Design and (or) Technlogy 2.0

In a blog post just before Christmas (December 2016) David Barlex (along with Torben Steeg and Nick Givens) argued for the rebuilding of Design and Technology based upon the current situation where less than 30% of students now study D&T. In response to David’s proposal I would agree with the identified challenges as being:

  • A lack of agreed epistemology
  • Confusion about purpose
  • Uncertainty about the nature of good practice
  • Erroneous stakeholder perceptions

However whilst there is much that I agree with in the report I would argue that the proposed rebuilding plan is prone to failure. As such I would propose a more radical reclaiming, renaming and reframing agenda in the form of developing Design and (or) Technology 2.0.

Central to this proposal are two main points:

Firstly David’s proposal is looking to rebuild a subject in an environment that has already seen the perceived failure of Design and Technology. Rebuilding in this climate, using the identified infrastructure would see humpty dumpty put back together again only to continue to fall. As such Design and (or) Technology 2.0 will only survive and evolve in an environment that will allow it thrive. As ‘designers’ we know that the best ideas don’t always prosper – they have to adapt or be adapted to their environment. As such the recommendations on page 26 of the report are those that may have worked in the past but which I don’t believe will work in the future.

Most notably lacking in the report is the full acknowledgement for the need for continued political support. Design and Technology has both grown, thrived and then been completely neglected by various governments. It was a core, compulsory subject enjoying both government interest and resourcing but in the last eight years the subject has been abandoned and mistreated. The absolute shambles of the writing of the national curriculum by civil servants perhaps best illustrates just how badly Design and Technology has fared with recent governments.

Therefore Design and (or) Technology 2.0 has to be much more politically savvy and operate and adapt to a new form of political will.

Secondly I have suggested this isn’t a ‘rebuilding’ exercise, as this would suggest attempting to recreate something we have previously had. Instead I would propose the reclaiming, renaming and reframing of the subject in version 2.0. Hence this could be Design 2.0, Technology 2.0, Design or Technology 2.0, Design and Technology 2.0 or even more radically Design, Technology and Engineering (something I posited in a report for D&TA in 2011). Lets debate!

If we take the four challenges identified by David then it is clear that there remains a lack of agreement as to what the purpose and rationale for the subject is? A good illustration of this is by taking a look at the Design and Technology Association website where it is almost impossible to identify what the subject is or more significantly what the subject isn’t about. The reason for specifically referring to the Design and Technology association website is because in David’s report the association’s influence is clearly (and rightly) acknowledged yet I would argue the associations lack of a clear rationale and sense of purpose is clearly problematic.

Over the years the Design and Technology association has undergone several cosmetic transformations, however I would suggest that any organisation that has overseen (I am not however assigning blame) the decline on the scale that we have seen really does need to think more radically about ‘reclaiming, renaming and reframing’. Central to this is the use of ‘and’ in Design ‘and’ Technology as it remains problematic and misleading. The use of ‘and’ in Design and Technology may seem nuanced but remains significant  and I will perhaps save the discussion for another occasion,  but I believe the subject (whatever that is) and the association should consider reconceiving the identity to more accurately capture the future direction and ambition of the subject rather than the clinging to the past.

Finally there is much more I could say but I regard this response as the starting of a conversation. However the final point I want to pick up on is the notion of Initial Teacher Education in D&T. Perhaps more than any other subject Design and Technology ITE has taken the biggest hit in the last 8 years. It has been dismantled to such an extent that I don’t believe at present, specifically in the context of the UK, it has in its current form the capacity to rebuild either itself or to have the impact upon the subject that is needed. Perhaps therefore the biggest challenge (and genuine opportunity) is reconceiving a way of attracting, educating and training future teachers without the existing infrastructure. Without this being addressed there is no future for any version of the subject!

Rather than reflecting however upon any of the above in some unfortunate or negative  way I genuinely believe there is now a genuine opportunity to be optimistic. David’s blog and report have opened the door to a complex and challenging debate, one that I hope the wider community will engage with!


2 thoughts on “Design and (or) Technlogy 2.0

  1. I do admire David and the D&T team for all the work undertaken but I also see us loosing this battle.
    But how to change things.

    A few random rambling thoughts after reading Dr. David Spendlove’s response.

    Make the subject more relevant, topical, fun, challenging and popular (relating to things like Bake off, robot competitions, testing products with real people, drone racing, Dragons Den, Maker spaces, Code clubs, Raspberry Pi etc.) How to make schools flexible enough to allow this – timetable etc

    More technical and scientific concepts required, related to the core topic / module areas. Wider interests including things like fluid dynamics (both air and water flow – sailing, drones, submarines, are fascinating. How to make a pitch for a product including on-line simulations. Running a business, role playing this is great fun based around products/ markets, The BBC Egg Race had a good influence by introducing fun design challenges that schools could also afford to do.

    My most productive and time as a teacher was when I was allowed to produce my own Mode 3 Technology examination. It allowed the subject to blossom and include topics such as energy, control technology and alternative technology. (resulting in a wide variety of projects from hydrofoils, large working wind generators, to baking bread in sun powered oven, etc)
    Sadly mode 3 exams were scrapped and I had to teach D&T which included almost zero technology/ science / maths content.

    Employers want skilled workers and problem solvers with good technical / scientific literacy.
    STEM is ideally placed to help but few students experience the necessary challenges or know how to use of suitable resources such as the Patent Office which can now be searched easily.

    This country is short of good skilled technologists and people who can exploit good ideas.
    One lesson I learnt from a Japanese school was how they made good use of technological / scientific toys to explain concepts and keep up to date without using workshops.

    In Singapore it was great to see the Science Museum playing a big part by having a great collection for schools to use.

    Encouraging new specialisms/ clubs to start up can help allow schools and teachers to respond better.
    Is the new BBC micro bit being made use of?
    Teachers need to have ways to include their knowledge / interests to keep teachers in the profession.

    I have been to many talks about the THE PROCESSES that governments / organisations / exam boards dream up and recommend.
    Mostly they were a complete waste of time when what the teachers really want is help with new subject knowledge and time to master a new devise or process.

    Many of the old support methods are not really fit for purpose.
    I keep up to date as much as possible using the new media and social networks including Maker clubs.
    Some universities (e.g. OU and MIT ) are offering free courses.
    Why is this not done more at school level. The BBC have tried now and again but more is needed. BBC BiteSize support was a good attempt but it has not been developed.
    Using open source OS support materials and Crowd Funding to help ideas may influence the future more than we expect.

    An ironic comment
    Support for pioneering teachers is poor in this country.
    As a teacher and inventor I have written many D&T books some D&T best sellers, published by Collins. I have also invented many D&T hardware kits . STEM organisations around the World have paid for me to visit them with materials to inform them about new trends in D&T.
    This is rather strange as I have not had similar requests in the UK.
    This reflects the same problem of new invention / ideas not being supported in the UK .

    The Maker group I belong to have started using an App called SLACK which has transformed the group in just two weeks from a normal support group into a very dynamic group with lots of activity. Something like this could have good effect on your D&T group to get more feedback.

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