We spoke with the educators about their individual journeys, collective approach to design education, what sparked the initiative and the positive impacts their teaching is having.
Demelza is a cross-disciplinary secondary school teacher who specialises in Art and Technology education, designerly thinking and educational leadership.
Her experience with National Standard Alignment process in 2011 prompted her to undertake research aimed at contributing to future national curriculum development. She has a Masters of Professional Studies in Education through the University of Auckland (2015). Demelza’s research has investigated how to develop designerly thinking practices in secondary education and fostering collaboration between the secondary and tertiary sectors.
Demelza held various positions at Saint Kentigern College between 2011 – 2017 including Head of Technology, Acting Head of Visual Art and Creative Director of Visual Art, Technology and Design. During this time specialisms under her leadership included Product Design, Object Art, Fashion and Textile Design, Food Technology, Digital Technology, Animation and Motion Graphics and Computer Science and Sculpture.
She is currently the Head of Technology at Tangaroa College where her focus is engaging students through the understanding and application of their personal design heritage to real world problems. Demelza is motivated by the power of making (in all fields) and social equity. She believes in empowering students to make tangible positive changes to their worlds through design.
Can you tell us a little about your background as an Art and Technology Teacher/?
Started in 2008 at Takapuna Grammar school teaching Visual Arts and Technology. I was lucky enough to work beside amazing teachers, some of whom were developing national resources. This led to me being asked to help with the 2010 Curriculum Review process (for Technology). That experience was pretty disheartening; the work I did (largely on sustainability and sustainable design practices) was cited as not being inline with the committee’s research. Thinking that my own degree, practice and teaching experience must have had more than anecdotal evidence I decided to do my Master’s so I could weigh in from a research based standpoint. I started my Master’s in Professional Studies just before accepting a post at Saint Kentigern College as the Head of Technology. At that time Steve Cole, despite appearing traditional, was fully supportive of our developing the area of Technology into a mini design school. Over the next few years, informed by my research and the practice of an amazing staff we set up a department that worked very closely with the Visual Art department and in Technology, included the specialist areas of Food Technology, Product Design, Digital Technologies, Computer Science, Animation and Motion Graphics, Object Art and Sculpture. A large part of my role was developing the projects and sourcing professional development for staff. Just before Cole left he selected four staff to attend a leadership course which I found very challenging. It occured to me that while I was advocating for females in areas that are male-dominated (digital and product) I was essentially not that keen on teaching girls. When I was approached to help develop the Digital Media Design department at Diocesan School for Girls (everyone thought I was mad to leave my position os St. Kents), I decided I should put my money where my mouth is and see what teaching only girls was like. This marked an interesting turn in my career as I went from the Creative Director of Visual Art, Spatial Design and Technology (Cole’s last act was to create this position) to being a ‘Teacher in Charge’. Read: there must be something wrong with her to ‘step down’ the ladder. I knew it would be a great learning experience to work under someone again, however, I simply wasn’t prepared for how people’s perception of your value is tied to status. It was also becoming increasingly clear that either I was over teaching, or I was over the private sector. A colleague from Saint Kentigern had taken a position as HOD Visual Art at Tangaroa College a year before I moved to Diocesan. He knew I wasn’t happy and let me know that Tangaroa was looking for an HOD of Technology – basically he dared me to take the job. Honestly, it was exactly what I needed. Teaching in a decile 1 school in Otara was, and continues to be, a breath of fresh air. It has opened my eyes to a range of my own shortcomings and bias around design perspectives (and the lack of). It has also refuelled me professionally to seek equal opportunities for all young people – because mate – it ain’t an equal playing field.
Apple’s Johnny Ive said “What we make completely testifies to who we are” what do you make and what does it say about who you are?
I make a mess. Wherever I go… seriously, it’s the way my mind works – I can’t help but ask ‘why?’. Why can’t students have access to authentic learning? Why can’t they show their work to the world? Why are we settling for what’s ordinary when these young people are far from ordinary? Why is school so boring? Does it have to be? Why are we assessing ‘that’ when we could be assessing ‘this’?
What I attempt is to ‘make people think’. This gets messy and you need a head for change management in order for there to be a successful cultural shift at the end of it, as opposed to the ashes of a system and damaged interpersonal relationships.
My focus as a designer is to create projects and spaces that enable people to think critically.
What was the catalyst for Project Make?
A few things including all of the above. Firstly, because I’m comfortable in chaos I have never been afraid to offer a programme I don’t have the technical skills for. This means I’m always on the hunt for experts and connections to fill those gaps. It made sense to have a platform where those people and that knowledge could live, especially for teachers or students who don’t have first hand access to those people. Secondly, the lack of connection between teachers, lecturers and professionals. Education lives and dies by the quality of the relationships you form. I was getting sick of going to talks and passively consuming information about other people’s practices. When you work on things together the real magic happens. It’s also pretty annoying and offensive constantly hearing from people who aren’t in secondary education what they assume is happening in schools.
After Nathan and I presented at the Helix Symposium in 2015 I was like, right, let’s get connected. We have been chipping away at it ever since.
Your project library is under development but you have 4 free courses currently on offer (including Art in Isolation) -How can students get involved, and what should they expect from the project?
Basically just start the course. We have lessons and activities but people really can just do their own thing as the courses up at the moment aren’t meant for NCEA assessments. However, in future teachers can get in touch and we can modify any project for a specific age group and/or assessment.
What can they expect? Three exercises in making things (physical and digital) informed by the world around them.
And for teachers who may want to collaborate on the development or delivery of a project how can they participate?
Fire us an email – the more the merrier; that’s the whole point.
Can you share an example of design/making having a profoundly positive impact on a student/ you as a student?
I see it retrospectively a lot. Teaching is like the worst long term investment. Students often aren’t super stoked when they are in the thick of it, but they do seek you out later and tell you about the impact that learning design and being empowered to learn to fail has had on them. For me the most profoundly positive impact can be seen in the list of collaborators; so many past students (Nathan and Anjuli included) doing such amazing things. All of whom have a genuine passion not only for design but for passing on their knowledge.
What do you see as the benefit of incorporating tactile or analogue practices into digital learning opportunities?
It’s all about making. Tools and methods and ways of working are all just the means to the end. The benefit is demystifying practices and skills and giving people the confidence (and permission) to have a crack at everything. I hate the idea of people being too nervous to step outside what they know because it’s new. Sometimes it’s cool to do something purely to confirm you aren’t into it. I worked as a Patisserie chef for a while – that confirmed that ain’t the way my brain is wired!
Personally, being a cross-disciplinary artist/designer is important to me because I see things from all sorts of angles. It does, however, come at the expense of any deep expertise in one area. Then again, I have a VERY short attention span.
Which 3 factors do you think will be most significant in shaping Design education in Aotearoa in the next 5 years?
What are your hopes for the future of Project Make?
My ultimate hope is that more people will make more things, and that that in turn will make them happy and connected humans. I do believe that design is the vehicle for change, hopefully Project Make can help spark some of that change. I also hope that our projects will be written by every flavour of human we have in Aotearoa so that we all get the opportunity to learn from another’s perspective.