Pedagogies for technology education

In simple terms curriculum describes what is to be learned and taught; pedagogy describes how it is to be learned and taught. In reality things are seldom so simple; curriculum and pedagogy are closely related and influence each other.

Pedagogy is implicit in the curriculum

Examination of the DRAFT Australian Curriculum: Technologies reveals that pedagogy is implicit in many aspects of its description of the curriculum. The introductory statements about the two curriculum strands, Knowledge and understanding and Processes and production skills notes that:

teachers will select technologies-specific content from the Knowledge and understanding strand and ask students to apply the skills in the Processes and production skills strand to that content

Similarly, statements about the key ideas include language that implies approaches to pedagogy as well as describing what is to be learned and taught:

Systems thinking Project management
a holistic approach where parts of a system are analyzed individually to see the whole, the interactions and interrelationships between the parts and how these parts or components influence the system as a whole…creatively and actively design solutions to meet present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs includes planning; evaluating processes; considering constraints; risk assessment and management; decision-making strategies; quality control; developing resource, finance, work and time plans; and collaborating and communicating with others at different stages of the process

Other sections of the curriculum document - descriptions of learning in the band levels and in the two subjects, Design and Technologies and Digital Technologies - carry similar implications about the nature of the learning activities that might be expected in the implementation of the curriculum. the clear expectation is that learning will be active, that children will learn about technologies by working technologically. In that respect the draft curriculum is consistent with the Australian and Queensland curriculum directions of the past twenty years in having a focus on technology as a process and technology practice expressed in terms such as "designing, making, and appraising" or "investigation, ideation, production, and evaluation". Educational theories such as constructivism or Papert's constructionism, in which learning is thought to be best supported and demonstrated by building tangible products, come to mind.

Projects, problems, inquiries, and challenges

Technology is presented in terms of meeting human needs and wants, of taking action to achieve preferred futures. That is, it is about purposeful changes in the made world in response to some stimulus. There are several widely recognized pedagogical patterns that match.

Project-based learning has a focus on developing a product and may, or may not, be learner-centred, problem-based, or inquiry-based.

Problem-based learning has a focus on solving a problem and acquiring knowledge in the process. It may be inquiry-based if the learners are engaged in identifying the problem.

Inquiry-based learning has a focus on questioning, critical thinking, identifying and solving problems.

Challenge-based learning has a focus on planning and taking action to solve real world problems.

The links provided are to single sources of information about each pedagogy, mostly from Teacher Tap. There are many more sites that are worth exploring for a fuller appreciation of these pedagogies.

Developing pedagogies for technology education

The "designing, making, and appraising" formula and the working technologically diagram could be interpreted as implying that technological practice is a linear process from problem to solution. Reality is more complex.

Evaluation is not an end stage of the process but something that is necessary at every stage. Investigation of needs, wants and opportunities requires evaluation of which are most significant or likely to support an attempt at generating a preferred future. Alternative designs and processes need to be evaluated before implementation and evaluation during processing ensures that appropriate quality is achieved. Naturally the final products are also subject to evaluation.

Projects or problems are seldom discovered or delivered ready for construction or solution. The process of identifying problems to be solved is as important as the solution process and it is important that learners be involved in that aspect of technology practice. Of the pedagogies mentioned in the previous section this is a reason to ensure that at least some of the time learners are engaged in inquiry or challenge processes in which they contribute to identifying problems for solution.

In considering pedagogies for technology education, Mawson (2003) argued that the design process (design, make, appraise) is not linear and that it is often iterative around designing and making as learner explore the possibilities available from some combination of materials and techniques. He suggested that technology education should engage learners in authentic, open tasks with a range of possible solutions and encourage interaction between the design and make phases. Teachers should model technological practice and manage the learning environment to support learners in problem identification and communication of problem descriptions and designs. There are evident challenges in managing a class to support a variety of solutions but the approach has been found to work in practice.

Building capacity for informed decision making is an important aspect of developing technological literacy. Cross (2011) argued that capacity for decision making requires progressive development of pupil autonomy through a careful balance with teacher direction. A greater degree of teacher direction will be needed when developing basic knowledge and skills. Providing a learning environment with a clear structure and process provides a safe space within which autonomy can be progressively developed through a carefully balanced pedagogy.

Vee diagramCrippen and Archambault (2012) suggested that scaffolded inquiry-based learning might be a signature pedagogy for STEM education. The approach is consistent with the ideas from Mawson (2003) and Cross (2011) discussed above about building autonomous capabilities in learners by involving them in the complete problem finding and solution cycle. The proposal by Crippen and Archambault is for supporting inquiry-based learning using a scaffolded Vee Diagram (at left). The process begins with a Big Question or challenge and then proceeds through the Vee from left to right with a variety of scaffolding techniques used at different stages. The example described in the paper uses an online mashup of data with Google maps but the technique could be applied to a wide range of challenges or inquiries.

Another approach to pedagogy that has promise for use in technology education is the development of Learning Activity Types (Harris & Hofer, 2009). The idea was developed to assist teachers with ICT integration across curriculum areas but can be applied to pedagogy more generally. It recognizes that most teacher planning is activity-based, that is, consideration is given at some stage during planning to what the learners will actually do. Identifying learning activities typical of a curriculum area and organizing them according to learning goals assists teachers to plan a variety of activities by selecting and sequencing activities from the taxonomy. Curriculum areas have been found to have about 40 identifiable activity types that can be grouped in various ways characteristic of the curriculum area. As shown in the table below for one of the Social Science goals, possible uses of ICT are identified for consideration with each activity type. Although no taxonomy has yet been developed for technology education aspects of other curriculum areas may be used to support planning in technologies.

Product-oriented divergent knowledge expression in Social Sciences

Activity Type Brief Description Possible ICT
Produce an Artefact Create 3-D or virtual artefact Imaging or drawing software
Build a Model Develop a written or digital mental model of concept/process Concept mapping software, presentation software, spreadsheets
Design an Exhibit Synthesize key ideas in a physical or virtual exhibit Wikis, presentation or video creation software
Create a Newspaper/News Magazine Synthesize information in a periodical; print or electronic Word processor, wiki, Web authoring software
Create a Game Develop a game to help other students learn content Presentation software, Web authoring software
Create a Film Using still images, motion video, music and narration produce their own movies Video creation software (e.g., Movie Maker, iMovie), digital video camera

Technology project work

Project work in technology has been credited with developing problem solving skills, ability to work with others, divergent and convergent thinking, self-discipline and responsibility, and creative abilities (Banks, 1994).

Ideas for projects may be generated by the teacher, drawn from curriculum documents, linked to current events, or based on learner interests. As shown in the table, the degree of relevance to the curriculum and the expected motivation levels of learners may be related to the sources of project ideas. In practice some mix of projects is likely to be determined by the teacher to ensure that the curriculum is addressed and negotiated with learners to promote engagement.

  Curriculum relevance Learner motivation
Teacher High Variable
Curriculum documents High Variable
Event related Variable High
Learner interest Variable High

Depth of focus of a projectMany projects can be adjusted or adapted to accommodate learners with different levels of capability according to age or other factors. The image at right illustrates the point with a simple example based on development of snack food. For capable learners the task might be presented as open to a variety of solutions. For learners requiring substantial support it might be constrained by the use of a 'recipe' and simpler requirements for designing a process. There are multiple other possibilities for adjustment between and beyond these extremes.

Many, if not most, technology projects will require learners to work in groups. In such cases the usual considerations around group work apply. Skills for collaborative working need to be developed and supported appropriately depending upon the age and stage of the learners and the nature of the project.


Banks, F. (Ed.). (1994). Teaching technology. London ; New York: Routledge in association with the Open University.

Crippen, K. J., & Archambault, L. (2012). Scaffolded Inquiry-Based Instruction with Technology: A Signature Pedagogy for STEM Education. Computers in the Schools, 29(1-2), 157-173. doi: 10.1080/07380569.2012.658733

Cross, A. (2011). In Search of A Pedagogy for Primary Design and Technology. In C. Benson & J. Lunt (Eds.), International Handbook of Primary Technology Education (Vol. 7, pp. 167-180): SensePublishers.

Harris, J., & Hofer, M. (2009). Instructional Planning Activity Types as Vehicles for Curriculum-Based TPACK Development. In C. D. Maddux (Ed.), Research Highlights in Technology and Teacher Education 2009 (pp. 99-108). Chesapeake, VA: SITE.

Harris, J., Hofer, M., Blanchard, M., Grandgenett, N., Schmidt, D., van Olphen, M., et al. (2010). "Grounded" Technology Integration: Instructional Planning Using Curriculum-Based Activity Type Taxonomies. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 18(4), 573-605.

Mawson, B. (2003). Beyond `The Design Process': An Alternative Pedagogy for Technology Education. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, 13(2), 117-128. doi: 10.1023/a:1024186814591