Echoes of a nearby future – where is (design) education going?

A well known on-line resource quotes ‘Design Education‘ as the ‘teaching of theory and application in the design of products, services and environments’

I’ve been away from my blog for a while focusing on Twitter and Pinterest. I’ve become a bit fed up and disappointed with education, sadly. My apologies….

I write this having come out of yet another summer of anxiety and uncertainty waiting for internally marked, but externally moderated, work for students studying design and technology in school. I’ve been in this game for over thirty years and until quite recently loved every second of it. Inspiring and supporting young creative minds to go on and study design at university and beyond (not this digital incarnation of the word – I mean the hands-on sketching, designing and manufacture of products that do, at times, employ or use various technologies as needed) has to be one of the best jobs in the world. Line managing thousands of folk over the years, managing significant budgets, overseeing and directing diverse and challenging projects, managing and leading teams of professionals in support of those students, marketing and branding departments to help facilitate investment and sponsorship…..and so on. Yip, the role of a design and technology professional was a wonderfully challenging and diverse job. But the joy has gone, and it has gone because of variables that, to put it quite simply, are out of my hands. I’ve thought about this long and hard, and the reasons are threefold.

Firstly, when you work with students for a number of years (two years at A-level or Diploma, or more if you include MYP/IGCSE etc.) you get to know them; their personalities, skill sets, weaknesses and strengths….you ‘know’ them well and you mark/grade/support/guide them as best you can and as they need. I expect internally marked grades to be more or less upheld as I believe I understand what is required and know the students – you attend exam provider inset/cpd and go to subject group meetings to ensure you are at least up to date. I also expect some moderation by the exam groups to ensure that my own visions are in line with the exam requirements…so a grade shift (up or down) by a small margin is expected. What I can’t abide, and I’ve experienced this more in the past five years of delivering design and technology, is a significant mark down because an element of the exam guide/rubric has not been clearly identified in the supporting portfolio, so the moderator has just decided that no mark can be awarded or attained EVEN THOUGH the work is very strong in all areas. As a lead moderator/team leader in the past it was my job to guide my team to see this – to see the bigger picture (if genuinely quantifiable) and give the marks based on the evidence clearly portrayed in the portfolio, not just decide that objective C, part ii has not been clearly identified. Common sense has gone out of the window.

Secondly, the subject has become dominated by the role of technology – specifically digital technologies and this is wrong in my book. ICT (Information and Communication Technology) has always been a part of our subject and arguably in the early and mid 1980’s design and technology led the way with CAD, systems and control in schools whilst CS/ICT became the whole school policy of IT departments. The situation has been exasperated by the coining of the term ‘digital design’ in the 1990’s, an American incarnation I believe, which has since clouded what design education is about especially in international circles. So within the MYP and Diploma programmes, for example, we have a mix of understanding and philosophy. In the UK, Australia, much of South East Asia, Design and Technology as a curriculum subject has embraced and used ICT and related technologies in the work students do to support their design ideas. As they use a pencil or pen. In the US and some other countries, it seems that the indoctrination with coding and so called ‘digital design’ has been done at the expense of manufacture and design (drawing, sketching, examining design history and culture, anthropology – arguably the foundation stone of good design). DO NOT MISUNDERSTAND ME, of course these technologies are of value and are needed BUT they cannot stand alone. Good Design and Technology education must include these aspects of systems and control, graphics, food/drink and textiles, manufacture, materials science, business and economics, languages, history, elements of science and maths, Art….so, we need to see this imbalance pulled back into equilibrium; the process of designing, manufacture at a bench, modelling and prototyping in resistant and compliant materials materials, sketching and drawing, reading up on design history, reasearching using other languages/culture (anthropology) MUST involve the use of Digital technologies, coding, CAD/CAM etc. but not be dominated by it. In my opinion of course.

Thirdly, the subject of design (and education as a whole) has lost its way. Sir Ken Robinson is spot on (see my blog entry Ken Robinson – creativity in education a decade on ) and the writings of the great Don Norman (How Design Education Must Change) are big influencers. Education is archaic and based on industrial ideals that go back 100’s of years. Schools have become exam factories and many parents want ‘results’ over education and substance. Many curriculums are antique and still revolve around the idea that algebra, Shakespeare and the dissection of a bulls eye are key to educational prowess and success. I’m not sure where the blame lies. Governments? Subject Associations? Universities? Political think tanks? Naive and inexperienced leaders within curriculum providers and subject reform groups? School Heads or curriculum leaders who fail to see the value of a subject that in their eyes is not seen as academic? Management by walking about, not just pinging emails, and experience based on service at the chalk face not just through theory delivered by a further degree. I don’t know, but suddenly, from a subject of significance in terms of wealth creation on a global scale over a decade ago (certainly in the UK), design (and technology) has suddenly become a second rate area of curriculum study in many, not all, schools. It’s expensive to run, difficult to get skilled staff who have the diverse range of skills required to manage and lead the subject and the new breed of educators are full of this digital technology stuff. Good design does not revolve around a ‘makerspace’ plonked in a library (!) consisting of a 3D printer (a CNC glue gun in effect and a technology that has been around for twenty years….), a bit of CNC kit with a CAD workstation attached and a soldering iron. Madness.

Design and Technology is not about ICT, apprenticeships or simply ‘making stuff’. It’s a significant, and much needed, diverse and challenging subject that drives global wealth creation, nurtures key skills (interpersonal and presentation) and embraces anthropology. It’s complicated, expensive yet thouroughly rewarding for all involved.

But for me, the fire in the belly has subsided. I’m being drawn to other industries that value the skill sets that I have built up over thirty years of delivering Design and Technology around the globe, all starting from a four year B.Ed Hons in the subject. No Masters this or PhD that….just solid delivery and experience. More mastery than any further degree can offer.

It’s sad. I think I’m a good teacher (two national and international nominations/awards support this) and I think I inspire youngsters. I get on well with parents and colleagues, know how to create and steer a vision…but I can’t deal with the nonsense of moderation and the apparent breakdown of my subject by folk in positions of responsibility who simply ‘don’t get it’. I’m also becoming disillusioned by education in schools – direction, curriculum and management. Seemingly, my professional skills in project, facility, budget and staff management, leadership and HR/PR are more valued by folk in other professions than in schools and education. These other professions also pay more for the same, or less, hours. Job satisfaction…? Maybe, maybe not, but until I try, who knows. A no brainier?

I do hope Design and Technology remains in schools. It’s an invaluable subject of application. A vital one. Education will be much poorer without it. Future generations of students, and consequently the world of work, will be poorer without it.

I hope I’m proved wrong.

Makerspaces….reinventing the wheel with extra ‘spin’?

Makerspaces….reinventing the wheel with extra ‘spin’?

My social media feeds have been buzzing in recent months with the word ‘Makerspace’ – being seen by many as the great new educational discovery. Thousands of primary (junior school) staff and secondary (high school) Design & Technology teachers must be pretty frustrated.

Designing and making has been at the core of education since the so called ‘Three R’s’ were spoken of. Reading, Writing and Wroughting as in to ‘wrought a wonderful design’. Hansard recorded this in 1800 and something.

Design and Technology has been in the UK curriculum for many years. Yes, it moved from simply practical skills in wood, metal, plastic and ‘hands on engineering’ through ‘Craft Design and Technology’ (CDT) and onto ‘Design and Technology’ (DT) and, for many (myself included) simply ‘Design’ where the amalgam of Art, Manufacture, History, Science, Languages and Business come together. About 30 years ago for me when I studied my four year B.Ed Honours degree in Design & Technology for education. Yes, I am proud of it.

In the USA ‘Workshop or ‘Shop’ has existed for eons too. 

Basically, places where students can go and make stuff based on the backbone of designing and sketching (no CAD yet…), evaluating and testing and discovering has been a cornerstone of education for many years. In some countries being ‘academically able’ and ‘good with ones hands’ is seen as a fundamental dichotomy. What I’ve known since I was studying Design & Technology as a student in the mid 70’s at school is now seen as something new. Wake up call folks. It’s not. Far from it.

What has happened is that many so called academics are rapidly realising that an ability to simply rote learn and harbour knowledge is no longer the mainstay of education. The world needs folk who can do significantly more than that. A little knowledge applied well is better than loads of knowledge sitting inside a cranium waiting for the next quiz on TV or trivial pursuit amongst friends.

Makerspaces are doing what every primary teacher does with their kids. They play. They assemble. They create. They disassemble. They discover. They fail. They learn. Using Knex, Lego, pipe cleaners, lolly sticks, art straws and so on. 

Makerspaces do what we do in Design (and technology) but arguably at a lower level with regard to material science, process and technique. In Design, the aim is to create and manufacture products using (as far as possible) industrial process and technique with manual skills and incorporating current technologies where possible. Designing starts on paper, evolves through modelling and prototyping with ongoing evaluation before arriving at a more developed idea for testing. 3D printing, CAD and CNC certainly comes into it (I used my first CNC router in a school in 1990 and 3D printing has been around for almost a decade in schools now if finances allowed). 

Good schools have had workshops for many years (as they did sports fields…) but short sighted folk (academics?) made decisions that took them away. Now, because of the world need to supply folk who are creative, practical entrepreneurs we have the ‘Makerspace’ phenomenon. A place where a 3D printer on a trolley, some wipe clean ‘write-on’ desks and some plastic bins of Lego (and an iPad for coding work…) is seen as the saviour of modern day education.

It’s not. It’s a fad. 

Governments are simply waking up to the fact that a subject that was seen as ‘not academic’ by many is now being seen as the vital saviour to our world economy because kids learning facts for exam success alone is simply not enough.

We need decent manufacturing spaces with lathes, milling machines, hoists, welding and heat treatment and plastic forming kit, sewing machines and food preparation areas, benching with tooling, design studios with paper and pencils for designing and theory (materials, business, languages…), cad suites and CNC equipment (yes, 3D printing etc.) for small prototype work so that students can understand the whole concept of taking an idea from concept to completion. We need assembly and disassembly lessons (recycling and re-purposing). We need liaison with industry too – schools need to outsource and bring expertise in). 

In fact, what some good schools should (and many still do) still have – a Faculty of Creative and Entrepreneurial Studies that embraces Design, Technology and Art. Oh. That’s what I had at school. 30 years ago (3D printing aside….although we did have a plug mill and an injection moulding machine). 

Makerspaces = Design (& Technology) departments. Full circle?

PS. We also now have STEM/STEAM thrown into the mix as well – a blog topic for another time….

Using MED’s in School (Mobile Electronic Devices)

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There is no ignoring the onslaught of smart phones, tablets and laptops in schools today. Trying to ‘ban’ these MED’s or prohibit their use is like saying to students that they can’t use pens or pencils (because they might write on a wall or desk). We have to embrace them and learn how best to use them so that they support a student with their learning. Above all you must educate students to use them appropriately. Prohibition is definitely not the answer. Trust is key.

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Really? Is this required?

The first thing, and I’ve mentioned this before on this blog, is getting teachers to change the way they manage their classroom/lab/studio. A few simple things can help make both the teacher and student so much more at ease in the classroom when using MED’s. I’ve been using laptops in schools for twenty years, smart phones and PDA’s for over a decade and tablets for five years or so and have dicovered many things by getting it wrong in the first instance then learning from it.

Laptop Classroom.
Don’t have your desk at the ‘front’ of class. Have it at the back (or if you want flip the students so that they sit facing the back wall where all your great visuals and resources are hanging/posted. Maybe not ideal to many but hey, a change is always good and it gets everyone thinking…). That way when students use their laptops they know you are behind them…they won’t fiddle on Facebook or watch YouTube videos on their favourite rock band because they do not know where you, or your eyes, are. I realise that this is not always possible (in a lab for example with tiered seating) but where possible, have a go at least.

You can see their screens as you wander around – simple ‘old school’ classroom management in the modern day (yet I am still surprised by just how many teachers still base themselves at the front of the class with walls of raised laptop lids facing them). Of course you move to the front as you need to engage with a whiteboard/-touch or what have you (although you can control many whiteboards from tablets and desktops). No good teacher stays static in a class nowadays – do they?

If you want full attention, get the students to shut the lids of the device. Work won’t be lost, the device just sleeps (do make sure they save their work every 5 minutes though just in case…)

Use software to help monitor screens – software such as http://www.Netop.com are excellent and can be easily installed on your desktop, laptop or tablet so you can easily monitor each student screen at a glance from your own device.

IPads, Tablets and Smart Phones

Many schools have established 1:1 laptop/tablet programmes in operation and as a consequence many acceptable use policies (AUP) are already in place. MED’s are fantastic bits of kit that you don’t necessarily have to teach students to use (especially smart phones) as they teach themselves so you can simply crack on with teaching and learning using the MED as a tool in support of what you want to achieve. However, how you approach their use in your classroom/lab/studio is your call – you must be comfortable with it and obviously it must be in-line with your school policy on MED use.

At the start of the lesson get all students to place their phone (iPad or tablet) ‘screen up’ on the corner of their desk ideally in ‘airplane mode’ until you direct them to use them (all wifi and Bluetooth disabled) . That way, there is no fiddling in pockets, bags or texting underneath the desk or behind ‘stood up’ textbooks….and you can see at a glance if there is activity on the device as in most cases the device screen goes ‘live’ and lights up when a text, sms or call comes through. When you need them to access the www, use video or photo, calculate, record sound, use an app you’ve identified etcetera they simply turn airplane mode off and go for it.

Students will quickly appreciate that you embrace using the devices and that you trust them to do so appropriately in support of their learning and in line with your school MED or ICT user policy. A win win.

Key points:

  1. Make sure your school has an Information & Communication Technology (ICT) Acceptable User Policy (AVP) in place
  2. Make sure you have an MED policy in place (could tie in with above)
  3. Make sure your school E-Safety document has been honed in collaboration with your students, colleagues and parents so it is an inclusive document. Getting whole school buy-in is crucial so that everyone feels that they have ownership of it (and most importantly everyone knows what it entails).
  4. Experiment with classroom layout and establishing what works for you. It’s your class/lab/studio so be in control but do get student inclusion in the thought and planning process. It helps.

Above all, embrace the use of MED’s in your classroom and look at the positives NOT the negatives. Not always easy to do but trust, and clearly defining the school AUP to the students, is crucial to establishing a clear and successful culture of MED use in your classroom.

You won’t look back from my experience.

Printing, Telephone, Email, Social Media…what’s next?

Printing, Telephone, Email, Social Media…what’s next?

Following on from the article linked to above I offer the following reply. Social Media is indeed the next ‘ICT’ phenomenon that businesses and schools need to embrace going forward in a rapidly developing (technology-wise) world. 

The use of social media should be as an inclusive tool – part of your working ‘tool kit’. It’s a bit like ICT. Colleagues in all business have the need to use the technology in the same way they use a pen or their cell phone. The problem now is that rather than training employees to use specific aspects of social media correctly and appropriately ‘hubs’ are set up that accelerate the interested/elite whilst the rest stumble in the background.

As an analogy from a schools perspective, 15 years ago many schools (and even some now…) set aside separate rooms for ‘IT suites’ which rapidly became fallow and a wasted space. Massive and costly real estate fail. Why? Wireless, tablet and mobile technology….meant people had their ICT capability on the go. Yes, specific areas for CAD and media work were needed but on the whole everyone went ‘mobile’.  I see the same happening with social media; acres of space and large HR teams tied to it when in reality professional development should be seen as an all inclusive culture so that all employees are part of it.

Yes, you need someone to champion it but thereafter share the skills with everyone and train them up. A skilled workforce = better performance (especially with the onslaught of social media).

I wonder what the 5th Age will be? I bet it will be with us quicker than the 4th was…..

Fancy a trip to the shops?

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What more can you have? Iconic Design (Isetta bubble car), classic engineering and technology (look at that engine, aerofoil….) and what a glorious mix of aesthetics (from the vibrancy of the orange colour through to the mix of exposed components at the rear).

I love this. Wouldn’t be too good for the supermarket run though…..or would it?

Virtual walk through of Mclaren Technology Centre, Woking, UK

Virtual walk through of Mclaren Technology Centre, Woking, UK

Like F1? Super cars? great architecture? Engineering? Well, have a look at this walk through of Mclaren. It’s wonderful.

A Lego-Style take on Modern Mobile Phone Technology

A Lego-Style take on Modern Mobile Phone Technology

Phonebloks by Dave Hakkens

Phonebloks is a concept for a mobile phone made of swappable components that fit together like blocks of Lego.

“It is basically made to be upgraded and repaired,” explains Hakkens, who was speaking at the Design Academy Eindhoven graduation show during Dutch Design Week last week, before his collaboration with Motorola was revealed.

“Usually we throw [a mobile phone] away after a couple of years, but this one is made to last.”

He continues: “You throw away a lot of good components [when you throw away a phone], because usually it’s only one item that is broken. With this phone you can only throw away components that are actually broken, or need repairing or upgrading.”

“If it’s getting slow you only upgrade the speed component, if you need a better camera you only upgrade the camera component. In this way you can keep the good stuff and the bad stuff you upgrade.”