Ambiguities

The talk identified several examples of ambiguity and we now briefly explore each of these in the context of design & technology.

Skills

It’s unsurprising that the word ‘skill’ is used in many ways – it is a broad concept. What is important here is not to try and constrain the use of the word to any specific area of skills, but rather to be clear in individual subjects as well as across and between schools about how the word is being used – i.e. we need clear definitions rather than a constricted definition.

In design & technology there are four broad categories of skills that are important. These are skills concerned with making across a wide variety of materials (including psychomotor skills), skills in designing (in particular intellectual skills requiring young people to make decisions about the nature of the products they will be designing which includes how they will work, what they will look like, how they will be constructed and how they will meet users’ needs), skills in critiquing (including dialogic skills, where young people scrutinise the impact of technologies and products on society and the environment with regard to justice and stewardship) and, required in all of the above, the skill(s) of applying knowledge from a wide range of areas

Whether these skills, developed in design & technology, can lead to transferable skills (general problem solving ability, communication skills etc.) is open to debate and needs further research for clarification.

Enrichment

The main issue here is ensuring clarity in departments and schools about how the word ‘enrichment’ is being used in any context (or finding a good replacement synonym for one of the uses).

In respect of the first broad use of the word enrichment on slide 14 (above), we note that design & technology has a rich tradition of using adults other than teachers to enrich lessons. Examples include STEM ambassadors and, in the early 2000s Young Foresight Ambassadors who acted as critical friends to young people who were tasked with developing products and services that utilised new and emerging technologies. There is also a strong tradition of after-school clubs focused on areas related to design & technology such as ‘STEM’ and engineering; in many cases the focus of these sessions is developing entries for one the many design & technology related competitions. Banerjee (2017) finds no evidence that participation in these sorts of experiences are associated (in England) with increased STEM participation

Acquisition of a deeper level of understanding can, in design & technology, be developed through feedback which increases aspiration. This is discussed in greater depth in the section below commenting on slide 18.

Repetition

Again, we think the main issue here is ensuring clarity in departments and schools about how the word ‘repetition’ is being used in any context.

In design & technology repetition is often used to help young people gain greater mastery in developing making skills. Without practice it is impossible to become good at using hand and machine tools. The teacher as curriculum developer has two challenges here: to provide sufficient incentive so that pupils are prepared to practice and to ensure that there is sufficient time in lessons to practice. A related repetition is used in the context of becoming adept at designing. The only way to become good at designing is to design and here the challenge for the teacher as curriculum developer is to teach design strategies and enable young people to use them in more and more demanding ways as they move through the design & technology curriculum. We have developed, and used with schools, approaches in which pupils revisit design strategies at successively higher levels of demand throughout their learning journeys, akin to a spiral of development.

Theme based approaches

Theme based approaches to design & technology are often subsumed under a STEM umbrella and here we think it is important to raise a word of warning. Such theme based approaches can be dominated by a science learning agenda at the expense of design & technology learning. Hence in any themed work we would argue that the contribution of each collaborating subject should be made explicit. This becomes particularly difficult if the teachers involved do not have a clear grasp of the epistemology of their subject (see above). The interaction between STEM subjects has been explored by Banks and Barlex (2014) and they offer approaches in which learning in all the collaborating subjects can be enhanced.

Breadth and balance

In providing a broad and balanced curriculum we would argue that each of the contributing subjects should make a unique contribution and taken together these contributions provide an overall experience that supports the broad aim of schooling articulated by Neil Postman (1996) as “how to make a life”.

The following sentences, derived from the writings of Jacob Bronowski in his seminal work, The Ascent of Man (1973), provide a powerful justification for teaching design & technology

Envisaging what might exist in the future and using tools and materials to create and critique that future is a unique human ability, which has led to the development of successive civilisations across history. It embodies some of the best of what it means to be human.

Through teaching young people design & technology schools introduce pupils to this field of human endeavour and empower them to become people who see the world as a place of opportunity where they and others can, through their own thoughts and actions, improve their situation.

The underlined words and phrases in the justification have considerable implications for the subject and any observation of a design & technology curriculum should, we believe, take these into account as indicated in the following table:

This justification for design & technology is reflected, to a great extent, by the Interim Report (DES, 1988) which laid the foundations of design & technology as a National Curriculum subject as these extracts show:

What is it that pupils learn from design and technological activities which can be learnt in no other way? In its most general form, the answer to this question is in terms of capability to operate effectively and creatively in the made world. The goal is increased ‘competence in the indeterminate zones of practice’.

[Donald Schön (1987, p6-7) defined these indeterminate zones of practice as “uncertainty, uniqueness and value conflict”.]

And

There is, however, 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.

We have taken these comments from the Interim Report along with the justification for the subject from the writings of Jacob Bronowski and reworked them into statements of two features that we believe sum up the unique contribution of design & technology to the school curriculum: technological capability and technological perspective.

Technological capability is designer-maker capability, capturing the essence of technological activity as intervention in the made and natural worlds.

Technological perspective provides insight into ”how technology works” which informs a constructively critical view of technology, avoids alienation from our technologically- based society and enables consideration of how technology might be used to provide products and systems that help create the sort of society in which pupils wish to live.

We argue that these definitions of capability and perspective provide a useful lens through which to observe the curriculum contribution of design & technology.

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