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Volume 38, Number 1
Fall 2000


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The Status of Modular Technology Education in Virginia

Sharon A. Brusic
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
James E. LaPorte
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

Technology education facilities and curricula have undergone numerous transformations since the days of industrial arts. But perhaps no change is more dramatic than that seen in laboratories integrating a modular instructional approach, particularly one purchased in its entirety through a major commercial vendor. These facilities, usually dubbed modular labs, have captured the attention of teachers, administrators, parents, and students alike. For many, they are seen as innovative programs that better meet the needs of today's technological society because of their extensive use of computers, high tech equipment, and self-directed instructional materials. For others, they are merely expensive and flashy laboratories that may look impressive but do an insufficient job of addressing the important and meaningful concepts and problem-solving strategies in technology education.

Background Information

Several conceptually-based treatises or editorials, either promoting modular labs (e.g., Dykman, 1995; Gloeckner & Adamson, 1996) or opposing them (e. g., Petrina, 1993; Pullias, 1997) have been published. This diversity of opinion was clearly evident in the interviews with four technology education leaders about their perceptions of modular labs which Daugherty and Foster (1996) conducted.

Some research related to modular labs has also been reported, but the studies are few. One study by deGraw and Smallwood (1997) focused on Kentucky technology education teachers. They found from their survey that the reactions toward modular labs were mixed, but overall the teachers were generally in support of them. The teachers as a group did, however, believe that traditional forming and shaping equipment, along with psychomotor development, should be an important part of any technology education experience. Miller (1996) studied the transition from industrial arts to technology education in South Dakota. Among other factors, he reported that programs involving the use of modular instructional delivery systems made greater progress in the transition process. Begley (1997) surveyed representatives of the large school districts in Virginia and found that about half of the facilities at the middle school level were modular. In contrast, Minnear (1992) surveyed middle school and junior high school technology teachers in the county of Los Angeles, California and reported that less than one-fifth of them taught in modular laboratories.

Foster and Wright (1996) queried selected leaders in technology education to determine their perceptions regarding instructional approaches. They found strong support for the modular approach at the middle school level but very little support for the approach at the elementary or high school level. There was strong support for design and problem-solving approaches at all levels.

A few studies focused on students in modular technology education (MTE) laboratories. Rogers (1998) conducted a study of 160 seventh-grade students in a Midwest school district. Using a pretest-posttest design, he found that students in a contemporary technology education laboratory (up-to-date technology education lab with modern equipment) demonstrated greater achievement on the posttest than students who learned in a state of the art MTE laboratory or a traditional lab (industrial arts shop). Another study by Weymer (1999) involved 142 sixth-grade students who were enrolled in a middle school modular technology education course. He studied the relationship between several independent variables (e.g., sex, prior knowledge, cognitive style) and student achievement on an engineering structures module. Among other findings, he demonstrated that high achievers in MTE tended to be males with a preference for the field-independent cognitive style and who possessed high verbal ability and a high level of prior knowledge relative to the module content. Low achievers tended to be female with a preference for a field-dependent cognitive style. Not surprisingly, these low achievers also had low verbal ability and a low level of prior knowledge. Weymer (1999) discussed the implications of this finding by pointing out that the module discriminated against a group of students by failing to address individual students' differences. He raised the question about the appropriateness of the MTE laboratory for all types of learners.

Harnisch, Gierl, and Migotsky (1995) conducted an evaluation of one commercial modular laboratory at two middle schools during the 1994-95 school year. They used quantitative and qualitative techniques to address several questions pertaining specifically to this modular system's materials and activities. Although the researchers concluded that students enjoyed the modules and usually seemed to understand them, they also reported that module assessments were weak and may be unreliable indicators of students' understandings. The researchers went on to report that this MTE laboratory was an educational success and gave considerable credit for that success to the outstanding educators teaching in them. Although the study had merit, the findings must be viewed with caution since the study was supported by the company whose product was evaluated.

Despite the apparent fascination by many with modular labs, few researchers have focused their attention on them. Opinions in support or against them abound, but little research has been reported.

Statement of the Problem

The problem investigated in this study was to determine the extent to which modular technology education (MTE) has been adopted in Virginia and to assess teachers' perceptions about their modular lab programs in comparison to conventional programs. Specifically, the researchers sought to determine how many Virginia technology education teachers were teaching in MTE facilities as compared to all other technology education facilities. Moreover, they wanted to get a sense of how Virginia MTE teachers felt about their programs, including the perceived advantages over conventional programs and any frustrations teachers may be having with MTE programs. The theoretical basis of the study was Rogers' (1995) work with the diffusion of innovations. Rogers has spent more than three decades studying how innovations become dispersed and adopted into society. The researchers believed that his work had significance to the present study because MTE labs clearly met many of the criteria of an innovation, which Rogers (1995) defined as:

… an idea, practice, or object that is perceived as new by an individual or another unit of adoption. An innovation presents an individual or an organization with a new alternative or alternatives, with new means of solving problems. But the probabilities of the new alternatives being superior to previous practice are not exactly known by the individual problem solvers. (p. xvii)

Rogers (1995) identified five attributes of innovations that help to explain the rate at which they are adopted. The first is relative advantage, which is the perception that the innovation is better than the idea it replaces. Typically the adoption of an innovation will be more expedient if individuals perceive the innovation as having a greater relative advantage over its predecessor. The second attribute is compatibility. Compatibility refers to the degree to which innovations are compatible with potential adopters' values, experiences, and needs. An innovation will be adopted more readily if it does not conflict with the values and norms of the social system in which it will be used. Complexity is the third attribute, and it relates to how the innovation is understood and used. A complicated innovation is adopted more slowly than one that is perceived as simpler to comprehend and use. The fourth attribute is trialability. This refers to whether an innovation can be experimented with on a trial basis. Typically innovations will have greater rates of adoption if they can be tried or implemented on a limited basis so individuals can experience the new idea firsthand. The last attribute is observability. When the results of the innovation are more readily visible, people are more apt to adopt it because it stimulates more interest and discussion among others.

In this study, teachers were posed with Likert-scaled statements that addressed each of Rogers' (1995) attributes of innovations as they pertain to MTE laboratories. Teachers' perceptions regarding other attributes of MTE laboratories were also investigated.

Methodology

The study was limited to teachers who were teaching in a modular lab for all or part of their course load. A modular lab was defined on the survey instrument as one that was "…completely (or nearly completely) organized such that students rotate among content modules in which all of the instructional materials and equipment are provided, requiring minimal assistance or instruction from the teacher." The survey instrument also noted that modular laboratories may be purchased from commercial vendors (with sample company names provided), or they may be developed by the teacher. It was assumed that a conventional laboratory was defined as all other types of technology education laboratories.

The survey instrument was developed to measure perceptions about modular technology education relative to Roger's attributes of innovations. Additional attributes regarding appropriateness to grade level, appropriateness to the developmental needs of students, and time and cost effectiveness were also included. These items used a standard four-point Likert-type scale, indicating the respondents' extent of agreement. Items were also developed to determine how the teachers felt about the modular lab now compared to when they first started teaching in it, along with their principal frustrations. Moreover, items were developed to collect data about years of teaching experience, licensure status, and initial involvement in the modular lab. A pilot study of the instrument was conducted among 12 teachers and teacher educators to better assure its content validity. The final five-page instrument consisted of 14 questions, many with multiple parts, and completion time was estimated as 15 minutes.

A listing of all the technology education teachers in the state of Virginia was obtained from the Virginia Department of Education. In October of 1998, a cover letter, a copy of the instrument, and a postage-paid return envelope were sent to the 963 teachers on the list. Two follow-up procedures were used to solicit a better return of the surveys. An electronic reminder message was sent to the Virginia Technology Education listserv that is subscribed to by approximately 115 Virginia technology education teachers. In addition, reminder postcards were sent to all teachers who had not returned their surveys by the deadline. This effort resulted in a return of 492 surveys (51.5%) of which 453 (92.1%) were usable. All of the instruments that were unusable were those mailed to teachers who were not at the indicated address or who had already received an instrument under an alternate address. A random sample of 20 nonrespondents was drawn, and these teachers were contacted by telephone and asked three questions from the survey. First, they were asked to indicate the grade level(s) they taught and to identify whether their program was modular, conventional, or a combination. If their program included a modular component, they were asked to identify the type of MTE laboratory that was in place (e.g, type of commercial or teacher-developed lab). Lastly, they were asked to describe their teaching licensure situation. From the data collected, there was no reason to suspect that the nonrespondents differed from the respondents.

The data were summarized using descriptive statistics. In addition, the respondents were placed into several dichotomous subgroups and comparisons were then made between the subgroups using the t-test. Though the Likert-type scales used in this study produced ordinal level data, support for the legitimacy of using the t-test may be found in the classic work by Abelson and Tukey (1970) and by Labovitz (1970). The decision to use a pooled or separate variance estimate of t was made using Levene's test, a standard means of making this determination.

Findings

The respondents were asked to indicate whether they taught in a modular lab, a conventional lab, or a combination of the two. Almost half (50.3%) of the respondents indicated they were teaching in a conventional lab. The remaining respondents were nearly equally distributed between purely modular labs and those that were a combination of modular and conventional (see Table 1). Respondents who indicated that they were teaching in a conventional lab were not considered further in the study.

Table 1
Distribution of Respondents by Lab Type

Lab Type n %

Conventional 228 50.3
Modular 112 24.7
Combination 113 24.9

Over eighty percent (80.5%) of the teachers who were teaching in a modular lab did so at the middle school level. Only three reported teaching across the middle/high school levels (see Table 2).

Table 2
Distribution of Respondents by Grade Level

Grade Level n %

Middle School 178 80.5
High School 40 18.1
Combination 3 1.4

Total 221 100

Counting the year in which they responded as a full year, the overall teaching experience of the respondents ranged from 1 to 34 years (n=221). On average, the respondents had about 14 years of teaching experience (SD=9.14) and slightly over one fourth of that experience (4.41 years, SD=2.61) was in a modular lab situation. The range was from 1 to 11 years. As might be expected, the variability of the number of years of experience was relatively high.

Most of the modular labs were commercially developed facilities (86.5%) and about one in eight (13.5%) was developed by the responding teachers. Slightly more than two out of five modular labs (41.8%) reported by the respondents were purchased from one vendor. The reader is reminded that these data are probably the least generalizable to other states since they are more likely due to differential marketing efforts than to other factors (see Table 3).

Table 3
Primary Source of the Modular Lab

Source n %

Vendor A 93 41.8
Teacher developed 30 13.5
Vendor B 22 9.9
Vendor C 19 8.5
Vendor D 17 7.6
Vendor E 9 4.0
Vendor F 6 2.7
Vendor G 3 1.3
Vendor H 3 1.3
Other 21 9.4

Total 223 100.0

The vast majority (89.7%) of the respondents to the study were licensed to teach technology education at the time of data collection (n=201). Although some (8.5%, n=19) were working toward licensure, a very small proportion (1.8%, n=4) were teaching in the field with no intention of seeking licensure.

The respondents were asked to indicate how the modular lab in which they were working was initiated. The respondents were nearly equally divided among the four categories. About half of the respondents either initiated the lab themselves or the lab was initiated by the administration with significant input from them. Approximately one fourth of the respondents indicated that the lab was initiated by the administration with no input from them. The remainder reported that the modular lab was already in place when they assumed the position. These data are reported in Table 4.

Table 4
Initiation Origin of the Modular Lab

Status n %

Initiated by the administration without teacher's input 54 24.3
Initiated by the administration with teacher's input 53 23.9
Initiated by the teacher 54 24.3
Lab already in place 61 27.5

Total 222 100

Nearly three fourths of the respondents felt that the principal advantage of a modular lab was that it promoted universal skills and abilities or was more reflective of current technology. The remaining respondents felt that less preparation time or less behavior problems were principal advantages (see Table 5).

Table 5
Principal Advantage of Modular Laboratories to Teacher

Principal Advantage n %

Promotes universal skills/abilities 72 36.4
Initiated by the administration with teacher's input 53 26.8
Less preparation time 30 15.2
Less frequent behavior problems 13 6.6
Others more interested in program 12 6.1
Other 18 9.1

Total 198 100

Teachers who indicated that reduced preparation time was the principal advantage of modular labs were asked if they would return to a conventional lab situation if the preparation time was the same as a modular lab. Of the 30 respondents who indicated reduced preparation time as the most significant advantage, 28 responded to this sub-question. The vast majority of these teachers (85.7%, n=24) indicated that they would, in fact, return to a conventional lab if preparation time was equal. Only 4 respondents (14.3%) reported that they would not return to teaching in a conventional technology education laboratory regardless of preparation time.

Over two-thirds (69.5%) of the teachers felt that the principal advantage of a modular laboratory for their programs was its wider range of appeal to more students (i.e., females, minorities, gifted, special needs) or that they learned more universal skills (e.g., teamwork, problem-solving, self-directed learning) through it. A very small proportion (2.5%) felt that students in modular labs had higher motivation than did students in conventional labs. These data are reported in Table 6.

Table 6
Principal Advantage of Modular Laboratories to Students

Principal Advantage n %

Wider range of appeal 75 37.5
More universal skills 64 32.0
Learning current technology 35 17.5
Higher motivation 5 2.5
Other 21 10.5

Total 200 100.0

Compared to conventional technology education, there was strong agreement among the respondents that the results of modular technology education are readily observable to others (Rogers' attribute of observability). There was also relatively strong agreement that the approach was better overall (Rogers' attribute of relative advantage). As a group, the respondents were nearly neutral in their perceptions about the compatibility of the modular approach with their personal values, past experiences, needs, and ease with which they could try it out on a limited basis (Rogers' attributes of compatibility and trialability, respectively). Less than half of the respondents felt that the modular approach was easy to understand and use (Rogers' attribute of complexity; Rogers, 1995).

Among the other selected attributes, there was strong agreement among the respondents that they had the freedom to use as much or as little of the program as they wished. There was also strong agreement that the approach was developmentally appropriate for their students and educationally sound. However the extent of agreement among the respondents was almost equally divided regarding the time and cost effectiveness of the approach. The majority felt that the approach was better for both the middle school and high school levels, but the agreement was stronger for the middle school. These data are reported in Table 7.

Table 7
Extent of Agreement Regarding the Attributes of Modular Laboratories

Attribute Strongly
Agree
%(n)
Agree
%(n)
Disagree
%(n)
Strongly
Disagree
%(n)
Total
%(n)

Relative advantagea 18.0 (37) 44.2 (91) 30.6 (63) 7.3 (15) 100 (206)
Compatibilitya 12.7 (26) 37.3 (76) 42.2 (86) 7.8 (16) 100 (204)
Complexitya 9.4 (19) 34.0 (69) 45.3 (92) 11.3 (23) 100 (203)
Trialabilitya 4.5 (9) 44.9 (89) 28.8 (57) 21.7 (43) 100 (198)
Observabilitya 15.8 (32) 56.9 (115) 21.8 (44) 5.4 (11) 100 (202)
Freedom in amount 28.8 (59) 43.4 (89) 21.0 (43) 6.8 (14) 100 (205)
Educatonally sound 15.1 (30) 45.7 (91) 33.2 (66) 6.0 (12) 100 (199)
Time/Cost effective 9.6 (19) 42.9 (85) 37.9 (75) 9.6 (19) 100 (198)
Developmentally
appropriate
16.9 (34) 53.7 (108) 24.9 (50) 4.5 (9) 100 (201)
Better for middle
school
28.9 (57) 46.2 (91) 16.2 (32) 8.6 (17) 100 (197)
Better for high school 13.0 (25) 45.6 (88) 33.2 (64) 8.3 (16) 100 (193)
Better for all grades 20.1 (40) 40.7 (81) 32.2 (64) 7.0 (14) 100 (199)

Note. n Indicates one of Rogers' attributes of innovations.

Participant responses to the attributes were compared according to the level of experience each respondent had with teaching modular technology education. Those individuals with modular experience that was more than half a standard deviation above the mean (>5.72) were placed in the more experienced group. Those whose experience was less than half a standard deviation below the mean (< 3.11) were placed in the less experienced group. Since teaching experience was reported by the respondents in whole years, this effectively divided the cases into those with 3 years or less experience and those with 6 or more years.

Neither inspection of these data nor statistical testing using t-tests revealed any differences between the more and less experienced MTE teachers regarding their perceptions of the attributes of modular versus conventional technology education. These data are reported in Table 8.

Table 8
Comparison of the Selected Attributes between Teachers with Greater and
Lesser Teaching Experience with Modular Technology Education (by
t-test)

Attribute Experience n M SD t p

Relative advantagea Less 87 2.75 .89 161 -.42 .68
  More 76 2.80 .80      
Compatabilitya Less 86 2.57 .82 159 -.13 .90
  More 75 2.59 .82      
Complexitya Less 86 2.48 .79 159 .99 .32
  More 75 2.35 .88      
Trialabilitya Less 80 2.31 .85 154 -.49 .62
  More 76 2.38 .88      
Observabilitya Less 85 2.82 .73 158 .95 .35
  More 75 2.93 .74      
Freedom in amount used Less 86 2.97 .91 160 .59 .56
  More 76 2.88 .89      
Educationally sound Less 85 2.74 .80 155 -.07 .95
  More 72 2.75 .78      
Time and cost effective Less 85 2.52 .81 156 -.23 .82
  More 73 2.55 .82      
Developmentally
Sound
Less 84 2.82 .71 156 -.94 .35
  More 74 2.93 .76      

Note. aIndicates one of Rogers' attributes of innovations.

Using the attributes chosen for the study, teachers who indicated that they had participated in the decision to implement the modular lab in which they worked were compared to those who did not have a role in the decision-making process. Those who taught in schools in which the modular lab was already in place when they accepted the position were excluded from the comparison.

The level of agreement among teachers who had participated in the implementation decision was significantly higher on six of the nine attributes compared to those who did not participate. These teachers, as a group, agreed more strongly that modular technology education was better overall (relative advantage), more compatible with their values and beliefs, more educationally sound, more time and cost effective, and more developmentally appropriate. These teachers also agreed more strongly that they had the freedom to use as much or little of the program as they wished. These data are reported in Table 9.

The respondents to the study were divided into two groups according to the source of the modular materials they were using. Those using a commercial system were placed in one group, and those who developed their own system were placed in the other. Significant differences between these two groups were found in three of the attributes. Compared to those using materials developed by commercial vendors, teachers who developed their own modular systems agreed more strongly that their programs were better overall (relative advantage), were more compatible with their values and beliefs, and provided more freedom to them to use as much or as little of the program as they wished. These data are reported in Table 10.

Table 9
Comparison of the Selected Attributes between Teachers Who Did and Did
Not Participate in the Decision to Implement Modular Technology
Education (by
t-test)

Attribute Participated
in Decision
n M SD t p

Relative advantagea Yes 104 2.88 .80 147 2.21 .029
  No 45 2.56 .84      
Compatabilitya Yes 103 2.70 .80 146 2.75 .007
  No 45 2.31 .76      
Complexitya Yes 103 2.45 .80 146 1.07 .285
  No 45 2.29 .87      
Trialabilitya Yes 100 2.33 .88 142 -.82 .416
  No 44 2.82 .81      
Observabilitya Yes 102 2.90 .67 69.1 .60b .517
  No 44 2.82 .81      
Freedom in amount used Yes 103 3.10 .89 146 2.27 .025
  No 45 2.76 .71      
Educationally sound Yes 101 2.82 .78 143 2.49 .014
  No 44 2.48 .73      
Time and cost effective Yes 100 2.65 .80 143 2.76 .007
  No 45 2.27 .72      
Developmentally
Sound
Yes 102 3.01 .70 73.2 3.21b .002
  No 44 2.57 .79      

Note. aIndicates one of Rogers' attributes of innovations. b Indicates separate
variance estimate of t used based upon Levene's test for equality of variances.

Table 10
Comparison of the Selected Attributes between Teachers Who Used
Modular Systems Developed by Commercial Vendors Compared to Those
Who Developed Their Own Modular System (by
t-test)

Attribute Source of
Modular
System
n M SD t p

Relative advantagea Teacher 28 3.07 .77 174 2.18 .030
  Commercial 148 2.70 .83      
Compatabilitya Teacher 28 2.89 .74 172 2.25 .026
  Commercial 146 2.52 .82      
Complexitya Teacher 27 2.48 .80 172 .56 .576
  Commercial 147 2.39 .80      
Trialabilitya Teacher 25 2.40 .91 167 .73 .467
  Commercial 146 2.84 .77      
Observabilitya Teacher 27 2.89 .64 171 .30 .768
  Commercial 146 2.84 .77      
Freedom in amount used Teacher 27 3.30 .72 173 2.05 .042
  Commercial 148 2.93 .81      
Educationally sound Teacher 28 2.93 .81 168 1.45 .149
  Commercial 142 2.69 .79      
Time and cost effective Teacher 27 2.59 .75 167 .47 .643
  Commercial 142 2.51 .81      
Developmentally
Sound
Teacher 28 3.07 .66 171 1.67 .097
  Commercial 145 2.81 .76      

Note. aIndicates one of Rogers' attributes of innovations.

The respondents to the study were divided into two groups according to whether or not they had taught in a conventional technology education laboratory, either as a student teacher or a regular teacher. Only 16 respondents indicated that they did not have conventional teaching experience. With such a small group, one might expect the variances to differ from the larger group. However, Levene's test failed to show any differences. Regardless, no differences were found between those who had conventional experience and those who did not. These data are reported in Table 11.

Middle school teachers were compared to high school teachers among the attributes selected for the study. A statistically significant difference was found between the two groups regarding the extent to which they agreed that they had the freedom to use as much or as little of the modular program as they wished. High school teachers perceived their freedom to be greater. These data are reported in Table 12.

A list of frustrations in using modular technology education was developed from a review of the literature and discussions with modular teachers. The respondents were asked to indicate their top three frustrations on the list. Of the 208 respondents who responded to this item, 10.6% (22) indicated that they did not have any frustrations whatsoever. Of those who did have frustrations, over two thirds (68.3%) indicated that the cost of updating equipment was among their top three. Several other top frustrations were included by respondents: slightly over half (51.1%) indicated repairing hardware, over one third (35.5%) indicated the cost of supplies, nearly one fourth (22.6%) mentioned boredom in teaching the modular program, and slightly less than one fourth (21.0%) indicated low hardware reliability. Less than 10% of the respondents indicated poor quality computer software and poor quality videotapes as a major frustration. These data are reported in Table 13.

Table 11
Comparison of Selected Attributes between Teachers Who Have Never
Taught Conventional Technology Education Compared to Those Who Have
(by
t-test)

Attribute Conventional
Experience
n M SD t p

Relative advantagea No 16 2.69 1.01 204 -.20 .841
  Yes 190 2.73 .83      
Compatabilitya No 16 2.69 .87 202 .71 .480
  Yes 188 2.54 .81      
Complexitya No 15 2.47 .74 201 .26 .794
  Yes 188 2.41 .82      
Trialabilitya No 16 2.31 .79 196 -.05 .959
  Yes 182 2.32 .87      
Observabilitya No 16 2.81 .66 200 -.11 .916
  Yes 186 2.83 .76      
Freedom in amount used No 16 3.13 .72 203 .87 .385
  Yes 189 2.93 .89      
Educationally sound No 16 2.69 .87 197 -.057 .954
  Yes 183 2.70 .79      
Time and cost effective No 15 2.80 .86 196 1.391 .166
  Yes 183 2.50 .79      
Developmentally
Sound
No 15 2.73 .80 199 -.518 .605
  Yes 186 2.84 .75      

Note. aIndicates one of Rogers' attributes of innovations.


Table 12
Comparison of the Selected Attributes between Teachers Teaching at the
Middle School Level Versus High School Level (by
t-test)

Attribute Level n M SD t p

Relative advantagea Middle 146 2.75 .83 169 -.98 .330
  High 25 2.92 .76      
Compatabilitya Middle 144 2.54 .81 167 -1.484 .140
  High 25 2.80 .76      
Complexitya Middle 144 2.37 .80 167 -1.347 .180
  High 25 2.60 .76      
Trialabilitya Middle 140 2.26 .89 163 -.512 .610
  High 25 2.36 .70      
Observabilitya Middle 143 2.87 .76 166 .924 .357
  High 25 3.40 .76      
Freedom in amount used Middle 145 2.94 .84 168 -2.563 .011
  High 25 3.40 .76      
Educationally sound Middle 140 2.73 .78 163 .284 .777
  High 25 2.68 .85      
Time and cost effective Middle 142 2.51 .81 162 -.904 .367
  High 22 2.68 .78      
Developmentally
Sound
Middle 144 2.85 .76 166 -.418 .677
  High 24 2.92 .72      

Note. aIndicates one of Rogers' attributes of innovations.


Table 13
Frequency of Three Most Significant Frustrations Indicated by Respondents
Who Had Frustrations (
n = 186)

Frustration f %

High cost of updating equipment 127 68.3
Repairing hardware 95 51.1
High cost of consumable supplies 66 35.5
Boredom in teaching in a modular lab 42 22.6
Low hardware reliability 39 21.0
Lack of personal preparation to teach program 35 18.8
Poor quality written instructional materials 32 17.2
Inflexibility of the materials or program 29 15.6
Poor vendor support 23 12.4
Poor quality lesson plans 19 10.2
Poor quality computer software 16 8.6
Poor quality videotapes 13 7.0

Based upon the researchers' experience in working with modular teachers and discussions with colleagues, it was hypothesized that modular teachers with more modular experience would indicate "boredom" as a frustration more often than those with less experience. To test this hypothesis, the 42 respondents who had indicated boredom as one of their top three frustrations were considered separately. These respondents were divided into two groups according to their modular teaching experience (M = 4.59, SD = 2.28). The less experienced group were those whose experience was less than half a standard deviation below the mean and the more experienced group were those whose experience was greater than half a standard deviation above the mean. Thus, the less experienced group had less than 3.45 years of experience and the more experienced group had more than 5.73 years. Since teaching experience was indicated as a whole number, effectively those with three or less years of experience and those with six or more formed the two groups. A chi-square test was performed. Though a greater number of the more experienced teachers indicated boredom among their top three frustrations (17 versus 13), there was no significant difference (p = .53) between them and the less experienced teachers. These data are reported in Table 14.

Table 14
Comparison of "Boredom" as a Significant Frustration in Teaching in
Modular Lab between Teachers With Greater and Lesser Experience (by
Chi-Square test).

Experience Observed
n
Expected
n
p

Less (>3.45 years) 13 15 1 .53
More (< 5.73 years) 17 15    

Discussion

Modular technology education has had a significant impact on technology education in Virginia. Nearly half of the teachers are teaching in some type of modular lab and about half of those teachers teach in a modular lab exclusively. Not surprising, most of the MTE labs are at the middle school level. This finding is consistent with Begley (1997) who reported that about half of the facilities at the middle school level in large Virginia school districts were modular programs.

Commercially developed MTE labs are noted for being "ready to use right out of the box." Thus one might expect them to be implemented to a greater extent in states with a dearth of curriculum materials. This has not been the case in Virginia. The Virginia Department of Education is noted for developing a wide array of curriculum guides and augmenting them with a variety of in-service opportunities for teachers. Moreover, one might expect a teacher to be attracted to a modular lab since it could relieve them of the formidable task of trying to keep up with the dynamic technology education curriculum. In addition, one might expect the modular lab to be attractive as a means to reduce the efforts of the teachers in dealing with behavior and related management problems. Most modular labs include a well-defined behavior management system, and the furniture that is an integral part of the system tends to isolate students from one another. But for the vast majority of teachers surveyed, neither reduced teacher effort nor advantages in managing students are important reasons for adoption of the modular lab. Rather, most teachers have adopted the modular approach simply because they perceive it as a better approach overall for the learners with whom they are working. The field is still struggling to determine just what the structure of technology education is or should be. For some teachers, MTE may have helped to answer that question by providing a sense of direction for them.

Commercial modular labs generally include well-developed activities. Some educators have hypothesized that a teacher in an MTE laboratory might be quite successful with little or no formal training in technology education. If true, this could provide a partial solution to the technology education teacher shortage by making it easier for teachers of other disciplines (or other college graduates) to fill technology education vacancies on an emergency basis. In Virginia and other states, many alternative certification options are being used or explored that would make it possible to put teachers in technology laboratories without the technical or pedagogical training of a typical technology educator. However, this notion was not confirmed by the data in this study. The vast majority of teachers in MTE facilities were licensed in technology education, and those who were not were seeking such licensure. The researchers suspected those MTE teachers who were not licensed in technology education might be reluctant to respond to the study, thus revealing their tenuous status. Therefore, this was one of the items for which information was sought in the follow-up of nonrespondents. However, no differences were found between respondents and nonrespondents regarding licensure status.

Nearly half of the modular labs were initiated by the administration, and in about half of those the teachers who were to teach in them had little or no involvement in the decision. Not surprising, those teachers on whom the modular lab was imposed were not as positive about its value. The value of participative decision making has been established for a number of decades. It therefore seems unusual that there were any teachers who were not involved in the implementation decision, let alone one quarter of the respondents. Those teachers who initiated the modular lab themselves were most influenced in their decision by what they learned in presentations and workshops.

Most MTE teachers like the program as well or better now than when they started. They generally feel that MTE appeals to a broader range of students and that it does a better job in addressing their learning needs in a contemporary manner. Moreover, no evidence has been found to support the idea that the teachers become bored as they gain experience teaching MTE. Modular teachers do have frustrations, but most of them are related more to the lack of financial resources than to factors more directly associated with the teaching-learning process.

A substantial number of teachers have developed modular labs on their own. These teachers are generally the most supportive of the modular lab approach. This is probably attributable, at least in part, to the fact that the materials are custom designed to the personal teaching style and values of the teacher who designed them. In addition, it is likely that the teacher-developed modules would have been tailored to better fit state or local curriculum guidelines, unlike commercially developed modules that are designed to suit a vast array of school systems around the country or even around the globe. It also rather clearly shows that a significant number of teachers are willing to put forth a large amount of effort to develop the materials. As in any individually designed program, there is likely to be great variability in the objectives reached and approaches used in these teacher-designed programs, just as the case has been in conventional programs over the years. Whether teachers are better prepared now to develop MTE programs than their counterparts of the past were prepared to develop conventional programs remains unanswered.

There is not universal agreement that MTE possesses Rogers' attributes of innovations (Rogers, 1995). Though most teachers surveyed believe that the results of MTE are easily observed and to some extent that it is easy to try out on a limited basis, they also believe that this approach has a degree of complexity. A significant majority have indicated that MTE is better than conventional approaches, but ironically a much lesser proportion expressed that it is consistent with their values and beliefs. As mentioned earlier, Rogers believes that the more an innovation possesses the attributes of relative advantage, compatibility, complexity, trialability, and observability, the more likely it is to be adopted. Based on this, the longevity of MTE could be in question. What seems to be needed by the teachers is something that does not yet exist, something that is neither conventional nor modular.

Conclusions

Modular technology education laboratories are gradually replacing a large number of conventional laboratories in the United States, and Virginia is no exception. This study provides initial evidence that an increasing number of Virginia technology education teachers are conducting their TE classes in modular laboratories and that they find these facilities to be relatively appealing and appropriate compared to their conventional labs.

This study confirms once again what has been known for years. If you want teachers to make lasting programmatic change and be positive about the results, then involve them in the decision-making process and provide the resources that they need to make it happen. MTE programs rely heavily upon computers and related hardware and software that become obsolete very quickly. Unlike programs in the past, this requires a long-term commitment of resources and support which, when not upheld, has dire consequences.

Although the results of this study cannot be generalized to all states, it should spur teacher educators and curriculum specialists at the local, state, and national level to thoroughly assess their programs and materials by asking themselves some important questions. Among these questions are:

  1. How effectively are technology teacher education (TTE) programs preparing graduates to implement technology education in all types of facilities using all types of instructional approaches? What types of active learning experiences are being used to achieve this?
  2. Are TTE programs preparing preservice and in-service teachers who can make informed decisions about the implementation of the MTE instructional approach? And to what extent are these educators able to critically assess the economic and educational value of commercially developed MTE programs? To what extent should teachers be prepared to develop their own MTE labs, and how should they be best prepared to do this?
  3. Should K-12 curriculum materials be changed in any way in order to provide teachers and administrators with guidance for effectively implementing them through an MTE approach? If so, how should they be changed?
  4. Should the increased use of MTE laboratories and instructional approaches affect the way we prepare teachers through alternative licensure models? Likewise, are there creative ways of addressing some teacher preparation issues (teacher shortage and recruitment, alternative licensure, etc.) through the use of self-directed MTE programs at distant sites?
  5. How do we know if MTE is a practical and educationally sound instructional approach that should be advocated? And, if we should espouse this instructional approach, at what levels and in what ways is it developmentally appropriate? What research is needed relative to MTE, and how can we acquire the funding necessary in order conduct quality studies?

Though there is very little published research on MTE, there is virtually none focused at the teacher education level. But, there is some evidence from conversations with colleagues at peer institutions that there are few TTE programs that have implemented commercially developed MTE laboratories at the university level as a means of preparing their future teachers. It is likely that the majority of teacher educators are addressing MTE curriculum and issues in other ways, perhaps through course readings, video programs, school visitations, guest lectures, and student teaching placements. Providing preservice or in-service teachers with opportunities to use, develop, and assess appropriate TE modules in curriculum and technical courses is probably another common technique for addressing MTE.

Many teachers in Virginia and other states have clearly embraced MTE programs as a means to deliver technology education content. As these laboratories begin to replace conventional facilities in greater numbers, it is more imperative than ever that researchers, educators, and vendors fully comprehend the assets and liabilities of such changes relative to student learning and technology teacher preparation. Only then can better programs be devised that meet the needs of both students and teachers more effectively. There is much to be studied and learned relative to MTE, and the key is to find the time, resources, and commitment to doing the job effectively.

Author

Brusic is Assistant Professor and LaPorte is Associate Professor in the Technology Education Program at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.

References

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Begley, J. R. (1997). A study to determine if the major Virginia school systems are teaching middle school technology using modular or traditional laboratory arrangements. Unpublished master's thesis, Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA.

Daugherty, M. K., & Foster, P. (1996). Educators address modular instruction. The Technology Teacher, 55(6), 27-32.

DeGraw, B. C., & Smallwood, J. (1997). Modular TE instruction - What Kentucky teachers think. Tech Directions, 56(9), 19-20.

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Rogers, E. M. (1995). Diffusion of innovations (4th ed.). New York: Simon and Schuster.

Rogers, G. E. (1998, December). Technology education modules: Blessing or curse. Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the American Vocational Association, New Orleans, LA.

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The authors wish to acknowledge George Willcox, Principal Specialist for Technology Education, Virginia Department of Education, for his support in the conduct of this study.


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