Pedagogy for Reflection and Action

The pedagogy described here was devised with the intention of achieving synergy between action and reflection. It derives from the activities of three curriculum projects: Nuffield Design and Technology (Barlex, 1998; Givens & Barlex, 2001), Young Foresight (Barlex, 2001, 2003), and Electronics in Schools (Barlex, 2004). Each of these curriculum projects involved a dynamic relationship between curriculum development and research. The Nuffield Design and Technology Project called on the work of the Assessment of Performance Unit in Design and Technology (Barlex &Welch, 2001). Two independent evaluation exercises informed the final form of the Young Foresight project (Murphy et al., 2000, 2001). The independent evaluation of Electronics in Schools (EIS) has validated the approach to design-and-technology professional development initially elaborated through international research from four different countries: England, Canada, Finland, and New Zealand (Banks et al., 2004).

In the period from 1990 to 1995, the Nuffield Design and Technology Project developed three types of learning activities: capability tasks, resource tasks, and case studies. A capability task requires pupils to design and make products that work and in so doing learn to become capable and reveal their capability. This involves pupils in generating and developing design ideas and combining them into a visualization of the product so clear that they can communicate it through sketches, drawings, and threedimensional models that they can use as a guide when making the product. This product will embody their design ideas and reveal both their designing and making abilities.

If pupils are not reflective when tackling a capability task, the action they take will be poorly conceived and lead to disappointing and inappropriate outcomes. Such tasks are engaging but highly demanding activities, and pupils are unlikely to be successful if they cannot build on prior learning. Resource tasks and case studies provide this prior learning. A resource task is a short activity, often practical, that requires pupils to think and helps them learn the knowledge and skills they need to design and make products really well— that is, to be successful in a capability task. Through resource tasks, pupils learn design strategies, communication techniques, making/manufacturing skills, technical knowledge and understanding, and commercial matters. The range of learning encompassed by resource tasks supports both reflection and action. A case study is a true story about design and technology from the world outside school. Through case studies, pupils learn how firms and business design and manufacture goods and how goods are marketed and sold. Pupils also learn about the impact that products have on the people who use them and the places where they are made and used. These impacts can be economic, social, or environmental and may be unanticipated by both producer and user. Learning from case studies primarily supports reflection. In both resource tasks and capability tasks, the emphasis is on individual learning and performance. However, in case studies, there are sometimes instructions requiring pupils to work collaboratively and discuss the contents of the study with a partner.

The Young Foresight project, which began in 1997, adapted the Nuffield capability tasks and resource tasks in four important ways. First, it removed the requirement to make from the capability task so that pupils could concentrate on designing without being limited by their personal making skills and the facilities available in the school. Second, it required pupils to work collaboratively in this design activity. Third, it reconceptualized the supporting resource tasks into a toolkit of tasks to support designing rather than designing and making. Fourth, it required pupils to discuss their work with one another when tackling toolkit tasks. The emphasis on collaboration and communication is in considerable contrast to the mainly individualistic way in which pupils were expected to work within the Nuffield approach to design and technology. Here, taking action was limited to making design proposals, but reflection was given a high priority in that pupils were required to decide for themselves what they would design and to justify its worth.

The emphasis on design and making in the Nuffield Design and Technology Project was maintained in the EIS project, which began in 2001, but the design decisions made by the pupils were made more explicit by considering them as belonging to one of five sets: conceptual, technical, aesthetic, constructional, and marketing. These sets of design decisions are mutually interdependent. A change of decision in one set will almost certainly lead to changes in the other sets. By making the possible design decisions more explicit, the EIS project was able to provide teachers with an audit tool by which they could scrutinize the range of designing required in capability tasks and ensure that pupils were properly prepared to make and justify these decisions. By clarifying and focusing on the design decisions that will be enacted through making, this approach requires a high degree of reflection in making the design decisions under the imperative that they must be achievable through making. Hence both reflection and action are given a high priority.

Achieving Action and Reflection: Considering How Needs and Wants Are Met by Technological Products and Services

If pupils are to move away from an egocentric approach to designing, it is important that they design for others rather than for themselves. To do this, they will need to have some understanding of people’s needs and how these might be met by products and services. The Nuffield Design and Technology Project developed the PIES approach to identifying human needs. PIES is an acronym standing for physical, intellectual, emotional, and social and provides a simple conceptual framework for classifying needs. We need food, water, and air to breathe. We need to keep warm, be protected from the weather, and exercise regularly. These are physical needs. We need to be mentally active, learn new things, and be stimulated. These are intellectual needs. We need to feel safe and secure. We need to feel that others care about us and to have ways of expressing our feelings. These are emotional needs. Most people like to spend time with their friends, talking and sharing joint activities. These are social needs. The resource task that introduces this approach asks pupils to identify the needs of people in three different situations: in a hospital ward, in a hotel room, and on a train journey. It then requires the pupils to identify products that meet these needs. In this way, the pupils can learn about the relationship between needs and products. It provides pupils with a conceptual tool that they can use to interrogate both situations and products. They can ask of situations they observe, “What are the needs of people in this situation?” and “What products do they use to meet these needs?” They can ask of existing products, “What needs will be met by this product?” and “In what situations are people likely to have these needs and hence use these products?” They can put their own product-design ideas into a variety of situations and scrutinize them for their potential usefulness. By using the PIES approach to considering needs and wants, teachers can develop in pupils a user-centered approach to designing and making so that the actions they take through designing and making are informed by significant reflection on peoples’ needs and wants.

The Young Foresight toolkit introduces the PIES approach through considering the needs of people who are waiting at a bus stop, a railway station, and an airport and identifying the needs met by a mobile phone, laptop computer, and newspaper. This is then extended by means of a second activity in which pupils explore the differences between needs and wants. This is done by means of two short vignettes that describe how the needs of people in very different situations are met. This leads pupils to appreciate that what we want and can hope to acquire to meet our needs are determined largely by the nature of the society in which we live. Pupils’ actions are limited here to the extent that they will devise design proposals that they will not make, but their proposals will be informed by a consideration of users’ needs and wants, ensuring that both action and reflection are required.

Several of the case studies in the Nuffield Design and Technology Study Guide (Barlex, 1995a) reinforce the relationship between people’s needs and the products and technologies they use. The case study “Printing—from wood-blocks to computers” illustrates how technological advances in printing have been used to meet changing needs. “Designing houses to suit people’s needs” describes housing projects in Peru that illustrate how important it is to involve local people in making design decisions. “Designing maths instruments for different users” describes how a compass was redesigned to suit the needs of young children. By regularly requiring pupils to read and discuss such case studies, teachers can reinforce understanding of the important relationship among needs, wants, and the nature of available products. It is important that teachers help pupils utilize this learning from case studies, which is essentially reflective, to inform the actions they take when designing and making.

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