Season 02, Episode 09

S.02 / E.09

Jaymes Hanna Senior Program Officer of K-12 Market Dynamics, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

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Jaymes Hanna, Senior Program Officer of Market Dynamics on the K-12 Education team, supports the work on improving the design, awareness, and adoption of evidence-based programs, products and services that support teachers and increase student success. He launched and manages a portfolio to evolve K-12 markets toward better serving students who are Black, Latino, and/or experiencing poverty by: Supporting improved sustainability and scalability of evidence-based providers; enabling informed decision-making via transparent, quality market information for districts and providers; and enhancing relevance of programs/products/services via proximate and human-centered design practices.

Previously, Jaymes lead the development of scalable, sustainable programs at College Ready grantee, LEAP Innovations. Prior, he was a Manager at Monitor Deloitte Strategy Consulting--leading growth and mergers & acquisitions projects. He also worked as an engineer at Intel, developing custom chips for Smart TV's. Jaymes holds a Bachelors and Masters in Electrical Engineering from the University of Pennsylvania and also earned an MBA from Kellogg (Northwestern University) as part of its dual-degree program in design thinking & innovation.

 
If you think about trying to write educational materials and examples and problems to really engage folks, and you don't understand what things are most resonant in their lives, in their lived experiences, and in their cultures, it’s just less likely that it will really resonate and excite them.
Jaymes Hanna : Senior Program Officer of K-12 Market Dynamics / Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Resources and Social

Ten Types of Innovation

Stanford d.school EdTech Remix

James Hanna on LinkedIn

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation K-12 Education website

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on LinkedIn

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Twitter

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Facebook

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Instagram

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Youtube

Transcript

Wilma Lam,

Host:

Today, I’m excited to be connecting with Jaymes Hanna, Senior Program Officer of Market Dynamics with the K-12 Education Team at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. His work focuses on improving the design, awareness, and adoption of evidence-based programmes, products and services that support teachers and increase student success, including the use of human-centered design practices. Previously, Jaymes held roles with Leap Innovations, and was the Manager at Monitor Deloitte strategy consulting.

Jaymes, welcome to Optimistic Design.

Jaymes Hanna:

Thank you for having me. Excited to be here!

Wilma Lam,

Host:

Yeah, I’m really excited to have you join the show, and I think there’ll be some great conversation today. The edtech space is definitely continuing to evolve. I think with the pandemic and everything, there’s a big focus on innovation in the education sector overall. Maybe just to get things started, you’ve got sort of a unique background with a couple of shifts in your career: from engineering, to strategy for growth in mergers and acquisitions, and now to education. Can you share a bit about your path into education as an industry?


Jaymes Hanna:

Of course. It’s definitely been winding, but it’s sort of grounded and sort of like the first-gen experience. Since I was a child, I was so interested in technology and innovation. The push from my parents was, of course, to get a really solid professional job. So first, I went into engineering. But the thing that I cared about passionately was, how do I solve real world problems? Engineering seemed really practical, and then there’s a bunch of different ways that you can think about leveraging that skillset in technology to try to solve bigger and badder problems. Then at some point in my career, I hit the inflection point of what are the types of problems that are most meaningful to me?

Again, given the fact that my parents came to this country, in large part, for educational and economic opportunity, leaning into education just felt right. So Leap Innovations is a nonprofit in Chicago that works with Chicago public schools and those around it. They were helping integrate edtech, and making that transition to bring this interesting mix of career experiences just sort of felt right.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Yeah, definitely echo the same experience. My parents are also first-gen immigrants, so there’s a lot of discussion growing up at home about the importance of education and the opportunities it would bring. I’m also interested, when I introduced you, I talked a little bit about, not only are you working in the education space, but you’re applying human-centered design practice, which we’ve talked quite a bit about in this show so far. Can you talk more about what first got you interested in human-centered design, how did you hear about it?


Jaymes Hanna:

So there was the point at which I was transitioning from engineering to business, and I was just totally set on becoming a product manager or a product designer. When I was younger and I thought about engineering, it was like, well, I want to build really cool stuff.

“Especially the more time I spent in engineering and at this intersection of technology and business, the more you realize that just building a cool thing doesn’t actually help you solve real problems.”

So I discovered a dual degree programme, that mixed design thinking and innovation with the traditional business school experience, and it felt so relevant for me. Because I just had that sort of intuitive sense of the problem that the cool thing doesn’t necessarily help, and thinking about practices and approaches that can help you better understand how to help who in what contexts, and where does technology actually fit to do that, it just felt right. Then once I started getting into it, one step leads you to another once you’re down the path.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Are there any people or organizations or sources that really influenced how you approach design and innovation from that lens?


Jaymes Hanna:

One of the practices that was close to the program that I was part of was Doblin and the 10 Types of Innovation. Just being able to think more holistically about it is not just product innovation, it’s a product that sits in context, that sits within institutions and markets, and all these other factors. That one really resonated and helped me think about it. I’ve always loved to think about problems as holistically as my brain could possibly handle. So bringing into it all these other factors definitely resonated for me.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

So shifting gears from your background, I’d love to talk a little bit more about the K-12 Education Team in particular. Can you share the mission of the K-12 Education Team and your role there?


Jaymes Hanna:

Of course. The U.S. Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation focuses primarily on improving life outcomes, being able to have steady pay and meaningful paying work. Especially focused on students who are Black, Latino, and come from low-income backgrounds. So as we think about the K-12 strategy within that, we are really focused on that K-12 educational experience, and increasingly on math, which can be either a language and a skillset that unlocks a lot of opportunities for these students, or holds them back. So we are currently in a strategy refresh period, and we’ll be coming out with some new exciting stuff. But it’s largely going to be focused on helping these students, especially in attaining math, which can be a gatekeeper for too many people.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Yeah, thanks for sharing that. I know we’re very excited to see updates slowly coming out from your team soon. So I’ll keep an eye out for that. Then, talking more about your role, so your focus is on market dynamics. Can you talk about what that means more day-to-day?


Jaymes Hanna:

Yeah, and apologies for that. That is a little bit of inside baseball is a particular term within the Foundation that carries salience across the context in which we work. It integrates thinking about markets and marketing and economics, about how folks buy and sell products and services. Using basically the toolkit of design thinking and business and technology, and integrating that into how we think about programs, materials, interventions, services, whatever it is, that we think are beneficial to students. So in many ways, I call myself the non-programmatic program officer. Because I work with a lot of really skilled, experienced, smart folks who know what good teaching looks like, what good school environments look like? And I am thinking about how do we make sure that the types of products and services that we know support those types of environments and experiences for students and teachers, and how do we help that scale across the country?


Wilma Lam,

Host:

So it sounds like as part of your role, you’re thinking a lot about both education as practice, working with experts in the field. But there’s also this background in design, and then there’s also this focus on technology, especially when it comes to education technology. That’s a really interesting series of intersections, and the use of technology has definitely shifted in education over the last two years with the pandemic. What do you think right now is most important to consider, at the intersection of this work that you’re doing?


Jaymes Hanna:

I mean, I know I’m using this word technology a lot. It is in part because it is the background to which I come to these conversations.

“I think the most important thing is to remember that technology is just a tool. It is literally a physical device, and set of zeros and ones, and energy signals moving from here to there, that help us communicate information way more quickly. That does not necessarily make for good educational experiences.”

I’m sure all of us have heard headaches from parents or teachers or system leaders—whoever that you’re in contact with, or you’re friends with, or close to—about the headaches of trying to make this work in the pandemic times especially. Trying to keep the attention of a younger child, where so much of it is really interpersonal about the relationship with their educator, and trying to mediate that through a flat screen just isn’t quite the same.

It doesn’t mean it’s not a useful tool for educators to use to support students. But it is just a tool. So I think folks have been exposed to limitations of what tools can and can’t do, and hopefully, as part of that, you also recognize how to better think about using it as a tool and not as a replacement for anything more.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Yeah, definitely. Building on this idea of how to use it as a tool, I’m wondering, in the work that you’re thinking about today, what do you think maybe the ideal role of education technology should be?


Jaymes Hanna:

I’m going to use a cop-out design answer. It is what the educators and students say it’s going to be.

“I like to think in analogies, and so my favorite one is the kitchen. You can have the sharpest knife and the hottest fire and the best recipe from the best website, and that doesn’t necessarily make for good food.”

So in my vision, there’s some basic things that digital technology in particular can do to enable a high-quality instructional teaching and learning experience, and making what we call instructional coherence. So if you have multiple different systems and multiple different sources of content, that you have some way of understanding how they do or don’t connect. So if you’re making a decision for student X, do I want to choose this thing or do I want to choose that thing, I understand if that is really an equivalent trade-off or not.

The more easily I can make that decision—think about having to click through seven different menu things, versus dragging and dropping one thing—that makes the instructional experience way, way easier. But it really depends on having a well thought out scaffolding and structure for all that to live. There are folks with great expertise in instructional design, in good pedagogy, in what it takes to motivate students and engage students towards learning. So in addition to human-centered design, that could be well-designed from another lens, and doesn’t need to be recreated in every single context and every single school district.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Yeah, that’s a great analogy, thinking about the kitchen and the full set of tool sets that you can have in the kitchen. Like, in the ideal world, thinking about education technology being flexible in that same way could be something that would be amazing to be able to build going forward.

One of the things I want to make sure we touch upon is, education is a really complex system; there’s lots of different communities and organizations involved, which I’m sure is a big part of the work that you’re doing. In particular, the K-12 Team emphasizes the importance of supporting schools and school leaders to improve student outcomes. So in the work that you do, how do you approach the variety of stakeholders involved and the alignment that’s required across school leaders, as well as teams that are creating the products and services that you’re looking at for public education?


Jaymes Hanna:

I think there’s two things that undergird whatever specific approach that we support. As a Foundation, as a funder, I recognize it’s usually the good folks in the field who are doing the work that we’re trying to empower to execute, and we are trying to facilitate to the extent possible. But what tends to make for a good conversation, for good insight and productive struggle towards our shared goal is, one, grounding ourselves in that shared goal that everyone wants the best possible experience for their children. Experience, including high-quality teaching and learning, high-quality instruction. Experience, including feeling a sense of acceptance and belonging into the school that you enter; a sense of meaningful relationship with both the folks in the school, as well as the work that they’re asking you to do.

Then on the other side, the second thing is appreciating that everyone is bringing a valuable perspective to the table. The educators know what it’s like to try to run a complex and very local and multi-stakeholder sort of institution in a community. The in-classroom educator knows what it takes to manage the attention of 30 little people. The students know what it is that motivates them and what they’re interested in.

“One of the reasons why I tend to like design thinking and these sort of set of research methods is it helps ground and bring space for all of these different stakeholders to come to bear.”

Because you can bring a technologist to the table to say, once we have some insights about pain points, how would we iterate against trying to address this? You can bring a leader within the system to the table to say, what are the constraints that we can’t break? You can bring the different users to the table, just to better understand what their pain points really are. Because you can always build another thing, but at some point, is it making some magic for them or is it adding to headache, only they will really know that.

I know this is not a real quote of his, but there’s the old Henry Ford quote about building a faster horse. Everyone’s still bringing a unique perspective and a valued perspective to the table. It’s just making sure that you have some structure and some way to respect and integrate them all.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

I think that’s a really important point about the diversity of perspectives and the different insights that they bring to the table, so that you’re really solving not just the right thing for one group, but actually ultimately, the right thing for the whole system. So in addition to the complexity of all the stakeholders that are involved, there’s also this question of scale. The goal of the K-12 Team is to drive towards high-quality public education across the United States. So in addition to the complexity, how do you think about designing at a national scale?


Jaymes Hanna:

So we tend to have partners that cut across the field, that have all sorts of different slices and angles. I mean, essentially, regardless of who you talk to, you recognize that they are all operating against, not against, but within many, many contexts. So going into a school in a rural versus suburban versus urban area, going to a school in the Northeast versus Midwest versus South versus Southwest. Like, any different slice of the country that you take, you’re talking about very, very different contexts. I think that needs to be the design criteria and something that is mentioned whenever you start making assumptions of, like, does this go there? If I have this insight from a program or a product or a service used in one place, what of it might actually be distilled and taken to another?

“Again, when I think about the role of technology, I think that is the thing that most easily scales. Humans don’t scale. We’re everywhere, but we’re all unique; we all have our different experiences, we’re all living and attached to these different contexts in meaningful ways.”

So my ambition, especially as the market’s person, is not necessarily to try to change or modify that. But rather, to do as much as I can, that whatever we think is scaling is flexible enough to meet more people where they are, in ways that supports the shared set of values of good instructional learning and relational experience for students wherever they’re going to school. So there is a natural trade-off between the extent of change that you can imagine, again, recognizing that technology is just a tool in these contexts, even if it comes with high-quality professional learning around it and a lot of coherence. That a lot of it is still going to be the educators in the place and in their community and in the relationships that they have, and some of it is just out of my locus of control.

I have forever ambitions to try to support more and more than I’m doing currently. But if we are supporting an instructional materials partner to build something new for a new state adoption, or for a new major city, or whatever it is, that they are thinking about how these various contexts and needs and user experiences come to bear as they think about that.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

I really appreciate the focus in this answer on context, I think. Especially for education, we’re talking about so many different contexts in so many different places, with such a variety of communities that are involved. One of the things I think is really interesting, as you’re bringing up context in this role—in both scale, but also right sizing for communities—is the role of design, especially human-centered design and equity-centered design as being practices that are sort of grounded in: how do you understand context, how do you gather insight for context? So as you think about those disciplines in particular, which I know is part of your work, what do you feel is the role of design, especially human-centered design and equity-centered design, in shaping the future of education?


Jaymes Hanna:

I’m just going to harken back to the experiences and expertise that I come in with. I think of it a lot as an engineering process, where you start yourself grounded in your users, and you think about these users in their various contexts to try to better understand why the status quo just isn’t working for them. Sometimes it’s working well enough. But there’s clearly pain points in the system right now. Then, I’m the markets person, I’m not a policy person; there’s a lot of other elements of the system that might be affected.

But as I think about technology, and I think about the role of markets in particular, it’s about how do we bring things that could scale, whether it’s regionally or nationally? How can we support the folks who actually own those things rather, especially as a funder, in making sure that they are meeting as many users where they are? So if that means better understanding School X in the South versus School Y in the Midwest, there’s lots of ways to think about context in terms of: how do you define those communities, how dense are they, what are some of the historical context that shapes the attendees of the school, what is the access to resources that they have both in the school and out of the school?

There was a project that we supported where they had a fairly high-quality instructional product, but they saw that homework engagement rates were pretty low. The truth of the matter is, a proportion of the students basically did not have stable Internet access when they got home. So what they decided to do as part of their building and prototyping and testing was, what would it take to get some level of access to these digital homework items onto a cellphone, and in a way that did not take too much bandwidth, that could be reliably synced, that would work into the rest of the system? There’s all these other questions, but it’s based on the knowledge of that context. So looking more deeply across that, you just pull from the user experience, and then you just go backwards to the technology, to how does it enable and how does it address at least part of the problem?


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Yeah, that’s a really helpful example, I think, just to bring to light the way in which you can solve a problem using this kind of approach. I’m also wondering, more specifically, are there specific skills or practices that you apply, or that the team you’re with apply, that you think are especially important to consider when designing education?


Jaymes Hanna:

Again, this is a complex engineering problem. Because it’s not just about, does the thing look nice and can you click through it? There’s a lot of intention that goes into, is this designed well to support the educational experience? There’s a lot of research, there’s a lot of academics, there are a lot of very skilled practitioners that know about, what does it take to get a high-quality instruction? Not just the materials themselves. Not just the expertise of the educator or the teacher that’s working with the students. But all sorts of relational and context elements of the school. Is there a sense of psychological safety within the school, so that someone can offer an answer that is parbaked, and be responded to in a way that doesn’t shut them down, but helps them continue to think out loud and process and learn with their peers?

So there’s a specific set of expertise, especially in the education sector, that I think is really, really important to integrate into design practice.

Then on the design practice, more specifically, of course there’s base questions of empathy. But then there’s recognizing, again, how experiences can be very different from the one that you came in with? So challenging your incoming biases around when someone says this about like, I can’t access this when I get home. If you didn’t think about the context of their home being substantially different than yours. If you flew in to interview someone from a plane, you’re already coming in with a level of access to resources that might not be true elsewhere.

“Being able to challenge those biases of, like, what are the real contextual factors that I might not see, how are they communicating in ways that I might not understand? Those are super-important.”

Then the last one is, we tend to think with a lens around target universalism. I know that this comes from UC Berkeley, and it is often thought of as an advocacy approach. But I sort of interpret it to think about, if you want something to be flexible and useful across different contexts, you need to think about the “unique” users—I don’t know, it is often called extreme user research—but you think about the unique users in unique contexts, and how those pain points could be significantly different, and then how can you design to meet multiple, if at all possible. So those are a handful of the ones that we tend to think about. Then, especially with partners who go into the field and are doing the actual work, we work with them to make sure they are elevated.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

No, those are really helpful principles to think about. I was just thinking back to work that I’ve done in the education space, and I know work that we’ve partnered with you and your team to do. I think one of the things that is so interesting about equity-centered design is, by nature, what you’re talking about of going back and actually re-examining your own design process, and thinking about what is the bias that maybe we’re bringing in as practitioners; whether it’s from other projects we’ve done and assuming things are the same way, or from our own unique backgrounds. Just like taking that pause and saying, what have we assumed to be true that maybe is not true, that we want to go back and think about as we’re entering into?

Along with that, I think one of the things that you had also emphasized earlier, with diversity of experiences and bringing in different groups of people, is the importance of understanding intersectional experience and different contextual perspectives, including race and economic status, especially in education. So today, in the work that you’re doing, how do you approach understanding differential experiences across diverse student groups?


Jaymes Hanna:

So thing number one that I do is defer to the experts in the space, because there’s a lot of research being done on these differential experiences. I’ve been doing my best to try to not refer to any standardized tests, which are the systemic measures of “performance.” But we know that folks of different backgrounds basically have differential experiences and differential levels of achievement within the education system that we have, and that those who do tend to come from Black or Latin backgrounds, or those who come from low-income backgrounds, are just not achieving as much “educational attainment” as others. But these terms are also very thin, they’re very flimsy.

So thinking back to what we were talking about before with context, I am of Brazilian background. I think if you were to think about the Latino experience, or want to study how to better address the Latino experience in a school, my background and my experience wouldn’t necessarily be the one you thought of. That said, depending on who you were, you could come up with many different sorts of experiences that you could focus on. If you came from the Southeast and were already familiar with the Chicano experience, or you were in New York and Philly and thinking more of the Boricua experience, these are all valid experiences that have their own nuance and culture and histories in their communities, that affect how the students show up to school, and affect the types of stories and problem sets once you get into the instruction materials that they resonate with.

I think one that can resonate across cultures is like, if you grew up in a landlocked place, and you start getting math problems, or examples that had to do with boating, it just wouldn’t click for you.

“If you think about trying to write educational materials and examples and problems and things to really engage folks, and you didn’t understand what are the things that are most resonant in their lives, in their lived experiences, and in their cultures, it’s just less likely that it will really resonate and excite them. This goes for all folks.”

So again, I deeply believe that we have a shared want to make sure that all of the students who show up in schools, feel motivated, feel accepted, feel a sense of belonging, and feel engaged in their learning experiences. So thinking with more nuance and more detail about who is the student that I’m really trying to reach, and how are they different in this city and in this school versus another, I think, is about getting to a place of building for more flexibility. So that more students can be met where they are, and so more educators can be met where they are, regardless of background.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Yeah, that’s a really thoughtful answer, I think. Building on this theme we’ve talked about, I think in the whole conversation today, of the importance of context and the variety of different contexts that there are. The other thing that springs to mind, to me, is the context actually broader than education, but that intersects with it. So today, there’s so much conversation and context around racial justice and equity in a community and social sense, and then there’s also broader social movements that are all influencing student experience in school.

So in today’s context, how do you think about the role of equity-centered design? But also, I think maybe, how do you think the design field could do better to actually understand these conversations happening outside of education, and then address designing for equity in education?


Jaymes Hanna:

Yeah, there’s a lot of ways to answer this question. But coming from, in particular, my market’s perspective, I am thinking about what can we do for a student today most quickly? For me, a lot of that is, again, about just respecting the different perspectives that folks walk into. I have seen design-focused projects where there’s just a really broad land about like, let us question all of the assumptions that we’re walking in with. I think this can be challenging because often, what isn’t in our locus of control to change does not vibe with that.

So then we ask for a lot of time, a lot of effort, a lot of energy, and emotional buy-in and stakeholder buy-in from the different community stakeholders or national stakeholders, depending on the type of organization that we’re working with, to envision something that’s significantly different, without real consideration to what is in our locus of control to change in what timeline.

Again, I’m an engineer, so I’m always thinking like, what’s the next thing that we can do? So in some of the projects and partners that I work with, that is what I’m thinking. Like, how are we setting reasonable and respectful expectations with the folks we work with, about the locus of control and the will for change that we have? Part of my experience, in my previous lives with M&A and growth and stuff is, there’s always a change management challenge.

“There’s a reason why the status quo is the way it is. Especially when we want to disrupt it, how do we build enough coalition, and how do we build enough buy-in across stakeholders to make sure that’s happening? That is often what sets our locus of control: what is reasonable expectation for change that I have?”

So in my job, I try to be very transparent about that when I work with a partner or we’re funding design research to go out into a place. Like, if you’re going to ask the time of the students, the educators, whoever, recognize that we are building towards this type of tool that might help you within this scope, not necessarily tearing down all the walls. So there’s a negotiation here. Then, of course, circling back to them so that they see the effort of the work and insights that they helped us derive.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Those are all very salient points, I think, definitely. I think we started off the conversation today talking about the complexity of education, and I think now we’re also talking about the complexity of social movements around education as well. So thinking about the future and probably increased complexity, what is top of mind now, as you think about the future of education, design, and technology? Like, what are you optimistic about?


Jaymes Hanna:

I’m going to go back to the “just the tool.” I mean, it’s very glib. But I think it’s also an increased realization as parents have sat there and watched their children not necessarily engaged, despite being on something that’s been really well-designed. It’s glib, but it’s also hopeful to me. I think there’s a recognition for more robust design practices, to understand how these tools support good instruction and support good learning experiences? Again, we’ve talked about thinking about that across contexts, and I think that’s also become increasingly transparent. The pandemic has done a good stress test on like, why this type of problem set might work here and doesn’t work there, and why this high-bandwidth thing works in this place but not that?

So one of the places we’re investing is trying to build a community of practice to better understand how do we mobilize, how do we norm more and more robust and more equitable practices, so that we can understand all the things we’ve been talking about? So I am really excited and hopeful about that.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Well, thank you so much, Jaymes, for all the thoughtful conversation and answers today. I learned so much from the conversation, and really appreciate all the different things we got to touch upon. Thank you so much for joining us!


Jaymes Hanna:

Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure chatting with you and working with Substantial for a couple of years now.


Wilma Lam,

Host:

Awesome! Thank you to everyone out there for listening.



Right now, James is also partnering with Stanford’s d.school to build a community of practice called EdTech Remix. We’ll be sharing a link in our show notes so you can learn more about this initiative. To follow along and hear the most recent releases of our show, head to Substantial.com/OptimisticDesign.

If you enjoyed today’s episode, please also subscribe to Optimistic Design and leave a comment. Join us next time as we continue to take a future-focused look at design, ethical innovation, and technology.

I’m Wilma Lam, and I look forward to talking with you again soon.


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