JTE v3n2 - Curriculum Change in Technology Education: A Theoretical Perspective on Personal Relevance Curriculum Designs

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