Securing the future of the D&T Education workforce

Representatives from the D&T ITE community have asked the Secretary of State for Education to reconsider the decisions to remove the D&T ITE bursary in England. Today we have sent this letter:

Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing to express our deep concern about the recent decision to remove the bursary for secondary design and technology (D&T) initial teacher training (ITT) students in England. Whilst we recognise that, as a country and nation, we are experiencing unprecedented times, we urge immediate action by the Department for Education to recognise the continuing under recruitment and resulting shortage of secondary teachers in D&T.

Despite the rise in recruitment to ITT in many secondary school subjects during COVID-19, a recent NfER report highlights that the ‘recruitment gaps in… design & technology are unlikely to fully close’. Similarly, the DfE’s own figures illustrate that D&T has consistently under-recruited for many years. Annually since 2012, this shortage has been documented in the Government’s ITT census, with D&T having lower numbers of entrants as a proportion of the teacher supply model (TSM) than any other subject. In light of these concerning reports, we were disappointed to learn that the new bursary regulations no longer allocate funding to train to teach D&T in 2021/22.

The removal of the bursary will further entrench the chronic shortage of trained teachers of D&T working in secondary schools. In some schools D&T has been removed from the curriculum due, in part, to failing to be able to attract suitably qualified and experienced specialist teachers, significantly reducing opportunities for young people.

D&T education develops our children and young peoples’ 21st Century Skills and the potential to be innovative and resilient, all of which will be vital in post-COVID and post-Brexit Britain. Developing pupils’s innovation and resilience have been a central tenet since the first National Curriculum in 1990 when D&T was established as a foundation subject under the then Conservative government. A lack of specialist trained D&T teachers could mean that young people are less prepared to respond to the challenges and opportunities we will face in post-COVID and post-Brexit Britain. Also, the OECD Education 2030 project highlights the need to educate young people to ‘think creatively, develop new products… processes and methods, new ways of thinking and living…’. As part of a balanced curriculum, D&T offers pupils and students the opportunity to think practically, develop autonomy and foster the ‘adaptability, creativity, curiosity and open-mindedness’ that OECD calls for.

The government has a fundamental duty to address the shortage of design and technology teachers in order to provide coverage of all National Curriculum subjects to all secondary age pupils. Additionally, we believe that removing the bursary threatens the teaching the new GCSE Design and Technology and GCSE Food Preparation and Nutrition specifications. Furthermore, we are concerned that the removal of the bursary will not promote diversity in the workforce, further disincentivising Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) – as well as male – entrants to the profession.

As Minister of Education, we urge you to take immediate action to:

  • Adopt an ITT bursary allocation policy that recognises the shortage of D&T teachers;
  • Allocate additional funding to promote diversity in the D&T teaching workforce and
  • Work with D&T ITT providers and the Design & Technology Association to address the issues with recruitment and secure the future of the subject.

We request that you take all necessary steps to ensure that all children in England enjoy the right to a full National Curriculum without discrimination.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Alison Hardy, Nottingham Trent University

Sarah Davies, Nottingham Trent University

Matt McLain, Liverpool John Moores University

Rose Sinclair, Goldsmiths University of London

Torben Steeg, Manchester Metropolitan University

Julie Buckland, University of the West of England

Alan Bright, Goldsmiths University of London

Suzanne Lawson, University of Worcester

Dr Dawne Irving-Bell, Edge Hill University

Tracey Goodyere, Birmingham City University

Sue Parker-Morris, University of Worcester

Professor Stephanie Atkinson, University of Sunderland

Professor Kay Stables, Goldsmiths University of London

Tony Cowell, Sheffield Hallam University

Andy Mitchell, Retired (Sheffield Hallam University)

Nick Givens, University of Exeter

Karen Fuller, Manchester Metropolitan University

Bill Nicholl, University of Cambridge

Ruth Seabrook, University of Roehampton

Dr Marion Rutland, University of Roehampton

Mark Norris, University of Sussex

Bhavna Prajapat, University of Brighton

Please note: the views expressed are the signatories’ personal views and not necessarily our employers’ policies. 

Thinking about Signature Pedagogies in Design and Technology

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Dr Alison Hardy for an episode on her Talking D&T podcast, scheduled for release next week [episode 44, released 08/09/2020]. We talked about a concept called signature pedagogies, which is the subject of a literature review that I submitted for peer review in an international journal. Here are some thoughts on the key ideas of signature pedagogies.

Signature pedagogies are “characteristic forms of teaching and learning” (Shulman, 2015s, p.52). The concept was developed by Lee Shulman from studies of professional learning in higher education, and has been developed in STEM and humanities disciplines; as well as for some school subjects.

It provides a framework for dialogue between educators about the common and pervasive pedagogies approaches that are used across a sector. The framework doesn’t assume that signature pedagogies are the most effective or appropriate, recognising that technology and society change over time; as do our knowledge and understanding.

Signature pedagogies are concerned with learning to think, learning to perform and learning to act with integrity – sometimes referred to as dispositions of head (thinking), hand (performing) and heart (acting with integrity). The framework has three layers, or structures: surface, deep, implicit.

Surface Structure “…concrete, operational acts of teaching and learning, of showing and demonstrating, of questioning and answering, of interacting and withholding, of approaching and withdrawing…”
Deep Structure “…, a set of assumptions about how best to impart a certain body of

knowledge and know-how…”

Implicit Structure “a moral dimension that comprises a set of beliefs about professional attitudes, values, and dispositions…”

You can watch a presentation of my recent literature review (submitted to a journal for peer review) on signature pedagogy at

I identify four themes from the literature:

  • Knowledge in action
  • Uncertainty in learning
  • The location of signature pedagogies
  • The challenges for signature pedagogy

If you want to read more about signature pedagogy, two of Shulman’s papers are referenced below.


I have been thinking about signature pedagogies since originally posting this blog and have been working on a speculative framework that incorporates the concept of an expansive-restrictive continuum; which I introducted in my first paper on the ‘demonstration’ in D&T (McLain, 2017). Click here to view a Miro Board which I used with my student teachers last month.


McLain, M. (2017). Emerging perspectives on the demonstration as a signature pedagogy in design and technology. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 28(4), pp.985-1000. DOI: 10.1007/s10798-017-9425-0

Shulman, L. (2005a). Signature pedagogies in the professions. Daedalus, 134(3), pp.52–59. DOI: 10.1162/0011526054622015. Available at [accessed 27/08/2020]

Shulman, L. S. (2005b). Pedagogies of uncertainty. Liberal Education, 91(2), pp.18–25. Retrieved from [accessed 27/08/2020]

My recent publications on D&T education, curriculum and pedagogy include…

 McLain, M. (2021). Key pedagogies in design and technology. In A. Hardy (ed), Learning to teach design and technology in the secondary school: a companion to school experience (4th Edition). Abingdon, UK: Routledge. ISBN: 978-0-36-733681-3

McLain, M. (2019). Developing perspectives on ‘the demonstration’ as a signature pedagogy in design and technology. International Journal of Technology and Design Education. DOI: 10.1007/s10798-019-09545-1

McLain, M., Bell, D., Wooff, D. and Morrison-Love, D. (2019). How technology makes us human: cultural and historical roots for design and technology education. The Curriculum Journal, 30(4), pp.464-483. DOI: 10.1080/09585176.2019.1649163

McLain, M. (2019). Helping new D&T teachers to analyse and develop knowledge and understanding in design and technology (product design). In S. Lawson and S. Wood-Griffiths (eds). Mentoring beginning design and technology teachers: a practical guide. London: Routledge. ISBN: 978-1-13-854110-8

COVID-19, Lockdown and D&T Education

Over the past couple of months I’ve been thinking about the impact of lockdown on design and technology. There is some good news and (potentially) some bad. On the positive side, the numbers applying for D&T teacher training (at LJMU at least) is rising, after a period of decline over the last decade, or more. On the negative side, the erosion of the subject in the school curriculum seems to continue with suggestions that everything other than English, mathematics and the sciences should take a back seat!

Thinking about the apparent growth in applications for teacher training, the number of offers made and accepted on UCAS from the last statistical release (15 June 2020) as 410, with 30 offers waiting to be accepted. The UCAS end of cycle report for the previous year was 400, with 10 offers to be accepted, compared with 418 recruited at the start of 2019/20, according to the ITT Census published on 28 November 2019. There doesn’t seem to be a huge difference at first glance. So maybe it is a local blip at LJMU? Or there may be a late surge in applications? The latter seems to be the case here at LJMU, but only time will tell if it is a national trend.

If it is a trend, it may be growth caused by lockdown, with employers furloughing staff or even making them redundant (not to mention the self employed). When I became a teacher educator, back in 2009, we had over 40 student teachers on our PGCE Design and Technology and PGCE Engineering courses. Since then numbers dwindled year-on-year for five or six years, until we had none one year. Fortunately, we weathered the storm and retained our capacity to train D&T teachers and the numbers are slowly recovering. I’m looking forward to working with 17 beginning teachers of D&T on out PGCE School Direct and PGCE LJMU Core programmes from next week, when we have a subject knowledge focus.

There will be challenges posed by lockdown, with D&T being an inherently hands on subject, but it is encouraging to see numbers rising. In addition to the challenges of limited face-to-face and hands-on teaching, we also need to get to grips with online learning and the temporary changes in how the subject will be taught and assessed in schools. Who knows what D&T will look like in 12 to 24 months, let alone the whole school landscape!

Prepared for the new design and technology GCSE?

This is the unedited draft of an article that I have written for the AQA D&T customer magazine due to be sent out to schools soon…


“The GCSE specifications in design and technology should enable students to understand and apply iterative design processes through which they explore, create and evaluate a range of outcomes. They should enable students to use creativity and imagination to design and make prototypes… that solve real and relevant problems, considering their own and others’ needs, wants and values…” (DFE, 2015: 3)


Over the past 12 months, I have had the privilege to work alongside stakeholders in the development of the subject content documents for the GCSE and A Level courses. Since the publication of the subject content, I’ve also had the opportunity to meet with teachers at network meetings, as well as current and past trainee teachers. As a result, I have a particular perspective on the opportunities and threats ahead for design and technology. One of the main topics for discussion in teacher networks has been the new GCSE, with A Level not really factoring into discussions. This may indicate either general acceptance of the content, or that it impacts on fewer teachers. I’d suggest, however, that the GCSE isn’t the biggest threat on the horizon for design and technology, but issues around the impact teacher recruitment and the eBacc on our subject are beyond the boundaries of this article.

At the outset, it is worth commenting on the subject content documents themselves. First a question: Have you read the subject content documents for GCSE and A Level? When I have been talking with teachers, they fall into three general categories: (a) those how have read the documents and been to meetings with groups, like the D&T Association or AQA, and have a good idea of what is coming; (b) those who have read the document, but read it like a specification and wonder where the detail is; and (c) those who haven’t read the documents, but have participated in discussion groups, online or in network meetings. There is a fourth category, those who are blissfully unaware of the changes ahead, but if you are reading this article you are probably not in this group!

The best way to read the documents is to, first and foremost, consider it as a ‘specification for the specifications’, which the Awarding Organisations are in the process of writing. If you compare the current subject content documents with the previous ones, you will notice that they are more detailed. A key factor that contributed to this change was the requirement, from DFE and OFQUAL, for clear and explicit identification of the breadth and depth of subject knowledge. Another factor being the failure of the first version of the subject content to gain general support at the consultation in September 2014. We have the dubious accolade of being the first subject where this has happen! An impact of this was the delay on first delivery from 2016 to 2017; although it demonstrates that we have an active professional community, both within and outside of schools, which I take as a positive.

One of the key areas for development in response to consultation feedback was the detail in the ‘technical principle’ section of the subject content. This had been the topic of much debate with stakeholders at the time, which resulted in 9 bullet points, as opposed to the 20 in the current and final version! Pinning down design and technology knowledge is challenging, as knowledge our knowledge base is not static, with technology and society changing constantly; and the nature the subject is to borrow knowledge from other disciplines, as acknowledged in the introduction to the document. It also provide opportunities to both build clearer progression from the National Curriculum programme of study and develop a general consensus to what is important in design and technology.

The consultation process for the final version, published in November 2015, included a wide range of stakeholders, including the Awarding Organisations, the D&T Association, teachers and teacher networks, teacher educators and sector organisations, such as the IET, RAEng, Design Council and Textiles Institute (to name but a few). It also involved almost 100 iterations of the final document, to the point that I was heard to comment “don’t talk to me about iterative design!” on several occasions!

Two significant changes in the new GCSE will be the introduction to the single design and technology title and the use of contextual challenges; both of which have been the focus of concern and potential mis- or over-interpretation. At the root of some of the concerns about the removal of specialist titles, like textiles technology or resistant materials, is the view that these are often referred to as subject title. However, the subject has been design and technology – since it was named as a National Curriculum subject in the 1990s – with the ‘material areas’ being specialisms that were drawn together from the pre-National Curriculum craft subjects from which the subject has evolved. Where a teacher’s identity is constructed around an apparently discreet set of skills and knowledge, any threat to this disciple will be magnified. There are two areas to challenge in this thinking. The first being that the subject content does not seek to define the specifics of D&T specialism, but to identify broad common knowledge and specialist areas for study in-depth. The second being the fact that the purpose of our subject, up to KS3 at least, is the educate every child and young person for life and society, not to train them as designers or technologist – although we aim to inspire and equip some to, increasingly as they study D&T at GCSE and beyond.

When you think about it, what on earth are ‘resistant materials’ or ‘graphic products’, and where (other than in schools) are they terms that are used? There are some advantages of limiting the range of materials (for us as teachers, at least), but for graphic products in particular, in my time as a teacher, we’ve seen architectural modeling in and out of fashion in specifications, as well as the preclusion of the use of resistant materials, like MDF, for modeling. How do these abstract limits reflect either design thinking or industrial practice? Similarly, resistant materials sounds like a committee originated working title, which got forgotten about and slipped through. And when do resistant materials cease to be ‘resistant’ – for example is metal rope a resistant or a compliant material. Materials properties can be altered by the way that they are combined or adapted, so on closer examination the line between (so called) resistant and compliant materials becomes increasingly blurred.

There was a clear mandate from stakeholders for the new GCSE to remove artificial barriers between material, freeing learners to select the most appropriate materials and components to solve a real design problem. This means that they should develop a broad knowledge of materials and components, which builds on the key stage 3 programme of study, and develop in-depth knowledge and practical skills in at least one. A logical approach, which many good subject leaders have always done, is to treat GCSE as a 5-year course – i.e. the KS3 curriculum develops the broader knowledge that is built on at GCSE. Taking this a curriculum model could help departments to address some of the tensions between breadth and depth, as well as issues around facilities and teacher expertise, in the short term, at least.

As a community we have long debated whether the subject is academic, practical, vocational or creative. I’d suggest that it is all of the above, and we should get on with facilitating young minds to engage with and transform the made world rather than try to squeeze it into one category. This might be a grand aim, but what does D&T offer the curriculum if not the opportunity for learners to develop thinking and action capacity through designing and making. Forget about whether every learner can use a tenon saw, solder or pin and tack correctly (as useful as these skills are, in context). It’s the ability to thinking, solve problems and have a broad knowledge of materials and components, and some of the possibilities that technology, tools and equipment afford us.

At this time of curriculum change, I end with a question that we now ask every candidate who comes to be interviewed for initial teacher training at Liverpool John Moores University: What is the purpose of design and technology teaching in secondary schools? There are challenges ahead for the subject, but it is a time for us to reassess it’s role within the curriculum and demonstrate how good D&T has a positive impact on children and young people, and society as a whole.


DFE (2015). Design and technology: GCSE subject content (November 2015). Available at [Last accessed 9th March 2016]

More thoughts on GCSE D&T – what should it be called?

Been wondering about names for GCSE* specifications (syllabi), i.e. Materials Design and Technology OR Design and Technology (materials) – same goes for Food** and Control (or Systems).

Sounds pedantic (and is), but names are important. I guess that it depends on where the emphasis should be. My gut tells me D&T focus areas should be an ‘appendage’ to Design and Technology***. However, arguments against that are (a) the general lack of understanding of what D&T is, (b) peoples identify (not just teachers) is tied up in the ‘material’ (not a great argument, I know, but it is a factor), and (c) it ties the idea of design and technology (as an activity) to a distinct and ‘definable’ epistemology (i.e. body of knowledge, concepts, etc.).

Again, just thinking…

* General Certificate of Secondary Education – the ‘terminal’ examination for 16 year olds in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

** The Home Economics degree at Liverpool John Moores University (NOT an initial teacher education programme, I might add) has recently be rebranded as Food Design and Technology. This is possibly the influence of Margaret Jepson (now retired D&T Food teacher educator at LJMU), but interesting nonetheless! The course itself is certainly not the ‘traditional’ Home Economics programme.

*** I’ve listened to discussions (and participated in a few) about the name Design and Technology. So just to nail my colours to the mast, I’m in favour of retaining the name, as the most common alternatives presented, Technology and Product Design, are either too broad or too vocational (respectively). To paraphrase the National Curriculum interim report from 1988 (chaired by Lady Parkes), the intention from the beginning was that ‘Design and technology’ should be said in one breath as a coherent stand alone title rather than a false devision between ‘design’ and ‘technology’ – which breaks down quite quickly when to start to define each word in isolation.

GCSE Design and Technology – what next?

Following on from the curriculum reforms instated by Michael Gove, starting with the National Curriculum programmes of study for Key Stages 1 to 3, GCSE reform is on the way. D&T, which was missed on the second list of subjects for reform, is due to have new specifications in schools for teaching from September 2016. So it’s time to start the conversation about what D&T examinations should look like.

It’s a big question, so here are some thoughts (unrefined as they are!) about problems, solutions and options…


  • Impact of prescriptive and categorised assessment criteria on teaching, learning and assessment in schools – initially inferring a linear design process, which many teachers found hard to break with when the Awarding Bodies changed (reduces) the assessment categories and rebalanced the marks for designing and making (back in 2008/9?);
  • Too many GCSE options – looks like a good thing, but it causes some confusion as to what D&T is about (i.e. is it about design and technology or is it about ‘materials’);
  • Lack of clear progression to Level 3 and beyond – i.e. Different qualification names both within and across Awarding bodies (e.g. GCSE Graphic Products to ‘what?’ at A Level?);
  • Lack of clarity/understanding between academic, practical, technical and vocational aspects of design and technological learning – this is a division that our European colleagues don’t seem hold;
  • An (over?) reliance on the single, integrated design and make activity at GCSE and A Level, in the past, and in some cases currently – i.e. design and make at GCSE and design and make at A Level (how many times have I heard teachers comment on pupils ‘still’ not getting what a design portfolio is in A2?);
  • Teacher perceptions of appropriate assessment models – the OCR innovation challenge (GCSE and A Level Product Design), which is built on research by Richard Kimbell and others at Goldsmiths, does not seem to have gained favour with teachers (is this because it is such a radical departure from what we have seen in recent years?);
  • The popularity of problematic D&T GCSEs (e.g. Graphic Products) and vocational courses (e.g. Catering) that divert attention from core D&T practice and activity – I’m not against graphics (by the way), but what is a graphic product? It seems nonsensical to have a qualification that limits possible graphic outcomes to 3D products. Graphic communication is a key skill for designing, but is graphic design better placed within the flexible territory of Art and Design?
  • The popularity of making over designing – this is not negative per se, but does manifest as a desire for craft focused assessments or separate practical making D&T qualifications;
  • Teacher (quite altruistically) try to get the best marks for their pupils, which can result in formulaic projects and limited D&T – we need to recognise the pressures that they are under and the reasons for this practice, rather than condemn it outright.


  • Reduce the number of GCSE options – I am I’m favour of the three part approach, which has been suggested by Andy Mitchell from the D&T Association (see below) – although Andy has gone as far as to suggest on specification that covers all of D&T;
  • Radical rethinking of assessment models and assessed D&T activity (i.e. evaluate the impact and usefulness of the current design and make coursework activity and written exams, commonly used in most GCSE specifications);
  • Consideration of research regarding assessment of designing, design and make, creativity, etc. (national and international) – I’m thinking particularly of Richard Kimbell (et al);
  • Identification of priorities for children (creativity and cognitive, emotional and physical intelligence), education (FE, HE and beyond), society, industry, etc.;
  • Encourage graphics specialists and enthusiasts to adopt existing (or new?) Art and Design: Graphic Design GCSE and A Level options – build on existing links between A&D and D&T in FE and HE;
  • Encourage D&T departments to develop specifically vocational options alongside existing D&T qualifications – in conjunction with other subject departments and teachers (in particular progression routes relating to STEM careers).

Possible GCSE options:

  1. One qualification, called Design and technology, with three options [working titles]: (a) Materials (‘compliant’ and ‘resistive’), (b) Food and (c) Control (electronics, mechanics, programmable, etc.) – avoiding Product Design and Engineering, as these imply a vocational focus (i.e. both are careers that learners might choose – I suspect that we would not consider a D&T Catering, so why these?
  2. Three separate GCSEs with a D&T core: (a) Design and technology: Materials; (b) Design and technology: Food; and (c) Design and technology: Control

Assessment models:

  • Rethink the design and make assignment / project – in particular the design portfolio. Alternatives such as the use of sketchbooks, notebooks, journals (including ICT such as blogging, video diaries), alongside a shorter final presentation of the project which would include an artifact (product, system and or service). Note: this might require two or more different sets of assessment criteria, a little like the Level 2 Project or Level 3 Extended Project;
  • Removal of the controlled assessment restrictions for coursework conducted over weeks or months;
  • Alternative assessments, such as the OCR innovation chalked to assess design creativity;
  • Consider the value and content of written D&T examinations – in particular the ‘designing’ aspects.

Just thinking!…


How design acronyms work

The D&T Framework in 2004 brought together some useful tools for the teaching of design skills, such as ACCESS FM, Winners and Losers, 4X4, SCAMPER, etc (see Module 4: Teaching the subskills of designing). Unfortunately, the roll-out of the training was a bit patchy (to say the least) so there has been a mixed experience in schools. This can manifest in two ways: firstly, in some schools the strategies were not adopted  to help children learn the skills of designing (including exploring, generating, developing, planning and evaluating); secondly, in the breadth of activities being used and the sophistication of use, never mind the confidence to adapt and develop strategies was limited – sometimes causing frustration and rejection! However, some activities have been widely adopted.

I’ve been thinking recently about the use of acronyms, in particular, such as ACCESS FM[1. aesthetics, customer, cost, environment, size, safety, function, materials] and SCAMPER[2. substitute, combine, adapt, modify, purpose, eliminate, rearrange]. There is nothing special about these acronyms, other than the fact that they are memorable (mnemonics) and each ‘heading’ (e.g. ‘customer’ in ACCESS FM) may not be useful or appropriate in each situation. However, they are useful cognitive tools, that can help teachers and children to build design thinking and strategies – as well as highlight links between the material areas in D&T. But like any tools, the require a certain level of skill in use.

So how do I use an acronym (or any of the strategies)?

There are two ‘extremes’ that you will be working between when you adopt and use a design tool like ACCESS FM:

  • Rigid (scaffolded[3. Note: there is an element of scaffolding AND facilitation at both ‘extremes’]) use of all the headings in a teacher lead activity.
  • Flexible (facilitated) adaption by the learner(s) in an independent maker.

When leaning towards the former approach, the teacher needs to consider the learners’ age, ability, prior experience and the context of the activity. Assuming the learners will understand what is expected is a common mistake, as the meanings of the ‘headings’ can be unclear (e.g. aesthetics). So there are at least three choices to make at this point: (a) define the meaning, (b) use examples, and (c) use prompt questions or explanations. There is an excellent opportunity for developing literacy in the use of technical language here, through worksheets, glossaries, word walls etc.

Other choices to make include: changing unfamiliar words to more familiar ones (e.g. ‘aesthetics’ for ‘appearance’); or removing headings to reduce the number (e.g. ACCESS FM could become FACE – function, appearance, customer, environment). The annotated worksheet below, combines the SCAMPER strategy (page 380) with and activity called 4X4 (page 371). Notice how the worksheet includes the SCAMPER acronym (top), with prompts (above) and the main 4X4 activity clearly laid out (main section). This is a scaffolded activity, rather than a style of presenting a design development sheet, but might be an appropriate starting point for Key Stage 3 (KS3) learners. The aim being that as confidence grows, learners employ and adapt a range of strategies independently. So a similar activity with Year 9s or 10s might have an A3 page folded twice to create 4 boxes, with the teacher using examples, a slideshow and/or a poster to remind/prompt about the the strategy.


Annotated SCAMPER / 4X4 worksheet

[Click here to download the worksheet above]

The key to using design activities like this is good teacher modelling, when first introducing them to learners. It is also important not to use them as the only form of design activity, so children have to opportunity to apply what they learn (e.g. sketching, combining materials, making a prototype etc.), and are not thrown when they are faced with a ‘blank page’ for the first time. Teacher modelling can include demonstrating, explaining and questioning, each of which can[4. …and should, in most cases.] be achieved ‘live’ in the lesson or through learning resources (worksheet, posters, presentations, videos etc.). When beginning with a new approach, a ‘worked example’ (demonstration) can show learners what is expected. This is most effective when you demonstrate using the same materials and format to the learners, so using a visualiser, video camera or if you don’t have access to either, gather the learners around a table[4. Remember that they can’t see what you can see]. To avoid stifling creativity, you might use a different context to that of the lesson, so that you don’t lead learners to particular solutions[5. i.e. “This is what the teachers must want.”].

When working with older or more confident learners, you could begin to be more flexible. For example, when using the 4X4 activity encourage them to use the strategies that are helpful if and when they need them – i.e. to help to prompt thinking, if they don’t have any immediate ideas. This returns us to the concept at the beginning of this blog post, that the activities are nothing special in themselves and a certainly not ‘designing’, but rather learning aids or scaffolds to developing design skills – enabling learners to become more confident and well rounded design thinkers.

See previous blog post: Quick and dirty product analysis

Towards a philosophy of products?

I read an interesting article yesterday (26th April 2013) on Google Glass, in the MIT Technology Review (thanks to David Barlex and Torben Stegg). The author (John Pavius) discusses some of the, potential, technical and social issues with the user interface with Google Glass. However, the most interesting part was a reference to the 20th Century German philosopher Martin Heidegger, who is possibly best know for his writing on tool use.

Pavius takes a slightly dystopian view of the implications of the Google Glass user interface with future ‘technological’ products in the future, which somewhat reflects Heideggar’s leanings. Having said that, I think that he (Heideggar) can teach us something about products. He wrote within a the school of phenomenology, which (very crudely speaking) is concerned with the observation and experience of phenomena (things that occur/happen in human experience).

Taken from:

Heideggar was interested in objects, or more accurately ‘things’: he actually was not particularly keen of objects as a term, inferring a distance, whereas ‘things’ are experienced and meaningful (think that I’ve got that right!?). Two key concepts regarding tools, in heidegarrian philosophy are readiness to hand and presence at hand. These terms describe human beings relationship to and use of tools. Heideggar used the example of the hammer. When a hammer is in use, it becomes an extension of the arm and withdraws from consciousness: this is readiness to hand. Conversely, if the hammer does not function or functions inefficiently, it comes into consciousness and become less effective as a tool (Heideggar takes about ‘broken’ tools): this is presence at hand.

This got me thinking that often when I have read people explaining this concept, it is in terms of tools being one or the other. But what if tools move between the two states? We experience (use) tools (products and/or technologies) in two different ways (or from two different perspectives). Sometimes products are used instinctively and unconsciously, such as spectacles, and they become an extension to our body (readiness to hand). Many technologies are like this when they become ubiquitous and part of how we live and act within our society/culture. On the other extreme, there are products that are very much in our consciousness, but not necessarily because they are ‘broken’. Take, for example, the iPhone: much loved by many despite its perceived flaws. So appears to be a disruptive element in the design of much-loved products that pulls them into consciousness (presence at hand).

This line of argument suggests that products might be ‘positioned’ at a point along a continuum between readiness at hand and presence to hand. This positioning might be contingent on the technology maturity of or adoption of specific technologies by the local culture (and individual), but complex products, such as smart phones, cars and buildings, move in and out of consciousness; so the ‘position’ is not fixed. When I feel the hardness (resistance, even mild discomfort) of my iPhone in my hand and against my ear, I am reminded that it is not part of me, it remains in my consciousness (presence at hand); at the same time functioning as an extension being used unconsciously (readiness to hand).

Readiness to hand / presence at hand product continuum

So what are the implications for a philosophy of products or product design? Are disruptive ‘imperfections’ part of people’s emotional attachment to products? Can complex products be simultaneously ready to hand and present at hand? Or do they move in and out of consciousness? Does Heideggar suggest a way to avoid the dystopian view of technology and technological determinism?… [to be continued]

Alternative (draft) Programme of Study for Design and Technology!

On Friday 19th April 2013 the Design and Technology Association (D&TA) and Education for Engineering (E4E) met at the Royal Academy of Engineering, London, with around 50 representatives from schools, higher education, industry (design, engineering and food), the cultural sector (museums) and subject associations to discuss a re-drafting of an alternative Programme of Study for Design and Technology. The meeting came about as the result of the Department for Education (DFE) giving the D&TA and E4E permission to present a reworked proposal on Monday 22nd April 2013 (today) – so quite a tight turn around!

I am pleased to say that the group worked solidly all day Friday and developed a redraft, a version of which had been presented at the beginning of the day. The drafting team worked ‘flat out’ over the weekend to respond to feedback and create a document that was ready to present to the DFE. You can click here to download and read the new proposal.

So what can you do?

We would encourage you to read the proposal carefully and feel that you can support this document as it is presented to the DFE, as a more accurate representation of what D&T should be as a forward looking subject. You could:

  1. Email John Husbands at the D&T Association, with your name, title and institution, to signal your support (identifying your support either as an individual or an institution);
  2. Leave a comment or join in a discussion on the Believe in D&T website;
  3. Email your MP and ask them to support this proposal;
  4. Email Elizabeth Truss MP (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Education) directly;
  5. Share this blog post and the document with as many teachers as you can and encourage them to respond;
  6. Use social media (Facebook, Twitter) to spread the word;

If you have any thoughts, responses or questions on the Alternative Programme of Study feel free to leave a comment on this blog and share the link!

Download the proposal: D&T Assoc and E4E Draft D&T PoS April 22.pdf