Wednesday 05 Apr 2017

'Survival of the Fittest' to 'Invention of the Best': Design at Campus des Nations

With a wealth of expertise from each of its four teachers, the Design Department is the jewel of the Campus des Nations Secondary School. Each with their specific background, whether product design, electronics, computer science or engineering, they nonetheless team-teach both Middle Years Programme (MYP) and Diploma Programme (IBDP) classes, giving each student insights into the vast world of design. For when does design ever end? Endless and timeless, there is always something needing improvement, and every day new technologies come out that enhance our daily lives. “In today’s world, it is essential that we provide students with the technological know-how and culture of tomorrow” underlines design teacher Laurent Moreau. After all, life is about solving problems and making the world a better place, and so is design.

Based on the premise that a product can always be enhanced, students start by identifying a problem and then come up with a solution to it. To this end, they undertake a full process that covers product analysis, manufacturing plans, building of the product, and sometimes the creation of an instruction manual for the production of their invention. The final phase involves evaluation with client feedback and testing to gauge the success of the design. 

Design Evolution

“We want students to realise that failure is not a bad thing” explains design teacher David Shaw. On the contrary, the design teachers push students to see their inventions as living products that are imperfect and have flaws. As a result, they can identify ways to improve products, and track the ‘evolution’ of their invention. The study of design takes students further in helping them develop social skills by thinking about user-centred design. In other words, how the final user can benefit from a given product – whether that product is an object or a system. For example, looking at their school as a final user, Year 12 and 13 students are currently assessing and redesigning the late arrivals system to improve student timeliness. 

Students first carefully sketch their designs before moving onto the production phase.
Students first carefully sketch their designs before moving onto the production phase.

Relying on a wide set of skills including maths, physics, chemistry and biology, design brings together these competencies to give them meaning in the specific context of product and media creation. “The strength of design is that it’s always going to be applied” says design teacher Barnaby Bain. With this hands-on learning, students are able to develop a wide range of skills, including but not limited to, problem-solving skills, sketching, workshop skills, ICT, and technical report writing. “Since students are working with their own data, for their own specific purpose, it makes more sense to them than data that is fed to them by the teacher,” explains Barnaby. 

Making Students the Masters of their own Destiny

From the perspective of breaking gender roles, design has also started to bear fruit as an increasing number of girls choose to study design at higher levels. In fact, statistically speaking, at Campus des Nations there are more girls studying design at the IB diploma level than boys. While design courses are gender balanced, engineering still poses a challenge, as girls are vastly underrepresented in this field. However, with the close ties between design and engineering, teaching design at an early age certainly represents a step in the right direction in bringing about greater gender equality. Opening the doors to an array of university degrees ranging from architecture to engineering, from fashion design to applied arts, from graphic design to systems modelling and many, many more, design places itself at a crossroad for interdisciplinary study where traditional “gender preferences” no longer apply.

Design teacher David Shaw teaching CAD, or computer-aided design.
Design teacher David Shaw teaching CAD, or computer-aided design.

One of the main strengths of design is that it takes the teaching away from the hands of the teacher and puts it into the hands of the student. As a result, in the design classrooms, students walk in and are proactively rewarded for independent thinking, for stepping outside of the box, for getting up from their chair and exploring innovative ways of creating and building things for themselves. For David Shaw, the teaching of design requires “breaking down the barriers of the traditional rigid class formula” as the students set themselves clear goals. For dyslexic students, the set-up of the design course is particularly appealing as it fits nicely with their more creative talents. While relying a lot on students’ independence and good will in driving a project forward, as teachers David Shaw, Barnaby Bain and Laurent Moreau all agree that their role is more that of the “guide on the side rather than the sage on the stage”.

Design is a compulsory core subject for all students in year 7 to 11 in the MYP and an optional subject for years 12 to 13 IBDP and Career-related Programme students. 

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