From The Editor
This issue is split between two articles about preparing for work and two articles related to general education. In the first article, Bjorkquist and Kleinhesselink examine contingent employment in the United States and abroad and explore how we might think about preparing people for the increasing possibility that their work lives will include part-time work. Evanciew and Rojewski follow with a qualitative study of apprentices at work, describing the experiences and knowledge gained by contextual learning during apprenticeships. In a more general vein, Field asks and explores if students who have had applied academic courses will do better than students of traditional academic courses in an applied test of knowledge which uses work related problems. Hill and Wicklein further refine previous study with respect to identifying the processes of problem solving in order to create a more manageable means of using those processes in the classroom.
It is, however, the editorial, e-mailed to me by Evans with a challenge to publish it which inspired me. Now that it is in this issue and I do have some qualms about the teaching method, I thought I might offer a few thoughts on the subject. I am not going to reiterate the many good criticisms offered by Petrina (1993) in other work and I am not going to go to the literature in my usual style to comment. Instead, I want to recount a recent personal experience with the selling of the modules.
A few years ago I joined a regional school district curriculum team that was rethinking what technology education could and should be for their school district. The advisory committee of which I was a part was quite successful in gaining an enthusiastic and unanimous endorsement for working to integrate and teach technology education in all grades in the school district. As the effort continued, a new superintendent who had had a very positive experience with modular technology education came to the district and enthusiastically endorsed the technology education plan. He worked with the advisory committee to look for a modular technology education company with which to partner in creating a school district technology center.
The idea guiding the committee was that the center would be accessible by every student and teacher and it would enhance all subjects while not replacing the existing middle and high school technology education programs. Over the spring and summer of the past year the advisory committee embarked upon a study of modular technology education by reviewing every sales video they could acquire, visiting schools with programs, visiting some of the companies, themselves, and having a series of meetings with sales teams from a variety of companies in the business of selling modular technology education. Through their planning efforts, I was able to attend as many of these events as my schedule on campus would permit. And, I know this is difficult to believe, for the most part, I attended a good number of these events working extremely hard to keep my opinions to myself. I did offer a few choice opinions to a couple of salesmen who tried to tell me that my university program endorsed his product. Interesting sales tactic, I thought, and one of which most of us are quite defenseless even though we would not want to endorse one company over another.
I learned a number of other things, but one thing kept haunting me with each encounter: the selling of the modules. As a teacher educator and researcher interested in curriculum issues, I would like to think that the primary concern when selling modules was about the content of the curriculum. What big ideas children will be learning when they use the modules and how do all of those ideas fit together to tell a coherent story about the nature, role, and purpose of technology in society was number one on my agenda for judging the merits of the modules. Was I ever off the mark, out of step, and thinking at right angles. In all of the videos, visits, and presentations, I think I saw one sales team who opened with this concern, and, their presentation did not go over well with the practitioners on the committee. Most of the sales men (all of the people I saw hawking modules were men), with good market research and experience, no doubt, had figured out where to go with their sales pitch.
What was the prime point on which the modules were pitched? What was the prime concern of the practitioners? The number one concern of these folks was management and control. Most sales men started with a thorough explanation of how the system worked and how well the classroom could be controlled with every child at a desk, monitored by a teacher at a computer console, kept on task with up-to-the-minute software-generated reports of progress at each work station, and provided with a call light to avoid wandering about the classroom. And, when talking about the modules with the practitioners, the ability to manage the classroom was often mentioned in the evaluation of specific products.
Well, this is about as far away from the teaching methods of traditional industrial arts as one can get. Gone are the days of students being given and taking the responsibility for managing their time, supplies, and work on projects. Gone are the interactions with other students as they work and plan together and observe each others' projects. Gone are large and small group work and the personal interaction and shared learning which comes from these activities. Gone, also, is the kind of creativity which results from all of the above activities. Gone is the unique environment of technology education which used to bring my middle school students running down to the lab so excited to work on their own after being chained to a desk for five other periods each day. We managed to emulate the methods of the rest of the school subjects and provide students with a controlled environment at desks. In fact, we've managed to go one step further and arrange the modules so that they minimize whole class interaction.
Yes, many of the module companies encourage some of his kind of activity. They encourage it, but the mainstay of the system are the modules. The isolated, computer driven, rote modules which every student rotates past as if the students were products on an assembly line. No, Rupert, I don't like the modules. On this point, I fear, again, I am in the minority, but the modules just don't fit with what I believe is most important about education and how it is conducted.