Pass Notes: Design & Technology

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Above: from Apple Store talk by Jason Schwartz of Bright Bright Great [BBG] on the love story between design and technology in the real world

So, what do you make of the new version of the requirements for Design & Technology in the National Curriculum now they are just about set in stone – well wood, metal and plastics anyway?

Well, robotics, electronics and 3D printing all sounds very exciting and good for the future of British engineering and manufacturing? Everyone seems to be very pleased about the new D&T curriculum, and it has been backed by the design industry. And none of that horticultural nonsense? Surely you’re not going to be the only one to say it’s not good news?

I’m afraid I am – it’s not good news. It continues to offer a very narrow view of design and designing based on 3D industrial design and engineering. While it is true that a minority of children might, as a result of their school experience, end up working in these fields, the vast majority won’t, especially girls, and for that matter many boys. As with most subjects, it’s a ‘just in case’ approach should you end up wanting to be an engineer. As such it fails to offer the majority a broader educational experience that in the future can be transferred into other areas of life.

Although the latest version is in some respects better than the one published in February, it’s not really much of a change from the existing one, except for the inclusion of robotics and 3D printing. Meanwhile the ‘design industry’ have absolutely no idea of what actually goes on in schools, and seem to think that simply changing the curriculum a bit is going to suddenly improve the quality of teaching and learning. Perhaps if they actually got more directly involved it might start to make more of a difference.

I thought somehow you might say something like that. Now I believe in these circumstances it’s traditional to begin by endlessly discussing what design and technology actually is all about. You first…

Well, everything, apart from nature itself, has at some point been consciously designed by someone. So that includes 3D industrial and domestic products, but also spaces and places, such as interiors and buildings, and information, such as sales brochures, signs, computer user-interfaces, etc. So Design and Technology is about creating products, environments, information and systems that work well, and are easy and satisfying to use. And when you do that, as for example Apple does, you can make a real profit, so it’s central to business success too. These days sustainability has become really important too. Meanwhile to design something you need to find out what people need and want and the materials and technologies available to satisfy them. And you need some design skills too.

So what exactly are these design skills of which you speak?

Designing involves complex high-level, creative, open-ended, real-world problem-solving, collaborative team work, developing instructions and specifications, matching objective and subjective data, communication and thinking about and planning the future. Not to mention understanding how business and marketing work.

OK, so that’s what professional designers do. What happens in primary and secondary education?

Well, it’s not just professional designers, but really anyone trying to solve a difficult practical problem that works and people value needs design skills. So it’s something everyone will find useful, throughout life, and therefore worth learning about when you are young. And it’s also good to be able to identify examples of good and bad design when making choices about which products, places and communications to commission or select.

So what’s, err, the problem?

For mainly historical reasons, the very narrow view of design that schools have taken and applied mainly to engineering and 3d industrial design has meant that they teach very little about understanding and meeting people’s physical and psychological needs and wants, and even lower levels of skills of designing and creativity. It’s actually much easier to teach and develop design skills through communication and spatial design activities, mainly because ideas can be generated, explored and developed much more quickly when you are not trying to work with expensive and highly resistant materials.

And then there’s the other important issue that no-one seems to be mentioning which is that most existing D&T teachers – not to mention Primary teachers – don’t come from an engineering design background, so there’s going to need to be an awful lot of professional development work needed, not to mention a considerable investment in hardware in schools.

Then there is the stated NC Purpose of Study and Aims, which are themselves quite acceptable – it’s just a pity that the Key Stage specifications that follow do not match up and deliver them. As such the document has simply become yet another example of spinning a classic ‘technological fix’ to what is the real and more difficult problem of recruiting, training and retaining creative, enlightened, inspiring teachers. Like this one:

So what’s to be done?

Hmm. Sadly not a lot. Unless we start to pay proper attention to the development of design skills, all localised 3d manufacturing will do is enable us to produce a load of novelty electronic gizmos that no-one really needs and that are frustrating to use. Rather than persisting with the glorified DIY approach of most D&T departments, it might be better to focus on developing a Design Thinking approach across other areas of the curriculum, such as Art and Design, Drama, English, Business and Enterprise and IT, where open-ended creative problem-solving and extended project work is accepted as part of the learning experience.

But I would have thought that after more than 20 years of D&T being in the National Curriculum and the chance to improve things even further in the latest revised orders, all this would have been sorted out by now?

Yes, you might indeed think that, but it’s not. Oh, and by the way, horticulture hasn’t gone away – it’s still there, but just at the end.

Do say: “Design and technology is an inspiring, rigorous and practical subject. Using creativity and imagination, pupils design and make products that solve real and relevant problems within a variety of contexts, considering their own and others’ needs, wants and values.”  (from the D&T Purpose statement)

Don’t say:  “Pupils will use mechanisms such as levers, sliders, wheels and axles in their products. From the age of seven, pupils will use mechanical and electrical systems, such as series circuits incorporating switches, bulbs and motors. At secondary school, pupils will use advanced design techniques such as mathematical modelling and biomimicry. They will learn to use specialist tools, such as 3-D printers, laser cutters and robotics. Pupils will be taught to incorporate and program microprocessor chips into products they have designed and made.  (from the D&T Programmes of Study).

And finally:

with the days of the book-end, the pipe rack and the key fob well and truly behind us, All Change Please! is proud to announce the next generation of classic Year 7 D&T projects to deliver the new requirements for the National Curriculum, soon to be appearing in a school near you…

The Brief: A cereal manufacturer want to include a free gift inside every box of cereal it sells. They have asked you to come up with ideas for an imaginative toy or gift.

The toy or gift can be made in any size, material and colour you like provided it is no bigger than 8 cms in any direction (the maximum size our 3D printer can manage) and is made of bright green plastic (which is the only type of ‘ink’ we can afford to obtain).

© Tristram Shepard/Ruth Wright 2013

Image credit: Alexis Finch  http://www.flickr.com/photos/agentfin/8205912475

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Vive la langue française?

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La semaine dernière Toutes Changer s’il vous plaît! was en vacances en France having le bon temps. Beaucoup, il ya many années Toutes Changer s’il vous plaît! has étudiéd le français à l’école, ‘just in case’ il could be utile un jour. Malheureusement, ce n’ est pas être le case, et il estime that it wasted beaucoup de temps et d’efforts pour peu de return, mais il est surprised combien vocabulary il se souvient encore après tout ce temps.

Eh bien, that’s quite enough of that. So, why do we spend so much time teaching children French at school? Back in the mid 20th Century France was probably the foreign country you would be most likely to visit, and it was considered essential for entry to Oxbridge. And apparently if you learn one language it makes it easier to learn others. Going even further back it was the official court language, which of course the ‘educated’ needed to be able to speak. But these days we travel globally, and the vast majority of people we meet speak at least some English, or know someone who does. If they don’t, then Spanish, German or Mandarin would be likely to be far more helpful, especially for business purposes. And then of course there is also Google Translate, and all those clever little apps that are now nearly as good as the legendary Babel fish, that make learning a language much less of a necessity.

For the vast majority of children of course their work or leisure time is unlikely to require GCSE level fluency in a foreign language. While All Change Please! supports the idea of all children perhaps learning some useful everyday French, or even better German or Spanish, at a young age, it wonders if five further years of academic study to GCSE (England) French level for everyone is really appropriate?

Meanwhile, according to this article: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationopinion/10126883/Why-learn-a-foreign-language-Benefits-of-bilingualism.html  there are a number of wider benefits to learning a foreign language. These include:

  • improved test scores in maths and English
  • the development of multi-tasking skills
  • a possible delay in the onset of dementia
  • improved memory recall
  • becoming more perceptive
  • more logical decision-making.

Maybe, agrees All Change Please!, but these benefits are hardly acquired uniquely by learning a foreign language and can be gained in other ways too, and in the context of a somewhat wider skill-set.

And while we’re talking about learning different languages, what about coding languages? The jury is still out as to whether everyone needs to learn how to code, and, while it might provide lucrative employment for a few gifted students, like so many other things, the repetitive, boring day-to-day, factory-level work will be out-sourced to another country where they do things cheaper. So what we really need is what other countries can’t provide – at least for now – that is an agile, creative approaches to the solving and implementation of complex and innovative IT solutions that successfully utilise well-designed user interfaces. Do we really need a generation of children capable of nothing more than whatever the coding equivalent of Franglais is? Hmm. Perhaps it will come to be called Codlish?

Meanwhile, All Change Please! is pleased to be able to say that it drank le bon vin, took un bateau pour un château et de manger quelque chose beaucoup de gâteau

Le All Change Please! got by with a little help from Google Translate and Tricia Translate.

Image credit: Fickr, wiseige  http://www.flickr.com/photos/whizzer/6078576560

Can I see tea?

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Over recent weeks All Change Please! has posted about the draft National Curriculum requirements for Design & Technology, Art & Design, and History. Now it’s time to look at the new-fangled Computer studies (or as a DfE press release recently called it, ‘Computing Studies’), and to help us we’re delighted to welcome back the wondeful spirit of Joyce Grenfell, who is leading today’s Key Stage 1 lesson.

“Ok class, let’s all gather round. Today we’re going to learn about computers. I expect you already know a lot more about them than I do, don’t you? Well at least I’m rather hoping you do. Now, first make sure your smart phones and tablets are all switched off please – you’re not really supposed to have them in school are you? No, I’m sorry Larry you’ll just have to finish working on your hacking app later – which reminds me, you really must tell me what a hacking app is. Anyway just so long as it doesn’t involve shooting people with guns – we wouldn’t want anything nasty like that now would we?

What’s that Steve? You’ve got an apple for me? How thoughtful. Oh! It’s not that sort of apple. Still, never mind – Yes, Pierre, you’re right, I can always sell it on eBay.

No Sergey, you can’t be excused to go and do a google.

Right, let’s see what it says here. Ah yes. Now, who can tell me what an algorithm is? Ah, that’s good to see how many hands are up!

So, Jeff, what do you think it is?

A type of alligator you’d find in the Amazon? No I don’t think so Jeff.

Mark…. Mark! You’ve got your face buried in a book again, haven’t you? Look up this way will you please.

Now, what’s your answer Ada?

A special type of rhythm used in music? No, a very good guess dear, but not quite right I’m afraid.

No Bill, I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with Al Gore. And please stop looking out of the windows and try to concentrate.

Oh dear, I was afraid of that, none of you know what an algorithm is, which is a bit awkward really, because I don’t either. Let’s see what it says here. Hmm – it seems that it is basically a simple or complex process automated by a computer programme. Well that’s not very helpful is it children? Still never mind. I’ve got a better idea, let’s all learn how to spell it instead. Well would you believe it, they seem to have spelt it wrong here. I’m sure it must be algorhythm.

No Salman, you khan’t do that here. Wait until you get home this evening.

Well, nearly time for you to go out and play. Now, next week’s computer lesson looks more fun. Apparently we’re all going to make a tasty Raspberry Pi. Really, these computer geeks are not very good at spelling are they? I suppose that must be cleverly linked in with the new requirements to teach cookery – or Design and Technology or whatever it’s called now…

Ah, break-time at last. Can ICT out ready in the staff room?

Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely intentional.

We wuz robbed…

Left feeling sick as a parrot

There were controversial scenes at a recent GCSE English league football match in which the goalposts were inexplicably shifted several yards to the far right, just as the lower-league’s left-wing striker was about to score, ensuring the shot went narrowly wide of the mark.

A spokesperson for the losing team stated: “This makes a complete nonsense of the extensive use we have made of performance metrics, predictive scoreline analytics and information goal-line technology. It feels like we are going right back to square one, just how the game was  played back in the 1950s. Now there is likely to be the need for extra time and a high number of replays and sweet FA appeals. We already have more players sitting on the benchmark than we would like. Achieving five or more good passes on the pitch at this level is already quite a challenge for some of them.

Meanwhile the manager of the victorious Mudchester Govers explained that the decision to move the goalposts at the very last moment had been taken in order to ensure a reversal of the goal inflation that has crept into the game over recent years and which favored weaker sides. “As soon as these lower-league teams convert to becoming football academies the better”, he said.

However, he rigorously denied giving the order to move the goalposts mid-match, explaining that that was entirely the referee’s decision and as such something he would of course never dream of interfering with. The fact that he is the person about to decide which referees will be allowed to continue in the future has nothing at all whatsoever to do with it, he didn’t add.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/artwork_rebel/3924846665

Froth always follows function at the Fab Lab cafe!

Just for a change, and especially as it’s Easter weekend, it’s good to finally come across something to rave about!

Ever since I first came across MiT’s Fab Lab concept, I’ve always seen it as a great model for the future development of Design and Technology in schools, and one that moves it away from an out-dated 1960s approach to mass-manufacture, towards the needs of a 21st Century post-industrial society.

Essentially a Fab Lab (short for Fabrication Laboratory) is a small workshop where people from the local community can go and design and make small batches of the things they and their local community need, using 2D and 3D CAD/laser printing systems. And where better to site such a workshop than a local secondary school where it can be used during weekdays by students and in the evenings and at weekend by the public (in many case working with, and probably guided by, the students).

But this new ‘Fab Cafe’ in Japan takes things a step further, and moves the idea out of a workshop into a cafe environment – traditionally a place where people congregate to talk, write, read, draw and entertain one another.  There are more photos of the cafe here.

So let’s consider replacing a traditional D&T workshop in every secondary school in the country with something similar. Students, staff and members of the local community can come in, relax, have a coffee together, collaboratively and globally discuss local needs, and develop their design ideas on their iPads and send them to the 3D laser printer in the corner. It would also be a great environment for learning coding and other IT skills.

However, it seems that 3D printers may soon be a thing of the past.
http://www.fastcodesign.com/1669426/mit-developing-self-assembling-sand-that-builds-objects-instantly

And maybe one day someone will even be able to explain to me how this actually works?

Don’t say:  I’ll have have a double de-caff skinny latte with an extra shot of laser-resin and a slice of Raspberry Pi. Oh, and an icy tea for my friend.

Do sayTea. Earl Grey. Hot.

Top image credit: masakiishitani

Raspberry Pi in the sky

A Raspberry that gives kids a taste for tinkering (Telegraph)

Raspberry pi computing under the bonnet (Guardian)

Over the past couple of days there’s been a great deal of press coverage over the launch of something called Raspberry Pi, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that with a single stroke the problem of teaching children how to code had been solved. But start asking important questions such as – err – ‘What exactly is Raspberry Pi?‘ – and suddenly there’s an awkward silence. As usual with a ‘techie’-led device there’s a distinct lack of consideration about communicating its features and benefits to a non-techie audience, or indeed of realities of the use the product might or might not get to be used for.

Indeed, for all you non-techies, perhaps you’ll find this ‘QuickStart’ tutorial exciting, informative  and easy to follow?

Or perhaps not. Anyway, as far as I can make out, Raspberry Pi is a small circuit board with a relatively low-powered computer chip that limits its use to the fairly ‘basic’ programming functions of the early micro-computers of the 1980s. But at the same time it’s also very cheap for such a device – about £20 to £30. The main pitch therefore appears to be that ‘every child should be given one’.

But simply handing each child such a device and expecting them to learn how to write code is a bit like giving every child a Latin textbook and expecting them all to magically become Latin scholars. While this approach will certainly assist those children who have good teachers and a real interest in learning programming, for the vast majority it is going to remain inaccessible and unattractive. Or – to extend the analogy made in several newspapers – it’s a bit like giving a child a car-repair manual with the expectation that in future they will all be able to maintain their own cars – appropriate for some in the 1960s and 70s maybe – but now everything is safely hidden away in a black box where you can’t get at it. And anyway, today most people are much less interested in tinkering with how the car works than they are in where it enables them to go.

Raspberry Pi has its merits and the potential to help a number of teachers to teach a number of children about coding. But maybe it’s a bit more of a Humble Pi in terms of a breakthrough resource? What the media, techies and the politicians forget, or fail to understand, is that in the development of an appropriate IT-based curriculum there needs to be a clear and compelling purpose, supported by a good teacher with a sophisticated ability to mentor and support rather than lead and drill. Teachers also need the creativity to design and scaffold exciting appropriate tasks as well as the technical skills to provide support where necessary and is called for. And that while some children may have a particular aptitude for programming, others are going to be more interested in the potential of developing social media, gaming, and designing websites and apps that satisfy human needs and wants.

Meanwhile it’s essential to realise that the IT industry is not all about being able to sit and write a program. These days, collaborative, creative and agile problem-solving, management and communication skills are just as essential.

Teachers who can deliver all this are few and far between, and are already doing it with Arduinos and Lego Mindstorms and various other control kits as well as with established programs like Microworlds. And schools are already full of PCs that can run these programs.

It’s not more cheap and not particularly cheerful kit and kaboodle we need, but more intelligent and widespread support for teachers to help them use and exploit what’s already available.

And meanwhile perhaps the techies should do a bit more user research?

‘For Eben Upton…it is a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to long years of thinking and planning. “We have been working on the Pi for six years, but we have never tested it with children – the target market,” he says.’

Oh, and has anyone out there got the faintest idea as to why it’s called Raspberry Pi?

With thanks to Tony Wheeler for his contribution.

The art of anticipation

Today’s futures forecast – major disruption is expected…

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, things didn’t change very much. Tomorrow would be very much like today, which was much the same as yesterday and the day before was. But slowly, ever since around the 1960s, the rate of change has started to speed up a bit. The pace really began to pick up in the 1980s and 1990s, but even then many people believed things would stop changing after a while and go back to normal – and after all computers “are just another tool aren’t they“? But things just kept on changing, and increasingly we started to accept the fact that frequent change was inevitable, albeit in evolutionary, predictable ways that were perhaps not too difficult to cope with. Today, a few brave souls are finally beginning to realise that tomorrow’s changes are becoming increasingly unpredictable, discontinuous and disruptive, and that the reality is that tomorrow is unlikely to be like anything we’ve ever had to deal with before.

Predicting the future is, in itself, not that difficult – science fiction writers have being doing it for years. But what they consistently get wrong is how long it is going to be before their visions become a mainstream reality. 1984 is still on its way. The voyage to Jupiter due to depart in 2001 has been indefinitely postponed. And somehow I don’t think that by November 2019 Los Angeles if going to be full of flying cars, or off-world colony replicants for Harrison Ford to identify and terminate. But one day, I’m sure all these things will come to pass.

Meanwhile this video link appeared the other day. A group of schoolchildren had asked delegates at the LWF12 conference for their views on the future – what it will look like, and what are the skills that will be needed to be successful? Full credit to the school and children involved in making the video – however many of the responses were somewhat predictable – digital literacy, more engaging computer technology,  global communication through utopian technological fixes, or the more dystopian, ‘we’ll all have to save more to survive’. And it may be more honest, but is it acceptable anymore to admit you don’t really know what the future will bring?

Now, given that I’ve had more time than the delegates did to think of clever answers, what struck me was that they were generally speaking providing essentially wild, uninformed guesses, aspirations and fears. Which is worrying really, because, assuming things continue to change discontinuously at an increasingly fast pace, my prediction is that one of the most essential successful survival skills of the 21st century will be the ability to anticipate and predict what’s going to happen next, and even more importantly, when. And that’s something that’s yet to make it onto the curriculum.

Futures forecasting is, of course, by no means new, and there are plenty of well established techniques and methodologies. Essentially there are two main approaches. The first is ‘predictive’, where subjective guesses are made about expected desirable and undesirable outcomes, supported by likely evolutionary time-scales, projections and statements made about the social, economic, technical and political circumstances that will need to be in place for that particular future to occur. The second type is a ‘predictive’ forecast based on detailed and sophisticated data analysis and extrapolation of current market and social, cultural, and economic trends and cycles – and ‘web analytics metrics‘ derived from computer-generated user behaviours is an approach that’s already very big business. A third approach is called ‘scenario writing’, which usually involves a mixture of normative and predictive forecasts.

In our future world the holy grail for our global corporations is to be able to predict what you are going to do or want before you even know it yourself, and then push it at you. And as a result we are going to need to be a lot clearer about what sort of a future we really desire for ourselves and others. More than ever before we are going to need a rich mixture of creative and logical thought and action to be able to survive by knowing how to learn from the past to understand the present and anticipate the future. And a new hybrid approach to the recently denationalised subjects of Design and Technology and Information Technology would be an excellent place to start.

Have you tried turning IT off and then turning IT on again?

Just over a month ago if someone had told me that by mid January, both D&T and IT would have been let loose from government control I wouldn’t have believed them. In fact I’m not entirely sure I do now, even after Mr Gove’s recent announcements. Meanwhile it must be galling for teachers of English, Maths and Science who have faithfully done as they have been told for the last 20 years or so to learn that technology teachers are obviously all so clever and trustworthy that they can just be left to get on with it, and that somehow just through the means of social networking they will magically lead us into a new golden age of prosperity.

Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth. No technology teacher under the age of around forty has ever been in the position of having the freedom to determine their own course content, and suddenly asking them to do so is a little like sending a domesticated animal out into the wild for the first time. I suspect most IT and D&T courses will in reality stay well within the safe confines of exactly where they are now. The lack of expertise in the current workforce means that there’s going to continue to be a lot of working in Wood and Word for some time yet.

In a few schools there will be outstanding exceptions, and enlightened enthusiasts will form collective departments that use the time to create new schemes of work that imaginatively merge IT and D&T to explore the creative processes of designing innovative electronic products, services and systems that are easy and satisfying to use. It is these schools that are likely to provide the future programmers, developers, interaction and games designers that can potentially save the country’s future economy and global standing. But there are unlikely to be many of them.

Meanwhile the responsibility for defining the technological curriculum of the future would now seem to be in the hands of the examination boards. No school is going to offer a course in Technology that does not lead to a GCSE or equivalent recognised vocational qualification at 16+. And at the same time, those boards will have to face up to the challenge of providing a format for examinations which can be seen to effectively assess technological capability – a three hour written or multiple choice question paper taken in the school gym just isn’t going to reveal evidence of the ability to undertake creative and collaborative open-ended problem-solving.

Now that the current Technology curriculum is about to be switched off, there is a potential opportunity to create something new and exciting, and finally provide a grounding in what are frequently referred to as 21st Century skills (or more accurately, the late 20th Century skills that were never provided).  The question is how?

And, one wonders, was Mr Gove given an iPad for Christmas and at some point needed to be told to try switching it off and then on again?

A cat amongst the pigeons

Well, it’s been an interesting week. Sources revealed that various academic and subject-based associations are meeting together and conspiring to put together a revised Design & Technology National Curriculum in the unlikely belief that it will remain a statutory subject at the end of the current review. Of course for academics and subject-based associations it matters a lot that D&T retains its status, but the reality is that the future of D&T lies more appropriately in a vocational rather than academic context. Meanwhile we all need to accept  that, for a large proportion of children and teachers, the D&T National Curriculum has over the last twenty years been a complete waste of time for all but a few schools where it has been done well. At a time when some forward-looking, non-academically-led vision is needed, the last thing we need is another patched-up version of the past, and another attempt to make a somewhat 19th century view of engineering compulsory for all. And a further danger is that what is submitted as being suitable for an academic National Curriculum will then end up as ‘non-statutory guidance’ for a vocational experience.

The 1989/90 first D&T National Curriculum was seen by many at the time as being over-ambitious, which of course it was, given that not nearly enough was subsequently invested in the in-service training needed to enable a workforce with largely no previous design experience to deliver it. Instead it was simplified, and by the mid 1990s had ‘settled down’ into something more manageable. But that’s where the development largely stopped. At a time when technology started to race ahead, a limited 1960s approach to 3D product design for mass-manufacture was still being offered – the only real change being the introduction of expensive CAD-CAM equipment that tended to limit rather than extend creative design ideas.

While 1999 was not so very different from 1989, 2011 is a very different world from 2001. Back then mobile phones just made phone calls and the internet was an expensive dial-up affair. There were no mp3 players, no sat-navs or domestic digital video cameras. And flatscreen, widescreen, catch-up TV viewed on hand-held tablets was still a wild aspiration. Few had even dreamt of the possibilities of Facebook, Blogs, Twitter and YouTube. Today’s 21st Century children think, communicate and learn in very different ways to their teachers

Sadly Technology education is now hopelessly out-of-date, and the problem is we don’t have a generation of enlightened twenty and thirty-somethings coming through into the profession who are capable of teaching children about things such as collaborative, agile ways of creatively solving complex problems for an unpredictable future, how to design apps or intelligent sensor-driven products and interfaces made from composite smart materials, or how to design and program an App that interacts with its environment. Technology education now needs a framework that enables it change rapidly, not once every ten to fifteen years.

But what made the week really interesting was the sudden appearance of a short, anonymously published, somewhat disruptive pdf document that got rapidly circulated amongst the academics and subject associations still trying to pretend that D&T still had a place in Mr Gove’s flawed academic vision for the nation. The document was simply a collection of responses to the question ‘Should D&T continue to be a National Curriculum subject?‘ Although the responses varied, the overall conclusion was a resounding No!, and that it would be better if it were left to those teachers who were actually able to deliver it well, leaving the rest to focus on something more worthwhile. With Mr Gove extremely unlikely to admit D&T into the sacred academic ‘essential knowledge’ circle, it was suggested that this might be a good moment to try something completely different.

2D&Tornot2D&T? ( .pdf download)

This, as someone remarked, put the cat amongst the pigeons. The response of some of the academics and subject associations to the document was particularly revealing in their haste and vehemence in dismissing the responses as being of no interest or relevance, seeing it as an attack on the value of the subject, rather than the reality of its delivery. At the same time others are unbelievably still trying to define what is meant by ‘design’, as if this was not extensively explored in the 1960s and 70s.  Though after a number of days an increasing number of academics started to come out of the woodwork, so to speak, and admit that the document did make some very important points that needed to be taken into consideration. All of which simply begs the question – How many academics,  administrators and politicians does it take to make a mess of the next National Curriculum?

Meow!

Thinking Works!

In case you missed it, here’s a link to Monday evening’s Newsnight item on ICT in schools:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/9612063.stm

The item was prompted by the publication of a report by the Games Industry highlighting the need for the education sector to better meet their future needs:

“… the sad truth is that we are already starting to lose our cutting edge: in just two years, it seems the UK’s video games industry has dipped from third to sixth place in the global development rankings. Meanwhile, the visual effects industry, though still enjoying very rapid growth, is having to source talent from overseas because of skills shortages at home. That is mainly a failing of our education system – from schools to universities – and it needs to be tackled urgently if we are to remain globally competitive.”

The report identifies the limitations of the current ICT experiences children have in schools, lamenting the fact that we no longer have the expertise that developed as a result of initiatives such as the BBC Micro in the 1980s, and that instead the emphasis now is still on learning how to use Microsoft Office. Importantly it calls for students to have a mixture of STEM and Arts-related experience and qualifications, and not just one or the other, and to be able to work in multidisciplinary teams.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-15240207  (Click on the link to download the report)

Of course it’s not something limited to the Games Industry, but to the rapid growth in a wide range of IT-related enterprises. Indeed I recently came across the website of ThoughtWorks, one of the leading global IT consultancy companies that promotes an agile approach to programming. At one point on its site it lists the key requirements for the attitudes and approaches it needs its employees to have:

  • A constant desire to keep code as clear and simple as possible
  • Refactoring skills so you can confidently make improvements whenever you see the need.
  • A good knowledge of patterns: not just the solutions but also appreciating when to use them and how to evolve into them.
  • Designing with an eye to future changes, knowing that decisions taken now will have to be changed in the future.
  • Knowing how to communicate the design to the people who need to understand it, using code, diagrams and above all: conversation

But wait – apparently there’s a new IT GCSE currently being piloted that will change all that!

http://www.gcsecomputing.org.uk/project_a453/index.html

Or will it? Essentially it looks exactly the same as previous IT courses that have existed for several decades, with the addition of a section worth just 30% that expects students to write a program. Just 9 out of 45 marks are for design, with the highest marks being awarded for  providing a ‘detailed analysis of what is required…justifying their approach to the solution. There will be a full set of detailed algorithms representing a solution to each part of the problem. There will be detailed discussion of testing and success criteria. The variables will be identified together with any validation required.‘ An exemplification test is to create a standard password system.

Hmm – there’s nothing that could be called forward-looking or creative here – in fact it reads much like GCSE specs from the 1990s with a bit of programming thrown in for good measure. IT in schools needs to move far beyond learning how mainframes work and how to use Microsoft Office. Somehow the retro website graphics and revolving floppy disc says it all.

No-one in IT education seems to have realised that the computer industry has moved on – it doesn’t work the same way it used to, and the principles and practices of last year, let alone the last decade, are increasingly out of date and inappropriate to today’s requirements. Now it’s about agile approaches to high-level computing languages, paired programming and self-organising teams. At the same time we are rapidly moving away from the idea of desktop programs to cloud computing, mobile apps, ubiquitous computers and a host of other innovations that will completely change the way we perceive and use our information technologies in the very near future. And one of the big demands at present is for good interface and interaction designers, user researchers and information architects, expertise in social networking, and so on – none of which are even dreamt of in the philosophy of the current school curriculum.

There’s no doubt that Thinking Works. The DfE and Secretary of State just need to try it some time.