Risk brings rewards

1st November 2002 at 00:00
David Spendlove makes a plea for creativity and innovation to stay at the heart of design and technology.

Design and technology is considered by many to be a creative and innovative subject where students are encouraged to adopt divergent thinking strategies and take risks. Yet Damp;T is at risk of losing some of its creativity as teachers create more and more constrained and risk-free projects, jobs (a term I dislike) and activities. Too often attempts are made to produce "quality products" at the expense of quality thinking, uncertainty and risk-taking. Part of this has derived from notional constraints within the curriculum.

However, the national curriculum is loosely defined and open to personal interpretation in many ways. The danger lies in adopting na-tional schemes of work or, even worse, "off the shelf" lesson plans without reflecting upon the individual needs and requirements of pupils.

By focusing on outcomes (quality products) the value of exploring, designing, innovating, communicating and taking risks can be lost. Sometimes teachers gently push children out of the way so that they can complete the project for them or else the project is so tightly constrained that the child is reduced to embellishing the final outcome. Yet there is validity in not finishing a project - how else do you learn about time management skills? There is also value in not being sure if something is going to work and whether an idea is possible (even though this may be uncomfortable for the teacher and the pupil). Experimenting and notional "failure" are essential to good Damp;T education.

Unfortunately, the lack of emphasis on creativity may get worse due to the lack of recognition by examination boards combined with continual changes within the subject (including increasing emphasis on using new technology brought about by the CADCAM initiative).

In consequence, children's activities are becoming even more constrained. They now have unprecedented access to new technology, which should open up new ways of realising their creative capabilities. However, the reality is that sophisticated and expensive machines are knocking out 20 identical objects for children to embellish, rather than providing empowering opportunities for children. As CADCAM uses new technology it can, in the hands of the misguided, give validity to bad practice.

CADCAM does provide opportunities for increased creativity but only when there are new models (as opposed to adoption of industrial models of manufacturing) of teaching and learning within Damp;T. CADCAM has developed from an industrial desire to make products more quickly, not from an educational desire to increase learning. Producing products faster is not always desirable in an educational model of CADCAM; time reflecting and incubating ideas is as important (if not more so) as time spent manufacturing. Therefore, if CADCAM facilitates faster manufacture and removes some of the drudgery from the process then more time should be available at the initial stages for the employment of creative methodologies, incubation of ideas and visualisation of concepts (see diagrams below).

Many schools seem to have very constrained approaches to KS3, when children are really at their most creative, innovative and speculative. Therefore, by the time pupils reach year 11 and are given an individual project to manage for themselves and in which to be creative and innovative, they struggle.

Damp;T is a fantastic subject that should have creativity, innovation and speculation at its heart. It is rapidly changing and constantly evolving and reinventing itself. While new products and equipment are important, innovative teachers who encourage children to be creative are even more important. Take some risks.

Points to consider:

* Definitions of creativity vary but generally there is a consensus that creative individuals are able to generate novel ideas.

* A frequent rationale for a Damp;T project is that the children can take home what they have made. but it is more important that changes are brought about in the child. Damp;T is not a cottage industry, it is about children's learning.

* Creative children may not always be those that you consider the most able. Some non-conformist children can be highly creative and willing to take risks.

* Thinking skills are very much part of the government's education agenda. However, creativity, divergent thinking and problem solving are already embedded in Damp;T good practice.

* Learning to manage risks is as important as taking risks. It is not about asking pupils to be reckless but about giving them the confidence to be willing to be innovative in new areas and to learn from their own and others' mistakes.

* The contexts within which children operate are critical. Create opportunities for open-ended, speculative work with engaging contexts.

David Spendlove is a senior lecturer in education with design and technology at Liverpool John Moores University. Email: D.Spendlove@livjm.ac.uk

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