Curriculum Focus for Technology Education
Robert C. Wicklein
As development of curriculum is considered, disagreement arises. Here is where the curricular friction begins to take place and be noticed. For much of the profession the current curriculum framework is little different from the old vocational models used in years past that concentrate on the technical aspects of selected tools and materials. It is packaged differently, modules are used instead of unit shops, computers and robots are used instead of jack planes and handsaws, but the philosophical basis remains the same. Educators concentrate the majority of their efforts on the technical procedures used to create artifacts and give the processes used by technologists and the impacts of technology on society only cursory attention. Students sometimes gain knowledge about the technological processes and the impacts of technology as a by-product of the curriculum. These outcomes occur in a haphazard way, however, rather than through a coordinated curriculum that shares the stage with the major elements of the technology education curriculum.
To the extent that schooling is isolated from the community (real life), too many concepts are learned in abstract ways. Learning theorists such as Berryman (1991) , Resnick (1987) , and Spiro, Coulson, Feltovich, & Anderson (1988) believe that transfer of knowledge is inhibited by learning environments which do little to address community based reality. Lave (1988) addresses this problem by advancing the concept of "authentic activity" which she defines as the ordinary practices of "just plain folks" within a given culture. Rather than using the educational syntax of the classroom, they propose using everyday activities as a means of providing contextualized or situated learning. This places learners in a free and more relevant classroom shared by a community of active learners.
Much learning takes place through social interaction, although it generally goes unnoticed. Rather than a classroom of individuals learning on their own, learning may be best accomplished through a small community of learners working together. For example, individual views regarding a particular topic are presented to the class, but later (i.e., after discussion and presentation of all the views within the community of learners) students are given the opportunity to revise their views. Any revisions reflect learning (a revision of thought processes). This means that the community of learners should be doing a lot of talking in an atmosphere based upon trust and mutual respect. The teacher's role shifts from the giver of knowledge to that of a facilitator who shares dialogue while challenging students to back up their claims.
All of this applies to the way educators within the field of technology education focus the curriculum. Current modes of delivering technology education curriculum activate certain aspects of learning theory but often come up short from delivering the total package. The modular curriculum which is so pervasive within the field today begins to address collaborative, "authentic" real world learning opportunities; however, it tends to be restrictive (limited in scope, collaboration, and sequence), disconnected (limited in transfer potential and unrealistic), and lacking a reality based learning context (hypothetically abstract). Rather than focusing in on the development of student learning skills, we remain enamored by the gadgetry of the technology itself. Rather than contribute to helping students develop the thinking skills where technology is used to solve problems within our society, we concentrate on the technical application of a few select technologies. Students are often left with minor technical skills and an unreflective assumption that all technology is good. Rather than help students develop a balanced perspective of the impact that technology has on society, we often present it as a power in and of itself that we as citizens have little or no power to control. Technology becomes this great sign of success and progress that is often beyond our ability to understand and therefore, must be accepted and applied simply because it exists rather than because it adds significantly to the society. As teachers of technology we can do more to aid students to become more proactive in the use of technology to solve problems rather than trainers of isolated technical skills.
The question of where to draw the line in the scope of studying the historical, present, and future issues within a given subject is often critical for teachers but according to Neil Postman , author of Technopoly (1992), this is of little importance.
Perhaps the most important contribution schools can make to the education of our youth is to give them a sense of coherence in their studies, a sense of purpose, meaning, and interconnectedness in what they learn ( Postman, p. 185-186 ). Postman continues, Modern secular education is failing not because it doesn't teach who Ginger Rogers, Norman Mailer, and a thousand other people are but because it has no moral, social, or intellectual center. There is no set of ideas or attitudes that permeates all parts of the curriculum. The curriculum is not, in fact, a "course of study" at all, but a meaningless hodgepodge of subjects. It does not even put forward a clear vision of what constitutes an educated person, unless it is a person who possesses "skills." In other words, a technocrat's ideal - a person with no commitment and no point of view but with plenty of marketable skills. (p. 186)Postman's perspective of the historical component of education is essential to a complete understanding of present day conditions. The development of modern industrial societies was not possible without the evolution of technology. To truly educate students within our field the concept of technology's history must be integral in the technology education curriculum. As Cicero put it, "To remain ignorant of things that happened before you were born is to remain a child." According to Postman (1992) "every teacher must be a history teacher." (p. 189) Without an understanding of the history of technology we as a society cannot completely understand or appreciate humanity's confrontation with nature and learn of our limits with regard to nature.
So where do we draw the proverbial line between past and present? Is there, in actuality, a line to be drawn? At what point do we limit our curriculum perspective of technology? Why should our technological past be compartmentalized within our curriculum? These questions lead us to an understanding that technology is relative to time and culture, we can learn important lessons from the many technological developments of our past. This is wonderful food for thought and makes the study of technology thoroughly enthralling to students. Perhaps they will be the ones to answer some of the 'unsolved mysteries of the universe', if given an opportunity. Many educators would deem it obvious that to deny our technology education students a chance, through the curriculum, to delve into contrasting cultures of the past and present is pure tunnel vision. Cultural continuity gives sustenance to the study of technology.
Technology education aside from its more utilitarian, 'hands on' application is a valuable tool for discovering more about ourselves. Incorporating the technological process, in its entirety, into the technology education curriculum is essential for a far-reaching and quality program. It would be an incredible injustice to put limitations on our field of study, we need technology education to be comprehensive and stimulating.
The era of the independent technology teacher determining the content of curriculum based on personal interests is quickly becoming a practice of the past. As a unique field of study it is imperative that we understand the critical elements for our curriculum and then implement a convergent curriculum that addresses technology education comprehensively. To accomplish this we must be committed to confronting the following criteria.
1. Identification of curriculum themes based on what we really know about the study of technology, the processes used by technologists to solve problems, and the impact technology has on society. We must be able to get beyond our infatuation with the technical gadgetry.The need for a curriculum focus will not be solved by select groups of educators working independently but will only succeed when the profession as a whole understands that a united approach to technology education is essential for a viable field of study. Technology education curricula has the potential to be strong and vital for all schools with many options available for teachers and students. However, the important component of curriculum focus is currently not targeted as definitively as needed for the profession to move forward vigorously to take its rightful place within the education community. If we are serious about making technology education a core subject in American schools then we must think about, plan, and implement our curriculum with consistency and focused vision.
2. An understanding of how people learn and discerning the most effective methods for utilizing this learning. Learning theory must be a strong focal point for the curriculum we develop for technology education. This may mean challenging and possibly changing some of our existing instructional approaches to better serve the learners.
3.Commitment on behalf of the entire profession (i.e., teachers, teacher educators, professional associations, administrators, supervisors, textbook publishers, equipment suppliers, etc.) to rethink, reskill, reorganize, and apply a thematically focused curriculum in the classroom.
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Robert Wicklein is an Associate Professor in the Technological Studies Program at the University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia. This paper was presented at the Technology Education Issues Symposium, Maui, Hawaii, in June 1996.by TS