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Education and the Concept of Technological Literacy

Enabling Both Reflection and Action. A Challenge Facing Technology Education

David Barlex

Th,s chapter argues that reflection and action have been fundamental to design and technology education in England since its inception in 1988. It describes and exemplifies a pedagogy that can be used in different areas of study within the subject. The chapter then describes recent developments involving the revision of design and technology within the National Curriculum in England and their possible relationship to reflection and action. Finally, the chapter discusses the challenge of embedding pedagogy for reflection and action in authentic tasks and emphasizes the importance of any statutory requirements, including both action and reflection as key components of the subject.

Justifying Reflection and Action at a Time of Uncertainty

In England at the time of writing, the government had instigated a review of the National Curriculum and commissioned an expert panel to provide detailed advice on the construction and content of the new National Curriculum (Department for Education 2011). From the beginning of this process, some subjects were privileged above others. English, mathematics, science, and physical education were to be included in the new curriculum, and the

J.R. Dakers (ed.), New Frontiers in Technological Literacy © John R. Dakers 2014

status and provision of statutory programs of study for all other subjects were to be decided. The expert panel identified three curriculum areas:

  • • The National Curriculum, a combination of core and foundation subjects in which the core subjects are specified for each key stage through detailed programs of study and attainment targets and foundation subjects are specified for each relevant key stage through significant but refined and condensed specifications.
  • • A basic curriculum that describes the statutory requirements for curricular provision in addition to the National Curriculum. These are compulsory requirements, but schools are able to determine for themselves the specific nature of this provision and the government will not produce programs of study and attainment targets for subjects and topics in the basic curriculum.
  • • A local curriculum that allows substantial scope for curricular provision determined at the school or community level. This might include additional subjects or courses, but it should also enable schools to extend or contextualize the national and basic curricula in ways best suited to the needs of particular groups of pupils.

The expert panel recommended that design and technology should be reclassified as part of the basic curriculum on the grounds that, although it is important in balanced educational provision, it did not have sufficient disciplinary coherence to be stated as a discrete and separate National Curriculum subject. The argument was that design and technology had weaker epistemological roots than those categorized as core or foundation subjects.

There can be little doubt that the subject of design and technology is broad, requiring pupils to work across a wide range of materials and associated fields—food, textiles, graphic media, resistant materials, control systems, and new and smart materials—and adopt a design-based approach using both conventional and digital methods. This breadth, plus the recent criticisms from Ofsted (2011), paints a picture that would convince those not committed to the subject being an essential and clearly defined part of a National Curriculum that it lacked the established orthodoxy enjoyed by, for example, school subjects such as mathematics and science. “However, most of the schools visited had not made sufficient use of subject-specific training to enable teachers new to the profession, and those who were more experienced, to continually update their subject knowledge. This often resulted in an outdated Key Stage 3 curriculum, an issue that also related to the upper end of Key Stage 2. In around a third of the secondary schools, too little use was made of electronics, computer aided design and manufacture (CAD and CAM) and control technology in the teaching of D&T” (p. 5).

At the time of writing, Minister for Education Michael Gove had yet to respond to the expert panel’s recommendations, and it is against this backdrop of inevitable but uncertain change that this chapter will consider the requirements for both action and reflection within the school subject of design and technology. Although lacking the disciplinary coherence of subjects such as mathematics and science, design and technology is unique in that it teaches young people “to take action.” The interim report (Department for Education and Science, 1988) that preceded the introduction of design and technology in the original National Curriculum captured this well in response to the question “What is it that pupils learn from design & technological activities which can be learned in no other way?” In its most general form, the answer to this question is that students learn to operate effectively and creatively in the made world. The goal is increased “competence in the indeterminate zones of practice.”

Jacob Bronowski (1973), in his brilliant book The Ascent of Man, considered this ability to take action as a defining feature of humanity. In his view, the actions taken by humankind are not like those of other animals.

Among the multitude of animals that scamper, fly, burrow and swim around us, man is the only one who is not locked into his environment. His imagination, reason, emotional subtlety, and toughness make it possible for him not to accept the environment but to change it (p. 19).

The tool that extends the human hand is also an instrument of vision. It reveals the structure of things and makes it possible to put them together in new, imaginative combinations (p. 120).

Underpinning Bronwoski’s vision of the uniqueness of humanity is the power to imagine and conceive new possibilities that might be achieved through taking action. Without this reflection, there can be no purposeful action, and a challenge facing technology education is to ensure an approach to teaching technology that embraces both action and reflection such that they are in a synergic relationship.

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