When did technology take over?

Paul Woodward
2016-01-15 19:02

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, When did technology take over?

If you read my last blog on the subject of ‘craft’ you may be forgiven for believing I am a technophobe living in a bunker waiting for some sort of computer apocalypse. Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Since I received my first electronic bleeping toy as a young boy, games consoles, computers, tablets and music making technology have littered my home. I am very much a ‘gadget’ freak but let’s rewind a little...

I consider myself very fortunate to have lived through several important decades. Born in the 60’s (only just mind) childhood in the 70’s, teenage years in the 80’s, University in the 90’s and in the classroom ever since. I remember when the internet was ‘switched on’, the first mobile phone and the first time I used a multi-media computer. Yes, pictures and sound!

I can recall like it was yesterday; my first teaching role and the PC I was allowed to build from old spare parts (think of the scene in Star Wars where Chewbacca rummages through old robot parts looking to reconstruct C3-PO!). In these early days computers were often confined to science departments as complex educational tools and those students bright enough to understand how to code were given lunchtime access to a clunky Acorn or BBC computer.

By the time I had a fully functioning CAD based PC in my department I then had to deal with the ‘millennium bug’ that scared institutions into handing over huge amounts of money to ensure their computers didn’t die a death on the 1st January 2000 or worse; delete all those important files you created since 1900…hmmmm.

That was the point when I realised that we were becoming enslaved to computers; not just the fact that we were terrified by how two digits might ruin our lives but that 99% of users didn’t have the necessary knowledge to deal with the problem. For those ICT specialists who probably retired on their earnings it must have felt like being the only plumber in leaky town.

Subject Genius, Paul Woodward, When did technology take over?

By this point computers were ensconced into many DT workshops across the land although few teachers had learnt the complicated coordinate based software that passed for CAD back in those days. For many years these beige coloured behemoths sat in the corner collecting dust unless you had someone from the ICT department to run it. Slowly CAD software became easier to use, less expensive and actually useful. It wasn’t long before it became commonplace in most schools and then came CAM.

CAM…what a revelation. Machines that that would cut out endless identical pieces from wood, plastic, metal and more. Vinyl cutters that produced letters so you could label all your drawers and cupboards culminating in laser cutters that made short (if very expensive) work of the increasingly complex jobs being designed for them. Today 3D printers now cost less than the software used to run them and Virtual Reality is just around the corner…again.

The school camera gave way to students’ smartphones, pencils replaced by a mouse. That huge collection of design books you collected for two decades is now a £1.99 app. The internet that once ran on a measly 36k modem also replaced by a 4G tablet and your entire school library by Google.

My long awaited point is that I secretly love technology and I am as reliant on it as the next person, but do I completely trust it? Of course not. Nor do I completely trust it in the classroom and I don’t mean students using google or playing flappy birds in lesson time.

I have no gripe with computers in DT, they simply reflect the increasing dependence on technology in the design office and mass production techniques utilised in industry.  You do, however, have to be careful not to let it take over or replace traditional methods. Not just because they are still important skills to learn in a subject like DT but because it’s a little too easy to save a file for the technician to process then simply construct your project like a kit. But anyone who has taught DT for more than a few years already knows this.

It’s not all bad and, used appropriately, computers are fantastic tools. Modern CAD has made it possible to view a photo realistic render of a product before wasting valuable hours in the workshop! Photoshop has made it possible to manipulate images creatively as well as reducing my waistline in holiday snaps and has saved more than a few wedding photos.

Computers are here to stay and will only become more pervasive as they get smaller, more efficient and discreet. It still amuses students no end to hear that their digital watches have more processing power than NASA had to launch the first space mission, but that doesn’t mean we have to become wholly reliant on them and I for one won’t give in completely. I secretly have a few drawing boards with parallel motions tucked away for when the PC’s crash. I still use pencils, pens, markers and even have an airbrush tucked away somewhere. I can probably find some drafting equipment and stencils at a push!

So, embrace technology and master it for your own gain. I could hardly function without a photocopier, laptop and projector and at home my ipad might as well be grafted onto my arm, but it never hurts to be reminded that we once taught this great subject with nothing more powerful than a pocket calculator and still turned out great project work and portfolios. People may laugh at me, and wearing the tin foil hat doesn’t help, but when the power fails I will be ready to continue teaching design the old fashioned way while there is still daylight…can you honestly say the same?

Now who fancies helping me fill this bunker with food?



Paul Woodward has been a teacher of DT for 22 years in a range of schools with stints as HOD and Head of Faculty, qualified to MA level and an examiner and moderator of Resistant Materials for the AQA.