The methods of teaching we've constructed do not match what is needed in the design industry

Paul Woodward
31st March 2017 at 17:02

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, The methods of teaching we've constructed do not match what is needed in the design industry

It's no secret that I am no longer a practicing teacher. I say practicing as, almost every day, my thoughts remain in the classroom despite my work environment now being based around a design office.

As I sit at my desk I often imagine leading students through the factory explaining all the production methods to them while reminding them of the need for health and safety in the workplace...ahem.

I imagine that I can take them into these expensive and complex vehicles I am fortunate enough to design so they can experience projects of scale and complexity beyond the limits of the classroom and get a taste of what they might be designing in their adult lives as a result of working hard in their D&T classes.

I imagine my dual monitor setup is connected to a whiteboard projector and the group is sat quietly behind me watching intensely while I demonstrate how to use Solidworks to design an exciting new commercial product or to test out a component before it's mass produced.

I imagine that in the short time I am in their company I am somehow able to condense the weeks and months of work involved in order for them to experience the whole design process from brief (client spec sheet following the consultation with the sales department) through to sketch concept, CAD model, full size CNC prototype, testing, feedback and final layout; even down to the customers reaction as they collect the keys of their new luxury motor home before driving off into the sunset.

I imagine that they watch wide eyed as I show them the importance of using BOM's to ensure accurate costing rather than generic cutting lists, how to source materials and products (and how to haggle for better deals).

I see them fascinated by how to draw tool profiles into Alphacam to generate tool libraries and see that they care about lead-in and lead out, ramping, tool compensation and all the other technical aspects of CNC often simplified down to a 'run job' button after the technician has finished working their magic.

I imagine that they are eager to learn about product visualisation, CAD rendering, sectional and exploded views, assembly and component drawing for fitters and technical profiles for tool makers. That they can see the importance in being able to communicate ideas and concepts on the fly with little more than a pencil and a scrap of paper.

I imagine they understand what a prototype really is and how important it is in a cyclical design process; not the end of a 35-hour task. That they see the importance of their design work in context of business and commerce and that they understand how their creativity could make or lose jobs, that it really is that important in industry.

I imagine that they could love the subject so much that they feel the pain of seeing something they invested months of their time in to fail and the amazing sense of achievement when they put it right for the next iteration.

I imagine a lot of this before my boss strolls into the office to check on progress and snaps me back into reality.

The MD took a gamble hiring a teacher to lead a design department but I do think he knows that I secretly miss the classroom.

I was initially attracted to the role in order to gain hands on experience of this thing we constantly refer to in class as 'industry' yet many of us only know what it is from videos and books. Few of us have actually experienced it in depth, under pressure or over time and if I am being honest, I am sure those who do are better teachers for it.

If I were to return to the classroom would my attitude to teaching change? Undoubtedly, but would the curriculum, my colleagues and the educational system accommodate my new found perspective?

That I am not so sure of and that is what worries me. We have constructed methods of teaching that match the syllabus in order to get the best results, be that A-C or whatever Attainment 8 measure is in place, but do they match what is needed in the design industry (if indeed the burgeoning careers in creative and manufacturing industries can be condensed down to a 'design industry' nowadays)?

If I were preparing a student for the same job I would be leaving to return to the classroom would I feel certain box ticking exercises were futile or irrelevant just so I can produce some 'evidence' to satisfy an attainment target?

Even with a decent grade/number in hand after the summer examinations, would I feel that student was prepared for that role even if they needed additional training? In a nutshell, would I feel that I had adequately prepared them for a life in a design industry?

And so I go back to daydreaming and imagine returning to a classroom where design is the prominent and admired subject it deserves to be and one where students are given a foundation to become great designers and engineers rather than achieving a high score out of 9.

I imagine ways of wrapping up the whole experience of what work 'might be like' in something more engaging and convincing than a text book, power point or instructional video.

I imagine like most life changing experiences in life; if you could bottle the experience like a fragrance, you would make a fortune....or at least change a few lives.


Paul has taught a range of creative and technical subjects specialising in design and technology for 23 years in a range of schools, including stints as head of D&T and head of a creative arts faculty. He continues to work within D&T as a consultant but is currently taking a break from teaching to explore design in industry.