QUT working together with Queensland design teachers

We chat to QUT Academics Nick Kelly and Andrew Scott about their online resource to support design teachers, the challenges facing the sector and their thoughts on the future of design education.

What prompted you to create the Design Teachers Queensland website?

Nick Kelly: I was a part of the “expert writing team” that developed the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority’s (QCAA) Senior Design Syllabus in 2017, and spent a lot of time working with a group of brilliant design teachers in doing this. When it came time for the syllabus to be released, everyone involved realised that teachers would need support in figuring out how to teach it. It was a challenging time, because being a new subject, many teachers were going to be coming to the subject for the first time—especially manual arts, graphic design, home economics, arts, and IT teachers who were all using this new subject as a way to get involved with teaching Design.

It just so happens that my research specialisation is in the design and facilitation of online communities for teachers, from an interaction design perspective. I had a conversation with a group of Teacher Associations representing the teachers who would be teaching this syllabus, and I offered to create this community as a way that all of us could come together to support them. It has been a real success, entirely because the teachers have taken it up and are active in supporting each other.

The community only works as well as it does because Andrew Scott, Natalie Wright and me all worked together to run a workshop in 2018 for 80 design teachers, in which we promoted the community. That workshop helped to get it all off to a flying start, as the teachers could see that we were authentic about helping them to teach design.

How does this resource help Queensland design teachers?

NK: It’s an online platform for sharing knowledge and resources. Like many online platforms, it lets you share documents, links, images, etc.

The technology is the easy part in online platforms—the community has value for Queensland design teachers because of who is part of the community. It includes many of our state’s best design teachers, who are exceptionally generous with their knowledge. The design of the platform makes it easy for other teachers who join to benefit from this generosity.

What are some of the challenges or trends you see emerging in the field of design education?

NK: One challenge is that teachers are constantly called upon to assess students by creating novel design briefs that can be marked according to the strict rules set by the QCAA. This requires a surprising amount of time and is more of an art than a science — it takes teachers years to develop an open, but achievable, design brief that can be used as a formal assessment.

Another challenge is that secondary design is still assessed with a two hour written examination, when it ought to be something far more designerly to do justice to the curriculum.

What are some of the trends you see emerging in the field of design education?

Andrew Scott: It’s difficult to see past the upheavals of the last three months. Design education, something that has long been reliant on tangible physical experiences and interactions, has been forced to operate in a purely online environment. In the aftermath we will re-evaluate and identify what is essential and peripheral for design education. We’ll see a renewed understanding of effective ways to learn and teach design both on- and offline.

What are some common questions or issues you see arising on the Design Teachers QLD site?
AS: The most pressing questions we’re seeing are, quite naturally, operational in focus—teachers seeking guidance on essentials such as assessment, external examination, teaching resources, and project ideas. They face a demanding task attempting to offer students access to the full breadth of the design disciplines, something that tertiary academics such as myself rarely need to do.
What do you see in the future for design education? 
AS: Design education is likely to see considerable growth. The new syllabus has been well received in schools and as more students are exposed to the exciting career possibilities it offers I’m sure we’ll see it really take off. It’s hard to predict what changes the pandemic will usher in for Australia but growth of the sustainable energy sector and renewal of the manufacturing sector will create even more demand for designers. Australia has great need of creative problem solvers, now and in the future, so we are well placed to help.
Check out the Design Teachers Queensland website to connect with design educators, access resources and keep up-to-date with design news.