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!