In a previous blog, Autodesk Heroes, Alison Watson wrote about an inspiring teacher, Rod Forrest of  Taupo-Nui-A-Tia College, New Zealand, whom I met at Autodesk University in Las Vegas.

Rod and Alison shared many characteristics and views. Both having a background in topographical surveying, draughting and mapping, they had also both ventured into the world of education and had a lot to talk about!

It seems that their frustrations are very similar too. A couple of evenings ago, when Alison was winding down after a long day and Rod was winding up for the morning some 13 hours in front of the UK, indulged in a long-distance chat resulted in asking Rod if he would be kind enough to share his thoughts with technology teachers of the world via a guest blog for COYO.

We’re thrilled he agreed.

Technology teachers – you are HUGELY undervalued in my opinion, however a 21st century overhaul is well overdue for your curriculum. Maybe Rod’s blog will explain why….

Saturday 3rd March, Taupo, New Zealand

Here I am sitting in my new classroom in our brand new Design & Innovation Centre. We deliberately did not call it a Technology Block, because we want to break the stereotypes that exist towards technology education in some communities. This building houses all of our technology and visual art subjects.

It is only four weeks since we moved into this new building – and I am looking out of the window into what should have been a beautiful late Summer’s day …… It is still summer here in NZ, isn’t it??? The gale-force winds and threatening rain outside would suggest otherwise though.

Actually today I should have been able to see scores of “mad” Ironman athletes racing by on their very expensive cycles but the weather was so bad that Ironman NZ had to be cancelled!! My thoughts go out to the competitors many of whom have travelled here from all over the world. It must be very frustrating after the effort and training commitment of the last year. To have the chance of proving that you are indeed an Ironman or Iron-woman (or is it Iron-Person??) snatched away by mother nature must be devastating!

The long term goal setting to complete an Ironman must be admired. Think about the hours of exercise and training; adhering to a strict diet; not to mention the impact on family and friends – the commitment is huge and I am sure that there is a lot of disappointed people in Taupo today.

While I am NOT an athlete who is remotely in their league – actually I am not an athlete; thinking about the commitment of these athletes and their frustration today I find myself empathising with them as I have in a way, been working towards my own “Ironman” – a long term goal to empower and help educate the students in my care, in aspects of design generally, CAD especially and BIM in particular. The effort and commitment to achieve this is huge.

I am not ashamed to admit that I use CAD as a tool to “hook” some kids into the idea that design can be a lot of fun – it helps them to visualise their ideas which makes them more real. If kids can see their ideas presented in a realistic, professional-looking manner, their confidence will grow and they will seek to extend their knowledge and creativity in using these tools.

Sadly, it is at times very frustrating trying to convince people who are not connected with technology education (Actually even some who are in Tech Ed!) of the merits of what we teach. Many people do not understand or appreciate the potential career opportunities that this area offers our young people; or the value of the ideas that they will generate.

It is also frustrating to try and convince some of my peers to make the time commitment required, to understand and learn about some of the tools that we use in this area. Learning how to use Autodesk’s Revit Architecture or Inventor program is not quite the same as learning how to type a word document and people tend to underestimate the effort required. I had a colleague approach me the other day and said, ‘Hey! I have a new computer at home. Sometime this week, can you teach me CAD?’

After I stopped laughing I said that we would work on it, but that it would take a little more than a week!

Needless to say that we could speed things up by attending professionally run courses. Sadly the cost of doing so is prohibitive for most schools in this country due to the cost of commercially-run courses. To send two teachers to a two or three-day course would cost more than some schools’ have for their annual operational budget for that subject!

I really appreciate the efforts that Autodesk have gone to in providing software to students at no cost and developing online resources such that are available on the Digital Steam and Education Community website; however, I can’t help but think that these resources are to a degree underutilised due to difficulties in engaging teaching staff with this technology.

Can you imagine what it would be like in a school, if every technology or design teacher had even a basic skill level with some of these products? Think about how many kids every day, could be using this stuff; think about how many kids we could turn on to creativity and design! Think about how life-changing this might be for many kids? Think about future problems that many of them may help to solve?

I would love to see Autodesk run a series of workshops to educate the teachers not only in how to drive the software but more importantly in how to get the most out of the resources available. In the meantime, we will soldier on with a keyboard and mouse in one hand and a textbook in the other learning their products and figuring out how to use the resources….

However, we must remain positive and take the “victories” when we can.

For me, victory comes when I see kids experience that ‘eureka moment’ when their design comes up on the screen and their model meets their expectations of how they imagined it to be. Or their building model finishes rendering and it is exactly how they imagined it; better still when they realise that something is not right and they go back and fix it. I like the idea of learning to fail and learning from these failures. Victory also comes with higher levels of engagement which have been matched with improved levels of attainment within the students’ schoolwork.

As teachers, we have to develop the confidence to let go of control in our classrooms and empower our students in some of their learning. At times we have to be prepared to swap roles with the students and let them teach. We have to learn to connect with the students, to understand how they think and how they view the world that we live in. Only by doing this can we help to steer out teaching (and their learning) in a direction which they will want to and which we want them to follow.

A master teacher who I have had the privilege of working with for the last ten years, once said “We can’t teach young people anything ….. unless they let us. They have to want to learn from you and the best way to achieve that is to connect with them as people first. Find out who they are and what they are interested in. The rest will follow.”  The best advice I have ever been given as a teacher.

This is probably obvious to many teachers, but I survey my classes at the end of each year to identify their interests so that I can develop units of work and assessment tasks for the following year that they will want to engage in. I try to keep these opportunities as realistic and as much fun as possible – context matters to teenagers.

Much like the Ironmen and women who should have been cycling past my classroom today, we too experience frustration and fatigue. But in the end, the journey will be worth it.

At least now, I now know why since the start of the school year, I have had many sleepless nights waking up at 1:30 am or 3: 00 am……. only to fall asleep on the couch later that evening as I watch the late news!

Rod Forrest, Teacher in Charge of Design & Visual Communication
Taupo-Nui-A-Tia College, New Zealand

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