics within design is becoming more and more of a hot topic these days. Whether that be about data privacy, company intentions with their product lineups, or acknowledging dangers behind our work."
Todd Diemer : User Researcher / Khan Academy

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Transcript

Wilma Lam,

Host:

Hi, and welcome to Optimistic Design, a podcast where we take a practical positive look at the future of design, ethical innovation, and technology. I'm your host, Wilma Lam, Strategy Director here at Substantial.

Today, I'm excited to be chatting with Todd Diemer, who leads user research at Khan Academy, a nonprofit educational organization created to provide free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.

Todd's work focuses on user research efforts to help build empathy with and design for the students, teachers, district leaders, and parents who use Khan Academy.

Hi, Todd! Welcome to Optimistic Design.

Todd Diemer:

Hi, Wilma. Thanks for having me.

Wilma Lam,

Host:

Yeah, we're so excited to have you joining us. Maybe just to kick things off, I always want to hear what got people started in the line of work that they're in. So, could you talk a little bit about how you got into user research?


Todd Diemer:

Yeah, sure. I got into user research way back in what feels like the Stone Age of the early internet. Back then, I was in my undergraduate career at that point in time. The program I was in was really focused on what we thought of as multimedia design back then, which might have included anything from I'm authoring DVD menus to I'm working on early flash prototypes into kind of the early web era.

Part of that training was in user research. It was just one class of many. They build out a more rounded sense of skill set, given that it seemed like anything was open at that point in time, and many career paths could come from that field.

And so, I got a little bit of a taste of it in that format. And then I think the thing that really kind of piqued my interest is that I moved from the US to a little country called The Gambia in West Africa after college to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer there. I got to see a lot of students and people that I lived and worked with really struggling to use technology that was predominantly designed for Western audiences with Western mindsets about how user interfaces should be laid out and the norms that we kind of take for granted.

An example of that would just be having students work through sort of the common desktop metaphor that we all know and love or maybe hate. Well, it was really tricky because that same mindset of a desktop with all the folders, organizing tools just wasn't super common with some of the students that I work with who predominantly grew up without that kind of context in their experience.

So, I got really interested in just understanding more about people and how they use technology. That took me to a grad program to look into that. It really kind of set up a foundation for me to have a much more heavy sort of research mindset around how I go about the design and research work that I do.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Yeah. No, that's really interesting. I mean, it sounds like the Gambia was a really formative experience for you as a researcher. So, I'm curious as you kind of deepened your expertise into research, like who influenced and inspired how you approach your work today?


Todd Diemer:

Yeah, I don't want to undersell just how impactful that period was for me, I think to your point. The Peace Corps, I think, as an overall program, I think really does take a sort of what we think of as a user-centered design approach to how they try and train volunteers and get them into their communities as people who can really see change happen.

And so, I think from that I took a very ethnographic qualitative sort of history and background as to how I think and where I spike in my research skill set, as a foundation for me. I really feel like that experience in the Gambia gave me the foundation I still somewhat lean on today as far as how I try and embed and get more involved in the community to deeply understand them than sort of just have a more one-off kind of experience with folks.

I'll share that as one big influence. I think of another influence that I had kind of taking a very different take on that last story and narrative is that one of my first jobs was to—I'm starting to pause there. [Laughs] So, another big influence I had was, my first job was a consulting firm, where we focused a lot on medical equipment design and research. That was very, very task-based and very, very procedural usability type studies. And so, that also had a pretty big influence on me for when the research required it to have a pretty academic look about how to create and set up studies.

For example, we spent a lot of time trying to figure out if we're testing a medical injection device, how we can create a testing environment like literally setting up labs and our facilities to best recreate that environment so that the test file is valid as possible for the physicians or the nurses or the techs that we have come into the space.

I think they also had sort of this nice Yin and Yan kind of impact on me from my Peace Corps experience into this because it gave me both sorts of the sense from Peace Corps have a more qualitative ethnographic mindset. And then, on the consulting firm side, a very sort of structured and, I guess, detail-oriented in a different way kind of process that I learned in that experience.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Yeah. No, thanks for sharing that. I mean, I think it speaks to a lot in the research field. There are methods that you use is quantitative or qualitative. And then there's also like the approach that you take of how you observe and how you facilitate research or kind of key skill sets. So then I'm curious, could you speak a little bit more about how you take in these skills as a leader of user research at Khan Academy, and talk more about the mission of the organization, but in particular, how that relates to your role there?


Todd Diemer:

Yeah. So, as you mentioned at the start of the program, Khan Academy is focused on free, world-class education for anyone anywhere. When I think about that mission, it's really amazing and really broad at the same time. And so, how do we start to pick a part of where do we start in that mission when I hear anyone, anywhere. There are groups of people that we're going to start to try and focus on and help focus in the organization's efforts to make sure we're driving impact there.

And so, a lot of my role as a user researcher at Khan Academy is about helping the organization understand where do we start and why do we start there, and how can we have a positive impact on those communities? And so, I spend a lot of my time at the organization creating networks or creating conversation points for the company that aligns and gets a sense of if we're designing for Group X versus Group Y, what does that mean for the product implications down the road? And how might we make design decisions now that can hopefully help build towards that longer-term future?

That's where a lot of my personal joy, I think, comes from is helping us focus on and get a better sense of work and really have the most impact.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

That's really helpful just to get a lay of the land of kind of how research is seen and how it works across the organization. I'm also curious because Khan Academy actually has a lot of products within it. So, I imagine you're often working with product teams. Could you talk a little bit about the role of the researcher and the responsibility you have to contribute and collaborate with product teams when you're working with them?


Todd Diemer:

Yeah, that's a good question. So when I think about partnering with different people in the organization, I think you're right that there is a certain amount of triaging that I have to do. Khan Academy, I mean, a user research team of one. And so, when we think about groups, like product designers, marketing designers, engineers, product managers, there's a certain amount of partner I can do with any of those functions. And then there's also partnering I can do within product teams themselves.

So, for example, for us, we have teams that are working on Teacher Tools, or teams that are working on student tools, teams working on district leader tools. And so, there's a certain amount of triaging that I need to do to make sure that I'm spending the most time where it's most efficient across those teams.

And so, when I think about partnering with folks, there's this matrix in my head that I'm always keeping there, and sometimes I have to make explicit the timeliness factor of how timely is this project or this need, and how important is it within the organization? And the importance is often measured by how aligned to strategic goals and/or are any of those strategic goals more important than others when looking at the work?

And so, you know, I might have a team coming to me like a teacher team saying, "Hey, we've got these new reports coming out. I desperately need research help." And we have a learner team coming to me at the same time saying, "Oh, my God, we have this new student experience happening. I desperately need your help."

I use that importance and timeliness matrix to basically help me better make decisions about who to partner with and when at that point in time. Ideally, once that decision is made, I really do try and go in as much as a true partner to that group and kind of embed within that group as much as possible. So, being a user research team of one, I think there is a tendency to stay as sort of a consultant level and not go as deep potentially with a specific group and consult with many different groups over the course of time. And in my version of it, I'm trying to embed with the group as if I was a full team member for the duration of that project as best as I can.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Now, that's a really helpful and thoughtful answer. I think it's definitely a situation that design researchers often run into, where often the research team itself tends to be smaller than the product teams. So, how do you appropriately navigate how to spread yourself around?

And then, Khan Academy is an education technology company, which means by nature that your work itself is also at the intersection of both education and technology and your background in both spaces. So, could you also talk about what you think is most important to consider when designing for this kind of unique space?


Todd Diemer:

Yeah. So, when I think about designing for education and technology, I think the first question I asked, which probably isn't a surprise to anyone in our field, is about who the intended user is. And in my head, at least, there's a bit of a split within education technology. Not that one is right or wrong. They are just sort of two different focus areas in terms of users.

The first is around a user who is outside of a school system. And so sometimes this is someone who is an adult learner who is looking for their next job opportunity and needs new skills training in that in order to allow them to get that next job, or potentially getting the schooling that will help them get that next job.

And so, I think there's a certain set of motivations and needs around that person. And they're pretty clearly articulated as far as their goals are concerned. And so, really understanding about that person is, I think, probably super important for organizations where that's the primary focus. That's not the focus of us as much right now, which is in my second kind of user type, I think, which is students in classroom settings, whether that's a college student, or a preschool student, or a sixth-grade student, there is a dynamic between having a teacher in that classroom and potentially dozens of students, as well as all the school staff around them that creates a little bit more of a mindset around designing within that ecosystem and that system of people working together.

And so, an example of that is that when we think about changing things in our learner experience, maybe it's about some motivation mechanics and points that students can earn. All of a sudden, we can't do that in isolation from the teacher. And we can't do that in isolation of the district leader, who's also curious to know, "Within my classroom, who's ahead? Who's behind? Who do I need to help motivate a little bit more? And how can we help empower that teacher to understand those dynamics of the change point system that we're working on and help them actually use it most effectively?"

So, really getting a sense of clarity around who the user is. In my role, at least, that is one of the first things I think about within education technology. Is it a systems design question of that classroom setting, or someone learning on their own? There are unique opportunities and challenges with both of those worlds. I mean, they're both pretty exciting.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Yeah. No, that's great. Thanks for sharing that. I think it's definitely interesting to think both of like, you know, there's the individual scale of both research and product, and then there's a kind of systems-level scale. I want to revisit the individual piece in a minute, but maybe for this next question, you know, I also wanted to ask a little bit about Khan Academy being an organization that aims to support students nationally and globally like that's often a systems-level question. So, how do you think about designing for education technology at scale at that level?


Todd Diemer:

Yeah, designing a scale is definitely one of those questions I think a lot of organizations struggle with. I think we're not alone in that. My thinking here isn't something that I necessarily know if it will work for every organization. And I'm not sure if we're at a position where we're nailing it yet. So, I'm just going to share some of the things that are on our minds as we kind of think about this question.

I think the first one is that we have taken a little bit more of the approach of trying to design for local markets first and then, by the hope of learning about each of those markets, create systems that can scale. I think another approach that I've certainly seen folks take is a little bit more of the scale first mindset where if we try and build the system to be that flexible, then you create more opportunities to then plug in the new markets or the new opportunities as they come in.

What I mean by that, more specifically, is that we do have some focus markets for us. The US is certainly one of them. We have some other markets globally, as well, that we really try and make sure that we have strong partnerships there to really understand those communities and create programming that's pretty specific for them, and make sure that we're adapting Khan Academy as best as possible for them.

More broadly than that, where we don't have teams, we do have what we think of as ambassadors essentially, who are out there in their community, helping translate content and really being someone who is a shepherd for that content in their locale as best as possible. And giving them the tools required to actually make that be something that they can localize for their local community as best as they can. But I think those groups are ones that we haven't spent as much time on as those priority markets that we have. We're really trying to spend a lot more energy right now, at least, to make sure that we can get them up to a state where we feel really good about Khan Academy in those markets.

So, we are thinking a little bit more about sort of that tip of the spear localized approach first, and then from that, having all the learnings that will hopefully allow us to build more and more of those kinds of locations and regions, where we have really strong support and really strong usage in those communities.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Yeah. No, that makes sense. Thinking of this idea of scale. So, Khan Academy and your work has been focused on supporting education for anyone anywhere. I think that's core to Khan Academy's mission. But to this goal, I'm curious how that actually impacts more of the day-to-day and you and your team's approach to research.


Todd Diemer:

As I mentioned earlier, the idea of free, world-class education for anyone anywhere is really ambitious. There's a lot of amazing things that we could do with that. And so, as I started to think about scaling down from there and getting more specific, one of the areas that we have aligned on most recently is this idea of focusing on what we call "historically under-resourced communities." That has been a really big focus of my work over the past few years. It's been working that we've partnered with you, Wilma, and others on that better understand.

"What we mean by historically under-resourced communities for us are school populations or communities that are either low income or index more on low-income, index higher on a black student population, or index higher on a Hispanic and Latino student population. And any of those factors can be ones that we would look to the say, this is a group that we want better understand and see how we can better serve them."

So, for example, within a low-income community, understanding things like the digital divide and how much access to technology is reliable might really change our thinking about not just the research, but the design themselves, are really top of mind for us.

So, a few examples of that when it comes to research. Some of these students don't have access to high-speed internet at home. In a world where we have COVID-19 happening, we can't go visit these people in their homes. And so, we're relying on things like video chats to be able to do research with them. Knowing that they don't have access to those high-speed internet tools at home definitely moves our very logistical focus things like research schedules to be more centered around the school day and making sure that we have the team awake and ready to go if that's at 9 am Eastern Time, that's 6 am for some of our team members in the Pacific Time Zone. And so, just thinking about things like that, how we can make sure that we can get students where they actually have access to tools, has definitely impacted some of the things how we're thinking about research specifically.

And then, more on the product side, if I think about that same student group who maybe doesn't have access to technology super regularly and can't afford to have high-speed internet regularly accessible to them, things like "where does homework happen" starts to become more important. When you suddenly can't finish that assignment at home because the Chromebook isn't there, or the internet access isn't there, we start to think a lot more about making sure that the safe space and your experience on Khan Academy during class time, be able to come back, pick it up, have some of that continuity there, and really help the student feel like they kind of have a partner always there waiting by their side.

Those are all areas that I think we're constantly working on. It's not to say that we've necessarily done the A+ like we've nailed that kind of thing. But things that have definitely been on our mind as we've been thinking about focusing on a specific user type, but understanding their needs and changing both how we work and how the product works for them.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

You're speaking here really specifically about how to focus on understanding the experience of not only students but also their families, especially given how much learning is now happening at home.

You touched upon how much the last year and a half has really profoundly changed the approaches to research that you and your team can take. You mentioned some of the challenges as far as like internet access. Were there other challenges that you navigated around doing research over the last few years of the pandemic?


Todd Diemer:

I think a few things that stand out to me when it comes to research during the pandemic is we went from a world where we had a lot more ability to go into our classrooms and see that system that I was mentioning earlier at play.

"So, when we have the opportunity to walk in and see a student and a teacher interacting and the high fives they're getting or that student who's working with another student and they're having aha moments, there's just a much higher fidelity that we're going to get from that experience."

That has been something that has been very difficult for very understandable reasons to recreate during the pandemic. And so, we've really tried to think more about things like, how can we get at least a taste of that during this period that we've been living under.

One of the tactical things that we've been working more on is to build relationships with specific teachers who would potentially act as partial focus group facilitators with us to bring in some of their students and have them set up a time with us in that focus group setting to chat as a whole set of folks to kind of get a better sense of how the teachers relationship with student impacts the students experience in the classroom, and vice versa.

Some of that thinking is also because we want to be really mindful of the student safety. Wilma, some of the work that we did with you, you all did an amazing job helping set up some of the space so that the student felt really safe in that. I know that it took a lot of work on your part to make sure that the parent was informed of everything that was going to be happening. In some cases, other caretakers were aware of what was going on.

In our world, we try and recreate that as much as possible as well. And that is one of the reasons why we've gone to this sort of focus group model where we've heard from a lot of teachers that students have just felt much more comfortable with us when we've had sort of the known face of the teacher there to also support and kind of at least make the initial introduction happen, and make that feel like a safe space for them as well. So, trying to kind of embed within that ecosystem of the teacher and student in a more online focus group world has been something that we've been we've been trying to focus more on as of late.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

No, that's a really thoughtful way of also considering the student experience. I think across the board, as we've been doing research and design projects over the last two years, it has been a lot of pivoting to understand are there new techniques that we can develop that are appropriate for the environment that we're operating today?

And as you mentioned, we've done some work together. And as part of that work were trying to use more equity-centered design practices, which has become like an increasing part of Substantial work. I know as well as something that you've been considering. So, I'm curious. From your perspective, what does doing equity-centered design research mean to you?


Todd Diemer:

I've loved the work that we've done together. It's helped me start to learn and grow in this area quite a bit more. When I think about equity-centered design, it is something that I'm very new to. I'm still curious about it. I'm still hoping to grow a lot more.

What I have learned about, and what I think is standing out to me a lot more than ever is I thought that honestly, it feels like it should be the mindset across all research. And yet, at the same time, it becomes all the more important as a focus when we think about equity-centered research and others to make it feel really not extractive of a process with the people that we're working with. I think especially in communities where there has been a history of people coming in and basically trying to do their best to do good, but perhaps not fully engaging in a way that made them feel like they're partners in that process. And feeling like they have a true say in what comes from the research or comes from the insights that a group might find from sort of clock in and clock out kind of mindset.

I think you all have helped show us some of the ways that we can be a little bit more bi-directional in that experience so that all parties have a good experience. Some of the things that come to mind for me is just creating moments of levity for folks in the experience, and whether that's allowing the students to kind of express themselves through ways that are familiar to them like memes, that's something that we picked up from you that I thought was really great. Or having just a little bit of space for the folks to take a breather and know that we're not here under the clock essentially. This is a moment for us just to make space for what you're experiencing right now. And this doesn't have to be something that's yeah like this is an appointment almost are things that start to come to mind for me as far as mini tactics along the way.

"I think it all bubbles back up to that sense of thematically making sure it doesn't feel so extractive of the process of we are taking information out, but rather we are really here to partner with you and understand what it is to be in this community and what needs you have that we can hopefully help in some way, shape, or form to solve for."


Wilma Lam,

Host:

And so, we've talked a little bit about how the approach to user research for you in your work has evolved. I'm also curious. As you look at maybe how the broader research field, especially like design research field, is evolving, do you have any thoughts on what direction it's taking or what direction it should take?


Todd Diemer:

I think when I think about where user research is evolving, a few things come to mind for me. One is that generally, the sense of where user research can have the most impact within organizations seems to be something that's really moving these days. And what I mean by that is that, when I think about my design colleagues, they talked about 20 years ago, design not really having a seat at the table and what it's meant to bring design closer into having that seat at the table where strategic decisions within the organization are starting to become more and more design informed, or at least design is someone who helps make that conversation happen.

And so, I think research is going through a similar internal conversation point about where do we think we can play and where do we think we have the most impact within organizations? And how do we tactically get there? Within my context, in my world, I mostly worked at smaller companies. So, companies in the range of 100 to 500 people or so. I think within that context, at least, there's a question that I've had around alliances, essentially or research-minded people who might also benefit from us having more of that sort of research insights collective or research insights group.

That might include groups like data analytics. That might include groups like customer support. That might include groups like what we think of as traditional account managers on a marketing or sales team or with the customer regularly and getting input from them. And where there might be opportunities for those groups to come together. And as a research collective, essentially, or insights collective, have a seat at the table.

There's some of that going on. I think that's an interesting thought or an observation I've had as many more researchers, at least at smaller companies, where many of my peers are having a conversation around, do we think we have a seat at the table? What would it look like to get there? And how can we best position ourselves to really not just for the sake of the function having a seat at the table, but to actually make better, more informed decisions for the organization to hopefully actually drive really meaningful impact for the end-users wherever that organization is. That's one area that comes to mind for me that things are evolving.

I would say another one that's top of mind for me right now as well is that the number of tools to do automated testing has really exploded in the past five years or so. There are so many really neat, nice tools out there right now that are coming out that I think are kind of competing with one another for who's going to have primal dominance almost that allow researchers to better democratize some of the research tasks that can be more automated, or can be supported by tools like that. So, whether that's things like helping do synthesis faster or doing unmoderated testing, things like that are really starting to pop up more and more and more. I think one thing I'm seeing is tools that may be used to be more one-off like a transcription service, really combining forces with something like a remote testing tool so that you can have both of those in one and really get that benefit of all those tools kind of moving together as a cohesive package.

I'm excited to see that evolve as well. I think it really does help make, at least for those of us who are in smaller research teams, have more power and more tools to be able to move more quickly.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Well, and then thinking about how the field is evolving. I'm also wondering. You mentioned that you had learned about user research when you were in your undergraduate program. So, as we think about also students coming through today, and like new user researchers, do you think the skill sets that are most important have changed?


Todd Diemer:

"I think the skill sets have both stayed the same and somewhat evolved. I know that's maybe a cop-out answer. But I think where they stayed the same is that there's still a baseline expectation of awareness of methods and competency and executing on those methods that feel like a baseline that I would want anyone in school right now or anyone who's transitioning into the field to have that skill set built up and have that feel like that's a core that they can really lean on and rely on no matter what."

So that's sort of a baseline. That's where it stayed the same. I think where it has started to evolve a bit is related to my last answer around wondering where research can play in terms of strategic decision-making. I think the ability to operate and advocate for that where it makes sense and really see where research can be an informed partner in that process of strategic decisions for an organization is something that I think is emerging now as we start to have that discussion within the field and figure out where we want to have the most impact.

That's something that I don't think, at least back in my day, wasn't something that we necessarily had training in or thought about. That's something that I think you can actually get a lot of really great insight and support from peers and other functions. And folks who are kind of doing that work right now within their own discipline domain, whether that's product management, or design or engineering, and really get a sense of how they've made that impact over the years and how we might be able to best pull from some of those best practices or learnings about how they're trying to make a case for a design first, for example, thinking when it comes to strategy.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

And as I think about best practices, I'm also curious, like you shared a lot today about your approach and how you've learned, what was the best research advice that anyone gave you?


Todd Diemer:

I think this is something that happened quite a while ago. It was pretty early in my career. And it was back when we were focused on a more task-based sort of usability format. So, this is in that context. I don't think this necessarily applies to every scenario, but it just stuck with me because it was just so kind of in my face at that point in time.

Somebody came up to me. We're going through many, many sessions in the day, and they said, "Hey, you've got a very personable, friendly personality type. But just keep in mind, if that ever gets in the way of getting the information that we're trying to get, you need to remember that our first task here is to actually understand the research questions that we have at play. And so make use of that friendly personality, but you need to constantly be trying to drive towards the answers that we're trying to get within this session." And in that context of a very sort of task-based process, it made a lot of sense and was very, very directive and so easier to implement after that. It certainly doesn't apply as much when we're talking about equity-centered design that's trying to make space for folks to kind of breath and not feel so under the gun, essentially. But it was something that struck me at that point in my career for its clarity and awareness of my personality type and how I can try and adapt that into a more task-based kind of usability setting.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Yeah, thanks for sharing that. I mean, I think it speaks a little bit to our conversation earlier about the context in which you're doing research, right. It's like whether it's qualitative or quantitative has a big difference in your approach as a researcher.

I'm also curious, kind of building off of that advice that you were given. What advice would you give to other researchers that are kind of interested in working at the intersection of Education Design and Technology?


Todd Diemer:

I think it's really important for anyone who's interested in Education Design and Technology and research to get to know teachers and students in classrooms today.

That's definitely with my bias as a researcher working in a company that is more focused on classrooms right now. Like I said, there is a whole other group of folks who are focused on students outside that classroom setting. But there's just so much going on. And so many challenges and stressors within the classroom settings right now that I think those of us who maybe aren't in a classroom setting anymore, it's easy to not really know about if you're not really getting a sense of that day to day life.

And so, an example of that is even just things like how we think about grading when students now have gone through multiple years, essentially, of not having the standard school experience and maybe are experiencing a lot more of what we think of as learning loss. How that impacts your sense of, should I be assessing the student under the same expectations that I might have a student five years ago, starts to become these really heavy topics for folks within the field that are hotly debated and challenging, and there's not necessarily a true right or wrong answer there. But they're extra weight that someone wouldn't have been carrying five years ago.

I think just better understanding that condition now and just how difficult it is to be an educator or student in this world, I think is something that’s sitting on the outside of can often not give enough appreciation of. And so, really spending the time to just understand the education space today and get involved, whether that's volunteering as a tutor after school programs or if you're a parent getting involved in the local PTO or things like that. All those stand out to me as areas where we're trying to just get higher awareness, I think. It will help you once you actually get in the field to be more conversant with both the students and the teachers and district leaders that you might be working with.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

That's really helpful. I mean, I think throughout the conversation today, we've talked a lot about how the field itself is evolving, the kind of skill sets that are needed are evolving. I think research is also increasingly more specialized, I think than it used to be for researchers in the past. So, kind of with all that in mind as kind of a closing question, what is top of mind for you as you think about the future of Education Design and Technology? What are you optimistic about?


Todd Diemer:

When I think about the future of Education Design and Technology, a few things come to mind for me. I think building on the last thought, there is a lot of attention on the field right now. I think COVID has certainly created an environment where a lot of companies have been relied upon in ways that they haven't necessarily before.

Certainly, during the remote learning era, that was really a spike. I think if you talk to anyone in an education technology company right now, they'll talk about their numbers going through the roof and really having to figure out a new mindset around their role within the classroom environments or out of classroom environments in which they operate. And so, there's a big spotlight on the field right now, I think in a way that makes us need to do our best at this point in time, not that we weren't before. But I think it's even more important for us, given all the energy and resources going into Education Design Technology at this point in time.

So, that's something that stands out to me that I'm really optimistic about is that with that spotlight comes increased rigor, comes an increased opportunity to just really drive impact and change. So, that stands out to me.

Then, also say that I'm also really encouraged by students right now and how they're using technology to get their voice out and coordinate among them. I think a lot of people have seen incredible moments where kids have used things like TikTok to advocate for something and take sort of a little viral moment from one student and suddenly change the future of organizations in some cases. And the way that students are really thinking about being changemakers right now, I think, is awesome to see. I really encourage that kids are so active in their communities and in the broader world as well. So, using technology in a way that kind of help shape their young experiences, both students and people in the world, has been really, really amazing.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Thank you for that incredibly thoughtful answer. And just thank you generally for the time and the conversation. It's been really great to catch up with you, Todd.


Todd Diemer:

Yeah. Thank you, Wilma. Thanks for having me on.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

And thank you to all our listeners for tuning in. To follow along and hear the most recent releases, head to Substantial.com/OptimisticDesign. If you enjoyed today's episode, please subscribe to Optimistic Design and leave a comment.

Join us next time as we continue to take a future focus look at the design, ethical innovation, and technology. I'm Wilma Lam, and I look forward to talking with you again soon.


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