Proceedings of the First AAAS Technology Education Research Conference

Developing a Research Agenda for Technology Education

W. Tad Foster, Ed.D.
Indiana State University


I would like to begin by thanking the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Fernando Cajas for hosting the Technology Education Research Conference. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet with a diverse group of professionals to discuss critical issues facing the technology education field. I also thank them for ensuring that the proceedings and reflections of the presenters are made available to a larger audience.

Portions of this article are the result of a study commissioned by the Technical Foundation of American (TFA). The results of that study (Foster, 1996a) were first presented at a leadership conference hosted by TFA in Maui, Hawaii. A synopsis of the study was published in The Technology Teacher (Foster, 1996b) shortly after the Maui conference. An updated version (Foster, 1999) was presented at the 1999 annual meeting of the International Technology Education Association.


Two important questions were posed in the invitation sent to the planning committee for the Technology Education Research Conference: "How do we develop a research agenda that can provide support to technology education for all? What should the priorities for research in technology education be?" The authors of this invitation, Gary Benenson (City College, NY) and Fernando Cajas (American Association for the Advancement of Science/Project 2061) noted that there were "strong arguments for technology education" in several national standards documents, but that "technology education has largely failed to materialize as a school subject in the U.S." Hence, the focus of this conference—making a strong case for technology as a part of general education.

In addition to attending the 1999 Technology Education Research Conference, I served as one of four panelists who summarized and reacted to the presentations. I was honored by this opportunity to bring some sense of closure to the discussion. The organizers of this conference further honored me by giving me this opportunity to share my thoughts on the subject of a research agenda for technology education. As we consider a research agenda for technology education that will bolster technology education’s position in general education, we should consider several preliminary points.

First, it would be a mistake to think that there is a void of research in technology education. Foster (1992) and Zuga (1994) were able to identify hundreds of studies in their reviews of recent research activity. However, the majority of what they found were descriptive studies that tended to focus on pedagogy, curriculum, and program evaluation. This research was and still is needed. But it has not resulted in a clear theoretical foundation for the field.

Second, it is naive to think that a sound research agenda and high quality findings will be adequate to result in the acceptability of technology education as an element of general education. To begin with, educational research tends to be ignored except by other researchers (Miller, 1999). Secondly, the quality and reputation of educational programs is in the hands of practitioners (teachers and administrators). Thirdly, inclusion of a particular subject in the K-12 curriculum today is largely a matter of politics and logistics. For example, it would be an interesting study if we eliminated graduation requirements and based the curriculum on specific goals without regard to traditional educational disciplines. Finally, the overall goals of a public education vary greatly from district to district and state to state. Local autonomy and the "status quo" make any attempt to create a national reform in education a slow and difficult process.

Third, whereas technology education needs to strengthen its research base and to develop "evidence" of its positive effect on the education of young people, the same can be said of all subject areas in public K-12 education. The growing number of those who choose to leave school before graduation, of those who stay in school but are not learning, and the growing incidence of alternative education (e.g., home schooling) make it essential for each subject to improve practice and prove its effect.

Setting a Research Agenda

The task of suggesting a research agenda for researchers in technology education is predicated on the assumption that educational research is a worthy endeavor. For faculty of research universities, promotion and tenure is difficult, if not impossible, without a certain number of data-based publications. But this is not the case for most university professors. In fact, one might say that the attitude of many toward conducting educational research is significantly negative (Miller, 1999). Consequently, to proceed one must agree that research is the means by which educators "build a body of knowledge that informs the practice of education" (Borg & Gall, 1983, p. 19) and, as such, is a valuable undertaking.

Most of us would label a medical doctor a "quack" or "seriously behind the times" if her practice were not based on a thorough understanding of the research in her specialty and medicine in general. The tests she chooses to conduct, the analysis of the data, the diagnosis, and the prescribed treatment have all been the subject of a significant amount of research. It has been argued that medicine is not an exact science, but few would argue that it is not science. The question then becomes, is education an art or a science, or both? It is this author's contention that it is both. Good teaching is a "wonder to behold," but good teaching should also be based on a solid theoretical foundation and proven practices. To act otherwise is to agree with the accusation that teaching does not require any specialized knowledge (i.e., anyone can do it or good teachers are born that way). This would be a disastrous line of reasoning for professional educators to take.

For technology educators, the situation is even more serious. Technology education does not enjoy the status of a "required" subject in the public K-12 curriculum. This author contends that research can provide a firm foundation upon which to base a case for its inclusion and to defend its practices. Further, it seems that the traditional model of education (i.e., primarily teacher-centered and lecture based) will remain the driving force in public K-12 and higher education unless we can demonstrate with proof that another model is more successful. Of course, even with that data, a great deal of political effort will be needed at all levels of government.

Previous Works

Foster (1992) noted that the most common topics for graduate research in technology education and closely related fields were program/project evaluation, instructional methods, workforce analysis, curriculum development, and instructional strategy. The majority of the studies reviewed were surveys designed to collect descriptive data. He concluded that there was a need to go deeper; to identify critical issues facing the field and to develop a comprehensive research agenda that employed more powerful research methods.

Based on a review of 220 studies, Zuga (1994) agrees that researchers in the field rely too heavily on the survey method. She goes on to note that most of the research focuses on curriculum and instruction issues to the exclusion of "weightier" issues (emphasis mine). As a result of her findings, she recommends that researchers in the field

  • explore and demonstrate the inherent value of technology education,
  • research cognition and conceptual attainment with respect to technology education,
  • study the ideology and inherent biases within the content and practice of technology education in order to provide content and access for all students,
  • determine and exploit public attitudes and receptivity to technology and technology education, and
  • develop and test curriculum materials in order to implement technology education for all students.

It should be noted that it is highly possible that Zuga and Foster have omitted relevant research in the field because of availability or the selection criteria used. For example, some researchers, who are also technology educators, are doing research in related fields (e.g., cognitive psychology) and may not be publishing in publications commonly thought of as technology education publications. In addition, many master’s theses are never published, thereby making their inclusion very difficult or impossible. These are serious limitations to both studies. However, the studies do provide us with some important baseline data.

In the mid-1990s, the Research Committee of the Council on Technology Teacher Education (CTTE) undertook the task of identifying major categories and topics in need of research. This project was undertaken as a preliminary step of a project jointly funded by the Technical Foundation of America (TFA), the International Technology Education Association (ITEA), and the CTTE designed to promote research in the field by providing funding and direction for a series of research projects. The categories and topics were identified by the committee as a result of a national survey and reviewed by a panel of experts. Figure 1 is a summary of their categories and topics.

[View Figure 1]

This endeavor launched a significant campaign to focus research on critical issues in the field. To date, several studies have been funded. The work of this committee is a major step forward in identifying a clear research agenda for the immediate future. I am a member of the CTTE Research Committee and my subsequent efforts should be viewed as an attempt to extend the previous work of the committee.

Subsequent Research

In 1996, the TFA commissioned a paper on the nature of the research agenda for technology education. Knowing that a single effort would not resolve this issue, two studies were designed and conducted by this author to begin the process of addressing this important issue. The specific objectives were to (1) develop a rank-ordered list of research topics and (2) begin the process of determining a theoretical foundation for research in technology education. The second objective was proposed based on the premise that research in any field must be grounded in theory. In other words, educational research should result in the development of theories that in turn guide future research.


This research was conducted based on the premise that members in the technology education field, especially those regularly involved in conducting or guiding research, are able to identify critical issues within the field and that once identified those issues, questions, and theories should guide future research. One must admit that an argument can be made that focusing research efforts in this manner may have the net result of limiting major advances based on research in new and divergent areas.

A major objective of this effort was to begin the process of identifying the theoretical foundations that support research in technology education. This task is indeed formidable. To this end, seven statements were composed by the author and submitted to the subjects as theories. A strong argument can be made that these statements should be regarded as hypotheses. Taken individually or collectively, they do not carry the weight of a complete theory.

Study One


Data were collected via a literature review, a survey of a selected sample of researchers and leaders within technology education, and a survey of opinions of individuals who subscribe to the Technology Education Internet listserv housed at that time at North Carolina State University.

Based on a review of the literature, a list of 21 topics and seven statements were sent to a sample of 40 individuals (i.e., experts in the field) based on their involvement with graduate study, research, and perceived level of expertise in the subject area. For the 21 topics listed on the questionnaire, using a Likert-type scale, the subjects were asked to circle the degree to which they agreed or disagreed that (a) the topic had been researched adequately and (b) the topic should be a major topic for future research.

The second section of the mailed questionnaire included seven statements, composed by the author, which were described as a "set of theories deduced from the literature." The subjects were asked to circle the degree to which they agreed or disagreed that each statement (a) was a foundational theory for technology education, (b) had been adequately researched, and (c) should be a major concern for future research.

To help overcome the bias created by a small sample of selected individuals that received the mailed questionnaire, a more general questionnaire was sent out via the Internet to subscribers of the Technology Education listserv. A total of 14 additional individuals provided input to the study by completing the modified questionnaire and by providing general comments.


A total of 33 of the 40 mailed questionnaires were returned for a return rate of 82.5%. Table 1 is a summary of the demographic data collected.

[View Table 1]

Using a five-point Likert-type scale, the subjects were asked to respond to a list of 21 research topics as to whether the topic had been adequately research and if it should be considered a major topic for future research. Table 2 is a summary of this data. As can be seen, nine items had a mean score of 4.00 (i.e., agree) or higher on the question of these being a major topic for future research in technology education. In addition, the subjects were given an opportunity to suggest additional topics of research for technology education. The results are summarized in Appendix A. Additional research is needed to validate this supplemental list of research topics.

[View Table 2]

Also using five-point Likert-type scale, the subjects were asked to respond to three questions regarding seven statements of theory that seem to be foundational for technology education. Table 3 contains a list of the seven statements with the mean and standard deviation for the responses given to the three questions.

[View Table 3]

Study Two


The initial study was completed in preparation for the 1996 Technology Education Issues Symposium (June 23–29) hosted by the TFA in Maui, Hawaii. In addition, data were collected during the Symposium. There were 44 subjects (i.e., attendees) representing classroom teachers, supervisors, and university faculty from both research and teaching institutions. The method used to collect data was a modified version of a group facilitation technique pioneered by Kayser (1990).

Under the leadership of a facilitator (the author), the subjects were asked to respond to four questions by working together in small groups. The respondents were asked to generate responses to each question in turn and to discuss each item to reach a minimal level of agreement. Each response was then recorded on a flip chart and discussed by the whole group. The response remained on the list if there was general consensus regarding its accuracy and relevance. The four questions were as follows:

  1. What is the current situation within technology education regarding disciplined inquiry (i.e., research)?
  2. What would be ideal?
  3. What are the roadblocks to realizing the ideal state?
  4. What are the tasks that should be addressed immediately?

Following the conference, the facilitator reviewed the responses and duplicate items were merged or eliminated.


  1. What is the current situation within technology education regarding disciplined inquiry (i.e., research)?
    • Limited "in-depth" research
    • Shrinking population of researchers and limited interest in research beyond current researchers
    • Practices in the field are marginally guided by research
    • Much research is not published
    • Isolated studies that do not build upon one another
    • ITEA no longer has a research communication
    • Heavy teaching loads for university faculty limits time for research
    • Reduction in university faculty and graduate students
    • TFA/CTTE/ITEA has undertaken a "stimulating research" initiative
    • ITEA maintains a database of MS studies
    • New sources of funds are needed
  1. What would be ideal?
    • Adequate financial support
    • Strong theoretical foundation for research in the field
    • Flexible teaching loads for university faculty
    • Integral relationship between teaching and research
    • Research in urban environments
    • Research articles that are partnered with practitioner pieces that translate hard research for practitioners
    • Influx of 100 new people into the field who enjoy writing
    • Intellectually challenging dialogue on technology
    • Empower people in the field
    • Collaboration with researchers outside the field
    • Build a sense of value for research
    • Collaboration with K-12 schools and teachers so their ideas and issues are included
    • Adequate number of places to publish
    • Research actually read and used
  1. What are the roadblocks to realizing the ideal state?
    • Current reward system for university faculty
    • Research questions tend to be focused inward
    • No catalog for research base
    • Research is not viewed as being enjoyable
    • Research is not valued at undergraduate institutions
    • No agency (or individual) to synthesize research in our field
    • No group to coordinate research tasks
    • Perceived value of and need for research is low
    • Researchers in technology education do not partner with diverse agencies to look for broad funding sources
    • Researchers in technology education do not employ the global community
  1. What are the tasks that should be addressed immediately?
    • Seek additional funding
    • Identify a reward system for university faculty that includes research as part of the faculty load (Author’s note: Many subjects pointed out that most technology teacher educators are not employed by Research 1 universities; most of them are employed by universities that were formerly teachers’ colleges. Consequently, the capacity for and emphasis on research is quite different for them.)
    • Nurture collaborations between state departments of education, teacher education faculty, and classroom teachers
    • Network with other research organizations (e.g., American Educational Research Association)
    • Identify potential research candidates
    • Develop a dissemination plan for research in technology education
    • Put descriptors in our research summaries to attract researchers and practitioners from other fields
    • Make research an early and on-going component of undergraduate and graduate teacher preparation (i.e., develop a culture that values research and uses research to guide practice)


Establishing a personal research agenda is no easy task. The researcher must base this decision on many variables (e.g., personal interest, expertise, availability of funding, appropriateness to one’s assignment and so forth), and it is likely that the agenda will change as one’s career unfolds. Translating this process to an entire educational discipline is even more difficult, especially if that field does not have the necessary financial resources to ensure implementation. However, it is possible for the experts in a particular field to help identify critical issues and areas needing research. By making this information available to everyone in the field, hopefully it will be used to guide the future research of those already in the field as well as future graduate student theses and dissertations.

The studies reported above demonstrate that there is a great deal of consensus regarding the need for quality research in technology education to guide future research and practice. The subjects agree that a comprehensive research agenda is needed to lay a firm foundation for the philosophy and practice of technology education. In short, the subjects agree that those in technology education have made their position known but have not adequately supported that position with high quality research.

Regarding a comprehensive theoretical foundation for technology education, it is interesting to note that none of the respondents mentioned the Jackson’s Mill Industrial Arts Curriculum Theory (Snyder & Hales, 1981) as a fundamental theory for the field. One of the seven statements (i.e., elements of theory for technology education) reported in Table #3 above (statement #4) was extracted from this curriculum document. The subjects, on average, were undecided as to whether or not it was a foundational theory for technology education (mean = 3.52, S.D. = 1.20). Aside from the fact that it was developed before the name change from industrial arts to technology education, this document represents a major philosophical work that greatly helped the transition from industrial arts to technology education. One explanation for this finding is that the subjects recognize the need to move beyond the Jackson’s Mill document. The standards document developed by the Technology for All Americans Project is designed to fill that void. If the standards document is to do so, it will be important in the coming years to develop a research agenda that confirms it and continues to develop the theoretical foundation contained therein.

Many educational and learning theories apply to technology education. What is unclear is how and to what extent. For example, what is the interrelationship between technology education and the following: Piaget's theory of human development; Bloom's taxonomy of cognitive development; constructivism; Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences; Rogers's theory of change; and Dewey's argument that learning by doing is central to learning, and so forth.

It should be noted that some of these issues would take researchers into related fields of research (e.g., political science, psychology, sociology, history, and others). This cannot be viewed as a negative. There are many researchers who consider themselves to be in the technology education field who are actively pursuing research agendas in a broader context (e.g., change in educational institutions, cognition and meta-cognition, educational technology, and so forth). It can be argued that their research is outside the field, but it would be extremely shortsighted to ignore their research. Technology educators are first and foremost members of the broader educational community. The findings of research conducted on broader topics/questions are not less valuable to technology educators because they do not happen to directly involve technology education.

Technology education is undoubtedly too large for a single theory, but it is time for a strong theoretical foundation for technology education. The Standards for Technological Literacy document is a good start, but rigorous disciplined inquiry is needed. Those in the field must work to place technology education firmly in the mainstream of educational discourse. We must also work to describe the relationship of technology education to technical and vocational education. In short, what is technology education's role in the general and occupationally-specific education of all students?

What is clear from this study and the discussion to date is that much needs to be done. Specifically, researchers in the field must work to define the theoretical foundation of the field so they can then move on to other issues of importance. The task is immense and there are many issues that need to be addressed. We know that the task will not be completed in a piecemeal, disjointed way. What is still unclear is how to best coordinate research efforts. One obvious place to turn for this leadership is our professional associations.


Research must be made a priority for the field and for our professional organizations. Attention should be given to funding research projects and release time for faculty who are typically faced with a large teaching load. Of course, this will be somewhat of a "Cultural Revolution" for many who have heretofore not been involved with research. In addition, serious attention should be given to including research methodology in undergraduate teacher education programs (Foster, 1994). Typically, we offer one methodology course as a part of the master’s degree in an effort to make students better consumers of research. However, much could be done to start this preparation at the undergraduate level to make teachers not only consumers of research but contributors as well.

The Standards for Technological Literacy will provide a sound starting point for the evolving theoretical foundation for technology education. An aggressive and continuing research agenda is needed to validate and extend the theory as well as demonstrate best practices. Funding agencies like the Technical Foundation of America and the National Science Foundation can do much to help establish a high priority on research and publication.

In addition to the research agenda outlined by the experts surveyed in the studies described above, presenters at the Technology Education Research Conference suggested that the following issues be included: the nature of knowledge and skill; cognition and meta-cognition; pedagogical effectiveness; human development issues; diversity issues; and what constitutes the essentials of education. I agree. The contributions we make to technology education research must also be contributions to the broader need to understand education in general.

Again I want to thank the AAAS for hosting the Technology Education Research Conference and for publishing these proceedings. It is an excellent example of interdisciplinary collaboration. They have made major contributions to forwarding the inclusion of technology education as general education in public K-12 systems.


Borg, W. R. & Gall, M. D. (1983). Educational research: An introduction (4th edition). New York: Longman, Inc.

Foster, W. T. (1999, March 30). A research agenda for technology education. A paper presented at the 1999 Annual Meeting of the International Technology Education Association, Indianapolis, Indiana.

Foster, W. T. (1996b). A research agenda for technology education: A working document. The Technology Teacher, 56(1), 31-33.

Foster, W. T. (1996a). A research agenda for technology education: A working document. A paper presented at the 1996 Technology Education Issues Symposium, Maui, Hawaii, June 23-26, 1996.

Foster, W. T. (1994). A scientist-practitioner model for educators. The Technology Teacher, 54(1), 37, 38.

Foster, W. T. (1992). Topics and methods of recent graduate student research in industrial education and related fields. Journal of Industrial Teacher Education, 30(l), 59-72.

Kayser, T. A. (1990). Mining group gold: How to cash in on the collaborative brain power of a group. El Segundo, CA: Serif Publishing.

Miller, D. W. (1999, August 6). The black hole of education research: Why do academic studies play such a minimal role in efforts to improve the schools? The Chronicle of Higher Education, 45(48), A17-A18.

Snyder, J. F. & Hales, J. A. (1981). Jackson's mill industrial arts curriculum theory. Charleston, WV: West Virginia Department of Education.

Zuga, K. F. (1994). Implementing technology education: A review and synthesis of the research literature (Information Series 356). Columbus, OH: ERIC Clearinghouse on Adult, Career, and Vocational Education.

Appendix A

Additional Topics Organized by Category

Curriculum Topics

  • Articulation from middle school to high school to higher education or employment.
  • Devise models for school curriculum (K-12).
  • Content standards for technology education.
  • How to develop leadership qualities.
  • The role of engineering concepts in technology education.
  • Relationship of science education and technology education particularly with improving/changing school practice.
  • Elementary (K-5) technology education.
  • Technology concepts that are misconceived by children.
  • Where is the line between technical skills and cognitive skills?
  • How is knowledge created in/for technology education?

Diversity Issues

  • Attracting females into technology education.
  • Impact of male dominated classrooms/environment on female students.
  • Ending gender discrimination in technology education.
  • Does technology education teaching environment discourage females from becoming technology education teachers?
  • Diversity in technology education.
  • Issues related to women and other under-represented groups.
  • Identify/explore the positive aspects of technology education for women and other under-represented populations.

Professional Issues

  • Effectiveness of professional associations.
  • Technology education across international boundaries and cultures.
  • Impacts of standards on technology education profession.
  • The effect of research on technology education.
  • Enrollment trends for the next ten years.
  • Effects of technology education on other disciplines.
  • Work lives of technology teachers.
  • New models for working with partners.
  • Case study of change in states like NY, IN, FL or VA.
  • History of technology education.
  • Professional structure and its micro-politics of management.

Instructional Methods/Learning Theory

  • Does significant learning occur as a result of a lab-based program?
  • Problem solving as content and process.
  • Learning theory as a basis for technology education.
  • Value of modular programs.
  • Technology education as the facilitator of integrated educational programs.
  • Facility design.
  • Role of computer-based instruction in technology education.
  • Good models of technology teaching in the K-12 schools.
  • Problem-solving as a delivery mode for technology education.
  • Role of laboratory-based/activity-based learning on the 3 domains of learning.
  • Inside technology classrooms—ethnographies.

Socio-Political Issues

  • Legal/political relationships to technology.
  • Technology and the development of communities.
  • Growth of technological means of control and monitoring (i.e., technology and freedom issues).
  • The shift from labor-based to knowledge-based work and its impact on education.
  • The global marketplace and world-wide standards.
  • Appropriate technology and the role of technology education.
  • Relationship of technology education to the economy.
  • Impact of technology education on entrepreneurial initiatives.
  • Urban education and technology education.
  • Drift toward political conservatism.
  • What is happening in schools versus rhetorical description.

Effectiveness/Value of Technology Education

  • Successful teachers and students.
  • Value of technology education.
  • Relationship of technology education to students' use of technology.
  • Relationship of technology education to students' career choices.
  • What students learn in technology education classrooms.
  • Exemplary technology programs—case studies.

Teacher Preparation/Other Post-Secondary Issues

  • What types of educational training make the best technology education teachers?
  • Devise models for teacher education curriculum.
  • What preparation is needed for Ph.D. programs for future teacher educators.
  • New models for certifying teachers with cross-certification.
  • New models for reorganizing programs on university campuses—interdisciplinary.