'Offer research and design processes in a varied manner'
Research and design are two activities that are becoming increasingly important in the Dutch subjects O&O (‘research and design’) and NLT ('nature, life and technology’). The dissertation of Tessa Vossen (ICLON and Faculty of Science) indicates that teachers and students understand the importance of research in the design cycle, but that it is not practiced enough in the classroom. Defence on 4 September.
Research and design projects are often still employed separately at school, while these activities are often linked to each other in professional practice. The studies in this dissertation indicate that teachers and students already have some knowledge of ways in which research and design can be connected, and that this knowledge can be developed in a relatively short time.
However, students often skip the research part of the design cycle. This is remarkable, because students are able to state the relevance of research within design, and consider learning about research to be more important than learning about design. Both teachers and students have a strong idea that design should start with a research component. This can be a limiting thought for students with different learning preferences. Vossen therefore recommends to offer the research and design processes in a more differentiated and varied manner to students.
Research more important
An important conclusion of my dissertation is that both teachers and students of the subjects O&O and NLT consider doing research as more relevant to learn about (or to teach about) than design. Students who took the subject O&O (and who therefore already have some experience with designing) liked doing design activities more than doing research activities. Six O&O teachers who participated in a professional learning community recognized this preference for design in their students. The teachers also developed teaching materials together, resulting in development of their collective knowledge as well.
Students already have quite some knowledge about the functions of research within a design process and also see the relevance of these research activities. This is an important result, because in classroom practice some students still tend to skip the research steps of the design cycle. This study implies that this problem is not necessarily due to a lack of knowledge or perceived relevance, but is perhaps more related to the image that teachers and students have about 'the correct order' of the steps in the design process.
More nuanced pedagogies
Teachers must become familiar with multiple models for research and design processes, in order to develop more nuanced pedagogies. By doing so, they can prevent themselves and their students from sticking to one idealized model of the cycle. This could be achieved by developing more diverse teaching materials, by organizing professional learning communities for teachers, and by letting teachers gain experience themselves in carrying out the research and design cycle in different ways.
STEM education is education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.