The paper Rebuilding D&T by David Barlex and Torben Steeg is an essential read for those involved in the subject. You can find it here:
What is written below are my personal reflections on the subject as it stands at the moment, particularly considering the value of the subject as a part of the general education of young people .
Valuing procedural knowledge
Procedural knowledge is at the heart of good Technology education but is also it’s Achilles heel.
Some of the discussion prompted by David and Torben, in relation to epistemology, needs to be around how knowledge is conceived and the status that different forms of knowledge have. I would argue that whilst knowledge is conceived in narrow factual terms, Design and Technology will remain more of an activity than a subject. Only when procedural, tacit, practical, strategic and other non-factual forms of knowledge are recognised as having the same status as ‘facts’ will Design and Technology be recognised as a subject alongside Science and Maths. Until then it’s position in the curriculum is not sustainable in the current socio-political climate that we have in England. Work therefore needs to be done on raising the status of different forms of knowledge – something easier said than done of course.
Another issues related to epistemology is that knowledge is school dependent and therefore variable. The procedural knowledge that is developed when undertaking design and technological activity varies from school to school. This is as a result of the nature of the resources that schools have and the different experiences of the staff who work there. To have a more coherent body of knowledge for the subject would mean compliance from school departments to follow what is laid down. Given the history of the subject and the different experiences of individuals becoming teachers, this presents quite a barrier to overcome.
D&T activity or subject?
Design and Technology is more something that we do rather than something that we know. It develops skills of using knowledge in context and enables pupils to draw on a range of disciplines and mine useful content knowledge from them. With a focus on real world products for real world people, design and technological activity could never have a fixed knowledge base. The more the subject is tied down in terms of the content knowledge covered, the less active and creative it becomes. One extreme of this would be Technology Studies where design and technological activity is studied but not carried out in a practical way. Another route would be Craft Technology where pupils focus entirely on making by hand and with machines including CAD. Products would be fixed, or tightly constrained, to make sure that the content knowledge of the subject was covered.
A poisonous STEM?
STEM activities in schools develop pupils procedural knowledge so D&T activities are not needed. In a hostile environment biological organisms adapt over time and so must D&T. Being reborn as Technology will at least get the subject properly in sTem – even if only getting the correct initial. This seemingly simple (but of course difficult) change could affect how the subject is seem by those advocating STEM.
A future for Technology Education
My conclusion from reflecting on our area of work is that I believe that there is a future for Technology education but not for Design and Technology education. Back in the day (1990) the National Curriculum subject was called Technology and included Information Technology. Now with the development of Computing as a subject in the curriculum, the time is right to create a new subject of Technology in line with the subject heading used in other countries. I can see nothing but advantages of developing a new subject Technology in the same way as Computing. What would be important, however, would be to create a subject focused on its contribution to general education and not just a rebranding of the failing subject that we have at the moment. This could be seen as a way of repositioning the area in which we work and perhaps seeing ourselves as more internationally connected. In this future, an Association of Technology Education (ATE?) could be formed that rivalled the ASE. There are, of course, plenty of models for Technology education across the world to work with and technological literacy could be at the heart of what may provide a more sustainable future for those working in our domain.