Journal of Technology Education

Journal of Technology Education

Current Editor: Chris Merrill,
Previous Editors: Mark Sanders 1989-1997; James LaPorte: 1997-2010

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Volume 3, Number 2
Spring 1992

              Curriculum Change in Technology Education: A Theoretical
              Perspective on Personal Relevance Curriculum Designs
                        Stephen Petrina
                            Personal relevance curriculum designs are compatible
                        with most mission and philosophical statements for
                        technology education; yet, there are few, if any curriculum
                        plans that emphasize this design. The experience-based nature
                        of technology education suggests a certain affinity with
                        personal relevance. Practice and theory within the
                        profession has influenced and has been influenced by
                        personal relevance designs and their inherent humanistic
                        theories. While this interaction is apparent through any
                        historical survey of the profession and evident in
                        contemporary literature, the nature of personal relevance
                        designs have been only partially examined. Within the
                        profession, there is little information in the way of
                        adequate description and implementation of personal
                        relevance or other humanistic curriculum designs
                        (Herschbach, 1989; Horton, 1985; McCrory, 1987; Moss, 1987;
                        Zuga, 1989).
                            The purpose of this article is to provide insight into
                        personal relevance curriculum designs through a discussion
                        of a theoretical perspective on their nature, underlying
                        rationale and application to a study of technology, source
                        of content, organizational structure, and use in technology
                        education. Most of the discussions are limited to a
                        micro-curriculum as opposed to a macro level. However,
                        inferences can be drawn to include both. The focus of the
                        discussions is on middle, junior, and senior high levels of
                        schooling. Personal relevance designs are grounded in
                        humanistic theory; consequently, it was necessary to
                        summarize and generalize a number of humanistic views,
                        beliefs and convictions.
                        Personal Relevance Curriculum Designs
                            Advocates of personal relevance curriculum designs
                        maintain that education should and does play an integral
                        role in a student's life and has a major influence on a
                        student's self-concept, psyche, outlook on life, and world
                        view. Emphases of personal relevance curriculum designs are
                        on personal growth, integrity, autonomy, and unique meaning.
                        Personal growth is viewed as the process of developing into
                        a self-actualizing, autonomous, authentic, healthy, happy
                        human being. The development of body and intellect are of
                        equal importance. Education within this context means
                        holistic growth toward personal and humane goals; an
                        integration of the cognitive, creative, aesthetic, moral,
                        and vocational dimensions of being human. The development of
                        people who can transcend contemporary constraints is central
                        to this design (Eisner, 1979; Klein, 1986; Kolesnik, 1975;
                        Maslow, 1968; McNeil, 1981).
                            Students are free to develop, or are active in helping
                        define their own curricula based on their personal problems,
                        developmental levels, goals, interests, curiosities,
                        capabilities, and needs. The following concepts are
                        considered essential to the composition of a personal
                        relevance curriculum design (McNeil, 1981):
                        1. Participation There is consent, power sharing,
                           negotiation, and joint responsibility by
                           coparticipants. It is essentially nonauthoritarian and
                           not unilateral.
                        2. Integration There is interaction,interpenetration, and
                           integration of thinking, feeling, and action.
                        3. Relevance The subject matter is related to the basic
                           needs and lives of the participants and is significant
                           to them, both emotionally and intellectually.
                        4. Self The self is a legitimate object of learning.
                        5. Goal The social goal or purpose is to develop the
                           whole person within a human society (p. 9).
                            These curricular concepts guide the development of
                        learning experiences and their character is dependent on
                        teacher-student-community interaction, deliberation, and
                        discourse. Participants have educational autonomy and
                        democratically bring their curricula into focus.
                            Curriculum planning then, does not follow traditional
                        Mager, Skinner or Tyler models. Behavioral objectives do not
                        enter into the curriculum. Ends and means are not
                        predetermined, but are bound to resources and context.
                        Within a personal relevance design, the content and modes of
                        inquiry, modes of expression, and goals are matters of
                        personal choice or democratic process. Teaching techniques
                        that encourage both planning and spontaneity, expression,
                        insight, and reflective thought are integral to overall
                        curricular unity, comprehensiveness, diversity, and
                        consonance. The educational process is defined within
                        unique contexts. Humanists advocate freedom of curriculum
                        development through an emphasis on personal relevance as a
                        challenge to traditional subject-centered models. A
                        discussion of the rationale for personal relevance designs
                        to help clarify the basis of the preceding concepts and
                        postulates follows.
                        Underlying Curriculum Rationale and its Application to a
                        Study of Technology
                            Generally speaking, personal relevance curriculum
                        designs reflect pedagogical ideas of child-centered, and
                        progressive educators, and have evolved to their current
                        conceptualization within the humanistic education movement.
                        With the humanistic education movement came a
                        reinterpretation of student-centered education and an
                        articulation of existential and hermeneutic philosophies,
                        and third force and gestalt psychologies. Conceptions of the
                        learner, knowledge, society, and the learning process have
                        been shaped by these theories, and share a connectedness
                        with schools of reconceptualized curriculum thought and
                        experientialist curricular orientations (Klohr, 1980;
                        Schubert, 1986).
                            The underlying rationale for personal relevance designs
                        is supported by theories in humanistic psychologies and
                        philosophies, and interactional sociologies. Considering
                        humanistic theories and their related educational thought,
                        humanists ask: "what do subject-centered curricula do for
                        personal relevance, freedom, individuality, and humane
                        goals?" They suggest that
                        1. given the nature of mass culture and modern society,
                           individuality, personal freedom, and humane goals are
                           prohibitively constrained,
                        2. the school has a responsibility to emphasize the
                           development of individuality, personal freedom, and
                           humane goals,
                        3. the authoritarian and technocratic control that has
                           pervaded the educational  system constrains
                           individuality, personal freedom, and humane goals,
                        4. prevalent, traditional, subject-centered curricula are
                           inherently authoritarian and fail miserably in promoting
                           individuality, personal freedom, and humane goals,
                        5. presuppositions and assumptions underlying traditional
                           education need to be examined and challenged; and,
                           individuals within a democratic society deserve better,
                        6. considering inherent problems of prevalent educational
                           theory and curricula, humanistic theories are
                           considerable within the context of a democratic society,
                        7. a restructuring of the schools is necessary to
                           encourage individuality, personal freedom, and humane
                           goals, and
                        8. curricula based on personal relevance should be
                           considered as viable alternatives to traditional
                           curricula (Holt, 1970; Kolesnik 1975; McNeil, 1981;
                           Rust, 1975; Sloan, 1984).
                        This underlying rationale for personal relevance curriculum
                        designs and its supporting theories are the bases of
                        justification for curricular decisions concerning the
                        content and style of the educational process.
                        Application to a Study of Technology
                            The preceding rationale can be applied to include a
                        study of technology. Technology, in all of its
                        manifestations and consequences, has been and continues to
                        be a matter of critical concern to humanists (Dewey, 1900;
                        Mumford, 1934; Rugg, 1958; Wirth, 1989). The humanization of
                        technology, often reflective of the thought of Mumford, is
                        intrinsic to the humanistic movement. Humanists advocate
                        confronting the nature of technology through holistic,
                        contextual and critical inquiry. Consciousness, insight,
                        and knowledge related to the interaction of self,
                        technology, culture, and society is essential to personal
                        development. Inquiry into technology is integral to personal
                        relevance curricula for the following, and other reasons:
                        1. technology is central to human experience and individual
                           life worlds (Ihde, 1990),
                        2. the ubiquity and mediacy of technology shape our
                           perceptions of the world and self (Ormiston, 1990),
                        3. human values, freedom and choice interact with technology
                           on a personal level (Ihde, 1983),
                        4. personal livelihood is dependent on technology (Rapp,
                           1989; Wirth, 1987),
                        5. technology is a fundamental area of culture and human
                           endeavor, and is inextricably interwoven with history,
                           culture, and society; also, it is integrative in nature
                           (Kranzberg, 1986),
                        6. technology is necessary for human existence (Huning,
                        7. technology is problematic and paradoxical for individuals
                           and society (Rapp, 1989),
                        8. the artificial world is ambient; increasingly, technology
                           is habitat (Ormiston, 1990), and
                        9. technology must be humanized and its direction subjected
                           to limitations and determined democratically by society.
                          There is tension between personal and social choice
                          (Davis, 1981).
                        Humanists would also suggest that traditional,
                        subject-centered education is permeated with technology; yet
                        as a topic of educational inquiry, it is traditionally
                        precluded to anything but passing glances or delivered at an
                        impersonal level.
                        Source of Content
                            In personal relevance curriculum designs, content, as a
                        body of established truths is not a source for the
                        initiation of  learning experiences. Humanists generally
                        subscribe to a Deweyan instrumental view of disciplinary
                        content. Disciplinary content has an instrumental function
                        as a means of illuminating a student's life world. It is an
                        instrument in the development of selfconcept and incidental
                        to the learning process.
                            Because of its inertness, separation from process and
                        lack of personal meaning, humanists reject disciplinary
                        content as knowledge on philosophical grounds. They maintain
                        that knowledge is dynamic and in need of subjective validity
                        and a personal, practical dimension. Substance of thought,
                        or the content of knowledge is of major importance to
                        humanists. A source of content in a personal relevance
                        curriculum design lies in the immediate concerns of the
                        student's interaction with his/her environment.
                            This is not to say that content is ignored in a
                        personal relevance curriculum design. A major challenge
                        within any curriculum design is the determination of what is
                        practical and essential to the welfare of the student,
                        community, and society. No humanist would deny the
                        importance of reading, writing, and communication, or other
                        essential subjects and skills. They suggest that through
                        deliberation and dialogue, the student, teacher, and the
                        community interact as a source of essential content.
                            Humanists also recognize ecological, cultural and
                        historical perspective as essential to the development of
                        identity and social purpose. To a humanist, a critical
                        perspective on the relationships of self to values, the
                        community, the environment, cultural milleau, and historical
                        continuum is essential to personal growth. The development
                        of perception of patterns of human existence within history
                        and culture is essential. But, humanists also suggest that
                        equally essential is the realization that these perspectives
                        and perceptions can be  faulty and have the potential to
                        constrain. Knowledge as personal, practical, and focused on
                        the human condition is a significant concern. Humanists
                        respond to the dilemma of knowledge by emphasizing inquiry,
                        the nurturant potential of learning environments, and
                        intrinsic motivation factors of relevance and choice. The
                        problem in curriculum, as humanists view it, is not one of
                        content, but one of style (Brown, 1978; Clark, 1990; Eash,
                        1971; Greene, 1971; Junell, 1979; Frymier, 1972; Kolesnik,
                        1975; McNeil, 1981; Pilder, 1969).
                        Organizational Structure
                            Advocates claim that a great strength of personal
                        relevance designs is their emphasis on unity and
                        integration. Within curricula based on these designs, the
                        integration of emotions, thoughts, actions, and goals with
                        the social setting and environment are emphasized. Methods
                        such as nondirective teaching, synectics, seminars,
                        awareness training, social inquiry, cooperative and
                        individual projects, and discovery encourage self-expression
                        and personal meaning. Gestalt techniques facilitate
                        interaction and insight. Phenomenological and hermeneutic
                        techniques help to bring experiences and personal narrative
                        to levels of understanding. Organization is established
                        through personal problems and interests. Units are used to
                        encourage the development of unified and comprehensive
                        experiences (Joyce & Weil, 1980; Kolesnik, 1975; McNeil,
                            Because of their holistic and integrating nature, and
                        potential for unifying students with the learning
                        environment, units are often used to provide organizational
                        structure. Units within personal relevance designs are more
                        attuned to the progressive interpretation than their more
                        popular subject-centered readings. They are experience-based
                        or based on the development of learning experiences that
                        focus on significant themes in the students' relationship
                        with their environment. Experience-based units help students
                        recognize the relationships between their own experiences
                        and broader problems and patterns in life. They integrate
                        the knowing, feeling, and doing aspects of experience and
                        learning. They integrate a student's thought, emotions and
                        actions, with purpose, the means-ends continuum, and the
                        environment. Units often present themselves as both project
                        and problem, and students draw on diverse types of inquiry,
                        knowledge and other resources to assist in their resolution.
                        The organization  provided is on the learner's psychological
                        level as opposed to an expert's logical level (Burton, 1952;
                        Ogletree, Gebauer & Ujlaki, 1980).
                            The determination of the nature and types of units used
                        is bound to student and teacher negotiation. Cooperative
                        units are developed to reach students on personal levels and
                        broadly conceived to accommodate individuality. Curricula
                        for a high school group could be organized within units such
                        as: self-expression and modern culture; personal values and
                        science, technology, and the military in the 20th century;
                        work and economic amenity; social reform and personal
                        agenda; technological change and humanistic imperatives;
                        personal freedom and emancipation; energy, environment, and
                        personal consumption; old materials, censorship, and new
                        art; communicable disease, research and modern medicine;
                        choice of apparel, fashion and style; or political efficacy
                        and personal destiny. Junior high units are also focused on
                        significant aspects of students' lives, and made accessible
                        to their maturity level.
                            The organization of elements within units is a matter
                        of individual and group interest, motivation, and resources.
                        Emphasis is on connecting abstract concepts to real and
                        personal themes inherent in the students' lives. Outcomes
                        are dependent on the degree to which relevance, unity,
                        integration, and personal insight are developed. The
                        challenge is to unify variety and diversity toward common
                        Application to Technology Education
                            A review of literature leaves one to conclude that
                        applications of personal relevance curriculum designs are
                        nonexistent within technology education (or their existence
                        has not been communicated through literature). Nonetheless,
                        there are descriptions of programs, units, and other
                        endeavors that  are integrated in their curricular designs
                        and suggestive of holistic and integrative approaches to
                        studying technology. An example of the shape that personal
                        relevance curricula might take has been provided.
                            The following examples of units are suggestive of
                        holistic inquiry into technology. Maley (1973) presented
                        units to support a study of technology, and structured them
                        within an integrated curriculum design. His proposed units
                        are experienced-based, and provide for student choice within
                        a framework of societal needs. Other units within technology
                        education that provide for student choice within structured
                        frameworks include Maley (1989) and Pytlik (1981). In social
                        studies, American history, the history of technology, and
                        Science, Technology & Society (STS), there are examples of
                        subject-centered units that are thematically based on
                        technology, and suggest varying degrees of flexibility for
                        student choice and freedom within a traditional setting
                        (Barnes, 1982; Bensen & Eaves, 1985; Sinclair & Smulyan,
                        1990; Wagner, 1990).
                            There exists a wealth of exhibits, books, and articles
                        that provide insight into the nature of technology. Museum
                        exhibits and accompanying texts provide evidence of
                        technology as both a social force and social product (Hindle
                        & Lubar, 1988; Stratton, 1990). Introductions to technology,
                        contextual readings of the history of technology, and
                        thematic studies provide evidence of the interrelationships
                        of technology to other endeavors in life (DeVore, 1980;
                        Hughes, 1983; Volk, 1990). Surveys such as these begin to
                        suggest the shape and avenues of inquiry that students might
                        pursue within arrangements of units. There are a variety of
                        resources within technology education, STS, the philosophy
                        and history of technology, and other areas of inquiry from
                        which teachers can draw. Insight into the holistic,
                        contextual and integrative nature of technology, and ac-
                        companying modes of inquiry is necessary for teachers, but a
                        solid grounding in humanistic theories and techniques is
                            The shape that a personal relevance curriculum might
                        take can be illustrated through a summary of a unit titled
                        "Prescription for conservation, health, and personal
                        transportation: the bicycle!" This example would be
                        appropriate for a junior high technology education class.
                        Unity, integration, consonance, and relevance are addressed
                        through thematic use of a common product in which most
                        students within the junior high grades are sincerely
                        interested. The technology of bicycles is advantageous in
                        its historical significance, social effects, and
                        multi-cultural utility; and, its relationships to physics,
                        engineering, physiology, economics, geography, safety and
                        health, sport and leisure, urban design, industry, and
                        environmental policy. Through their simplicity and
                        performance, bicycles challenge students to apply techniques
                        related to design, invention, experimentation, maintenance,
                        and repair. Bicycles can inspire the formation of clubs,
                        affiliation with cycling organizations, and planned bike
                        tours. Most importantly, the centrality of bicycles to youth
                        can be used to develop self-concept through insight into
                        personal relationships with technology.
                            Following initial planning and coordination of problem
                        and project areas, students begin to develop experiences
                        that take advantage of the relationships of the bicycle to
                        aspects of everyday life. Experiences develop through the
                        use of a variety of resources found in laboratory, library,
                        classroom, and community facilities. For instance, a group
                        of students might: design and conduct a survey to determine
                        the extent of bicycle use in their community, and report the
                        results as compared to national and international trends;
                        determine the needs of a cycling society and initiate a
                        local or national letter-writing program to shape
                        transportation policy; design cities of the future which
                        accommodate a variety of modes of transportation; design and
                        construct bicycle trailers with concern for specific speed
                        and payload factors; survey and map geographic regions for
                        potential bikeways; investigate the bicycle use of
                        teenagers in developing countries; design and conduct
                        experiments that focus on physiological demands of cycling;
                        print posters to promote bicycle use; or design a sculpture,
                        and write songs or plays that express feelings toward
                        human-powered transportation. Individual expression of
                        emotion and ideas through artistic, technical, and practical
                        capabilities in the form of paintings, sculptures, poems,
                        songs, stories, engineering drawings, reports, models,
                        objects of utility, and discussions is encouraged.
                        Involvement in these modes of expression, and the use of
                        personal and social families of teaching models, including
                        gestalt and phenomenological techniques, encourage students
                        to develop and own concepts of themselves and their
                        relationship to their environment.
                            Current educational thought and evolving world views
                        can be recognized as support for humanistic goals.
                        Perspectives on learning suggest the importance of context,
                        environment, and other life-shaping forces, and tend to
                        strengthen other major tenets of humanistic theories. There
                        is renewed interest in process, integration, and experience.
                        Learning how to learn has become synonymous with education.
                        Self-directed, original, creative, and critical-thinking
                        people seem to be the new societal need. Ecology,
                        conservation, balance, and the humanization of technology
                        are of considerable global concern. Evidence of failed
                        spending and programmatic educational efforts of the 1980s
                        provide grounds for innovation. It has been suggested the
                        paradigm shaping authoritarian, technocratic curricula has
                        become dysfunctional (Eisner, 1979; Wirth, 1989). Within
                        this context, an education that humanists envision may be a
                        suitable alternative to predominant subject-centered
                            However, without complete restructuring of the schools,
                        the demands of personal relevance curricula may prohibit
                        them from being anything more than alternatives. Likewise,
                        without total commitment from teachers, administrators, and
                        the community, meaning readjustment of an entrenched
                        educational paradigm, it is unlikely that personal relevance
                        designs will be accepted as anything more than aberrant.
                        Nonetheless, the rationale underlying these curriculum
                        designs is considerable.
                            Given their historical roots, personal relevance
                        curriculum designs should not seem aberrant to technology
                        educators. Still, technology educators have not embraced
                        personal relevance designs and curricular proposals have
                        been characteristically based on subject-centered, hybrid
                        and often incompatible designs. At least some humanistic
                        techniques have been assimilated into technology education
                        classrooms; but, within technical or subject-centered
                        designs, their nature and vitality may be distorted.
                            The subject-centered orientation of technology
                        education curricula is comprehensible within its context.
                        Technology education was conceptualized during an era of
                        national emphases on academic standards and testing, and
                        shaped by a dominant educational paradigm. Articulation of a
                        humanistic mission and philosophy for technology education,
                        and the design of curricula that are consistent with this
                        mission would mean transcendence of the prevailing
                        sociopolitical climate. Technology educators will have to
                        position themselves within schools of  reconceptualized
                        curriculum thought and critical praxis. Dialogue and inquiry
                        within the profession will have to be extended to include a
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                        Steve Petrina is a doctoral student in the Department of
                        Industrial, Technological, and Occupational Education,
                        University of Maryland, College Park, MD.

              Journal of Technology Education   Volume 3, Number 2       Spring 1992