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Designing without Making in Response to New and Emerging Technologies

Insisting that pupils should always make what they have designed can undermine their autonomy, especially if they have limited making skills. The Young Foresight project deliberately avoids this difficulty by requiring pupils to work collaboratively in designing but not making products and services for the future. The Young Foresight approach identifies four factors that teachers should encourage their pupils to take into account:

  • 1. The technology that is available for use. This should be a new and/or emerging technology and be concerned primarily with how the new product or service will work. Pupils should not concern themselves with manufacturing.
  • 2. The society in which the technology will be used. This will be concerned with the prevailing values of the society: what is thought to be important and worthwhile. This will govern whether a particular application of technology will be welcomed and supported.
  • 3. The needs and wants of the people who might use the product or service. If the product does not meet the needs and wants of a sufficiently large number of people, then it will not be successful.
  • 4. The market that might exist or could be created for the products or services. Ideally, the market should one with the potential to grow, one that will last, and one that adapts to engage with developments in technology and changes in society.

Clearly, these factors interact with one another and influence the sorts of products and services that can be developed and will be successful. Using this way of thinking, unencumbered by the necessity of making the proposed designs, enables pupils to be creative and develop highly original, conceptual design proposals.

An important decision for the teacher is the order in which to ask pupils to tackle the task. One way is to start with a particular new technology and ask a sequence of questions such as these: What sorts of things can we use this technology for? What needs would the technology meet? Would meeting these needs be seen as important and worthwhile in society in the future? Would people want products or services to meet these needs? What sort of market is there likely to be for these products and services?

If this approach is adopted, it will be important to be wide ranging in answering the first question. For example, in asking this question about the possible application of quantum tunneling composite (QTC), a new material that can be used to make pressure-sensitive conductors, a group of pupils identified the following possible areas of application: sport and leisure, transportation, medicine, environmental monitoring, and aids for the handicapped. Eventually, they focused on producing a range of sport-and-leisure goods and developed two ideas from this range: a device that could be used to help people recover from hand injuries and overcome arthritis and a textile product that could be used for step exercises and would keep an accurate record of exercises performed. They were able to justify both product ideas in their answers to the other questions. And they were able to explain how the technology they had started with would be utilized in their designs.

Another way is to start by asking pupils to construct a scenario of what a future society will be like and what life will be like for particular groups of people in that society. Pupils can then explore a sequence of questions such as these: What needs would there be in that society? What products and services would people want to meet these needs? What sort of market is there likely to be for these products and services? What technology do I need to make the product or service work?

This is a much more demanding approach, but it offers more scope for considering the nature of a future society and the impact of technology on that society. It is an approach that is more likely to stall, as the starting point is much less concrete than a particular technology. However, it does have the potential for developing some really big ideas. For example, a group of pupils constructed a scenario in which only the rich had access to antiaging technology through private medical care. And the government refused to make it available through the National Health Service because this would lead to an increase in demand for health and other social services that would be unsustainable. In this scenario, there was considerable social unrest, and action groups used the Internet to mobilize opposition to the government. The pupils created another scenario in which this technology was available to all and explored ways in which the active elderly could make a financial contribution to society by means of limited work from home using the Internet. The limited work from home involved a wide range of activities using the Internet: providing companionship for the lonely, providing tutorial support for those studying at school using e-l earning, supporting a forum for the discussion of local issues to develop participation in local government, providing examples of oral history from their memories of times past, and providing guidance to those involved in work similar to that which they did when in full-time employment.

The design that the pupils produced was a guide to antiaging services provided by new technology. A comparison of the two scenarios revealed that the way a society makes such technology available to its people has consequences and showed how the same technology, in this case use of the Internet, could be used for very different purposes.

A concern expressed by some teachers about the Young Foresight approach was that pupils would become demotivated if they were not able to make their design proposals on an individual basis and have them for themselves. In reality, the reverse was true. The pupils valued the collaborative approach and saw the benefits in comparison with working as isolated individuals.

• You get a better product as a group. You don’t get “Ah, you’re doing this wrong”;

  • • They help you out and say you could have done this . . . help you evaluate your product sort of.
  • • You’re not like “do this, do that”, you’ve got more ideas to do it. More opportunity.
  • • Not just using your own ideas, you get other people’s and you can work off them.
  • • It works better when we’re in groups, more ideas than if you work as an individual. You can see things from different perspectives.
  • • It’s really shown me what I can achieve, and as a group as well. (3; 4)

They also valued their design ideas, particularly as they themselves were responsible for identifying the design tasks they tackled. Barlex and Trebell (2008) reported that pupils were very keen to share their design ideas, prompting detailed feedback such as the following: “I liked it, as I designed a ring that allows you to download movies and allows you to project them onto a surface to watch them.” They were clearly proud of their design ideas, prompting comments such as the following: “I really liked it as it was well thought out, and the product itself was the shape of an eye.” They all agreed that the need to make would have led to simplification of the design and that the unit taught them “to design ideas from other peoples’ perspectives and wants.” So although taking action is limited to developing a design proposal, there is no doubt that this approach requires a high level of reflection on the part of the pupil. The pupils’ commitment to their design proposals was significant, indicating that they valued this more highly than items they could actually make.

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