I initially trained as an Industrial Arts teacher in Canada. The focus was on giving high school students experience in different trades from woodworking and construction to drafting and mechanics. I loved it. I see a lot of value in helping students develop practical skills that could be used for DIY in their own lives or to experience what it might be like to work in a specific trade that could then become a career choice for them.
When I moved to the UK I began teaching Design & Technology. The roots of the subject are in many ways similar to the Industrial Arts background that I had. But everything has to fit under the umbrella of “design” and this gives the subject a very different flavour.
At first I hated the D&T approach. As I spent hours with one of my first classes developing prototype perfume bottle packaging, I wondered what my career had come to.
A few years later though I have come to value many things about the design approach. It can give more room for creativity. It can be more interesting for the students and the teacher. Rather than everyone constructing a nearly identical wooden box that was designed by their teacher, students can construct something that is more meaningful to them and expresses more of who they are. The quality may suffer but creativity and self-expression thrives.
I was at a professional development workshop where the instructor gave us all some lego. At first we all had to follow a set of instructions to make something in a limited amount of time. Then we were given a chance to make anything we wanted with the same pieces in a similar amount of time. Most people enjoyed the second activity a lot more. The point was that designing and using creativity is more enjoyable for most people than just learning a procedure.
I still see a number of drawbacks to the design approach however. It significantly reduces the time available to develop practical skills as a lot of class time is taken up with research. The design process can be reduced to a very rigid, tick-box exercise in a lot of schools. And finally, the design approach does not fit very well with skills such as auto-mechanics where procedures and diagnostics (rather than creative designing) will lead to success.
Ultimately I suppose it comes down to what the purpose of education in the subject is. If it is to teach someone a trade so they can get a job, Industrial Arts is probably the way to go. If it is to develop creativity and higher level thinking for a more academic career, D&T is probably better.
I have seen the benefits and drawbacks of both approaches, so I think my ideal approach would sit somewhere in between the two.