The experiential domain: developing a model for enhancing practice in D&T education



Creativity and innovation are leading topics for the twenty-first century, not only in individual, cultural or social contexts but also within a wider perspective in business or economic development. For that reason, creative and innovative activities have started to feature in many design-based programs in second level education. Design and Technology (D&T) education has a special importance in promoting creativity and innovation, particularly when conceptual and material aspects of the design process reciprocally support one another. In the classroom, it is common for pupils to take part in creative and innovative activities in pairs or small groups. However, the complex and non-linear nature of these design-based activities calls for dynamic, collaborative problem solving. While collaborative settings and virtual learning environments in D&T education are receiving considerable attention in current research literature, we know very little about shared interactions in design-based activity. Accordingly, there is a need to examine both the collaborative and individual evidence of design-based activity by turning our attention to the interactions around that evidence as teachers and pupils engage in these activities. The purpose of this paper is to examine a pedagogical approach focusing on the social and cognitive interaction of teachers and pupils which is supported by technology and situated in the context of design-based activity. This research found that such interactions not only augmented the design process but led to a conceptual model which demonstrates evidence-based progress through the active configuration of knowledge and understanding.


Design activity Learning technology Virtual environments Asynchronous interaction Pedagogy 


In recent years education at both a national and international level has been the subject of a growing agenda for change and improvement from the business sector with calls for a greater emphasis on creativity and innovation—two commonly identified drivers of economic recovery. With their publication ‘Innovation Ireland: Report of the Innovation Taskforce’, the Government of Ireland (2010) urged to place innovation at the heart of Ireland’s enterprise policy and said that the education system was “pivotal in making innovation happen”, (p. 25). Following this, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) published ‘Innovation Happens: Classrooms as Sites of Change’—a short paper about the role of innovation in education, which had this to say:

In the last century, technological innovations and their potential to transform schools have dominated much of educational change research and literature. [….] However, educational change literature in recent years is characterised by an awareness that innovations alone don’t transform schools, that processes of change in schools are far more human than technological. We’ve seen a shift in focus from the innovations themselves to the complex interaction between these and teacher’s goals, needs and methods of teaching, the characteristics of learners and the school context. Concern for pupils’ wellbeing and their experiences managing this ‘connectivity’ and their place in a multi-media world has increased with greater focus on pupils, their lives and their education today, (NCCA 2010, pp. 4–5).

Therefore, innovation is not just about the economy and schools are not only to serve the economy but to enable children become the people they have the potential to be. In ‘Leading and Supporting Change in Schools’, the NCCA (2008) describe innovation as a participative, social and democratic endeavour. It is concerned with how individuals demonstrate skills and capacities across a range of learning transactions and experiences, making sense of and using these experiences to imagine and to develop different and better ways of living and learning. The Government of Ireland (2010) taskforce report notes that these skills are ‘much sought-after by employers in innovative industries and businesses for their contribution to a more flexible and multi-skilled person’ (p. 31) and it recommends that curriculum developments which aim to develop these skills need to be resourced (p. 25).

The Junior Cycle Key Skills Initiative1 embraces this work in stating that the design of educational transactions should afford opportunities for pupils to be active agents in their own learning and to have the ‘space’ to think for themselves critically and creatively, to collaborate and communicate, to process information, to solve problems, to be effective at what they do and to learn reflectively. These developments in the on-going process of curriculum improvement are part of the narrative about the paradigm shift to twenty-first century education that strives to develop learning environments in which pupils can prepare for today’s socially and digitally connected world. However, creating the ‘space’ for schools to advocate a new balance between innovation and key skills, while safeguarding the quality of pupils’ learning and the efficacy of teachers’ pedagogy is contingent on the availability of adequate resources to manage and implement ‘real’ change. The need to address this problem has led this research to consider how recent advancements in cloud-based software could support new ways to implement the curriculum and promote meaningful interactions between teachers, pupils, content and resources. The aim is to create a ‘hybrid’ setting where teaching and learning can occur before, during and/or after regular class time by integrating virtual learning technology into the physical classroom, enhancing traditional practices.

Traditional practice: the challenge

There have been increased expectations put on schools and classrooms to make effective use of ICT tools and services to enhance both the quality of learning and efficacy of teaching. Fortunately, the historical and physical impediments to the successful integration of ICT into classrooms are rapidly disappearing as wireless, mobile technology becomes increasingly ubiquitous in schools. As reported by Williams and Kimbell (2012), this ubiquity is fostered by the seeming ease with which pupils adopt and access new technologies and how little instruction and familiarisation pupils require when being introduced to new technology. However, they observed that whilst pupils are invariably enthusiastic about ICT, teachers are often nervous of the digital approach. Moreover, Laurillard (2002) reveals that teachers have been under such pressure to meet growing demands and teach larger numbers of pupils that they have been unable to go beyond traditional forms of classroom practice. Consequently, teaching methods have not evolved sufficiently to keep pace with the opportunities ICT affords:

We have begun at last to play with digital technologies as a way of meeting the demands of the digital age, but with an approach still born of the transmission model. The academic community has not redefined what counts as ‘higher learning’ and therefore cannot draft the specification for how the new technology should do anything other than what learning technology has always done: transmit the [teacher’s] knowledge to the [pupil]. The academic world has called each new technological device - word processing, interactive video, hypertext, multimedia, the Web – into the service of the transmission model of learning. The potential of the technology to serve a different kind of learning cannot be exploited by an academic community that clings only to what it knows. [….] There is no progress, therefore, in how we teach, despite what might be possible with the new technology, (p. 141).

Accordingly, the integration of new technologies must go beyond the simple transmission of knowledge towards a transactional model of teaching and learning in support of the active and shared construction of knowledge. John Dewey’s (1938) transactional conception of activity-based education views a learning experience as a “transaction taking place between an individual and what, at the time, constitutes his environment” (p. 43). Dewey’s description not only fits neatly with the complex shifting of time and place that defines ICT but also emphasises the importance of interactions between the various people, content, and resources in an environment. For Dewey interaction is the defining component of the educational process that occurs when pupils transform information passed on from another and actively constructs it into knowledge with personal meaning and value. Therefore, if we can exploit the communicative, interactive, and adaptive capabilities of new technologies into carefully integrated environments then we can support different kinds of iterative discourse between teachers and pupils, transforming the learning experience into one that fits better with the requirements of the digital age. Hence, the challenge facing both research and practice is how to best integrate ICT into traditional classrooms without a framework to support teachers and pupils in the effective use of these tools and services, ubiquitously.

Ubiquitous learning: the potential

In general, traditional practice allows for education and instruction to be delivered in a physical classroom setting and the contemporary practices of online and blended learning allows for education and instruction to be delivered primarily via the internet in a virtual classroom setting, or in part via the internet in a virtual classroom setting with some element of a physical classroom setting. However, with recent advancements in ICT and cloud-based software education and instruction are no longer confined to a ‘classroom’ setting as new configurations for the delivery of education and instruction are now possible in almost any conceivable setting. The on-going development of ICT and new modes of interaction challenges the limitations of the well founded understanding of classical interaction with one user—one computer—one setting. Klokmose (2006) defines this new form of interaction as ubiquitous interaction (UI) and this new kind of learning as ubiquitous learning (UL).

UL is considered as a new trend in ICT that has emerged from ubiquitous computing. The term ‘ubiquitous computing’ coined by Weiser (1991) is described as technology that recedes into the background of our lives. With the combination of various computational technologies Weiser’s vision allows users to exchange information and services anytime, anywhere. This is an image of computing power invisibly embedded in the world around us and accessed through intelligent interfaces. Its role is to make computing so embedded, so fitting, so natural, that we use it without even thinking about it. This shift is about human-centred computing where technology is no longer a barrier, but works for us, adapting to our needs and preferences and remaining in the background until required (Ley 2007). UL is characterised by multiplicity; there is no one-to-one relationship between the user and the computer. There is not necessarily one single unified interface in a setting. Instead, one will see one-to-many or many-to-many relationships between the users, the computers, and the settings. For this reason, UI has been described as an educational transaction between teachers and pupils in the context of ubiquitous computing that provides the right support, at the right time and place, at the right level.

UI presents schools with the capability of extending learning beyond the ‘classroom’ setting which allows pupils to “construct their learning through their environment and at their individual learning rates” (Brown 2004, p. 36). This enables the development of a ubiquitous learning environment (ULE) whose borders are only limited by the imagination of those who participate within them, blurring the traditional institutional, spatial and temporal boundaries of schooling (Cope and Kalantzis 2008). ULE`s establish a hybrid setting which allows education and instruction to be delivered traditionally and/or via the internet by seamlessly embedding virtual presence into the physical classroom. A ULE can be described as an educational setting which connects teachers and pupils and is enhanced by technological devices with embedded user systems and dynamic interfaces. In view of this, UI is best suited to an adaptive educational transaction—an educational experience which focuses on the cognitive interplay of teachers and pupils and is situated in the context of socially-mediated activity. However, it is important to note that the design of an adaptive educational transaction ought to be generated from both the process of learning and the outcomes of learning rather than from the capability of the technology.

Design and technology: the opportunity

As previously indicated, schools are looking for the appropriate ‘space’ that will provide the right balance between innovation and key skills, while safeguarding the quality of learning and the efficacy of teaching. However, Baynes (2013) referring to the education system in the United Kingdom, offers the following solution:

[….] education systems have an empty space where design education should be. In spite of declarations to the contrary, successive Government ‘reforms’ have resulted in schooling dominated by heritage (learning about the past), knowledge (learning things already known) and specific skills (learning known techniques). All these are valuable in themselves, but they are not sufficient, particularly in the rapidly-changing, highly competitive world of the twenty-first Century. They deal with the past and the present but not with the future. A part of the curriculum needs to be forward-facing, equipping children with the approaches and attitudes they will need to take on the role of shaping the future. Design, in conjunction with technology and the arts could be re-invented to fill this space, (Baynes 2013, p. 25).

Although the subject matter of the above statement is a specific and measured response to the Government’s new National Curriculum proposals for Design and Technology and Art and Design in England, its scope is much wider than national or ‘subject’ boundaries as it is written from the standpoint of design-based education. In the context of general education, design-based educational activity is primarily intended to bring about some change in the pupil. That is in capability, in knowledge, or in understanding. Thus, design is bringing about required or desirable change, in some aspect of the world, or in the agent of activity, or in both, (Roberts 2013). This research acknowledges that the iterative and dialectic nature of teaching and learning within D&T is a socially mediated activity which consists of teacher–pupil, pupil–pupil, and pupil-content interactions. However, the complex and multidisciplinary nature of design activities calls for intensive collaboration across a variety of domains (Seitamaa-Hakkarainen et al. 2012). Collaboration refers to a process in which pupils actively work together in creating and sharing their design ideas, deliberately making joint decisions and producing shared design objects, constructing and modifying their design solutions, as well as evaluating their outcomes through discourse (Hennessy and Murphy 1999). Though difficult to provide evidence of, this approach necessitates a dialectic practice that values the pupils’ own voice as authentication of both collaborative problem solving and interdependency in performance assessment while maintaining a focus on the overall design solution. Subsequently, the use of collaborative settings e.g. Drain (2010), Hennessy and Murphy (1999), Hong et al. (2011), Rowell (2002), and the role of virtual learning technology in the area of D&T education has increased e.g. Karakaya and Şenyapılı (2008), McCormick (2004). Respectively, this study acknowledges the D&T context as a potentially rich environment for UI and recognises that the automatically recorded and machine-readable timeline of teacher and pupil activity as generated by this form of ICT can offer an accountable source of data. In turn, this data set could be used to provide feedback to both teachers pupils regarding aspects of knowledge and understanding or manipulated as progress monitoring through criterion referenced interpretation.

UI compels us to be explicit in the design of our pedagogical approach so that pupils can make informed choices that meet their individual needs and desires for collaboration. Therefore, if we build UL into our classroom practice we should ensure that our educational delivery and instructional design promotes meaningful interaction. Anderson (2003) argues that we need instruments and techniques that allow pupils to reliably assess their own preference and capacity to engage in both collaborative and independent learning. Likewise, we need frameworks and practical theories that allow teachers to determine the appropriate mix of both collaborative and independent activities based on a complex set of factors including learning outcomes and assessment strategies. Hence, this research sought to investigate the effects of integrating UI on traditional practice in D&T education.


To document the complexity of UI including relevant changes over time and attend fully to the contextual conditions including those that potentially interact with UL this research utilised case study research as an evaluation method (Yin 2013). The advantage of case study research as an evaluation method in D&T is that it allows the research to investigate the effects of UI in two ways: (1) the process of learning (e.g. the effects on pupils development or growth during an educational transaction); (2) the product of learning (e.g. the effects on pupils’ performance or outcome at the conclusion of an educational transaction). This study is foreseen as the preliminary application case in a larger evaluation covering a national initiative involving multiple schools and classrooms. As part of the larger evaluation this case study will offer an explanation of the relationship between UI and its outcomes, whereas the larger evaluation will assess the effectiveness of UI by determining the strength of the relationship between UI and its outcomes. Correspondingly, the participants selected for this study (n = 25) were localised to a single classroom environment. This included 8 female pupils, 16 male pupils, 1 class teacher. Pupils ranged in age from 13 to 14. The study was carried out over a 2 week period conducted during regular class time consisting of two single 40 min periods and one double 80 min period per week.

To cover the complexity of a case and its context, case study evaluation should rely on multiple sources of data and deliberately triangulate the data from these multiple sources to conform and corroborate the findings (Yin 2013). Case study evaluation typically includes participant interviews, questionnaires, field observations, archival records, physical artefacts, and participant-observation. Considering that the automatically recorded and machine-readable timeline of teacher and pupil activity as generated by UI inherently offers the researcher a kind of participant-observation this was the predominant method of data collection incorporated by this study. Observation as a research process is a highly flexible form of data collection that presents opportunities to gather “live” data from naturally occurring experiences (Cohen et al. 2011), permits access to interactions in a “lived” context, and keeps systematic records of these to compliment other kinds of data (Simpson and Tuson 2003). The use of observation as a principle mode of analysis therefore has the potential to yield more valid or authentic data than would otherwise be the case with mediated or inferential methods. Observational data is sensitive to the context under examination and demonstrates strong environmental validity (Moyles 2002), which allowed this research to gather information on: physical settings (e.g. environment); human settings (e.g. behaviour); interactional settings (e.g. discourse); and programme settings (e.g. content). Gold (1958) presents a well-known classification of the roles in observation that lie along a continuum from complete participation to complete detachment. The mid-point of this continuum where this study lies as an observer-as-participant is not a member of the group but may participate a little or peripherally in the group’s activities and whose role as a researcher is clear, overt, and as unobtrusive as possible. This afforded the opportunity to not only observe the educational transaction as a researcher but also participate actively in the case being studied taking part in UI with the participants. All interactions were archived throughout the educational transaction for data analysis purposes. This enabled the following categories of information to be analysed in order to better understand the effects of integrating UI on traditional practice in D&T education: settings, participants, goals, activities, objects, events, times, meanings, relationships, feelings, and experiences.

As case study evaluation relies on the triangulation of multiple sources of data, this research conducted post-study methods of data collection. All post-study methods of data collection were designed to gather a qualitative insight into the participants own perception of what happened when they were learning. An in-class pupil survey was used to provide statistical understanding of the findings and filter out any external factors. This would allow for a comprehensive answer to be reached and the results to be legitimately discussed. Responses to the in-class pupil survey were provided by means of a five point Likert-type scale ranging from 1: Strongly Disagree, to 5: Strongly Agree. To ensure that all survey items were interpreted correctly pupils were typically asked to rate activities such as ‘reflecting on design ideas’. In the context of this study, this was known and labelled as the ‘cogitate’ element. Of the 24 participating pupils, 5 (2 female, 3 male) were randomly selected to participate in a semi-structured focus group interview. The focus group was recorded, transcribed, and emergent categories analysed. The questions asked would ensure that the data collected would be explanatory in its description of the approach and would be effective when considering intangible factors to interpret and better understand the complex reality of UI and the implications of the quantitative data. The aspects of the study under analysis are complex due to the adaptive nature of the educational transaction and the idiosyncratic disposition of the participants within the learning activity. A post-study interview was conducted with the class teacher to evaluate their perception of the integration of UI. In addition, questions were further designed to assess the impact of UI in regulating educational pedagogy and in leading to any increased difficulties in measurability or in assessment.


As this research is concerned with how UI around pupils’ learning (process and product) can be used to provide evidence of the quality of pupils’ learning and efficacy of teacher pedagogy, the approach taken was formative. The educational transaction involved a design-without-make activity (Barlex and Trebell 2008) which required pupils to design an artefact to be personal to the user and relative to the surroundings in which it would be placed. This design-based activity facilitated multimodal opportunities for participants to analyse a wide range of design choices and revealed understanding of social, emotional, cultural, technological, and functional design concepts. The approach integrated a secure and reliable virtual learning environment (see Fig. 1) that could be supported on both stationary computers and mobile technologies (e.g. pupil’s smartphones, tablets, iPods, etc.). This allowed for education and instruction to be delivered both traditionally in a physical classroom setting and via the internet in a virtual classroom setting before, during, and after participant’s regular scheduled class time.
Fig. 1

Example of virtual learning environment


The findings present both the pupils and teachers response to the integration of a technological and pedagogical approach which focuses on social and cognitive interaction and situated in the context of design-based activity. In particular, the findings demonstrate the nature of interactions that occurred during the educational transaction and the effect that interactions between pupils and teachers had on both the process and the product of learning. The virtual learning environment recorded a total of 359 interactions over the 2 weeks of the evaluation study. An independent-samples t test was then conducted to compare the mean frequency of interactions between the male and female pupils. The results showed no statistically significant difference between the scores for male participants (M = 11.44, SD = 5.35) and female participants (M = 14.63, SD = 14.07), t (22) = −.810, p = .426. To gain additional insight into the frequency of interactions recorded by the participants’, further analysis was conducted into the amount of interactions each individual participant recorded during the study. The approach deemed most appropriate was to separate the participants into quartiles based on their frequency of interactions.

The first boxplot identified two statistical outliers in the participant group, one male pupil who recorded almost three times more interactions (n = 28) than the average pupil (M = 10.14, SD = 2.88), and one female pupil who recorded almost five times more interactions (n = 49) than the average pupil. Figure 2 illustrates the results of the second analysis carried out excluding the outliers. The boxplot identifies the quartile values (Q1 = 8.75, Q2 = 10, Q3 = 12, Q4 = 16) and the histogram identifies the frequency of the interactions recorded by participants.
Fig. 2

Boxplot (left) and histogram (right) to identify frequencies of interactions (excluding outliers)

For the purpose of the findings section it must be noted that interactions when primary content was added to an individual’s profile by means of the virtual learning environment are referred to as ‘posts’ and when shared interactions occurred between two or more participants succeeding any given post are referred to as ‘comments’. Table 1 displays the magnitude of interactions recorded during the educational transaction excluding outliers. Approximately 51 % of posts (n = 76) and 64 % of comments (n = 75) added by pupils occurred synchronously (i.e. online during regular scheduled class time). The remaining 49 % of posts (n = 72) and 36 % of comments (n = 27) added by pupils occurred asynchronously (i.e. online before and/or after regular scheduled class time). All posts (n = 16) and comments (n = 43) added to the virtual environment by the teacher occurred asynchronously.
Table 1

Magnitude of synchronous and asynchronous interactions recorded by VLE (excluding outliers)


Synchronous interactions

Asynchronous interactions


Male (n = 15)

Female (n = 7)

Male (n = 15)

Female (n = 7)











S. D.





The results show that male and female pupils interacted similarly both inside and outside of regular class time. Although this resulted in a multitude of social and cognitive processes being addressed in any one class at any one time it became increasingly evident that all participants were able to find a level of comfort and trust, develop effective and supportive relationships, and experience a state of camaraderie in the learning community:

I began to talk with other people in the class that I normally wouldn’t have talked with and I found that the more people who can look at your project the better it will turn out to be, (Study Participant 16).

The practices recorded by observing the pupils’ activity revealed that adding posts and comments to the virtual environment influenced their capacity to define capability and derive educational values appropriate to inform the quality of their learning. In an effort to solve the design task delivered as part of the educational transaction, the participants disseminated matters associated with their learning process and the product of their learning by:
  • Constructing theoretical knowledge and practical skill as common practice in D&T education

  • Capturing a real time account of both their learning process and the evidence of their learning

  • Communicating synchronously and/or asynchronously with all other contributing participants

  • Cogitating on their performance and the performance of others collaboratively or individually

Each of these four practices represent a key stage in creating evidence of design-based activity that enabled both pupils and their class teacher alike to participate in, and contribute to, the development of a ubiquitous setting. This process of working iteratively, adding posts and comments, collaborating with others, and uploading subsequent data files (evidence) to the virtual environment begins to suggest that the strength of posts and comments rests in their ability to stimulate the evidencing of more qualitative and quantitative knowledge as respective posts and comments were added as a means of articulating a fuller and more complete understanding:

[Posting] makes you create more ideas, redesign them and not just stick with your first idea like I normally would have; [posting] makes you think more about what you are doing, (Study Participant 1).

This process of creating such rich evidence of design-based activity is contingent on the portraying of multiple operations of judgement about when and how to comprehensibly demonstrate patterns of understanding and representing problems logically, not just the accumulation of knowledge. The connection between this evidence and the pupils’ activity forcefully points to the authenticity of posts and comments as being an actual record of pupil learning. In an extract transcribed from the post-study interview, the class teacher suggests that adding posts and comments as a form of educational and instructional delivery produces credible data that is readily available and engages pupils within a community of learning and the completion of the design-based activity:

The ability to moderate and review [pupils] interactions was an excellent tool in the assessment of [pupil] learning. The quality of which is greatly increased in this process as [pupils] have the freedom to interact in a larger community and were able to communicate collaboratively in a more private setting. Enabling [pupils] to bounce ideas off each other in this way can help expand their thinking, while they gain constant feedback and affirmation. Interactions also had the effect of constantly forcing [pupils] to re-analyse their design [activity] based on this feedback, which ultimately led to more robust design solutions. I feel that the [pupils] learned the value of collaboration and will be much more inclined to both offer and seek similar interaction in the future as they work on design projects.

However, it must be said that not all posts or comments added to the virtual learning environment stimulated the demonstration of a greater understanding of knowledge or were considered relevant to the design-based activity. The social nature of the approach meant digressions from the subject content were possible, i.e. informal, non-curricular related posts and comments allowed pupils to diverge from the structure of the design-based activity. It should also be mentioned that despite the earliest post being recorded only seven minutes into the first class period under evaluation and the earliest comment being recorded only two minutes later, the practical skill and theoretical knowledge central to the quality of learning and the efficacy of teaching did not appear to be undermined by either the novelty or time associated with adding posts and comments to the virtual environment. Figure 3 illustrates the pupil’s own perception of the average time they spent participating in, and contributing to, the development of a ULE by constructing, capturing, communicating, and cogitating evidence of design-based activity and the average time they spent actually posting evidence to the virtual environment. The graph indicates that all categories are positively disposed and that pupils were doing more thinking than anything else.
Fig. 3

Average pupil responses to time spent engaged in design activity (5 point Likert-type scale)

This could suggest that by extending learning beyond the ‘classroom’ setting, allowing education and instruction to be delivered asynchronously pupils can take advantage of increased periods of critical thinking and reflection:

You think about the work you are doing more, even when you’re not in class, (Study Participant 13).


The results demonstrate that participants interacted frequently and similarly during the educational transaction. In addition, the participants’ response to synchronous and asynchronous interactions was practically the same. However, it was shown that asynchronous interaction gives pupils the opportunity to reflect on the contributions (i.e. posts and comments) of others while constructing, capturing, communicating or cogitating evidence of their own contributions and to reflect on their own contributions in order to articulate coherent and logical responses. That is, pupils have the choice of private reflective thought equitably balanced with interaction in the public sphere to reliably assess their own preference and capacity to engage in collaborative and independent learning. This could imply that asynchronous interaction not only provides for temporal and spatial independence but makes it easier for pupils to enter into conversations about their learning because there is greater time for input. Hence, asynchronous interaction allows more democratic participation and equitable contribution as “all [pupils] have a voice and no one, not even [a teacher], can dominate the conversation” (Swan and Shih 2005, p. 116). However, another interpretation of the findings could be that the communication of an idea or feeling to other pupils raised the interest and motivation of the participants, in large part because of the associated psychological commitment and risk involved in publicly espousing one’s views, resulting in extended periods of ‘think-time’. This state of heightened psychological attention is related to the increased “mindfulness” that Langer (1989) identified as critically important to the development of relationships between people and technology and the phenomena of interactions between people and their environment. Langer and Moldoveanu (2000) described mindfulness as having four important characteristics: a greater sensitivity to one’s environment, more openness to new information, the creation of new categories for structuring perception, and an implicit awareness of multiple perspectives in problem solving. Each of these characteristics enters a hyper state when a pupil interacts with others, stimulating their capacity and motivation to learn. Hence, as pupils add posts and comments to the virtual environment they are cognisant of how their contributions will be perceived by others. This process requires more ‘think-time’ and pupil’s motivation and interest rises as he or she awaits a response.

Although this research sought to investigate the effects of integrating UI on traditional practice in D&T education with a particular focus on the quality of pupils’ learning and the efficacy of teachers’ pedagogy, constructing, capturing, communicating, and cogitating evidence of design-based activity is more about doing, thinking, feeling, and watching, i.e. features of experiential learning (Kolb 1984), than it is about designing. The suggestion is that UI facilitates a process of learning from experience that is more about activity-based learning than it is about design-based activity, where knowledge is created by the transformation of experience. Accordingly, this research proposes the Experiential Domain (see Fig. 4). It is posited that this domain which has an adaptive educational transaction at its core, supports pupils in constructing, capturing, communicating, and cogitating evidence of active learning and begins to hypothesise a model for the conceptual genesis of UL.
Fig. 4

The experiential domain

This research proposes the Experiential Domain as a pedagogical model for enhancing teaching and learning which demonstrates evidence-based progress through the active configuration of knowledge and understanding. The need for an appropriate ‘space’ that would provide the right balance between innovation and key skills, while safeguarding the quality of learning and the efficacy of teaching, and the calls for intensive collaboration across a variety of domains are the underpinnings of this model which are framed by the learning environment. The model centres on the theoretical idea of experiential learning and has at its core an educational transaction which focuses on the cognitive interplay of teachers and pupils in the context of socially-mediated activity.

The integration of the Experiential Domain in D&T education can begin to describe and map learning as evidence-based progress through each stage within the domain (construct, capture, communicate, cogitate) in the direction of knowledge and understanding. This study demonstrates that UI through each stage reflects new knowledge, linked to existing knowledge, and deeper understandings are developed from, and take the place of, earlier understandings. The aim of this approach is to move pupil understanding along a path of increasingly complex knowledge and skill by focusing on pupil’s readiness to learn and building upon their current stage of understanding. As this process develops through the pupil’s practical activity and social interaction with others this paper suggests that by integrating UI and the Experiential Domain we can begin to trace the complex and fundamentally non-linear nature of activity-based learning and the internal psychological process of cognitive thinking from initial construction to the moment when knowledge becomes the pupil’s intellectual property. This process consists of various mental paradigms that are formulated in an effort to measure or understand sensory experiences and can be viewed as the transformation of conceptual knowledge into explicit knowledge. Therefore, by focusing on the cognitive interplay between teachers and pupils that is situated in the context of socially-mediated activity, a greater catalyst for synthesising the actual learning experience is formed. Thus, allowing the measurement of process-based learning outcomes and creating pathways to epistemic engagement.


The integration of UI in D&T education challenges our traditional practice and approach to teaching and learning. However, while the findings from this study are specific to the D&T setting, the classification of the Experiential Domain advocates that cognitive development and social interaction was context independent. Although the research approach involved a formative design-without-make activity the expectation is that along a continuum of closed to more permeable task design, the findings would maintain their efficiency. Despite the fact that the cognitive processing that was required of participants was quite conceptual, the social interchange between participants was not just about concept or refining concept, it was as much about thinking and refining thinking. Therefore, this research suggests that the findings are somewhat independent of the subject context, the degree of permeability within the activity, and the level of procedural or declarative knowledge it entails. Hence, the findings provide a guide for the development of educational transactions and the integration of new technologies to enhance teaching and learning across the suite of subject disciplines of second level education.

This research found that UI had a positive influence on participant’s capacity to define capability and derive educational values appropriate to inform the quality of pupils’ learning and the strength of UI rests in its ability to stimulate the evidencing of more qualitative and quantitative knowledge. However, future research and supplementary data collection is required to inform a greater discussion about the efficacy of teacher pedagogy. By constructing, capturing, communicating, and cogitating evidence-based progress, pupils articulated multiple operations of judgement about when and how to comprehensibly demonstrate patterns of understanding and representing problems logically, not just the accumulation of knowledge. The connection between this evidence and the pupils’ activity forcefully points to the authenticity of UI as being the actual record of pupil learning and offers a compelling source of information that can be used in the measurement and assessment of pupil learning. Hence, the evidence of performance capability is clear and the commentary on that evidence by the pupil can be particularly revealing. Therefore, indicating the versatility of the approach in supporting rich pedagogic practice.

In conclusion, those looking to classrooms as sites of innovation and change, and those concerned with how individuals demonstrate skills and capacities in a multi-media world and make sense of and use these experiences to imagine and to develop different and better ways of living and learning, could benefit from UI. However, as interactions are unlikely to occur without the provision of an instructional model that fosters them this research proposes the Experiential Domain as a model for enhancing practice in second level education. Although the proposed model is intended to support pedagogical approaches and not technological approaches, the Experiential Domain responds to the challenges facing both research and practice on how to best integrate ICT into traditional classrooms to support teachers and pupils in the effective use of these tools and services. The Experiential Domain affords opportunities for teachers and pupils to be active agents in their own education and to have the ‘space’ to think for themselves critically and reflectively, collaboratively and individually, synchronously and asynchronously, and effectively demonstrate what they do in their lives and in their learning.


  1. 1.

    The Junior Certificate is an educational qualification awarded in the Republic of Ireland by the Department of Education and Skills to pupils who have successfully completed the junior cycle of second level education and achieved a minimum standard in their Junior Certification examinations. From 2014, the reformed junior cycle will feature newly developed subjects and short courses with a focus on literacy, numeracy and key skills. The key skills of the junior cycle are Managing Myself, Staying Well, Communicating, Being Creative, Working with Others, and Managing Information and Thinking. As pupils develop their competence within each of these key skills, they also develop their competence in learning by using the key skills to constantly improve how they learn. Working with Digital Technologies also forms part of each of the key skills.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LimerickLimerickIreland

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