JITE v40n4 - The Future of Industrial Technology Education at the K-12 Level

Volume 40, Number 4
Summer 2003

The Future of Industrial Technology Education at the K-12 Level

L. Scott Hansen
Southern Utah University
Carl J. Reynolds
University of Wyoming

For the greater part of the 20 th century, industrial education was deemed successful; and its enrollment steadily increased ( Barlow, 1967 ). Schools offered a wide variety of classes under the titles of industrial education, industrial technology education (ITE), and technology education. The label ITE was used in this study as an umbrella term for both technology education programs and the traditional subjects (e.g., woods, welding, and electronics) that may be taught in the technology education area.

However, ITE programs at the primary and secondary levels began to suffer a decline in enrollment during the 1980s ( Gray, Wang, & Malizia, 1995 ). For some, the field began to lose credibility. One reason for the decline could be attributed to the changing demands of high school graduation requirements. To meet the demands for higher entrance requirements at the university level, secondary schools increased the number of credits required for high school graduation. Increasing the number of required credits reduced the amount of electives available for students. Reduced electives caused a decline in enrollment in elective courses such as ITE.

By the early 1990s, ITE was in a severe decline ( Volk, 1997 ). Enrollment plummeted, forcing many ITE programs to close altogether. Laboratories were converted to office space, storage space, or for use by another department. Additionally, middle schools and high schools began to overhaul their existing ITE programs. New philosophies and ideas came about during this period of instability.

Today, former ITE programs suffer from low enrollment and a mediocre reputation with schools, parents, and other educators ( Lewis, 2000 ). In response, educators have developed numerous ideas and programs designed to alter the curriculum, making it more relevant. The various and often conflicting curricular ideas attempted to make sense of the turbulent atmosphere found in the changing work environment ( Wirth, 1994 ). With change in industry and the resulting effects in educational reform, educators are left to muddle through the morass of ideas. Consequently, this study attempted to provide clarification of the future of the ITE curriculum in order to help educators decide what ideas or courses are worth pursuing.

The overall purpose of this study was to examine the perceptions of university faculty in ITE programs (teaching and nonteaching) on the future of the ITE curriculum. The primary purpose was to identify predictions as to future curricula, based upon current attitudes of faculty in the field. The goal was to provide the leadership of ITE with information that would help in the process of strengthening the curriculum. The predictions garnered from this study may provide the leadership of ITE the means to proactively strengthen the curriculum.

This study's research question was: What are American university faculty perceptions as to the core concepts and skills that will be taught in K-12 ITE programs 20 years from now?


RAND Corporation's (1973) Delphi technique was the survey procedure used in this study. Along with research on issues impacting public interest, RAND Corporation has spent considerable resources and effort to develop the analytic tools used in their studies. The primary reason for the development of the Delphi technique was to forecast the future by utilizing a constructive and systematic approach to identify expert judgment and obtain consensus ( Helmer, 1967 ). The Delphi technique has developed a reputation in accurately forecasting the future and reaching consensus regarding an issue ( Armstrong, 1989 ).

In Delphi studies, researchers define consensus according to the aims of their research ( Williams & Webb, 1994 ). In this study, consensus was systematically defined as the mean score that 68.26% or more of the participants selected. This percentage was chosen to encompass one standard deviation on either side of the study's mean.

The Delphi technique generally involves at least three rounds of surveys ( Kurtzman, 1984 ; Swanson, 1981 ). In the first round, a survey with several open-ended questions is sent to experts in the area. Based on the responses from the first round, a second questionnaire is developed. The second-round questionnaire lists the responses made by the participants on the first-round survey and instructs the experts to rate the responses on a Likert-type scale. Based upon the responses given on the second-round questionnaire, a third-round questionnaire is developed. The third-round questionnaire summarizes the results from the second-round questionnaire. The questions that are included in the third-round survey are those that lack consensus by the group. The group's mean response for each question included in the third-round survey is also provided to participants. The experts are invited to reconsider their previous answers in light of the group's mean response and to revise their opinions if desired. The participants are instructed that if, after reconsideration, their responses still remain outside of the mean, they should state their rationale. With these responses, the researcher is able to learn why an expert has a response different from the majority of the group ( Armstrong, 1989 ; Helmer, 1967 ).

Sample Selection

Faculty members at U.S. universities (i.e., institutions that have both teaching and nonteaching ITE programs) who were listed in the 1999-2000 Industrial Teacher Education Directory ( Bell, 1999 ) formed the population for this study. University faculty were selected as the population to survey due to their efforts to prepare new teachers in the field. Although there is debate on the effectiveness of teacher education programs ( Hill & Wicklein, 2000 ), there is no question that teacher education faculty members play a significant role in the future of the K-12 curriculum. Additionally, university faculty members generally have more of a relationship with industry (often through industry advisory boards) and are typically more aware of industry needs than K-12 teachers.

The 34 faculty members who participated in the three rounds of the Delphi survey were randomly selected. Researchers generally believe that a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 50 participants are desirable in Delphi studies, with the optimum number ranging between 20 and 30 participants ( Critcher & Gladstone, 1998 ; Gibson & Miller, 1990 ).

Analysis of demographic information noted a broad spectrum of faculty participating in the study. The following geographic areas were represented in the sample.

  • 50.0% (17) were from the Midwestern states
  • 14.7% (5) were from the Southwestern states
  • 14.7% (5) were from the Southern states
  • 11.8% (4) were from the Rocky Mountain states
  • 5.9% (2) were from the Northeast states
  • 2.9% (1) were from the Pacific Coast states

Participants were asked in the first-round survey to predict the future core concepts and skills that will be taught in K-12 ITE programs 20 years from now. Based upon these responses, 151 statements were developed for use in the survey's second round. The participants dictated the content and phrasing of questions for the second-round survey. Based upon responses to the second survey, 27 statements were utilized in the survey's third round. These 27 statements were the items that lacked group consensus after the second-round survey. The third-round survey provided participants with the mean responses and asked for a reconsideration of the statements.

In addition to the mean score of 68.26% or higher in agreement by participants, the definition of consensus was further refined by classifying each statement's mean as having strong agreement, weak agreement, or no agreement. Strong agreement occurred when 68.26% or more of the participants provided a response within two numbers on the evaluation range of the Likert-type scale. Weak agreement occurred when 68.26% or more of the participants provided a response within three numbers on the evaluation range on the Likert-type scale.

Findings and Discussion

While numerous predictions may be made without a group consensus, only those predictions obtaining a 68.26% or higher level of agreement overall by the participants are reported. The predictions for future ITE programs are noted in Table 1.

Table 1
Second-Round Survey - Predictions
Strongly and moderately agree
Percent of
In the future, there will be
additional interdisciplinary
activities among science, math,
and technology.

In the future, there will be more
emphasis on problem solving

In the future, there will be an
updating of the Standards for
Technological Literacy .

In the future, there will be more
emphasis on understanding and
utilizing computer systems in
design and processing

There will be increased reliance
on computers in the future.

In the future, the elements of
information technology will be

The ability to plan will be
emphasized in the future.

The core concepts will continue
to include communication
systems in the future.

In the future, students will know
how to use spreadsheets.


Table 2
Third-Round Survey - Predictions
Strongly and moderately agree
Percent of
In the future, the term
"industrial" will not be used.

In the future, alternative energy
will be taught.


The Delphi survey's third round consisted of the predictions from the second-round survey that lacked consensus by the panel. On survey three, the participants had the opportunity to evaluate the group's mean response for each prediction. Participants that disagreed with the mean response were instructed to provide a rationale for their disagreement.

After reviewing the responses in survey three, it was found that despite some disagreement, every prediction from round two obtained the 68.26% level of agreement needed for consensus. Since the goal of the Delphi study is consensus, it is not unusual for participants to obtain a high level of consensus on the predictions made over the course of each round ( Linstone & Turoff, 1975 ). Indeed, although unanimity may not occur, the Delphi study usually ends with a majority of the group responding a certain way ( Kurtzman, 1984 ).

Although the Delphi panel reached consensus on every prediction in the third-round survey, further in-depth analysis of the data could not be conducted unless the data could be separated into additional categories. Consequently, the standard for consensus was raised to 95.44%, representing two standard deviations from the mean. With this heightened standard for consensus, predictions on survey three were divided into two categories: those that obtained consensus and those that did not obtain consensus.

The following predictions obtained consensus after the third-round survey regarding what future core concepts and skills will be taught in K-12 ITE programs 20 years from now. The percentage indicates the rate of agreement among the experts. Of the panelists, 97.05% indicated that the word "industrial" will not be used with these programs. Additionally, 97.05% of the panelists agreed with the prediction that alternative energy will be taught in the future.

When predicting the future, Hollywood-type images often come to mind. However, when asking the participants to predict the curriculum in 20 years for K-12 ITE programs, it was more common to hear that current trends would either be continued (with some modification) or discontinued than to hear predictions about the K-12 curriculum that made the field unrecognizable. Indeed, the participants' underlying belief is that ITE at the K-12 level will continue to exist. Moreover, the predictions indicate that the pace of change will be slow enough that interested educators can become involved as change agents to make the area stronger and more relevant.

Nine of the predictions focused very specifically on core concepts and skills in the K-12 curriculum.

  • There will be more emphasis on problem-solving concepts. Consensus for this prediction occurred after the second-round survey at the 82.8% agreement level. Educators understand that the world is increasing in complexity and that technology is pervasive. Today, employees are often required to utilize both technology and higher-reasoning skills, such as solving problems. Teaching students problem-solving skills will be invaluable.
  • There will be more emphasis on understanding and utilizing computer systems in design and processing fabrication (e.g., CNC machining, rapid prototyping, robotics, automation). Consensus for this prediction occurred after the second-round survey at the 77.2% agreement level. Even small businesses are utilizing the computer-based systems once reserved for only the largest corporations. Consequently, students must understand how to use these computer systems in order to be more employable. The trend of more companies using computer systems in design and processing fabrication will most likely continue because reliance on computers will continue to increase in the future.
  • Elements of information technology and communication systems will be studied. Consensus for these two predictions occurred after the second-round survey at the 77.1% and 71.5% levels of agreement, respectively. The technologies involved in these areas are advancing at a fast pace. As technology changes, educators must be prepared to first master and then teach the new technology to students. Students should understand current technology in order to have an advantage in the work arena.
  • In the future, the ability to plan will be emphasized. Consensus for this prediction occurred after the second-round survey at the 74.3% agreement level. Employees must be able to use forethought in order to effectively utilize resources. Financial considerations along with competitive rationales dictate that planning will be an important skill employees must have.
  • In the future, students will know how to use spreadsheets. Consensus for this prediction occurred after the second-round survey at the 71.4% agreement level. Generating spreadsheets on the current computer software is relatively easy. Consequently, the experts realistically predict that employees must be able to use spreadsheets because they will continue to be pervasive.
  • Alternative energy will be taught in the future. Consensus for this prediction occurred after the third- round survey at the 97.05% level. From today's viewpoint, alternative energy will continue to be a concern until a less expensive, more environmentally friendly alternative is devised that helps our country not to be so dependent upon other countries.

While the previous six predictions can be broadly categorized as skills that will make students both more employable and better employees (except, possibly, the class in alternative energy), the remaining three predictions involve efforts by educators in ITE to remain relevant within the educational system.

  • There will be additional interdisciplinary activities among science, math and technology. Consensus for this prediction occurred after the second-round survey at the 85.7% level of agreement. Today, many educators believe that some form of integration will help the ITE program become or remain strong. The prediction of ongoing interdisciplinary activities will likely occur.
  • The Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology ( ITEA, 2000 ) will be updated. Consensus for this prediction occurred after the second- round survey at the 80.0% level of agreement. The field of ITE has a long history of governmental involvement.
  • The word "industrial" will not be used with these programs in the future. Consensus for this prediction occurred after the third-round survey at the 97.05% level. Leaders in ITE have frequently modified the curriculum and applied new labels.


In 20 years, the K-12 ITE curriculum will reflect society: understanding alternative energy and advanced technologies; becoming aware of technological implications; and the corporate sector's need for problem-solving, planning, and spreadsheet skills will be needed in both society and in the classroom. Educators will attempt to attract students and receive support from parents and administrators by continuing interdisciplinary activities and eliminating the term "industrial" from these programs. The government will remain involved through legislation.

"When educators consider the needs of future generations, their curricula and teaching become much more relevant" ( Hicks & Slaughter, 1998 , p. 69). Indeed, envisioning the future is an effective method for both focusing on present concerns and developing strategies for realizing hopes. Consequently, educators must use forecasting methods such as the Delphi technique to empower their programs.

Hicks and Slaughter (1998) summarized several reasons why educators must envision a future curriculum.

  • We must move beyond "crisis management" to proactive thinking.
  • People's images of the future affect their decisions in the present.
  • We exert our will and internationality on the future.
  • There are strategic consequences of our actions and decisions.
  • Education (which is strongly rooted in the past) requires credible futures alternatives to establish appropriate strategies and directions (p. 232).

While concern for today's problems in the K-12 curriculum is needed, it is not the only focus educators must have. Today, educators should start long-term planning for the future of K-12 ITE programs. Careful planning today will help to ensure that the K-12 programs exist and are relevant and strong in the future. Now is the time for interested educators to step forward with the vision needed to strengthen the K-12 ITE program. The predictions obtained in this study should be the starting point for discussions and change.


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Hansen is Assistant Professor in the Applied Technology Division of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, UT. Hansen can be reached at hansen@suu.edu .