Paul Woodward
17th June 2016 at 14:59

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, Googlepedia

I would love to take credit for coining that phrase but sadly it’s already been taken, although maybe not in the same context as I intend to use it.

As I have revealed in previous blogs, I am an age (still young mind you) where I remember a time before computer based technology was all pervasive; in fact a time before computers existed in schools at all. I try to get this fact across to D&T students as I actually feel privileged to have seen the technology they take for granted develop first hand and I want to share that experience with them.  Perhaps the most difficult concept to put across is that there was a time before the internet was switched on and we actually had colour TV and electricity not gas lights and candles!

Research is an important aspect of design and technology whether that is researching for a design project or for material to compete a piece of written work. Such research used to rely on access to a well stocked library of journals and encyclopaedias during office hours but now such information can all be accessed through a smartphone, tablet or laptop while enjoying refreshments at your local coffee shop. The internet is undoubtedly an amazing feat of science and technology considered by many to be one of humanities greatest inventions, second perhaps only to the wheel. In much the same way as the invention of the wheel opened up modes of transportation, the internet and associated computer technology has allowed virtual travel around the world and the exchange of data at the speed of light…but it’s not all good.

Take Google as an example, perhaps the most relied on search engine in the world and one that has made its way into the Oxford Dictionary. It is so pervasive that it has even coined its own adjective. When asked a question we don’t know the answer to, we now simply instruct someone to ‘Google’ for it.

Now, Google is not a company that offers its services for free or for humanitarian benefit. It relies on advertising and revenue streams. Those that advertise on Google can pay a higher amount per click through to appear higher up the list of results. That is why you often find the answer to a question about environmental housing in Africa often results in offers of low rate mortgages. It’s for that reason, amongst others, that I often tell students to expect to wade through a minimum of 3-4 pages before they can expect to reach more relevant ‘academic’ results. It’s not just the advertising either, the text or combination of words can also have a noticeable effect on the results; too vague and you can get an infinite amount of irrelevant and time wasting results. Too specific and you only get products or text with that exact title.

Wikipedia is another example of a service that has replaced a trip to the local library and, while that access is no bad thing, the information there cannot always be relied on to be 100% accurate although that rarely stops students from grabbing whole paragraphs of text for essays and folder work!

I am undoubtedly a lover of technology and would never dissuade the use of it to enhance knowledge or productivity. There is no doubt that information can be gained quicker than ever before thanks to the internet but much of the time that information is not always relevant and, at worst, it can actually be incorrect or misleading. I have marked numerous folders where the research is, for want of a better word, lazy and I wonder if it’s the ease with which a bunch of pictures can be grabbed off the internet that inspires equal laziness in discerning between what is relevant and useful. Take the mood board, in itself not much use and often misunderstood as a collection of photographs when it should be inspirational imagery, shapes, textures, materials etc. It takes minutes to produce one yet they seem to take pride of place in the folder while a design specification is often relegated to a much smaller section despite its importance.

The mood board is not my only bugbear; client profiles that take random pictures from the net hoping teachers won’t notice. Sorry kids, it may be before your time, but the Chuckle Brothers are not plumbers on £30,000 a year, driving a Porsche, disliking spiders and loving shopping and EastEnders.

Existing product analysis, again from the first few Google pages, material facts from Wikipedia, is it any wonder I refer to the research as the results of using ‘Googlepedia’.

Am I suggesting a return to libraries rather than using the internet? Of course not, but I am suggesting that you should work a little ‘harder’ to get results that are relevant and less commonly shared. If you want an example of what I mean, just look at the research pages in many GCSE folders and it’s clear that the students never made it past the first page of the Google results.

There is a reason why academic institutions still have huge libraries of research material even though it could easily fit on a computer hard drive. They expect students to learn how to research effectively and to find texts and data that is unique and as relevant as possible to the task being undertaken. If you need further evidence try referencing what you find on the internet for a folder or bibliography, it’s not that easy.

Design and technology, like all other subjects, will rely on the internet now and in the future and there is nothing wrong at all with using it for inspiration and to learn. Let’s just encourage students not to simply take things on face value and to work a little harder to get research which is relevant, interesting and inspirational…and not the same as everyone else in the class!


Paul has taught design and technology for 23 years in a range of schools with stints as HOD and Head of a Creative Arts Faculty. He is currently taking a short break from DT to teach photography and media studies.

His Subject Genius blog is shortlisted for the 2016 TES Awards.