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The Meaning of Knowing What is Expected to be Known: The Case of Evaluating Technical Solutions’ Fitness for Purpose
KTH, School of Education and Communication in Engineering Science (ECE), Learning.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-5477-7048
Stockholms Universitet.
2012 (English)Conference paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

The Meaning of Knowing What is Expected to be Known. The Case of Evaluating Technical Solutions’ Fitness for Purpose

General description

The capability to evaluate technical solutions is highlighted by several authors as an important educational outcome within technology education (Barlex, 2011; Coles & Norman, 2005). A technical solution may be evaluated in terms of its fitness for purpose that includes the physical structure and function (de Vries, 2005). Although there is limited access to research on this subject-specific content in technology education, results indicate that both the link between physical structure and function as well as the fitness for purpose is difficult for pupils in primary as well as secondary education to understand (Compton & Compton, 2011; Oboho & Bolton, 1991).

What one has to know in order to be able to evaluate technical solutions’ fitness for purpose is, however, not self-evident. The study that will be reported, explores the meaning of this specific knowing. Developing teaching of certain target areas in systematic ways (Nuthall, 2004) requires an explication of the meaning of knowing. In order for students to develop the specific ways of knowing (Carlgren, 2007) of a target area (in this case technical solutions’ fitness for purpose), the teaching must be planned to make it possible for students to experience and discern what is critical for learning. By designing teaching activities that make it possible to discern these critical aspects, systematic teaching-learning strategies can be developed.

Knowledge concerning the meaning of knowing something to be known is generated in so called Learning Studies (Marton & Pang, 2006; Carlgren, 2012). By analyzing students’ difficulties regarding the specific object of learning, critical aspects of the expected knowing are discerned and in this way the meaning of knowing what is expected to be known is made explicit. 

Technical solutions’ fitness for purpose is seen as embedded in contexts and as related to human activity, therefore an understanding based on activity theory can be useful when exploring the meaning of this specific knowing.


This study is carried out in the form of a Learning Study. The Learning Study has a collaborative approach, what is critical for learning something specific is explored through a systematic and iterative process (Marton & Ling, 2007).

The study was conducted in collaboration with four teachers in primary school and two classes in grade 1 and 2 (pupils aged 7-8 years). A pre-test was carried out in forms of interviews with pupils, documented by audio and video recording. The analysis of the pre-test resulted in some qualitatively different categories, describing pupils’ experiencing of the phenomenon technical solutions’ fitness for purpose. The critical aspects identified, formed the starting point when planning the lesson. Lessons were documented by audio and video recording. The results that will be presented in this paper is based on an analysis of the pre-test used in the learning study as well as analysis of three research lessons. The analysis is carried out within the theoretical framework of phenomenography (Marton, 1981) and variation theory (Marton, Runesson & Tsui, 2004).



The results will be presented in the form of critical aspects of what it means to be able to evaluate technical solutions’ fitness for purpose. The phenomenographic analysis resulted in the categories “fitness for purpose as”:  “appropriateness to users”, “technical efficiency” and “appropriateness to a wider context”. Based on these categories, critical aspects were identified such as features of the physical structure that are critical for realizing the function and how components interact to fulfill a function. Three more critical aspects developed when analyzing the lessons such as the mixing the naming of an object with the name of a material, distinguishing a main function from secondary functions and identifying a core technical solution.


The critical aspects identified during lessons could be considered as further specifications of dimensions necessary to discern in order to develop the specific knowing. The results of the study aims to have implications for teachers and teaching, what Nuthall (2004) refers to as pragmatic validity. The findings may be used by teachers in their own teaching context, looking for the critical aspects identified and use them for structuring the content of teaching in order to support pupils in experiencing technical solutions in more complex ways.



Barlex, D. (2011). Dear minister, This is why design and technology is a very important subject in the school curriculum. Design and Technology Education: An International Journal, 16(3).

Carlgren, I. (2007) The content of schooling. In Forsberg, Eva (Ed.), Curriculum Theory Revisited. Studies in Educational Policy and Educational Philosophy. Uppsala University


Carlgren, I. (2012) The Learning Study as an approach for ‘clinical’ subject matter didactic research. International Journal of Lesson and Learning Study, Forthcoming Issue 2, May 2012.


Coles, R. & Norman, E. (2005). An exploration of the role values play in design decision-making. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 15(5).

Compton, V. & Compton, A. (2011). Teaching the nature of technology: Determining and supporting student learning of the philosophy of technology. International Journal of Technology and Design education. Retrieved 2011-10-03, from content/k0v57q33r8562g75/ fulltext.pdf

De Vries, M. J. (2005). Teaching about technology: An introduction to the philosophy of technology for non-philosophers. Dordrecht: Springer.

Marton, F. (1981). Phenomenography – describing conceptions of the world around us. Instructional Science, 10.

Marton, F. & Ling, L. M. (2007). Learning from “The Learning Study”. Tidskrift för lärarutbildning och forskning [Journal of Research in Teacher Education], 1.

Marton, F. & Pang, M. F. (2006). On some necessary conditions of learning. Journal of the Learning Sciences, 15(2).

Marton, F., Runesson, U. & Tsui, A. B. (2004). The space of learning. In F. Marton & A. B. Tsui (Eds.), Classroom discourse and the space of learning. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Nuthall, G. (2004). Relating classroom teaching to student learning: A critical analysis of why research has failed to bridge the theory-practice gap. Harvard Educational Review, 74(3).

Oboho, E. O. & Bolton, N. (1991). Matching students’ technological thinking with the demands of a technological curriculum. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 4(2).




Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
National Category
Educational Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-105729OAI: diva2:571828
ECER 2012 – The Need for Educational Research to Champion Freedom, Education and Development for All. September 18-21 2012, Cádiz, Spain.

QC 20121217

Available from: 2012-11-25 Created: 2012-11-25 Last updated: 2016-06-15Bibliographically approved

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