Academic journal article The Technology Teacher

Design Assessment: Consumer Reports Style

Academic journal article The Technology Teacher

Design Assessment: Consumer Reports Style

Article excerpt


Novices to the design process often struggle at first to understand the various stages of design. Learning to design is a process not easily mastered, and therefore requires multiple levels of exposure to the design process. It is helpful if teachers are able to implement various entry-level design assignments such as reverse-engineering activities. Students will likely develop the ability to tackle larger design and problem-solving projects the more they are exposed to small, design-based activities that require them to learn how to engage in just a few stages of the design process. The following article will feature a design assessment-based activity requiring students to assess an existing technology using a Consumer Reports-style approach.


Petroski (1998) has indicated that novice designers need to be exposed to multiple design examples as a way to begin learning the essential elements necessary in the design process. Petroski (1996) also suggested studying the design of common everyday artifacts such as a GEM paper clip, the zipper, and aluminum can as presented in the book Invention by Design: How Engineers Get From Thought to Thing. Clearly, technology students who need to understand the design process would benefit from assessing an existing technology product. The Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (STL) document (ITEA [ITEEA], 2000/2002/2007) states: "To become literate in the design process requires acquiring the cognitive and procedural knowledge needed to create a design, in addition to familiarity with the process by which a design will be carried out to make a product or system" (p. 90). Additionally, the STL document goes on to state that professional engineers engaging in the design process first begin by setting out to identify and address design criteria as they work under specific constraints. Engineers need to first identify the crucial design criteria and the specific constraints embedded within the design problem. Hill (2006) suggests that technology students struggle to identify design constraints and criteria before they enter the idea selection stage of the design process. Similarly, leaders in technology education have indicated that K-12 design-based instruction often neglected cognitive processes that are important to the engineering design process: the analysis and optimization stages of the design process (Halley, et al., 2005; Hill, 2006; Gattie & Wicklein, 2007).

McCade (2000) identified that technology assessment is one of three forms of technical problem solving. He also indicates that most technology education practitioners agree that technology assessment is a critical skill but is often difficult to implement in the classroom. McCade suggests that students be guided by a systematic approach to inquiry that can develop critical thinking skills. McCade (2000) provides a strong rationale for technology assessment when he writes: "Wise producers and consumers of technology must be capable of the type of critical thinking necessary to see beyond shallow, short-term considerations and select the most appropriate technologies" (p. 9). He provides technology assessment topics that require students to consider the broader impact of technology on society, individuals, and the environment.

However, a case can be made that one way to encourage students to consider these bigger impacts of technology is to first allow students to assess the personal impacts of everyday technology. A technology education teacher can encourage students to consider the broader impact of the technology by asking challenging questions such as, "Is there a way this product can be properly disposed of when it is no longer useful?" or "Can this product be harmful to humans or the environment if used incorrectly?" Technology students, when given an opportunity to participate in a Consumer Reports-style activity, can begin to develop and hone these important cognitive skills within the engineering design process, and through that process will be developing their design knowledge base and building their design capabilities. …

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