Characteristics of technological outcomes
A technological outcome:
- is evaluated in terms of its fitness for purpose
- can be described in terms of its physical and functional natures
- must be interpreted in relation to the social and historical context in which it was developed and used
An outcome’s proper function is its intended and/or socially accepted purpose. Alternative functions are successful functions that have been discovered or developed by users. Outcomes that do not successfully fulfil their intended functions are malfunctions.
It’s funny, isn’t it, to have a favourite component because a lot of our work is situated in practice, so practice is a really important part of what we do, but I like this component very much because if we teach about technological outcomes, student practice becomes much stronger because they understand the nature of an outcome, they understand physical and functional attributes much more clearly and therefore don’t just go straight to an outcome in their head, they start exploring what physical and functional nature of an outcome could be to be fit for purpose or to solve a problem.
When I was growing up, we had a little chrome set, and it was a little round brush that hung on a hook with a little chrome sweeping pan. So it was virtually a sweeping pan and brush, and I didn’t know it’s background or anything but it became very apparent that when I used it for sweeping something off the floor and my mother was very upset that I didn’t understand that it’s functional nature of sweeping things was not related to actually it’s real purpose, it’s intended purpose which is part of the component was it was from a Victorian era where you brushed very genteelly your breadcrumbs, or toast crumbs, off the white linen tablecloth. So it had a very different function even though physically it looked like a sweeping pan and brush.
So to understand tech outcomes as having different functions, we need to situate them, and that’s one thing we can do with students is to use a variety of artefacts and get them to explore the physical and functional natures of them to get clues about who might have used it, where it might have been used, and then flip it on its head. So if these are the people who want to use these things what might those physical and functional nature or attributes be?
I think when you start analysing an artefact or a technological outcome, you start then getting in tune with the design principles or the things that a designer has made conscious decisions about when creating this outcome. So well known design principles such as the colour, rhythm, balance, pattern, harmony, but also the functionality of safety, stability. So when exploring we can actually look at both of those things and make evaluative judgements about what that artefact is, and how useful it is, and how it can be fit for purpose.
So the challenge I guess in the classroom for teachers is how do you integrate this? What are you doing to teach about technological outcomes before students create their own outcome? An example of this I’ve seen in a school that I work with a teacher whose developed collection boxes. So it might have a range of games or toys or plastic storage products, and the students interrogate those products looking at their physical and functional nature and attributes. They start talking about the design aspects of it, the colour line harmony. So they are really digging into this particular artefact before they start then designing something of their own.
So how do you go about in your classroom teaching about attributes or the physical and functional nature of an outcome or the design principles before you start designing? Do you just leap in? Or do you actually structure some learning activities before you get there.
Acknowledgment: This paper is derived from an earlier version by Dr Vicki Compton and Cliff Harwood.