JTE v3n2 - Building a Defensible Curriculum Base

Volume 3, Number 2
Spring 1992

          Building a Defensible Curriculum Base
          Thomas Wright
              Educators seem to have a strong desire to relive
          historical mistakes. During the 1960s, industrial arts
          innovators divided into three fairly distinct camps. One
          group could be characterized as the technology camp and was
          championed by DeVore (1966)and others. Another group was
          the industry group which was championed by the Ohio State
          IACP staff (Towers, 1966). A third group was the
          child-centered group championed by Maley (1973). These
          people and their followers spent an inordinate amount of
          time debating the content base for industrial arts and
          criticizing the other camps' position. However valuable this
          discourse was, the vast majority of the field was unmoved.
          Most programs continued to focus their efforts on the skills
          involved in woodworking, metalworking, and drafting,
          (Dugger, 1980).
              It took the Jacksons Mill Project (Hales and Snyder,
          n.d.) to cause curriculum innovators to realize that a
          central focus was necessary if industrial arts programs were
          to change. For a period of time, the Jackson's Mill
          curriculum consensus held and significant program
          improvement occurred.
              Today, technology educators are again beginning to
          divide into camps over curriculum structure issues and to
          dissipate the focus of the field. There are number of rea-
          sons for this split. Some people feel they must make their
          "unique" personal contribution to the field. Other leaders
          are convinced that conditions in their state require a
          special focus for their state's technology program. Still
          other people feel that any curriculum structure over five
          years old is obsolete.
              These different positions are dangerous if technology
          education is to become recognized as a vital area of study
          for all youth.  Instead of everyone going their own way, the
          leaders of the field must recognize that all subject areas
          have a fairly stable curriculum structure under which
          dynamic content fits.  For example, science does not change
          its chemistry, physics, biology, curriculum structure every
          five years. This action does not cause curriculum stagnation
          because the content under each of these headings is open for
          constant review and change.
              The challenge to all technology educators is to apply
          the same logic as science uses to determine the curriculum
          focus and structure for the study of technology. This action
          will require a logical, sequential approach.
              First, the arena of the discipline must be established.
          This action determines the scope of the curriculum. For
          example, science relies on evidence to develop hypotheses
          and theories to identify consistent patterns of things and
          events in the universe (Project 2061, 1989). Its arena,
          then, is focused on the procedures used to study the natural
          world and the impacts these findings have on human
              Technology education also has its focus.  Technology is
          used to create the human-made world. Technologists apply
          human and physical resources to design, produce, and assess
          artifacts and systems that control and modify the natural
          and human-made environments.  Also, developing and using
          technology impacts people, society, and the environment.
          Therefore the arena of technology is the practices used to
          develop, produce, and use artifacts and the impacts these
          actions have on humans and the natural world.
              Once the arena of the discipline has been established a
          second curriculum development step is required. A clear
          distinction between the "hows" and "whys" of technology must
          be made. For example, the Project 2061 report suggests "...
          the various scientific disciplines are alike in their
          reliance on evidence, their use of hypotheses and theories,
          the kinds of logic used, and much more.  Nevertheless,
          scientists differ greatly from one another in the phenomena
          they investigate..."  This statement suggests there is a
          fairly common way scientists investigate the universe and
          that various scientists focus their investigation to
          specific areas of science.
              Technology, likewise, has a way new artifacts are
          developed. It, also, has an accumulated body of knowledge
          that explains existing technologies and provides the
          foundation for new technological advancements.  Technology
          educators need to look at these foci so students can study
          (1) the processes used by practitioners to develop new
          technology, (2) the areas of technology which represent the
          accumulated knowledge of practice, and (3) the impacts of
          technology. A program that focuses on one of these elements
          at the exclusion of the others will be incomplete.
              However, identifying the primary foci of a program is
          not enough. The curriculum developer must address each of
          these foci individually.
              Investigating the first focus requires identifying the
          procedure used to address technological problems and
          opportunities.  This procedure establishes the "scientific
          method" of technology. Over time it has been described as
          the design method (Lindbeck, 1963), problem solving
          (Waetjen, 1989), and the technological method. A common
          outline for this process includes (1) defining the problem,
          (2) developing alternate solutions, (3) selecting a
          solution, (4) implementing and evaluating the solution, (5)
          redesigning the solution, and (6) interpreting the solution
          (Savage and Sterry, 1990).
              This procedure describes how technologists approach a
          problem or opportunity. It describes the way the human-made
          world is created through discovery, invention, innovation,
          and development. However, it is only part of a study of
          technology. The other part becomes clear when the second
          program focus is describe which will result in developing a
          system to identify and categorize the accumulate knowledge
          of technology.
              This system must meet the rules for all category
          systems (Ray and Streichler, 1971):
          1. Each entry must be mutually exclusive of other entries.
          2. The entries must be totally inclusive of the phenomena
             being categorized.
          3. The system must be functional.
              Establishing a way to structure the knowledge of
          technology causing the profession considerable trauma and is
          dividing the profession the most. A number of systems have
          been developed to meet this challenge.  Two that seem to
          have the most promise are the Jackson's Mill (Hales and
          Snyder, n.d.) human productive activities of communication,
          construction, manufacturing, and transportation and the
          Dutch pillars of technology (Wolters, 1989) which allow for
          studying energy, information and matter (material)
              Whichever model the field chooses, one of those listed
          above or some other, we must resist the product consumption
          mentality presently being used by some change agents.  We
          need not discard our curriculum structures and philosophical
          foundations with the frequency we do automobiles and
          clothing. Chasing fads and personal promotion will do little
          to develop a credible profession or defensible programs. We
          urgently need to reach a curriculum compromise in the spirit
          of Jackson's Mill. Only then can states or local districts
          address their need for curriculum change with confidence
          they are not buying into a fad or an incompletely developed
          curriculum structure.
              The third focus of a complete technology education
          program has received the least attention and may well be the
          most important.  It requires identifying the relationship
          and interaction among technology, people, society, the
          environment and other disciplines.  Technology is not a
          natural phenomena. It is the product of human volition.
          People saw its development, production, and use as necessary
          or economically profitable. However, reaching this human
          vision has positive and negative impacts on people,
          societies, and the environment.
              Likewise, technology is not an isolated body of
          knowledge. It has strong connections with all other areas of
          knowledge. Science explains the naturals laws that are
          applied by technology. Mathematics and mathematical models
          explain the operation of technological systems. Language and
          art can be used to describe technology and its impacts. The
          social studies can describe how technology has, is, and may
          well impact and be impacted by people and society.
              This challenges educators to seek content and course
          integration. In a recent discussion, an aeronautical
          engineer (Thompson, 1991) suggested that he didn't see
          knowledge as discrete subjects like educators do. He said
          that life's experiences and challenges immediately
          integrated knowledge.  The solutions to the challenges
          facing society are not the domain of a single discipline.
              Clearly defining and describing technological knowledge
          while seeking its integration with other disciplines will
          lead the profession, as a whole, to a recognition that (1)
          technology education is the study of the human-made world,
          (2) technologists use the technological (problem solving)
          method to develop new and improved artifacts and systems,
          (3) technology is used to help people meet their
          communication, product, and transportation needs and, (4)
          technology impacts and is impacted by people, society, and
          the environment.
              This four-point philosophy leads us to believe that,
          like science, there is a generic way to approach a
          technological problem or opportunity; there are unique
          practices used to produce, operate, and maintain each device
          or system; and these actions operated in historical,
          personal, and societal contexts (see Figure 1). Standing on
          this solid philosophical ground we can get on with the
          important task that must be addressed:developing meaningful
          laboratory-based, action-oriented courses that will introduce
          students to the exciting field of technology. Only then can
          we build a case for requiring all students at all grade
          level to study technology.
          Figure 1.  A model of the relationship between problem
          solving, technical actions, and technological contexts.
          (GET FIGURE1 JTE-V3N2)
          Dugger, W. E. (1980). Report of survey data.  Blacksburg,
              VA: Standards for Industrial Arts Education Programs
          Hales, J. & Snyder, J. (n.d.) Jacksons Mill industrial arts
              curriculum theory. Charleston: West Virginia Department
              of Education.
          Lindbeck, J. (1963). Design textbook. Bloomington, IL:
              McKnight and McKnight.
          Maley, D. (1973). The Maryland plan. New York: Benziger
              Bruce and Glencoe.
          Project 2061. (1989). Science for all Americans. Washington,
              D.C.: American Association for the Advancement of
          Ray, W. E. & Streichler, J. (1971). Components of teacher
              education. Washington: American Council on Industrial
              Arts Teacher Education
          Savage, E. & Sterry, L. (1990). A conceptual framework for
              technology education. Reston, VA: International
              Technology Education Association.
          Thompson, J. Personal discussion on October 4, 1991
          Waetjen, W. (1989). Technological problem solving. Reston,
              VA: International Technological Education Society.
          Wolters, F. (1989). A PATT study among 10 to 12 year-olds.
              Journal of Technology Education, 1(1).
          Wright, R. T. (1991). Implementing technology education.
              Technology Focus, Spring/Summer.
          Tom Wright is Professor of Industry and Technology, Ball State
          University, Muncie, IN.

Journal of Technology Education   Volume 3, Number 2       Spring 1992