Comments in response to ‘design for good’ and the Contextual Challenge

I received interesting comments from Andy Mitchell (Design & Technology Association), David Spendlove (University of Manchester) and David Ellis (Southern Cross University, New South Wales) which they are happy for me to share. All three indicated that the Contextual Challenge provided important opportunities to show the worth of design & technology as a subject suitable for ALL young people.

  • From Andy Mitchell … considerable opportunity for the subject and students being encouraged to address real and relevant challenge
  • From David Spendlove … To me this is where design is potentially at it’s best as there are opportunities for pupils to reflect upon their own design thinking. So in my mind there should be a real opportunity to speculate and question
  • From David Ellis … an excellent opportunity for students develop their empathy for authentic design problems. I also think that the engagement in projects such as these are ‘gold’ in terms of promoting what we do to the wider community.

However none of them thought that such ‘design for good’ responses were a forgone conclusion.

  • From Andy Mitchell … (I) fear that the damaging and polluting effect of what has been the expectation from AO over recent years is going to take some undoing. If schools don’t see this as an opportunity and rise to the challenge, as I have also been saying, their future is at best insecure.
  • From David Spendlove … It offers so much scope but could simply end up in contrived tokenism.
  • From David Ellis … to add to the list of authentic design problems where teachers could develop a rich narrative, concepts such as eco-designing haven’t gained enough traction here.  The infiltration of environmental education values in the Australian curricula has presently been a missed opportunity in my opinion, and teachers could do a lot more.

Andy and David (S) were clear that teachers would need help in rising to the challenge.

  • From Andy Mitchell … But as you also imply, teachers really do need the type of support and input to help them think about the changes in ways that I suspect representatives of the AOs are unlikely to provide.
  • From David Spendlove … I wonder how many schools will fully embrace this and see it as an opportunity? So whether it is designing inclusive play for a park or designing for the elderly what is influencing students decision making and thinking – is it prejudice, cognitive bias, delusion, self-deception, etc.  The book Critique in Design & Technology Education would be particularly valuable here.

And I would add that in adopting a ‘design for good’ approach to the Contextual Challenge it is important for departments to talk in some depth with their SLT and governors so that they understand the potential of the approach but also the risks if an AO is unsympathetic to the approach. Knowing that you have your SLT and governors on side strengthens resolve and enables a department to present a robust case to a sceptical AO.

As an aside both Andy and David (S) mentioned the poor state of recruitment for D&T teachers and wondered whether some of the training providers would introduce their trainees to a ‘design for good’ approach to the Contextual Challenge. I wouldn’t want to underplay the crisis in recruitment or the fragmented nature of teacher education but one thing does seem clear to me. Unless schools can ‘up their game’ with regard to the subject it does not represent an attractive proposition for new teachers. If you have an engineering degree for example you would be qualified to enter a PGCE course for science, mathematics or design & technology. Unless the practice you see in schools inspires you why would you choose to teach design & technology? Observing young people tackling real and relevant problems that they themselves have identified using a ‘design for good’ approach could well provide such inspiration.

As always comments welcome.

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Apple, Google, Microsoft or Amazon – which of these tech giants will help you live your life and spend your money? Whose AIs will you trust?

  • Google has Google Home, a hands free smart speaker which will be able to answer questions supported by advances in translation and image recognition.
  • Microsoft hopes to dominate the business space.
  • Apple has the HomePod to be launched in December and is investing in emotion detecting technology
  • Amazon has Alexa which will on request provide access to goods and services with more to come.

And according to an article in the September 2017 edition of Wired, authored by Liat Clark, Amazon is the front-runner. Whereas Google can provide information, Amazon can bring you things! Google Home is the smart friend at a party whereas Alexa is a benign butler. According to Liat Clark …

Amazon wants to introduce Alexa into every area of your life: your home, car, hospital, workplace. The ‘everything’ store is about to be everywhere. Alexa has to be human like because it is essential that people trust her, enough to let visual and audio ‘surveillance’ into their homes ad lives. Alexa can try to empathise with words alone at the moment but when she has cameras at her disposal she will be able to respond to visual clues as well as aural input. And in response Alexa is becoming more human like. Alexa can whisper, pause, take a breath, adjust its pitch and allow for key words such as ‘ahem’ and ‘yay’ to be emphasised in more engaging ways. Forging an apparently ‘emotional’ response from Alexa is the goal. An AI will need to know a person well to engage in a relationship based on emotional response. Amazon may well know more about you than your closest friends and so, of course, will Alexa and be able to use both what you say and do to forge, maintain and extend that relationship. The insightful film Robot and Frank asked the question, “Can an AI be your friend?” Amazon has the answer, “Of course, if you trust the AI as you might another human.” And that is Amazon’s overriding intention – to get us to trust Alexa as we might a human friend in the knowledge that she is not in fact another human and hence will not pry into your life or betray you as a human friend might.

Of course Jeff Bezos (and the CEOs of other tech giants) are constructing cathedrals of capitalism where they intend consumers to come to worship and offer up as sacrifice their wages in return for the goods and services recommended and provided by AIs they trust. But here there is a supreme irony. The very same AIs that are the heart of this new faith are also being deployed to automate many of the functions the worker-worshippers utilise to earn the wages they need to live out their consumerist lives. AIs may be simultaneously the engine of capitalism and its doom. What are we to make of this conundrum? Surely it is worth discussing with the young people whose lives will be most affected by this impact of technology on society and society’s response. And where better to do this than in design & technology lessons.

As always comments welcome.

Three cheers for Amanda Spielman!

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It was with a heavy heart that I read the opening paragraph of the Summer 2017 Editorial of Designing

As design and technology specialists we all know that good quality design, engineering and technology education is an essential part of any government’s economic programme. We also know that design and technology is a place in the curriculum where young people can develop the skills, attitudes and values employers are looking for, that contribute to the economy and the making of a better society and that are in increasingly short supply.

We have been banging the economic utility of the subject drum for the past 25 years and it has done us precious little good. Of course some of the young people who study d&t will go on to work in design/technology based careers to their own benefit and that of the country. But as a percentage of the cohort that will always be low, no more than, say, 10% at the most and if we see d&t as a subject for all young people whatever their career intention it is important that we offer up and subscribe to other reasons e.g. A personal argument (learning useful skills) a social argument (being able to understand and contribute to the debates surrounding the deployment of design and technology) and a cultural argument (appreciating the contribution of design & technology to our society in the past, now and in the future). There is little economic rational for the teaching of history or geography yet teachers of these subjects have little difficulty in justifying their inclusion in the curriculum and they are held in high esteem. And whilst studying science is seen as a key school subject with regard to the nation’s economic success science teachers do not rely on this argument as the justification of science for all – quite the reverse.

s216_Amanda_Spielman__1_So thank heavens for Amanda Spielman who in her speech Continue reading

Something Special for Julie Nugent

JulieN    In her latest editorial for D&T Practice Julie Nugent, D&T Association CEO, asks if schools will to tell the Association when they are doing ‘something special’. Often ‘something special’ becomes details of what students have designed and made and is presented as images of products that are clearly the result of considerable skill. There is however a great danger in pictures of products that are clearly objects of desire. The product alone does not tell the story of the process that enabled it to be envisaged in sufficient detail that it could be realised. This made me wonder about going beyond celebrating the product that is designed and made and revealing both the teaching and learning that enabled the designing and making to take place and the pupils’ thinking that used this learning to achieve sound design decisions and quality making. This reminded me of a paper I wrote (over 20 years ago now!) in which I interviewed a teacher and a pupil about what they did and thought in designing and making a textile product. You can read the paper here.

The paper probed the teaching that led to pupil learning that in turn enabled the pupil to make and justify really sound design decisions. It is this sort of information that shows the  teaching and learning needed for pupils to be able to combine the intellectual and the practical that is the hall mark of good design & technology – something special. The interviews that formed the basis of the paper I wrote did not take long – about 20 minutes each; and were conducted over the phone. So if your pupils at your school are ‘doing something special’ then it might be a good idea to carry out some teach/pupil interviews to reveal just how special this ‘something’ is and let Julie know. If time is short then I’m sure the D&T Association would be happy to organise someone to carry out the interviews over the phone.

As always comments welcome.

To teach D&T you have to teach economics and politics – really?

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New technologies do not emerge out of the blue. Increasingly their development begins with science. The work of research scientists reveals phenomena which can be exploited as the basis for new technologies. But turning this knowledge into technologies that can be used by society requires vast amounts of money. In some cases governments provide this money, often to support military developments to enhance national security. The work of DARPA in the USA is a good example here and these developments often spin off into useful developments for society in general. But in most cases the money is provided by venture capitalists who back various developments with very large sums of their own money in the hope/expectation of making even more money. Hence the development of new technologies is strongly tied to the capitalist system. In the past new technologies have generated more jobs than they eliminated. The rise of the motor car completely displaced the need for horse drawn transport and all the occupations associated with this but generated lots more employment in manufacturing, driving, garages, vehicle maintenance and infrastructure. However this may not be the case in the future.

The National Curriculum Design & Technology Working Group Interim Report (DfE&WO 1988) laid the foundations for the nature of the subject in the National Curriculum. Its influence is still very much alive today and this can be seen in the nature of the new single title D&T GCSE. The Report noted that in addition to pupils actively engaging in the processes of D&T there was an additional dimension to consider and this entails “critical reflection upon and appraisal of the social and economic results of design and technological activities beyond the school.” There can be little doubt that the increasing role of automation through robotics and artificial intelligence is having and will continue to have significant social and economic effects and this is the starting point for this blog post.

The latest report from the McKinsey Global Institute (2017) A future that works: Automation, employment and productivity indicates that while less than 5% of all occupations can be automated entirely using demonstrated technologies, about 60% of all occupations have at least 30% of constituent activities that could be automated. A key phrase here is “demonstrated technologies”. Given the rapid increase of machine intelligence demonstrated for example by the recent success of AlphaGo in beating the world Go champion and the use of IBM’s Watson in medical diagnosis combined with the increasing physical capabilities of robots such as those developed by DARPA, one might suppose that the long view adopted by McKinsey of the next 100 years might become compressed to 25 years. In a long view of 100 years we might then find ourselves in a situation in which the majority of ‘work’ has become automated. This has serious consequences for capitalism. At the moment, the captains of industry and commerce make huge sums of money by employing vast numbers of workers to create goods and services which these workers then purchase to a greater or lesser extent by spending their earnings. As industry and commerce become more automated there will be fewer and fewer workers and hence less purchasing power for the goods and services produced by industry and commerce. The drive for technological efficiency through automation will literally do capitalism out of a job. This train of thought has led economists to consider the idea of a universal basic income (UBI) paid to all citizens whether they are in work or not. Far fetched? Well perhaps not that far fetched. Several countries have considered this and Switzerland held a referendum in 2016 (BBC news 5 June 2016). The idea was rejected but 27% did vote in favour. Most recently the results of a trial in Finland (Independent 2017) has indicated mental health benefits for those in receipt of UBI. As more and more jobs are lost to automation it is not difficult to envisage a swing towards supporting a UBI. It is unlikely that this will happen very quickly but we can imagine moving towards a tipping point at which there becomes sufficient unemployed or lowly paid human workers that there are insufficient earned wages to purchase the products and services of automated industry. Bill Gates has argued for a tax on robots with the revenue from such taxation being used to ameliorate the impact on workers. It is perhaps worth asking ourselves what the role for education becomes in a world where pupils are guaranteed an income when they become adults? To quote Neil Postman we might move to a situation where school teaches, “how to make a life as opposed to make a living.”

Four_futures-183ac70241fda54162674557095cf068 Peter Frase has considered the situation in which capitalism is no longer viable in its present form in his entertaining book Four Futures: Life after capitalism which is short and accessible. It is an interesting thought experiment. He takes two sets of critical uncertainties and uses them to create four future scenarios.

 

 

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Four possible post capitalism futures as envisaged by Peter Frase

Frase calls on science fiction to embellish his scenarios, particularly the use of the replicator from Star Trek to provide the ability to replicate whatever we want from constituent atoms. This might be the ultimate destination of 3D printing. The extremes of the Abundance/Scarcity axis refer to the extent to which we have overcome the environmental challenges we currently face. The extremes of the Equality/Hierarchy axis refer to extent to which the majority or minority of society have access to available resources. A limitation of such an approach is that it necessarily limits itself to two sets of critical uncertainties. Frase does note consider other sets of critical uncertainties which might provide different scenarios. But for the purpose of this post I will accept this limitation.

In Scenario 1 (equality & abundance) we have a situation where the planet has been saved from environmental disaster, automation produces all goods and services required for living, a situation Frase calls post scarcity. All are relieved of the need to work and can carry out activities as they are inclined. Their status is not dependent on what they own or who they control. Although this society does not have the central mission of the starship Enterprise and hence the related command hierarchy it does mirror the post scarcity situation enjoyed by members of Starfleet. Frase names this scenario Communism. Clearly this is a utopian view but in a non-derogatory sense.

In Scenario 2 (abundance & hierarchy) there is a clear hierarchy between those who own the data files that allow goods and services to be produced by replicator and AI ‘assistant’ technologies and those who use/consume these goods and services. These users/consumers do not need to do the work that provides the goods and service; this is automated. Hence some redistribution of wealth to this large majority of society will be necessary, perhaps via a UBI, in order for them to access these goods and services. Frase names this scenario Rentism on the grounds that those with power ‘rent’ goods and services to the rest of society with strict conditions as to availability and use. The scarcity experienced by the majority of society is in fact an artificial scarcity created by those who own the data files. Frase asks for how long the majority will accept such a situation. Clearly this is a dystopian view.

In Scenario 3 (equality & scarcity) the world is recovering from the impact of global environmental disaster and the survivors have limited resources to build the society they want. They are committed to a society without any significant hierarchy. The replicator and AI assistant technologies are in operation but provide what might be termed rations in order that all will get a fair share of the limited resources. Without the need to work for these products and services members of society commit themselves to the task of ecological reconstruction, building a world in which there will be less scarcity in the future and in which humans and the other living creatures on the planet co-exist to mutual benefit. Clearly this view tends towards the utopian although life in this scenario is more demanding and less immediately attractive than life in scenario 1.

In Scenario 4 (hierarchy & scarcity) we have a situation in which a small elite live in luxury compared with the vast majority who live in extreme poverty, do any work required and are kept under control by robot police. This matches the situation described in the film Elysium. Taken to extreme this situation could move to the point where a revolution by the workers is put down so severely by the ruling elite that those not in the elite are exterminated. Frase names this scenario Exterminism Clearly this is another dystopian view.

Given the limitations of such scenario building techniques we have to ask shouldn’t we take all Frase’s writing with a very large pinch of salt? Possibly, but thinking about the future and what it might be like, and perhaps more importantly, what we might want it to be like, is surely a worthwhile activity for young people at school. The scenario descriptions presented above are very much an oversimplification of Frase’s more detailed descriptions and considerations. His point in building these scenarios is not that they are intended to be predictive but to be clear that any future we build will depend to a considerable extent on the way technology is deployed, how environmental issues are tackled and how power is distributed as we move towards that future. As a committed socialist and environmentalist he argues that the distribution of power should be as non-hierarchical as possible and humanity should live in harmony with the natural world with deployment of technology to both those ends. But of course this cannot and will not happen unless people are given the opportunity to debate the sort of society they want and the intellectual tools to argue for and then build that society in their future. So a critical question is, “How much of this sort of thing should we teach in school?” David Brown of pop band You and what army considers this question in his You Tube channel ‘boyinaband’ and if you haven’t seen his rap video ‘Don’t go to school’ it’s well worth a watch.  Consider this extract:

I know igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks
Yet I don’t know squat about trading stocks
Or how money works at all – where does it come from?
Who controls it? How does the thing that motivates the world function?
Not taught how to budget and disburse my earnings
I was too busy rehearsing cursive.
Didn’t learn how much it costs to raise a kid or what an affidavit is
But I spent days on what the quadratic equation is

This dissatisfaction with the school curriculum indicates perhaps that some lesson time spent considering possible futures and how to reach them might be well received. And this of course leads to the question “How much should we teach in D&T?” It’s not as if we don’t have a lot to do in developing designer – maker capability to be used in response to the contextual challenge of the new single title GCSE. Yet understanding something of the impact of technology on society is now part of this new GCSE specification. But I suspect that any written paper examination questions will not require the sort of critique outlined above. So if not formally taught then perhaps as part of an after school technology – society debating club? You mean you don’t have a technology – society debating club! Why not?

Returning to the Interim Report here is a quote which indicates that this aspect of design & technology was considered to be of particular importance.

Our terms of reference refer to pupils being able to ‘appreciate the importance of design and technology in society, historically and present day, particularly as it affects the economy’. Understanding of technological change and of the ways in which it is restructuring the workplace and influencing life styles is a crucial aspect of an education in design and technology. The consequences of technological change are profound and pervasive. Furthermore, technological revolutions are irreversible; no technological change can be uninvented after it has taken place. We need to understand design and technology, therefore, not only to solve practical problems, to invent, optimise and realise solutions, but also so that we can acquire a sense of its enormous transformatory power. … By the end of the period of compulsory education pupils should have some understanding of the value options and decisions that have empowered the technological process in the past and which are doing so today. [DfE & WO (1988) pages ⅚]

This seems to me to be a highly persuasive argument to spend at least some time in D&T lessons considering possible futures in the light of technological developments. There is no doubt that this is challenging but so interesting and so relevant to young people and their future lives; not in a narrow vocational sense but in a wider political sense.

As always comments welcome.

Post Script

For a different take on a world without work you’ll find this piece by Yuval Noah Harari both challenging and intriguing

References

BBC News 5 June 2016 available at this url: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-36454060

Department for Education and Science and Welsh Office (DfE&WO) (1988). National Curriculum Design and Technology Working Group Interim Report. London: HMSO

Frase, P. (2016) Four Futures Life after capitalism London: Verso

Independent 8 May 2017 available at this url: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/finland-universal-basic-income-trial-pilot-scheme-unemployed-stress-levels-reduced-a7724081.html

McKinsey Global Institute (2017) A future that works: Automation, employment and productivity McKinsey & Company

 

 

 

Re-Building D&T v2

Re-Building Design & Technology v2 is now available here. It has been informed by the responses we have had to the first version. We have taken many of these responses into account in rewriting the original eight sections and have introduced a completely new section Re-building – necessary but not sufficient.

Prior to publishing v2 of this document we sought the support of the D&T Association. To this end, we had a very productive meeting with Julie Nugent, the new CEO of the D&T Association and Andy Mitchell, the deputy CEO, at which they welcomed v2 of the Re-building paper and looked forward to working with stakeholders in responding to the recommendations. However we want to reiterate here what the paper says:

Our recommendations all carry implied costs, in some cases relatively modest and in others significant. These costs are beyond the current budget of the Association and it is really important that the whole D&T community works with the Association to help the realisation of these recommendations with both practical and financial support.

If you would like to discuss the provision of either practical or financial support with the D&T Association, you can contact them via their website; we suggest that you mention the Re-Building D&T document and it may be helpful to note that your message is for the attention of Julie Nugent, CEO.

In addition we look forward to receiving any comments you have on v2 and would welcome indications of how you might be using v2 of the document in your school, your initial teacher training or in the provision of CPD.

As ever, you can comment on this post or contact us directly.

Tom McLeish and the case for understanding the nature of science (and perhaps technology) through Biblical Revelation

Tom McLeishTom McLeish is a self-confessed ‘faith head’ i.e. a very committed Christian (a Reader in the Anglican Church since 1993) but also a highly successful scientist (Professor of Physics at Durham University and chair of the Royal Society’s education committee); a combination that isn’t as unusual as we might think. I was very impressed with his book Faith and Wisdom in ScienceThis book challenges much of the current ‘science and religion’ debate as operating with the wrong assumptions and in the wrong space. It is critical of the cultural separation of sciences and humanities, suggesting an approach to science, or in its more ancient form natural philosophy – the ‘love of wisdom of natural things’ – that can draw on theological and cultural roots. His writing led me to the work of Deepen Project, which taking nanotechnology as an example, explored why the general public are often suspicious of new and emerging technologies.

The Project identified five narratives underpinning this suspicion. These were:

  1. Be careful what you wish for – the narrative of Desire
  2. Being kept in the dark – the narrative of Alienation
  3. Messing with nature – the narrative of the Sacred
  4. Pandora’s box – the narrative of Evil and Hope
  5. The rich get richer – the narrative of Exploitation.

In teaching young people about the nature of technology I think it might be useful for teachers to keep these suspicions in mind and discuss them openly with their students. See this post which comments on this work.

If I have one criticism of Tom’s writing it is that I think he often conflates science with technology and we know where that gets us in the secondary school curriculum – science ruling at the expense of design & technology. Never the less I was really looking forward to his new book, co-authored with David Hutchings a physics teacher at Pocklington School, Let there be scienceIt’s a terrific read whether you are a Christian or not and I urge all D&T HoDs to get a copy for the department library. Partly because the book has some really interesting things to say about the nature of science plus its relationship the Christian faith but also because Tom (and now David) still to my mind often write about technology as well as science.

The following comments from eminent scientists, cited in the book, indicate that science and faith need not be strangers or incompatible.

Michael Faraday (1791 – 1867) responsible for discovering the principles underlying electromagnetic induction, diamagnetism and electrolysis, “I cannot doubt that a glorious discovery in natural knowledge, and the wisdom and power of God in the creation, is awaiting our age, and that we may not only hope to see it, but even be honoured to help in obtaining victory over present ignorance and future knowledge”.

James Clerk Maxwell (1831 – 1879) Responsible for formulating the classical theory of electromagnetic radiation, bringing together for the first time electricity, magnetism and light as manifestations of the same phenomenon, “I think men of science as well as other men need to learn from Christ, and I think Christians whose minds are scientific are bound to study science that their view of the glory of God may be as extensive as their being is capable”.

Max Planck (1858 –1947) originated the quantum theory, which revolutionized human understanding of atomic and subatomic processes, “Both religion and science require a belief in God. For believers, God is the beginning, and for physicists He is at the end of all considerations … to the former He is the foundation, to the latter the crown”.

And my favourite, from Werner Heisenberg (1901 – 1976) responsible for the creation of quantum mechanics, “The first gulp from the glass of natural sciences will turn you into an atheist, but at the bottom of the glass God is waiting for you”.

We know that there are scientists who are atheists; Richard Dawkins is the example that comes to everyone’s mind. But, as a friend of mine who is a committed Christian said, “The God Dawkins doesn’t believe in is the God we all stopped believing in when we were 14”. Tom and David have a very sophisticated and nuanced view of God and Biblical revelation and there is much of value in Let there be science for teachers of design & technology as well as science whether they believe in God or not, or are agnostic.

It’s too difficult to do Let there be science justice in a short blog post and I’ll be writing a more detailed commentary in the working papers section shortly. And of course one of the questions I wish to explore will be the extent to which Tom and David’s writing can be used to consider the possibility of Biblical revelation as to the nature and purpose of technology.

A final word from Albert Einstein, “The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible”.

As always comments welcome.