Beyong Knowing How to Make it Work: The conceptual foundations of designing

Gill Hope
2009, Vol. 14, No. 1,

Abstract


Gilbert Ryle (1949) divided knowledge into “know that” and “know how”, which is neatly appealing to many design and technology educators, and like many writers on developing the curriculum, Kahney (1993) made a distinction between declarative knowledge:

verbal knowledge, that is, the kind you get from books, instructions and being told what to do.

and procedural knowledge:

In order to achieve skilled performance you need to be able to translate declarative knowledge into actions. A new form of representation, known as procedural knowledge must be established. (p.91)

However, a curriculum that consists simply of information and techniques not only fails to reflect the original intentions of the creators of the UK National Curriculum for design and technology but also misses the mark in terms of developing creative and inventive minds. Evidence from such fields as cognitive archaeology (e.g.
Renfrew, 1994) suggest that the symbiotic relationship between mind and hand that typifies technological action and innovation was a primary driver within human evolution. Thus designing technology is one of the defining characteristics of our species. Technology education,
therefore, should not be seen simply from an instrumentalist viewpoint as a preparation for the world of work but as a preparation for full functionality in human society.

A tentative taxonomy of the features of conceptual learning within technological action should, therefore, include those features that define our humanity and our distinctiveness from other species. These are identified as the ability to be self-reflective, to play with ideas, to make analogical connections between apparently disparate features and to indulge in leaps of the imagination. The contention is that if
we fill up our curriculum with declarative and procedural knowledge, without acknowledging and encouraging the unique response or the innovative idea, then we will have designed a curriculum that, however hard we try, will never really succeed in “making it work” for many of our most creative pupils.

Keywords


design, cognition, symbolism, evolution

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