PATT36 Conference Drives Technology Education Agenda in Academic Research and Practice

More than 60 Higher Education Institutes with delegates spanning 15 countries and five continents participated in PATT36 hosted by Athlone Institute of Technology this week. Organised by the Technology Education Research Group (TERG), PATT, as a community, endeavours to put the enhancement of pupil experience and the culmination of a plurality of perspectives at its centre. The conference, aimed at helping teachers improve their teaching through design and technology, examined the role of research and practice in technology education from the perspective of human capacity and development. In total, more than 70 papers were presented showcasing the richness of technology education in Ireland and abroad.

The conference was opened by Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, who spoke about the importance of realising “the potential of digital technology to enhance teaching, learning and assessment” so as to “help students become engaged thinkers, active learners, knowledge constructors and global citizens”. “The development of these skills is critical for our young people and in an increasingly digital landscape they will define their future prospects in life,” she said. In his keynote address on the importance of “cultivating imagination and innovation” specifically in the context of the Leaving Certificate examinations, former Assistant Head of the Irish State Examination Commission, Sean Ó‘Broin, echoed the Minister’s sentiments.

To bolster Ireland’s ambitious target of making the country the front-runner in education and training services within a decade, the government have implemented two overarching strategies: The Action Plan for Education 2016-2019 and the Digital Strategy for Schools 2015-2020 with a view to helping the Irish system embrace digital technology as a tool to enhance learning and teaching. Commenting on this Chairperson and Vice-President Academic & Registrar, Dr Niall Seery said: “The success of PATT36 is a testament to the excellent work that is underway in Ireland with respect to Design and Technology Education. The alignment between policy, provision, and research was highlighted throughout the conference with perspectives from both research and practice confirming a shared vision of excellence in technology education in Ireland.”

Clodagh Reid, a postgraduate researcher at AIT and a member of the #PATT36 organising committee also commented on the success of the event saying: “To have the opportunity to see technology education being discussed so passionately and the breadth of papers submitted gives me great hope and ambition for our subjects here in Ireland through engagement with the exceptional PATT and wider research community. An emerging trend from this conference is the exploration of means to support students throughout learning to benefit their overall educational experience. I feel that a fundamental take home from this conference is, only through engagement with the wider community can we continue to adapt to the changes we are presented within technology education as our world evolves.”

Other keynote speakers included Paddy Keays, former Director of T4 (the Technology Subject Support Service for teachers), whose address looked at “learning through design and make” in the Irish technology subjects at both Junior and Leaving Certificate level, and Gerald Crotty, a technology teacher based in Scoil Mhuire in Kanturk, Co. Cork. With more than 36 years under his belt, Mr Crotty has championed the introduction of technology as a subject into the curriculum and helped address the under-representation of female students in technology education which nationally hovers around 20%. Gerald has been extremely successful in his endeavours with over 50% female participation in his classroom. This was of special interest to the conference as Minister of State for Higher Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, spoke directly to the importance of the female voice and representation in STEM, particularly with respect to Technology in Ireland and was echoed by Professor Stephanie Aiken in her paper on ‘Woman’s under-representation in STEM: The part role-models have played in the past and do we still need them today?’

A stand out paper from the conference was that of Professor Emeritus Richard Kimbell’s entitled “Constructs of Quality and the Power of Holism” which discussed constructs of quality and how educators can best use assessment in technology education to match the context of the subject. He spoke about how teachers can integrate students into assessment through a process called “Adaptive Comparative Judgment” which gives students the tools to critically evaluate the quality of their peers’ work.

The conference culminated in an interactive student showcase entitled ‘Voices from Our Schools’ which featured a wide variety of technology projects from students attending Scoil Muire, Kanturk, Co. Cork, Portmarnock Community School, Co. Dublin, Mercy Secondary School, Ballymahon, Co. Longford and Coláiste Naomh Cormac, Kilcormac, Co. Offaly. Projects included a special toothbrush sterilizer, a sushi bar based on hydroponics, 3-D printed milk bottles and a model of a house with an automatic shuttering system that shut its windows in low light conditions. Of note were 5th-year students, James Carroll and Sam Maxwell from Mercy Secondary School, Ballymahon, who showcased their ingenious knife kitchen aid designed to help people with disabilities reclaim their autonomy. The entrepreneurial duo won a national innovation award last year and already have a patent pending on their invention. The scope of the students’ varied projects gave delegates a lovely flavour of the activities and outcomes from the Technology Education subjects on offer in secondary schools across Ireland.

Speaking at the conference, Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin, President of Athlone Institute of Technology commended the work of TERG saying: “Through TERG, we have now expanded our research portfolio to include Design, Tech, and Education research. The capacity to drive pedagogical innovation, learning science approaches and inform contemporary methodologies in teaching and learning adds a significant dimension to our multi-disciplinary research. The focus of applied educational research, specifically the T and E within STEAM, is critically important for our region, supporting both the educational and industry enhancement agendas”.

Visual recording of PATT36 created by Dawne Bell

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