Proceedings of the First AAAS Technology Education Research Conference

Reflections on the AAAS Technology Education Research Conference

Gary Benenson
City College of New York

The most remarkable thing about this conference was that it happened at all. It brought together many or most of the people who have provided intellectual leadership for the transition from Industrial Arts to Technology Education, a paradigm shift that is still under way. Although the stated purpose was to develop an agenda for research in technology education, this was something we could only begin to do. There are some general issues about technology education that have to form the foundation for any research agenda. These include:

  • What is the relationship between scientific knowledge and technological knowledge?
  • What are the roles of procedural knowledge and conceptual knowledge in technology education?
  • Does technology education have goals that apply to other curriculum areas, such as the development of general problem-solving capabilities, social responsibility or situated cognition?
  • What forms of assessment are appropriate to technology education?

It was clear during the conference that these were questions of concern to all of us, but we have had few if any opportunities to discuss them in any detail. The conference provided this kind of opportunity. I don’t think any consensus was reached on any of these topics, but it was stimulating to hear divergent points of view. I realized that these questions are more difficult than I had supposed. For example, it was very striking Friday morning to hear the various groups’ answers to the questions about whether someone could have conceptual knowledge without procedural knowledge, and vice versa. As I recall, the answers to these questions ranged in each case from "yes" to "no" through "maybe" or "depends what you mean"!

Although much of the conference was concerned with these more general issues, some of it did focus specifically on the content and methods of research in technology education. Karen Zuga outlined the philosophical positions underlying educational research, and the variety of research designs. This talk was very illuminating for me, but it covered so much ground that I found it hard to absorb in such short order. A written version would be very useful to me. Janet Kolodner expanded on one of the research designs, the design experiment, which I also found very useful. A major recurring theme was the need for professional researchers to collaborate with classroom teachers in conducting research. The joint presentation by Ed Goldman and Dorothy Bennett offered one model for doing this.

The most significant conclusion I drew from the discussion of research is how little we really know. Bob McCormick’s talk was especially helpful in pointing out how many of the issues we deal with frequently have never been explored systematically. All of us operate on sets of assumptions about such things as what motivates children, how they learn, the role of the teacher, the benefits of design education, cooperative learning strategies, etc. We assume these things to be true, based on our own experiences and world views. However, there have been no systematic studies to support very many of these claims. For example, I have been taking it more or less for granted that:

  1. Design competitions appeal to boys far more than to girls; they also serve to undermine the concept of trade-offs, by emphasizing one or a few criteria at the expense of the others.
  2. Technology education should be motivated by engaging students in solving problems that are of direct importance to them, such as the lack of storage space in their classroom.

While both of these statements still seem reasonable to me, I now see them as hypotheses, which should initiate research programs, rather than as self-evident truisms.

Much of the benefit of a conference of this kind is somewhat intangible and difficult to define. I found the conference to be very valuable personally, not only because of what I learned, but also because of the support I received. For example, Dan Householder and Franzie Loepp cited the City Technology project as an example of how university types and classroom teachers should collaborate. I had never looked at our project in that light. It was very gratifying to receive validation for work that does not always receive firm institutional support at home.

While the conference overall was an extremely valuable experience, I do have some suggestions for the planning of future events:

  1. It was very fortunate that one classroom teacher attended (Ed Goldman), but unfortunate that there was only one. I would strongly recommend that future meetings be scheduled at a time when more classroom teachers could attend, and that all of us make far more effort to invite and attract them to these discussions.
  2. This conference focused on children’s cognitive development. An equally important set of questions has to do with how teachers understand and come to understand technology. Research on teachers’ conceptual and procedural knowledge should both inform and be pursued in parallel with professional development.