Taking Mentoring Seriously
My predecessors in the role of editor of the Journal have periodically devoted space to the need for research in the fields of technical and technology education (see, for example, Johnson, 1995; Custer, 1997). The imperative is more pressing today than ever before. Educators across disciplines are becoming increasingly sophisticated in the ways they view the teaching and learning process, due to advances in the field of cognitive science and in evaluation and assessment strategies. Gone are the days when an educator can credibly say that a program or curriculum is making positive contributions, in the absence of solid data relative to identified performance criteria. Compared to our colleagues in mathematics, science, and language arts education, research in the fields of technical and technology education are the least robust and mature. This can in part be blamed on the smaller number of researchers in these fields, and on the significant evolution in their foci over recent years.
On a related note, we are experiencing a growing shortage of prospective teacher educators in doctoral programs. I hear anecdotally from colleagues in a variety of doctorate-granting institutions that there is a shrinking pool of candidates entering these programs. Colleagues seeking graduates from these programs, in turn, are experiencing disappointingly small pools of qualified candidates. (For the record, I do not think that technological education is alone in this regard.)
Estepp (1998) examined the concept of succession planning as it relates to industry and academe, noting that the idea of grooming successors for administrative roles is anathema to most leaders and faculty members in higher education. However, there is one area in which we must take the notion of succession planning seriously: identifying and cultivating the technology teacher leaders and researchers of tomorrow. I am encouraged by the number of relatively young researchers who have submitted work and been published in the Journal during the past year, and hope to see this trend continue.
If we are to take seriously the notion of succession planning for technological education researchers, an assertive and proactive stance must be adopted. There are a variety of ways that we can, both individually and collectively, nurture the development of a new cadre of researchers and teacher leaders. These include:
- Incorporating action research requirements into every master's degree program in technological education. The pool of candidates in these programs is relatively large and diverse. These candidates usually work in the classroom, carrying on the important work of implementing (and, in some cases, developing) evolving curricula. By instilling in them both a research aptitude and a research attitude, we significantly broaden the lens through which practice can be examined. Furthermore, the experience of conducting research might alleviate fears potential candidates may harbor about their ability to succeed in doctoral programs.
- Treating doctoral research not as a major hurdle to be overcome but as a first step in a lifelong quest for knowledge. Doctoral advisors can play an important role here. My own experience as a doctoral advisee was that I had considerable autonomy to determine the research questions, procedures, and product. The result of this autonomy, in my opinion, was that I emerged a more confident researcher. On the other hand, I have seen other colleagues who completed their dissertation research only after responding to the changing demands of their advisors. In these cases, the dissertation was less a product of the new researcher's vision than it was a product of the advisor's. This suggestion is not meant, however, to downplay the advisor's critical contribution in assuring quality control throughout the process.
- Examining the research being conducted in other areas of education. This can have at least three direct benefits, including seeing the types of questions being asked in those fields, the types of methodologies being used to address those questions, and the findings of the research - which may have implications for practice in technological education.
- Maintaining our own research agendas. Experienced researchers, who already have made contributions to the field, can continue to serve as role models. Some senior faculty members engage graduate students as research associates. They can also consider partnering with colleagues and graduate students who currently teach at the K-12 level in investigating the many questions surrounding classroom practice. Long-term studies that delve deeply into teaching practices and outcomes are particularly important, and carried out all too infrequently. These are the types of studies least likely to receive attention in doctoral dissertations.
Many technological educators possess an intuitive sense that the teaching strategies used for years in technical and technology education are beneficial in contributing to student success. Contextual learning, integration, hands-on engagement, and performance assessment represent a sampling of techniques that form the foundation of instructional tools routinely employed in these areas. Yet how much can we credibly say about the contribution these strategies make to growth in technological literacy? Ultimately, this is the challenge we face.
In This Issue
Shumway, Saunders, Stewardson, and Reeve discuss the effects of cooperative goal structures in 18 technology classrooms. Specifically, they measured the effects of intra-group/inter-group cooperation compared to intra-group cooperation/inter-group competition on several parameters. Importantly, they examined student performance as well as student perceptions about the cooperative learning activity. Harvey provides an extensive review of the literature pertaining to employment outcomes for students with disabilities and suggests that participation in vocational education programs has produced positive results for these students. Merrill describes the results of his research comparing content knowledge gain in students who engaged in hands-on, integrated mathematics, science, and technology activities to those who did not engage in hands-on activities over the same content. Although his findings are not conclusive, Merrill's study asks some of the kinds of questions that need to be raised regarding technological education. Freeman, Field, and Dyrenfurth examine the issue of effective teaching strategies at the university level. Their description of the industrial technology curriculum at Iowa State University may inspire reflection about teaching practice among other university faculty. O'Looney provides an interesting perspective on the issues surrounding public investment in occupational training efforts. Finally, McAlister offers a review of the book The Child and the Machine, which itself takes a critical look at the use of computer technologies in the schools.