JITE v39n4 - From the Editor - The Gap Between Theory and Practice

Volume 39, Number 4
Summer 2002


The Gap Between Theory and Practice

In his monograph Technology Education: A Primer, Colelli (n.d.) provided a graphic diagram illustrating the widening gap between theory and practice in industrial arts/technology education. He traced the philosophical roots of industrial arts back to the mid-1800s, noting that from its inception industrial arts had the theoretical goal of addressing the cultural literacy of all students, not just those bound immediately for jobs in industry. The study of tools and techniques was seen as important for the simple reason that it reflected an important aspect of our culture. Then as now, however, the study of technology for the purpose of gaining a better understanding of the world competed against the more immediate and perhaps pragmatic goal of preparing young people for the world of work. Thus, although in theory we have promoted a broad-based curriculum that takes a larger view of technology and its interactions with society, in practice we have often seen a relatively narrow curriculum that focuses almost exclusively on manipulation of tools and materials. The gap between what we say we are doing and what is actually happening in classrooms across the country continues to widen.

A number of factors that contribute to this theory-practice gap can be identified. One is the lack of agreement about what knowledge is most important to include within the technology curriculum. Obviously, value judgments must be made to determine which concepts from among the myriad topics that could be included will be included. In any discipline this is a challenging task, all the more so in the study of technology because of its inherently interdisciplinary nature (Hoepfl, 1998). National standards defining the content for the study of technology (International Technology Education Association, 2000) represent a necessary first step, but the journey between identification and implementation can be a long one.

In my role as a teacher educator, I routinely visit technology classrooms. Regrettably, many of these visits result in a sense of disappointment that what I observe is far different from what I hope to see. The curriculum actually being delivered is often much less dynamic and engaging than I believe it can and should be. It would be easy to dismiss this as a problem with teachers who simply can't or won't perform. But just as any good teacher should first examine her own performance when students don't seem to be "getting it," we must reexamine the message we are sending with regard to curriculum theory and practice, and the methods we are using to send it. The real problem may lie in an inarticulate vision about what the study of technology should look like, and too few good examples to illustrate that vision.

How can the theory-practice gap be reconciled? To start, teacher educators must continually assess their programs to make sure that they are up-to-date and consistent with current theory. Professional organizations, state departments of education, and teacher preparation programs must devote resources to identifying and nurturing high-quality programs that can serve as demonstration sites. To be sure, there are bright spots across the nation, and efforts should be made to distill and disseminate key components of these programs. Curriculum developers must look for radically new approaches that might ultimately lead to widespread adoption of teaching for technological literacy. For example, it may be most appropriate to embed technological concepts throughout the elementary school curriculum, and at the high school level to promote enrollments in focused technical programs and/or science and engineering courses rather than in the broader-based technology "systems" courses found in many states. Two things seem clear: we are not yet where we need to be in terms of articulating a vision for the study of technology, yet the need for doing so is more compelling than ever (Pearson and Young, 2002).

This issue is my last as editor of the Journal. Most readers know that the work of the Journal is conducted on an all-volunteer basis. The heart of any research journal is the work conducted by the peer reviewers, who help to uphold the standards of the publication. I would like to acknowledge the following individuals who have given generously of their time to serve as manuscript reviewers or in other editorial capacities for Volume 39: David Bjorkquist, Paul Bott, Dan C. Brown, Janet Z. Burns, William Caldwell, Jeffrey Cantor, Phillip Cardon, Rodney Custer, Cheryl Evanciew, Jeffrey Flesher, Jim Flowers, W. Tad Foster, Gary Geroy, Larry Hatch, Howard D. Lee, Theodore Lewis, Charles Linnell, Brian McAlister, Susan J. Olson, Virginia Osgood, John Pannebecker, Stephen Petrina, George E. Rogers, Mark Sanders, Dale E. Thompson, Richard Walter, and Karen Zuga. Many thanks to these colleagues for their valuable comments and commitment to serving the Journal.

I would finally like to offer thanks to those colleagues who continue to conduct and publish research in the field of technological education. Much remains to be learned about best teaching practices, new curricular approaches, and student learning in technology classrooms.

In This Issue

Akmal, Oaks, and Barker have written a follow-up to their 1995 study examining the status of technology education in the United States and Canada. Perhaps most importantly, their finding that only 16% of the states require technology education at any level illustrates a problem referred to earlier in this editorial. It is evident from this survey that considerable disparity exists in terms of level of adoption and the degree to which a standards-based technology curriculum has been implemented.

Miller and Gray offer a description of a pilot study they conducted in Pennsylvania to explore the characteristics of students who enroll in Tech Prep programs. Due to federal reporting laws associated with Perkins funding, most states maintain data on the number of "completers" of career and technical education programs. By comparing responses of program completers with non-completers, Miller and Gray provide useful data that can both provide support for the value of Tech Prep programs, and offer suggestions for how these programs might be improved.

Boatwright and Slate describe the process they used to create an instrument to assess work ethics. This instrument was later used to measure work ethic attributes among Georgia students enrolled in technical education programs. Their detailed description of the development process used should prove valuable to other researchers. Thompson, Orr, Thompson, and Park extend their earlier work on learning styles in technical education by examining the learning styles of instructors in postsecondary technical institutes. Finally, Robinson provides a review of Belanger and Jordan's book about distance learning implementation. As demand for distance learning increases, critical analyses of its use are essential.



Colelli, L. (n.d.). Technology education: A primer. Reston, VA: International Technology Education Association.

Hoepfl, M. (1998). Education for a technological world. The Technology Teacher, 57(5), 29-31.

International Technology Education Association. (2000). Standards for technological literacy: Content for the study of technology. Reston, VA: Author.

Pearson, G., & Young, A. T. (2002). Technically speaking: Why all Americans need to know mor about technology. Washington, DC. National Academy Press.

Tracy Gilmore