Ask a technological studies major about the central endeavor of technology, and you're likely to get an explanation of the "design process." This may surprise you, particularly if you had envisioned something about computers or other hardware and the arcane knowledge of their operation. The design process involves identifying opportunities and taking them on as personal challenges. It requires applying imagination, energy, tools, materials, and know-how to create a tangible response to those challenges. And while that process is likely to produce material products and engineered systems in a class like Structures and Mechanisms, it works just as well for designing a unique learning experience, like studying the history of technology in Britain over three millennia-at the source.

Hey Dr. Hutch-would you take us to England?

Returning from a February 1998 weekend professional conference in Virginia, a vanload of technological studies students proposed a change of venue from their usual courses in Armstrong Hall. John Hutchinson, their adviser, asked what the students had in mind. John had spent a 1985 sabbatical in the UK with wife Pat who was on a Fulbright at Oxford. Together they had laid the groundwork for an ongoing exchange program between TCNJ's technological studies department and several British institutions. A few weeks later the group met to discuss the possibilities of a course on the history of technology in Britain. The course would meet through the spring of 1999 and culminate in a two-week road trip through England in early summer. Hutchinson's one stipulation: the students would design, plan, and carry out every aspect of the trip.

Laying the Foundation

Participants in the "England Course," as it became known, started preparation for their adventure by reading a variety of historical novels, including Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth and Edward Rutherfurd's Sarum and London. This menu of historical fiction described political events intertwined with technological achievements and myriad other human activities. The readings provided a context for discussing and choosing sites to visit, which could then be explored from more factual and technical sources.

The semester began with a session in which students envisioned and mapped the projected trip to determine the responsibilities for which teams would be formed. The travel schedule was constrained by a desire to keep down costs. In pairs, the students hit the Internet, made phone calls, and sent requests to explore flights, accommodations, and possible itineraries. Reports back on these topics allowed the class to estimate costs, and as the first checks were written to confirm flight bookings, the reality of the trip struck home.

Hutchinson guided the students toward a sampling of the different eras of British technology. The students wanted to see everything but were finally convinced to choose five destinations and limit their travels to Manchester and south. To represent technology of the Neolithic, Roman, Medieval, and Elizabethan eras and, of course, the Industrial Revolution and Victorian England, the students mapped a 450-mile circuit beginning in Sussex and returning them to London at journey's end.

Hitting the Ground Running

The group arrived on English soil on May 18. Research had uncovered the option of a 17-passenger van, which just accommodates twelve travelers who have been warned to bring no more than one piece of luggage each. Insurance regulations had cast John Hutchinson in the role of driver, and Pat Hutchinson navigated the exit from the airport. From that point onward, the navigator's compass passed into the hands of the two-student teams who would successively guide the journey through thirty centuries.