Having taught design and technology into a third decade now, it is inevitable that I would witness changes to the course content as well as assessment methods and criteria etc. However, one thing continues to concern me as a subject leader, teacher and a moderator; who exactly made the project?
Sometimes you look at a process of manufacturing technique and wonder if a young person with limited experience of manufacturing really did cut that dovetail by hand or manage to plane a perfect compound mitre joint. I studied furniture design for three years and I struggled with some of the techniques I have seen 'apparently' completed by 15 year old students. Health and safety limitations mean that access to certain tools or machines are restricted to the teacher or technician only, so what exactly was the students involvement in that particular process? As they are unlikely to know what that particular machine can do, was it even them who suggested using it in the first place?
I recall my days at university where the technician, a large and down to earth man with hands the size of spades, would clearly differentiate between the sexes. He was clearly a man with an eye for a pretty girl as I don't recall seeing too many girls on my course actually make anything; the technician would make patronising comments in a Brummie accent like 'ya don't want to be doin' that my love, ya will hurt yourself; let me do it.' However, whenever a male student asked for assistance they received comments like 'what kind of wimp are ya, get it cut ya'self'. Accusations of bullying or misogyny aside, it was clear that at least one girl on my course managed to get her degree without operating a single piece of heavy duty machinery or, to some extent, even getting her hands dirty.
My observations continued into my teaching career where I watched many a helpful teacher, and technician, provide a little more assistance than you might think appropriate and sadly, this didn't change a great deal when the controlled assessment was introduced. It's difficult to really judge where technical support from a health and safety point of view overlaps into professional assistance in completing a practical task and it's one where I still struggle.
The manufacture of the project is just one area where there is the potential for adult intervention; as well as the physical creation of the 3D outcome there is also the concept and its subsequent development. Can we be sure that a subtle comment here, pointing to another influential product or even a quick doodle on the corner of the page hasn’t directly influenced the student’s idea or the way it has developed. I am sure we are all guilty of it to some extent; watching in frustration as a student veers so close to a solution only to scribble it out in frustration and, after hours of watching this, we wade in like a lifeguard to save the moment. I’m sure (well, I know actually) some teachers have gone even further to provide almost complete solutions to students struggling and in danger of ruining a perfect run of 100% pass rates or even to ensure they simply pass the course with a grade.
It's in our nature to help other human beings especially when we have taken on the role of teacher; a vocation that is based upon the sharing of knowledge with others in order for them to learn and develop. I think the days of teaching you to swim by literally dropping you in at the deep end have gone but still, I often wonder what a student could really produce with nothing more than guidance, support and technical assistance. Given the continuing decline of certain practical skills, it's becoming more common to produce products and components on CNC machinery. In that respect, students are often able to draw and subsequently output their creations but again, given the cost of such machinery, students are often not allowed to setup the machines or the technician simply wants to nest several parts in order to save on wasting materials. Either way, it's yet another opportunity for intervention and to throw yet more doubt into the manufacture process.
Paul taught design and technology for 23 years in a range of schools with stints as HOD and Head of a creative arts faculty as well as teaching art, ICT, photography and media studies. He is currently taking a break from education to return to the design industry.
His Subject Genius blog was shortlisted for the 2016 TES Awards.