The Meaning of Knowing What is Expected to be Known. The Case of Evaluating Technical Solutions’ Fitness for Purpose
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.
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ECER 2012 – The Need for Educational Research to Champion Freedom, Education and Development for All. September 18-21 2012, Cádiz, Spain.