The purpose of my study was to describe the manner in which Grade 9 technology learners typically
accessed and used information sources during the early phases of their design processes. I did this
by using an Extended Cognition framework to study the internal and external information sources
that learners typically accessed and used in a technology learning environment. Theoretically, my
study aimed to develop the application of the Extended Cognition Theory in an educational
context. In this manner, my study adds to the scarce literature on design cognition in technology
education. The methodological purpose of this study was to adapt conventional Think Aloud
Protocol methods (TAPS) to investigate groups of learners in their natural technology learning
environment. This methodology enabled me to understand the link between theoretical and
empirical approaches of design cognition. As such, I was able to conceptualise practical guidelines
that could be used by technology lecturers and teachers for the effective facilitation of the early
phases of design processes.
The conceptual framework of my study was adapted from empirical studies of expert designers, and
is underpinned by the Information Processing and Embodiment theories. I followed a concurrent
mixed methods approach and employed a case study design applying pragmatic assumptions. The
target population for this study comprised Grade 9 learners based in a low socio-economic region.
Eight female participants were purposefully selected and conveniently clustered into three groups:
two groups of three participants, and one group of two participants. Data collection therefore
consisted of three separately video recorded protocol studies. I was able to elicit the information
access and usage activities of the participants by providing them with a design task that I adapted
from a prescribed textbook, as suggested for technology by the Department of Basic Education.
During the video recordings of the participants’ design processes, I was able to collect concurrent
verbal, visual and temporal data types. I analysed the data according to a five-level framework,
also adapted from the empirical investigations of expert designers.
During my quantitative data analysis, I identified the occurrences of each group of participants’
cognitive phases, as well as the occurrences of their information access and use activities during
each cognitive phase. On the one hand, problem structuring did not occur regularly. However,
during their problem structuring activities, the participants mainly accessed and used instructions
contained in the design task and pictures. On the other hand, the participants predominantly
exhibited problem solving cognitive phases in which they mainly accessed and used external
information sources including pictures and sketches. During my qualitative data analysis, I traced how the participants transformed their understanding of
the design problem and possible design solutions. During problem structuring, the participants
accessed information about the users’ needs, the design context and design objectives by
perceiving and recognising useful information in their design task instructions and pictures.
Information use during problem structuring was evidenced when the participants transformed
information that they accessed to propose design objectives, constraints and requirements.
Accessed information was typically transformed when the participants: (1) Read/evaluated
information from the design task; (2) Evaluated the problem/context; (3) Evaluated/Elaborated
information about the design objective; (4) Justified a design requirement; (5) Proposed/justified a
design constraint; (6) Evaluated/Elaborated available resources in the environment; (7) Elaborated
on the design context. During problem solving, the participants accessed information about the
function, behaviour and structure of possible design solutions by perceiving and recognising useful
information, primarily in their sketches, 3D models and pictures. Information use during problem
solving was evidenced when the participants transformed accessed information to propose design
specifications and limitations. Accessed information was typically transformed when the
participants: (1) Evaluated existing solutions; (2) Proposed design limitations; (3) Modified existing
solutions; (4) Proposed/evaluated a design idea; (5) Elaborated on a design idea; (6) Justified ideas;
(7) Qualified ideas; (8) Modified previous design ideas.
From the findings of my study, I could develop practical guidelines for current and future technology
teachers. These guidelines should help technology teachers to effectively facilitate information rich
design thinking during the early phases of learners’ design processes. I conclude this study by
reiterating that the participants’ design cognition was enhanced by the availability of various
information sources. This implies that technology teachers play a central role as information providers
and mediators. Failure to provide adequate information sources during design tasks might inhibit
learners’ development of the proficient design skills intended by the technology Curriculum and
Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS) document.