The Importance of Technological Perspective. Or; It’s no longer OK not to understand how the Internet works.

We’ve mentioned a few times, often in the context of our Disruptive Technologies work, how important we believe it is that a part of the work of D&T in schools should be to enable young people to gain ‘Technological Perspective’. David has described this as:

(that) which provides insight into ‘how technology works’, informing a constructively critical view of technology, avoiding alienation from our technologically-based society and enabling consideration of how technology might be used to provide products and systems that help create the sort of society in which young people wish to live.

Events following the awful attacks, first in Manchester and then in London last Saturday night, have brought home to me just how important this is, as these young people will be the future decision-makers and leaders of our society – and they simply must be equipped to do a better job than our current leaders.

I’m sure you’ll have seen that, in response to the attacks, there has (once again) been an attempt to blame the Internet and a call from Theresa May for the ending of ‘safe spaces’ for terrorists on the Internet. Given that this was a thrust of government policy before the attack, it’s hard not to see this as an opportunistic attempt to shore up that policy, but perhaps now is not the time for cynicism.

It is however the time for a clear-eyed analysis of what it would mean to end safe spaces on the internet. In case you are tempted to think that that sounds a pretty good idea, I offer you three articles that explain why it’s not just a very poor idea but in fact a rather meaningless idea – all written by people who are far more articulate on this than I can be.

The first, from The Guardian’s Charles Arthur, is ‘Blame the internet’ is just not a good enough response, Theresa May; at bottom Arthur’s argument is that banning technology is not a substitute for clear-headed policy and political action. He points out that, in the 1970’s, Northern Ireland’s terrorists got on just fine organising their plots using the ordinary telephone service (since neither mobile phones nor the internet were then available) and no-one was suggesting that in response all phone calls should be monitored. Presumably if that had happened they would simply have used other communication methods (dead-letter drops?).

Arthur notes the dystopian implications of the suggestion by John Mann (MP for Bassetlaw), who said: “I repeat, yet again, my call for the internet companies who terrorists have again used to communicate to be held legally liable for content.”, and says;

The authoritarian sweep of Mann’s idea is chilling: since legal liability is meant to deter, the companies would need people to monitor every word you wrote, every video you watched, and compare it against some manual of dissent. It’s like a playbook for the dystopia of Gilead, in The Handmaid’s Tale (which, weirdly enough, most resembles Islamic State’s framework for living).

I think the summary (but please read him for yourself) of what Arthur has to say is that:

  • Banning technologies will simply drive ‘bad actors’ to other communications means,
  • But will have highly negative effect on our own technological society,
  • Rather the focus should be on disabling the source of the ideas both internationally and at home. Arthur doesn’t say this but it seems important to note that after both the recent London and Manchester attacks it has emerged that the perpetrators had  (apparently fruitlessly) been earlier reported to the authorities for their worrying behaviour and views; such reports clearly need better responses and there needs to be supportive community work to encourage this kind of reporting by taking it seriously.

The second article, from MIT’s Technology Review, Theresa May Wants to End “Safe Spaces” for Terrorists on the Internet. What Does That Even Mean?, reinforces the third point above by noting the importance of personal contact in developing extremist ideas. This article also makes the point well that there are things that the big social networks can do and be supported in doing that fall short of asking them to monitor everything you say.

The third article is Theresa May wants to ban crypto: here’s what that would cost, and here’s why it won’t work anyway by Cory Doctorow. This more technical article explains why it is that banning ‘safe spaces’ fundamentally means undermining all internet cryptography, what the appalling costs of that would be and why it still wouldn’t stop terrorists anyway. I urge you to read the full argument, but this is the summary:

This, then, is what Theresa May is proposing:

  • All Britons’ communications must be easy for criminals, voyeurs and foreign spies to intercept
  • Any firms within reach of the UK government must be banned from producing secure software
  • All major code repositories, such as Github and Sourceforge, must be blocked
  • Search engines must not answer queries about web-pages that carry secure software
  • Virtually all academic security work in the UK must cease — security research must only take place in proprietary research environments where there is no onus to publish one’s findings, such as industry R&D and the security services
  • All packets in and out of the country, and within the country, must be subject to Chinese-style deep-packet inspection and any packets that appear to originate from secure software must be dropped
  • Existing walled gardens (like iOS and games consoles) must be ordered to ban their users from installing secure software
  • Anyone visiting the country from abroad must have their smartphones held at the border until they leave
  • Proprietary operating system vendors (Microsoft and Apple) must be ordered to redesign their operating systems as walled gardens that only allow users to run software from an app store, which will not sell or give secure software to Britons
  • Free/open source operating systems — that power the energy, banking, ecommerce, and infrastructure sectors — must be banned outright

That may sound a ridiculous set of things to conclude; just read the full article.

And then, please, find ways to discuss these things with the young people in your schools; make sure they, at least, do understand how the technologies around them, including the Internet, work. Having well-informed technological perspective really does matter.

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The Disruptive Technologies and D&T newsletter #2

This is the last time I’ll clog up this blog with stuff about the Disruptive Technologies and D&T newsletter. But just to show it wasn’t a total flash-in-the-pan, the second edition has just been posted

You can sign up for the newsletter and read past issues from the newsletter archive.

 

Enabling and revealing creativity in design & technology

Design & technology (D&T) has the possibility of enabling young people to be creative although in practice many teachers are reluctant to encourage the risk taking that is required for creative activity in order to ensure examination success. The conditions for enabling creativity are reasonably well known and can be summarised by a double AND gate model as shown here.

double AND

Four features need to be in place for pupils to act creatively.

  • The activity has to be presented in a context to which the pupils could relate.
  • The activity has to be supported by a significant stimulus which was often, but not exclusively, intensely visual.
  • Focused teaching is necessary to provide knowledge, understanding and skills.
  • An attitude of continuous reflection needs to be encouraged.

However these four features alone do not ensure creative activity. The deciding factor is the way they are managed. This must be done so that pupils can handle uncertainty in exploring and developing outcomes. There must be some risk associated with the endeavour in terms of the “originality” of the activity as far as the individual pupil is concerned. These ideas of context, stimulus, relevant teaching and continuous reflection mirror the requirement for being successful in the designing and making needed for the contextual challenge of the new single title D&T GCSE. And it would make sense for such preparation to be used in the teaching of designing and making assignments in the programme of study leading up to the contextual challenge.

This leads us to the second AND gate. How do we enable young people to take risks and at the same time manage the risk taking? The answer lies in the design decisions that pupils have to make. This can be seen as involving five key areas of interdependent design decision, shown diagrammatically below:

Pentagon

  • Conceptual (overall purpose of the design, the sort of product that it will be),
  • Technical (how the design will work),
  • Aesthetic (what the design will look like),
  • Constructional (how the design will be put together)
  • Marketing (who the design is for, where it will be used, how it will be sold).

The interdependence of these areas is an important feature of making design decisions, as change of decision within one area will affect some if not all of design decisions that are made within the others. It is the juggling of these various decisions to arrive at a coherent design proposal that can then be realised to the point of fully working prototype that provides the act of designing and making with intellectual rigour and educational worth and makes it an essential part of technology education.

Teachers have used the design decision pentagon to audit the number and type of design decisions that pupils make during designing and making assignments. In most cases the teacher has made the conceptual decision. The class is going to design and make this sort of artefact. But the audit often reveals that design decisions in the other areas are few and far between. The technical and constructional decisions are made by the teacher, the marketing decisions in terms of who the artefact is for are often ignored with the only type of design decisions the pupils make is concerned with aesthetics. In such situations pupils are unlikely to learn to make design decision and the creativity of the outcomes will be minimal. But just how many different design decisions should a pupil make? Too many and failure to produce anything of worth is likely to be the result. One way to tackle this question is to give limited choices at the corners of the pentagon. So, for example the teacher might say, “You can choose one of these three different ways of working, and any one of three different main materials, and one of three different possible aesthetic influences and one of three possible users”. This gives 3x3x3x3 possible combinations – eighty one in total. If three at each corner is two many for a particular class then two choices gives 2x2x2x2 possible combinations – sixteen in total. In both situations there will be some overlap in choices between pupils but it is more than likely that there will be some if not considerable variation in the nature of the artefacts the pupils design and make in response to a given brief in which the conceptual nature of the artefact has been decided by the teacher. So by ensuring appropriate preliminary teaching and controlling the number of design decisions that pupils can make the teacher manages the risks that the pupils take in the design decisions they make. The wind is set fair for creative activity. Just how creative the artefacts produced are will be a matter of judgment and it is here that a comparison of outcomes across the class pays dividends. If a post-it sized photo of each of the items produced are displayed on a 5×5 grid the whole class’s work can be viewed at a glance. If all the items look similar then the strategy for enabling creativity has failed. Items that are different from the majority will stand out and give an indication of creativity. The greater the proportion of items that are different and stand out the greater the creativity there is across the class.

By tackling designing and making activities in the way described here teachers will be building mini creative communities to the benefit of the subject. The 5×5 grid of products will provide evidence for all to see just how creative the pupils in a class are being and such grids might well provide ‘something special’ for Julie Nugent.

As always comments welcome and we would be delighted to see some 5×5 grids of  artefacts designed and made by pupils.

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.

The Disruptive Technologies and D&T newsletter

[Update 15-15-17: the first newsletter has been posted. If you haven’t already signed up for it, you can view it (and choose to subscribe) here.]

Early next week I’ll be launching a newsletter focussed on Disruptive Technologies and D&T. What I want to do here is explain a little bit why I’m starting this and the kind of content that it will contain.

The first edition of the newsletter will be published next week – some of what follows is sampled from it.

You can sign up for the newsletter on the newsletter’s sign up page.

Background

David Barlex and I have been working on a project that focuses on making a range of Disruptive Technologies (DTs) accessible for classroom use and discussion. The DTs we have chosen to emphasise are:

We think these technologies provide a really powerful context to help pupils learn about technological perspective (this idea is developed in our recent Working Paper Big Ideas for D&T), while at the same time introducing pupils to technologies that  are likely to have a significant impact on their adult lives. The DTs we have chosen are at very different levels of development with, for example, additive manufacturing being something that many (most? all?) schools have at least some access to. In contrast, synthetic biology is advancing surprisingly rapidly as a technology in industry but has, so far, made minimal impact in schools and programmable matter remains largely a R&D project in some universities and other research institutes.

We also realise that there are other technologies ‘out there’ that have the potential to be disruptive and, also, that it is possible that some of our nominated DTs may turn out to be more of a disruptive whimper than a bang. That’s future-gazing for you.

This is an ‘in our free time’ project so inevitably develops more slowly than we would like.

However, I read a lot. (Well, David and I both read a lot – but I should probably emphasise that I take responsibility for what appears in this newsletter.) And I’d like to share the fruits of this reading with colleagues in D&T because I realise that not all have the luxury of time that I do to wade through quite a lot of content to find the useful and interesting nuggets.

This is probably my age talking, but Twitter seems to me to be too ephemeral for stuff that might actually be useful (if you’re lucky enough to see it fly by you probably won’t find it again when you need it…). And I don’t want to clog up the blog on our website with this kind of stuff. So, I’m trying out a newsletter for size; it will take at least six months for me to decide whether it is a success or not – and I’ll measure that by how many folk have signed up to it.

Content

I’ve deliberately called this ‘The Disruptive technologies and D&T’ newsletter rather than ‘The Disruptive technologies in D&T’ newsletter as this gives me a bit of elbow room to wander over wider issues related to D&T education. Mostly it will contain links to recently published material on-line with a degree of commentary on each item. I’ll make no attempt to cover every DT every time. And I’ll also mentions books that I’ve read that seem to me to be useful, relevant or interesting. Sometimes they’ll be all three.

My aim is to produce a reasonably (but not too) frequent edition with enough content to be interesting but not overwhelming. I’m thinking that perhaps 3-4 issues a month, during term-time, might be about right, with a slower rate of publication in school holidays. I will rely on feedback from you to tell me whether both the frequency and length are reasonably manageable.

If you think that such a newsletter might be useful, please both sign up to receive it and forward this post on to colleagues and, if you work in ITE in any capacity, to your trainee teachers.


Click to subscribe to the Disruptive Technologies and D&T Newsletter


 

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.

 

 

Screen shot 2017-05-11 at 09.41.22

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.