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Bill Nicholl


Associate Professor: Design & Technology Education

Academic Groups

E-mail Address



  • Pilkington Teaching Prize Award 2021. An award in recognition of excellence in teaching at the University of Cambridge.
  • Winnner of Vice Chancellor's Public Engagement with Research Impact Awards 2016. University of Cambridge.
  • Member of Design and Technology Working Group which reformed National Curriculum for D&T (2014) and revised Public Examinations (specification for GCSE and A-Level for examination from 2019).
  • Nominated to become a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) in February 2009 for research in D&T Education.
  • Editorial Board member for two journals: International Journal of Technology And Design Education and Design and Technology: An International Journal.
  • Experienced external examiner nationally (Goldsmith’s; Sheffield Hallam; Roehampton; Middlesex) and internationally (University of Limerick).
  • Member of British Educational Research Association (BERA).
  • Member of NSEAD.
  • Member of Center of Excellence for Technology Education (CETE). International committee.

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Bill taught in two inner London Comprehensive Schools between 1991-2000 (six years as head of department). The work of his students quickly gained a national reputation at school level, winning numerous design awards. He became a lecturer at The Faculty of Education, University of Cambridge in 2000, where he helped establish the Design and Technology PGCE course.

His research interests focus on creativity, and in particular, socio-cultural approaches to creativity and empathy. He is also interested in all aspects of Design & Technology Education. To this end he has been involved in several research projects, both within the UK and beyond. His work has informed policy and practice within the UK (including the recent revsisions to the National Curriculum and GCSE/A-level specifications) and internationally. He is currently working co-director of a research project called Designing Our Tomorrow (DOT) which is a long term collaboration (since 2009) with colleagues from the Department of Engineering, within the University.  DOT aims to empower young people with the thinking tools to solve real-world problems. DOT is in over 10 countries, most recently undertaking work in Romania, Canada and Eire.

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  • Creativity: systems and socio-cultural perspectives
  • Problem-based learning
  • Design thinking and Design pedagogy
  • empathy
  • Pupil voice

Bill serves on several Editorial Boards including the International Journal of Design and Technology Education (Springer) and Design and Technology: An International Journal.  Bill also reviews for a number of international Journals (e.g. Cambridge Journal of Education; Thinking skills and Creativity Journal)

Research Students

Bill supervises students whose research interests align with his own. Bill currently [co]supervises and advises a number of PhD and EdD students who are investigating a range of topics including STEAM education in primary and secondary education (in China); STEM and empathy; Gender within D&T classroom, and collaborative learning and assessment within D&T.

Bill is currently not taking on any PhD or EdD students.

Recent Research Projects

Bill is currently working on DOT and dialogic teaching in Primary contexts. He is also an advisor for a AHRC Funded research project on creativity in Primary schools in England.

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  • Lecturer responsible for the Design & Technology Post Graduate Certificate of Education (PGCE) Course. (link to PGCE Course below)
  • Masters of Philosophy Course Arts, Culture and Education

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Selected Publications

Refereed Journal articles

Demetriou, H. & Nicholl, B. (2021). Empathy is the mother of invention: Emotion and cognition for creativity in the classroom. Improving Schools. 1-18 DOI: 10.1177/1365480221989500.

M. de Vries, S. Fletcher, S. Kruse, P. Labudde, M. Lang, I. Mammes, C. Max, D. Munk, B. Nicholl, J. Strobel and M. Winterbottom (Eds.) (2020). The Impact of Technology Education: International Insights. Germany: Waxmann.

Zhen, R., Gibson, J. & Nicholl, B. (2020) Features of Social Play in 8- to 11-year-Olds in China: Exploring Children’s own perspectives. Beijing International Review of Education. 2 (2) 276-294.

M. de Vries, S. Fletcher, S. Kruse, P. Labudde, M. Lang, I. Mammes, C. Max, D. Munk, B. Nicholl, J. Strobel and M. Winterbottom (Eds.) (2018) Research in Technology Education: International Approaches. Germany: Waxmann.

Nicholl, B. (2017). Empathy as an aspect of critical thought and action in design and technology education. In J. Williams & K. Stables, (Eds.), Critique in Design and Technology Education (pp. 157-171). Springer.

Nicholl, B. & Spendlove, D. (2016). Academic tasks in design technology education; past, present and future. In M. de Vries, S. Fletcher, S. Kruse, P. Labudde, M. Lang, I. Mammes, C. Max, D. Munk, B. Nicholl, J. Strobel and M. Winterbottom (Eds.) Technology Education Today (pp. 125-146). Germany: Waxmann.

Jones, P., Rodgers, P. & Nicholl, B. (2014). Perceptions of Creativity amongst University Design Tutors. International Journal of Design Creativity and Innovation, 2(2), 97-108. DOI: 10.1080/21650349.2013.819170.

Nicholl, B., Flutter, J., Hosking, I. and Clarkson, P. (2013). Joining up the DOTs: authentic teaching and learning in Design and Technology. Cambridge Journal of Education, 43(4), 435-450.

Nicholl, B
., Flutter, J.A.E., Hosking, I.M. and Clarkson, P.J (2013). Transforming practice in Design and Technology: evidence from a classroom-based research study of students’ responses to an intervention on inclusive design. The Curriculum Journal Routledge

Nicholl, B., Hosking, I., Elton, E., Lee, Y., Bell, J. & Clarkson, P. (2012) Inclusive design in the Key Stage 3 classroom: an investigation of teachers’ understanding and implementation of user-centred design principles in design and technology, International Journal of Technology and Design Education. Springer, Netherlands.Doi: 10.1007/s10798-012-9221-9

McLellan, R., & Nicholl, B. (2011). 'If I was going to design a chair, the last thing I would look at is a chair'. Product analysis and the causes of fixation in students' design work 11-16 years. International Journal of Technology and Design Education 21(1), 71-92

Nicholl, B. (2009) The epistemological differences between a teacher and researcher: A Personal Journey illustrating second order action research Design and Technology: An International Journal, Vo. 14 No3, pp21-36

McLellan, R., & Nicholl, B. (2009). ‘If I was going to design a chair, the last thing I would look at is a chair’. Product analysis and the causes of fixation in students’ design work 11-16 years. International Journal of Technology and Design Education, Springer Online First™, 17 December 2009

Nicholl, B., and McLellan, R. (2008) We're all in this game whether we like it or not to get a number of As to Cs.‚ Design and technology teachers' struggles to implement creativity and
performativity policies. British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 34, No. 5, pp. 585–600

Nicholl, B., and McLellan, R. (2007) ‘Oh yeah, yeah you gets a lot of love hearts.  The Year 9s are notorious for love hearts.  Everything is love hearts’. Fixation in Pupils’ Design and Technology work (11-16 years). Design and Technology: An International Journal, Vol. 12 No1, pp21-36

Refereed International Book Chapters

Nicholl, B., and McLellan, R. (2009) ‘This isn’t my project [work].  It’s…just do it…you just do research’.  What student voice reveals about the nature of D&T lessons in English schools and the implications this has on their motivation and learning of complex tasks. In M. de Vries &  A. Jones (eds) International Handbook of Research and Development in Technology Education, SENSE

Nicholl, B. (2007) ‘I’ve Decided To Change and It’s Just Really Too Hard To, Like, Show Teachers That’ in D. Thiessen and A. Cook-Sather (eds) International Handbook of Student Experience in Elementary and Secondary School Springer


Finney, J., Hickman, R., Morrison, M., Nicholl, B., and Rudduck, J. (2005) Rebuilding Engagement through the Arts: Responding to disaffected students. Pearson

Peer-reviewed conference papers

Jones, P., Rodgers, P. A. and Nicholl, B. (2012), "Perceptions of Creativity amongst University Design Tutors", Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Design Creativity, 18 - 20 September 2012, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, Scotland, published by The Design Society, Glasgow, pp. 287 - 296, ISBN 978-1-904670-39-1.