Robots but not as we know them

IMG_1804Every now and then New Scientist publishes a piece that almost unintentionally raises profound issues about technological possibilities. This was the case with an article published in the 12 May 2018 issue; the title – Bionic beetles take to the skies. It describes the work of Hirotaka Sato from Nanyang Technology University. He and his research team took male Mecynorhina torqata beetles and implanted electrodes into their flight muscles and used electrical pulses to steer the direction and speed of their flight. The upshot is that this research shows that truly bio-hybrid robots the size of insects are a real possibility. These ‘bionic beetles’ have the potential to act as the first arm of search and rescue in ways far superior to current drone technology. Bio-hybrid robotics is likely to be developed initially across a wide range of insects. And here’s the question: Why should it stop at insects? It’s easy to see that other more intelligent animals, dogs and dolphins, for instance might easily become part of the development trajectory of bio-hybrid robotics. And of course someone somewhere will think about and investigate the possibility of human-hybrid robotics. Initially this is likely to be in the search of the development of alternatives to and improvements of prosthetic limbs for those who have suffered accidents.

But will it stop there? Such technology will almost certainly be developed to enable enhancement and in the future, for those who can afford it, integration of such technology into their bodies to provide improved physical performance will be possible. They will have become trans-humans. Throw in the idea that governments might use this technology to enhance military performance and we appear in dystopian science fiction territory but it might not be science fiction but technology fact. The trajectory of any technology is inevitably uncertain but as we move along any trajectory it seems essential to ask with regard to what we might be able to do “We can, but should we?” For those who teach design & technology this surely must be a key message in our teaching.

As always comments welcome.

240px-Cyberman_2013PS Have been unable to resist the connection between this article and Dr Who episodes from my childhood, my children’s childhood and their children’s childhood – Cybermen!

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What does technology want?

For those of us who teach design & technology a question must be what should we teach our students about the nature of technology and get them to consider the extent to which us humans can influence the technologies that are developed and what they might be used for? Kevin Kelly has an interesting viewpoint on this. Currently he is Senior Maverick for Wired and is well known for his provocative and unconventional views on the nature of technology. More details of his extraordinary life and work can be found here.

PortraitHe views technology as a conglomeration of individual technologies linked together into an overall system which he calls the ‘technium’ that has the properties we associate with a complex living being and as such has needs and wants which it tries to meet. He explores this idea in depth is his book What technology wants. He identifies three interacting influences that govern the technium:

 

  • The primary driver is pre-ordained development – what technology wants.
  • The second driver is the influence of technological history, the gravity of the past, as in the way the size of a horse’s yoke determines the size of a space rocket.
  • The third force is society’s collective free will in shaping the technium, or our choices.

Buzz AldrinKelly sees the first driver as the most significant with the second as an inevitable influence on the first driver and the third driver, how humans respond in the way they contribute to the development of technology and their reactions to it, as the smallest influence on how technology plays out in the world. This seems to explain why Buzz Aldrin was able to admonish the US government with his famous quote, “You promised me Mars colonies and I got Facebook!”

So where will technology take us if it has its way? My cousin Geoff sent me this list of possibilities with regard to the way the technium will behave with regard to automobiles:

  • Auto repair shops will disappear. A gasoline engine has 20,000 individual parts. An electrical engine has 20. Electric cars are sold with lifetime guarantees and are only repaired by dealers. It takes only 10 minutes to remove and replace an electric engine. Faulty electric engines are not repaired in the dealership but are sent to a regional repair shop that repairs them with robots. Essentially, if your electric “Check Motor” light comes on, you simply drive up to what looks like a car wash. Your car is towed through while you have a cup of coffee and out comes your car with a new engine.
  • Gas stations will go away. Parking meters will be replaced by meters that dispense electricity. All companies will install electrical recharging stations.
  • The first self-driving cars will appear for the public in 2018 (that’s now). Around 2020, the complete industry  will start to be disrupted. People won’t want to own a car any more. A person will call a car with his/her phone, it will show up at their location and drive them to their destination. They will not need to park it, only pay for the driven distance and can be productive while driving. The very young children of today will never get a driver’s license and will never own a car. A baby of today will only see personal cars in museums.

Are these predictions realistic? And if so what is driving them? Is it what we want or technology wants?

Finally I think we should note a quote from the late, great Douglas Adams about our reaction to technologies from the book The Salmon of Doubt

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.

Our students will be in the number 2 stage but we might want to give them pause for thought in the light of Buzz Aldrin’s disappointment in technology and the possibility that little is actually within our control.

As always comments welcome.

Contextual Challenges survey; the responses

A couple of weeks ago David invited English teachers of D&T GCSE to contribute to a short survey asking if and how they have they have changed their curriculum at KS3 and 4 to reflect the demands of the new GCSE and, in particular, its non-examined element, the Contextual Challenge.

Frankly, given how busy teachers are, we weren’t at all sure whether even a very short survey would get much of a response, so we are delighted that 41 colleagues have taken the time to do so; thank you very much!

We think the responses are of interest and the purpose of this post is to simply present the data from the survey without commentary or analysis.  As the original request noted, David and I will be including this data in a paper we are presenting at the PATT 36 conference in June. After that conference we will make the full paper available on this site and let everyone know that it’s available.

[Incidentally, we are working on this paper over the next few weeks – so if anyone else would like to respond to the survey, there’s still time (say until the end of this week) to have your data inform the final paper – if you manage to do this, thank you in advance.]

The survey had just two questions:

  1. What changes have you made to your KS3 D&T curriculum to prepare pupils for the new D&T GCSE? 
  2. What changes have you made to your KS4 D&T curriculum to prepare pupils for the new contextual challenge NEA?

Here are the results. [Click images for a full size version.]

The responses under ‘Other’ for Q1 were:

  • More focus on coverage. Start covering simple D&T theory in the early year. The amount to get through in 2 years (years 10 & 11) means you have to start teaching lower down the school.
  • Removed carousels – one teacher for all disciplines
  • Changes have been made due to budget cuts – not curriculum change. less making, I can’t afford materials and machines are breaking and not being replaced.
  • My sow (carousel) is now loads of mini projects covering a wide range of outcomes – theory lessons are also interactive with a practical element – homework assignments are evidencing how students use their outcomes through photo stories and story boards.
  • Home learning tasks have included more theoretical elements – we’ll revise our projects at the end of this year.
  • Spent more time on theory than I would usually do early on in a course to ensure they get all the time needed when the NEA kicks in. Was in danger of losing them at one point… Became to theory lead. Quickly reverted back to designing exercises and skills lesson inputs. I have not got the balance right yet re the course (AQA) ,. 1st year… Suppose it’s to be expected. Little support re NEA etc from exam board.
  • Bigger focus on client.
  • I don’t have a KS3 I teach in a UTC.
  • Struggling to make the changes necessary with an inexperienced department. Sticking with old fashioned design, make, evaluate ks3 projects. There is then an upskill in year 9 and 10 so they’re ready for year 11.

The responses under ‘Other’ for Q2 were:

  • My design tasks at GSCE have always been open. I rarely restrict students to a particular project. A range of projects creates a stimulus for the group, a collective problem solving focus and generates different outcomes.
  • Completely revamped the delivery of theory. Will tackle the NEA when we are closer to the release date and time.
  • Focussed yr10 on core theory
  • Small focused tasks and recorded range of skills and materials and lots of theory
  • More small fpt’s.
  • A mock NEA with year 10’s. Constant feedback through Google classroom
  • More small theory based makes to make the content less dry
  • Have done a lesson giving them a myriad of contexts and then asked them to research possible design opportunities / different briefs.
  • Add more theory components that cover core and in-depth of 2 materials. Have attempted to use maths activities from exemplars across exam boards. We also test theory knowledge weekly
  • Shorter design and make tasks to cover different core materials.
  • Focus practical tasks on processes and materials
  • More focus on theory within year 10. Only short practicals due to feeling there’s less time for NEA
  • I’ve tried to focus on areas of weakness/no links will be made in, if there isn’t a ‘pointed out’ element to it. Each small term is spent on 1 area of focus – t4 is currently mechanisms/cams/levers/gears etc

As ever, we’d be delighted to hear people’s thoughts on these responses via the comments.

Can you contribute to research to be presented at an international conference?

Torben and  David are presenting a paper at PATT 36. The title is Teaching young people to respond to a contextual challenge through designing and making – a discussion of possible approaches.

One of the referees has suggested that it would be useful find out to what extent other countries have adopted a ‘contextual challenge’ approach in their technology curriculum.
So, we have asked colleagues abroad to let us know if their countries have such an activity as part of their technology curriculum either as an assessment and/or as a means of teaching?

If possible we would also like to include comments from teachers in England about how they have, so far, prepared their students for this challenge. We know this is a busy time of the year but it would be very helpful if those of you who are teaching the new D&T GCSE could let us know how you are doing this. You can do this via a really short questionnaire or, if you’d like to provide more detailed information you can contact us directly.

Enhancing Learning and Teaching with Technology: What the research says

David and I have contributed a chapter,  ‘The maker movement and schools’,  to the just published book Enhancing Learning and Teaching with Technology: What the research says

There is something inherently engaging in making as carried out in maker spaces and perhaps our focus in schools should be not so much on the content of what is being learned but how it is being learned and the influence this might have on the learners’ ways of learning and ways of doing.

(Page 172)

The book is available as a paperback (ISBN 978-1-78277-226-2), a Kindle book (ISBN 978-1-78277-229-3), a PDF (ISBN 978-1-78277-227-9) and an eBook (ISBN 978-1-78277-228-6). It should be available available through all bookshops, and online retailers, including the UK Amazon site.

The UK distributor is Central Books, Freephone number 84 5458 9911, orders@centralbooks.com and the North American distributor is Stylus Publishing www.styluspub.com; here’s a direct link to the book on their website.

If an organisation/group/network etc would like to buy copies of the book in multiples, they can contact Central Books (see above) who can offer competitive discounts for multiple books. 

Digital inspection copies are available for those who want to consider using the book on a course or to recommend it to their institutional library. Go to the book’s webpage, scroll down, press the ‘Request inspection copy’ and follow the on-screen instructions.

As ever, if you do buy the book we’d love to have comments.

The case for electric cars

This blog post started when I signed a Greenpeace petition aimed at Volkswagen to stop producing diesel cars https://secure.greenpeace.org.uk/page/s/volkswagen-ditch-diesel-now

I posted the following on Facebook: Well worth signing IMHO, transport emissions are the big problem with regard to global warming so it would be good for diesel to go followed in fairly short order by petroleum

Dave Hills Taylor replied : I have one of their TSI petrol engines that they are currently pushing – these give the performance people want from a VW but with smaller engines and at much lower revs and hence lower emissions. VW have made a mess of things with dieselgate but this is a step in the right direction. Obviously electric cars have to be the future long term.

Then my son Tom joined in: Problem with electric cars is that they don’t go anywhere near as far on a single charge as a liquid fuelled car does on one tank of petrol or diesel. The idea of stopping every two hours (at least) to put my car on charge for 30 minutes – complete nightmare. Once that’s changed maybe they’ll be a more attractive option.

I replied: I agree but battery technology is rapidly improving. I know they aren’t meant for cars but Elon Musk’s battery development in Oz is impressive,  so I think it’s only a  matter of time.471769860.0-1

Then Tom wrote: Will happily make the swap in the future once the technology is delivering at a reasonable cost. Electric cars are stupidly expensive compared to ‘old fashioned’ ones.

And I replied: Not if you added to the cost of old fashioned cars a tax that accounted for the environmental damage they do. And there is so much less to go wrong with an electric car lots less parts.

Then Tom wrote: The nearest I’d get to electric at the moment due to the size of car I’d need is a hybrid. And just looked at my lease pricing for appropriately sized car for our family needs and it’s more than 50% extra every month. Price needs to come down before the man on the street will adopt.

I replied: You’re right but with the right incentives the price will come down and we all need to think of the planet.

Tom wrote: It’s quite simple really, the manufactures need to take the lead, if they were thinking of the planet then they’d make the cars affordable then more people would buy them and we’d have greater adoption the electric car. But the problem of battery life means purely electric cars are only good for short around town journeys. Another couple years and I’m sure the picture will be different. Fingers crossed.

I replied: Dead right – manufacturers are key but government and the people can have an influence so I’m keen for a bit more support for environmental groups and their lobbying and pressure on manufacturers to become an election issue.

Tom wrote: If you really want to get into it you also need property developers to be building housing with car charging facilities from the outset. That’s another cost that will need to be considered at some point as and when we get one to add to our 116 year old property. (Not really into the idea of trailing a lead out the living room window). Also not quite sure how you deal with charging of cars where residents have to park on the roadside, i.e. don’t have garage or off road parking on their property. The ambulance chasers will have a field day with claims from people who’ve tripped over or injured themselves on electric cables lying over the paths to the road.

I replied: All these technical problems can be solved if there is political will. I remember when it was economically expedient to stop baking coal to produce coal gas and use North Sea gas instead. Every gas cooker in the country had to be modified and cooker manufacturers started producing cookers that worked on natural as opposed to coal gas. If we could do that then we ought to be able to do something similar with regard to charging electric cars.

Tom wrote: And just another thing, well two things, 1) if we did have an electric car and came to visit you in an electric car where could we charge up once we’d got to yours. And 2) Louise has just informed me that different makes of car have different style plugs (FFS that’s as bad as these electric / gas smart meters not being a standard so you can’t switch suppliers and stay SMART) and there’s a number 3. So 3) you actually have to subscribe to different charging point suppliers. Change is always different and something businesses are always facing so doing that with a population is a massive challenge.

I replied: Definitely a massive challenge but what else would one expect when the fate of the planet is at stake. Oh and by the way, this is a great conversation.

All this led me to think about the way we might teach young people about the problems facing the planet and the role of electric cars in the solutions. It’s easy to say we should go electric but as Tom pointed out it’s much easier said than done. We certainly won’t be able to go electric without auto manufacturers stepping up to the plate and playing a major role. Government will have a major role in providing incentives both to the manufacturer and the motorist. And in democracies the general populace will have a role in voting in such a way that government has a mandate to provide these incentives. As with all technology it’s a complex combination of the technical, the political, the economic and the social. This is by no means an ‘easy teach’ but if we are to produce an informed general public that plays its part in lobbying government then its something D&T teachers should prioritise.

And then by chance just before I began to write this post I came across an article in January 29 edition of Time entitled China takes pole position in the electric car race. Some key quotes:

  • China (not a democracy) has offered subsidies to buyers to the tune of $15,000 per vehicle,
  • Threatened to block automakers that don’t make electric vehicles from selling traditional cars,
  • Funded electric vehicle infrastructure like charging stations across the country’s highway network.
  • China is expected to spend $60 billion in electric-vehicle subsidies in the half decade preceding 2020.
  • Chinese automakers are expected to produce more than 4.5 million electric vehicles annually in 2020 compared with 1 million from Tesla.

To come full circle, elsewhere in this issue of Time a piece about the future of transport commented on the cooperation between Google and Volkwagen to build a quantum computer which will enable research to focus on three areas: traffic optimization, materials simulation for vehicle construction and battery research, and the development of new learning processes and AI processes needed for self driving cars. The CIO of Volkswagen, Martin Hofmann, is quoted as saying, “Quantum computers give us a completely new dimension. In 10 years, they will be orchestrating mobility in metropolitan areas, routing autonomous vehicles, predicting traffic flows and optimizing urban mobility.

I’ll finish with a quote Alfonso Albaisa, SVP for Global Design Nissan Motor Company, “It is a thrilling time to be a designer. We are being asked to dream.” How often do we enable the young people we teach to dream designerly dreams?

As always comments welcome

PS

As a courtesy I ran the post by Tom and he commented, “As a teacher I personally would probably make more of a point of medium term change. For example, it currently takes me 10 minutes (max) to refuel my car (and pay for the fuel) enabling it to travel a distance of up to 500 miles. Lots of vehicles can use a petrol station in a single day. That isn’t currently possible with an electric car due to the amount of time required to fully charge an electric car or the distance it can travel on a single charge. We aren’t going to get an electric equivalent over night therefore we need to think about changes that move us in the right direction and enable people to adopt electric cars and this isn’t just getting government backing but also I think local authority. One way of recognising this in a class room environment would be to ask the students where they (or their parents) would charge an electric car if they owned one. Or what changes would need to be made to enable them to have an electric car. And that would come back to my point about charging cables out of windows and over pavements.

Now here’s a thought, a class of year 11 or 12 students using what their parents have said about charging electric cars as the basis for interviewing a local councillor about transport policy. All part of their ‘considering the consequences of technology’ D&T lessons focusing on important local issues.

 

Non-Examined Assessment; should we be worried?

I imagine most readers know at least the outline of the recent changes to the place of non-examined assessment (NEA) in Computer Science (CS). In short, Ofqual gave notice to schools in November 2017 that they were initiating a consultation on the place of NEA in CS following reports that ‘answers’ to the NEA were widely available on the web. Schools were advised that the core of the consultation was that the NEA would no longer count towards the final grade. At the time of the announcement many y11s following the course had already finished work on the NEA, many others were in the midst of doing it and the rest were soon to start; I think it’s fair to say that the announcement was met with, to say the least, frustration by both teachers and students.

In January the results of the consultation were announced with Ofqual saying

The responses have not persuaded us there is a better model to that we proposed in the consultation.

That model being, in short, that students taking their GCSE computer science exams in 2018 and 2019 should continue to complete one of the tasks set by their exam board for the qualification, but that the task would not contribute to the final exam grade.

I think this development is worth digging into as it’s not hard to imagine possible knock-on effects for D&T.

In particular, two aspects seem to be worth exploring: the first, and obvious one, is whether NEA more generally is under threat, the second is the implied expansion of the role of the awarding organisations from describing what students will be assessed on in a particular specification to detailing how they should be taught.

Should awarding organisations tell teachers how to teach?

Taking the second of these first, it seems to me to be an unwelcome development that a teacher should be placed in the position of being required to include a (non-assessed) task set by an awarding organisation in their scheme of work. This is what is set out:

Schools must give their students an opportunity to undertake the non-exam assessment tasks set by their exam boards and set 20 hours aside in the timetable to allow them to undertake the task. Exam boards must receive from each school a statement confirming they made such provision. This would make sure that all students have had an opportunity to develop the skills and apply their knowledge and understanding of the subject and go some way to making sure all students have a similar experience, regardless of whether they had yet to start, were part way through, or had completed the task when the changed arrangements were introduced.

Not only that, but, prompted by responses to the consultation suggesting “that if schools were required to confirm they had given all of their students the opportunity to complete the task some would, effectively, fabricate any such a statement“, Ofqual is now requiring awarding organisations

to divert the resources they would otherwise have put into moderating teachers’ marking to ensuring all students (are) given the required opportunities to compete (sic) the task. […] a school or college that was found to have made a false statement about the opportunities would be investigated by the relevant exam board under its malpractice procedures.

This seems extraordinary to me. Do we really want the awarding organisations deciding for teachers how they should organise elements of their teaching? With a malpractice threat if they fail to do so?

It looks very much like the thin end of a potentially very thick wedge. And if you think that’s paranoid then note that the Ofqual document points out

There are other GCSE subjects for which schools are required to make a statement confirming students have been given an opportunity to undertake an essential element of the qualification, such as in GCSE geography.

So, it’s actually a wedge with a thin end in Geography that’s now being hammered further into the curriculum.

Responses from teachers of CS seem to have ranged from ‘makes no difference to me because of course I would include a task like this – in fact I include lots of such tasks as a core part of my teaching’, to ‘my kids hated the task and found it very demotivating; I have other ways to teach the material that work better in my setting’. And that, of course, is the point; teachers should be free to use their professional judgement to decide how best to prepare their particular students, in their particular setting, for a GCSE.

Is there a general threat to NEA?

Turning to the possible threat to coursework, it’s worth making clear that this change of rules was, ostensibly, prompted by growing evidence of malpractice

During autumn 2017, we saw evidence that the rules for the GCSE (9 to 1) computer science non-exam assessment tasks were being broken. The tasks had been released by the exam boards on 1 September 2017, for completion by students taking their exams in summer 2018. The tasks should not have been discussed outside of the controlled conditions under which they were completed. However, the tasks, which students had to complete by March 2018, quickly appeared, in full or part, on-line and were widely discussed, advice offered and solutions developed. The speed with which the tasks appeared on-line and the number of times the discussions and solutions were viewed threatened the integrity of this aspect of the qualification.

One can understand Ofqual’s concern. However, two other factors appear to have been in play and these have not been as widely discussed. The first of these is that, because CS counts as a science in the government’s accountability measures

Our decision, taken in 2014, to allow non- exam assessment in the qualification was finely balanced.

A cynic might wonder if they were looking for an excuse to remove the NEA.

The second is that Ofqual

heard from stakeholders that some teachers were finding the non-exam assessments difficult to manage (they were not permitted to discuss the tasks with colleagues outside of their own centre, for example).

In fact, the consultation quotes the Royal Society report After the reboot: computing education in UK schools in saying

Finally, many teachers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland raised the new Non Examined Assessment arrangements for GCSE computer science qualifications as a cause for concern. These teachers felt that the new rules on GCSE Non-Examined Assessment (NEA) are onerous, and consume a disproportionate amount of teacher time and teaching opportunities in the computer science GCSE

I think one has to take these teachers’ views at face value. If the NEA had been kept one might have had sympathy while arguing that the specification is what it is, and teachers have little choice but to work with it – perhaps while lobbying for considered change in the future. But it seems extraordinary to use this as argument to support eliminating the NEA while keeping exactly the same (‘onerous’ but non-assessed) task in place!

More broadly, we know that when the GCSEs were revised the initial position of the government was that coursework was to be removed from all qualifications. It seemed that in an argument between validity and reliability in assessment the reliability of exams was being set against the validity, for many aspects of many subjects, of coursework. One suspects that a strong driver for this is that GCSEs are now as much about measuring schools’ performance as that of pupils; the quote above from Ofqual about the place of CS as a ‘science’ subject supports this view.

So, it was seen as a victory when some subjects fought for and regained NEA. Though one senior examiner pointed out to me that the fact that Art and Design had gained 100% coursework could simply be seen as a measure of the (low) value placed on the subject by ministers at the time. By extension, D&T’s 50% NEA might also be seen as a measure of the subjects slightly higher low worth.

(Just to be clear, I am definitely not arguing that the way to raise the profile of D&T in ministers’ eyes is to relinquish coursework. We’ve made the case for Re-building D&T that developing both technological capability and technological perspective are at the heart of the subject – and you can’t measure all the dimensions of capability through a written exam.)

HMCI Amanda Spielman made some comments about science practical work in a speech to the ASE in January that may be relevant.

Where we still have a live and worthwhile debate is on the role of practical science in the curriculum. This point is demonstrated in John Holman’s Gatsby report on ‘Good practical science’, which I believe is being discussed a great deal at this conference. His report identifies 5 purposes of practical science: to teach the principles of scientific enquiry, improve understanding of theory, to teach practical skills, to motivate and engage students and to develop teamwork skills. His preliminary survey finds that teachers rate the use of practical science for teaching scientific enquiry and practical skills as the least important of those 5. They rate motivation as the most important.

But we should be uncomfortable with the idea of practical science being mainly about motivation. Yes, children should find experiments fun and motivating, but making sure children finish practical tasks having learned something or having consolidated what they have just been taught, is most important. And we know that there are limits to the extent to which skills such as teamwork and enquiry can be developed in isolation.

More generally I think we are still learning what can and can’t be achieved through practical science work, and how this varies at different ages. I am watching this space with great interest. But we do know that scientific understanding is cumulative, and so children need knowledge and understanding before they can create and test hypotheses. Good schools understand this.

It’s hard not to read in between the lines that there is some suspicion at high levels in the education system of the educational value of practical work. Especially as the speech gives no weight to the other, more knowledge-focussed, purposes for practical work. If so, it’s not hard to see how this might reveal itself in suspicion of the value of assessing aspects of practical work in NEAs.

As one would expect, Holman’s report is far subtler than the above suggests and the quoted finding was based on the views of expert witnesses (not teachers) outside England. So, the report certainly doesn’t claim that science teachers in England do in fact value the motivational purpose of practical science more highly than other purposes.

Implications for D&T NEA

It is absolutely clear that keeping an NEA element of assessment in D&T is fundamental to reflecting the nature of the subject (developing technological capability and perspective); if an aim of our subject is developing designer-maker capability then that needs to be assessed and the only valid way to assess it is through some form of NEA. In my view, the current approach of using a Contextual Challenge offers real strengths here. Although the challenge is set by the awarding organisations the context has to be explored by candidates to identify an issue/problem that they consider significant and worthy of responding to via designing and making. This is a far cry from responding to a design brief set by an awarding organisation. It gives both choice of the activity and ownership of the activity to the candidate and this should enable young people to develop a sense of designerly responsibility in the way they respond, as previously explored by David.

If the NEA was removed it would be inevitable that what is taught would evolve to match the demands of the written exam (however good the intentions of teachers, in the end accountability is king), and that would mean, at the very least, a diminished focus on practical capability. It would rapidly become a different subject, even if the name stuck.

The cynic in me is genuinely concerned that there is pressure ‘from above’ to minimise NEA. If so, we can assume that any evidence of malpractice will be seized on enthusiastically as an excuse to eliminate NEA – as we have just seen happen to CS; it’s not clear to me that, in the case of CS, any real effort was put into looking for ways to reduce malpractice, which would have been the case if the NEA was highly valued.

I do think that a Contextual Challenge will be much harder to game than the CS NEA was; while it’s not hard to envisage that many students’ solutions to a programming challenge in CS could look very similar (in fact it might be hard for them not to look similar), it’s very hard to imagine a similar situation emerging in response to a contextual challenge.

So, to avoid the possibility of losing our NEA, with its particular framing as a Contextual Challenge, as a community of practice we need:

  • To be on the ball about identifying attempts to game the Contextual Challenges.
  • To ensure that, if (or when – our young people are marvellously inventive when they need to be…) we do find evidence of cheating of this kind, we are very open about it and proactive in identifying solutions before an unwanted solution is imposed.
  • To make it the normal expectation that the artefacts that emerge in response to a Contextual Challenge will vary widely as pupils answer in their own ways the design questions that arise. Assuming that children in KS3 are also presented with open design challenges as a part of their learning journey towards GCSE, then we should have a similar expectation of diversity in outcomes.
  • To make sure that all D&T teachers are properly prepared to help pupils work in this newly open approach; this would be a very useful focus of support from the awarding bodies.

As ever comments are welcome.