Proceedings of the First AAAS Technology Education Research Conference

Some Thoughts on Research Methodology in Technology Education

James E. LaPorte
Technology Education
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

I find it a bit disconcerting to consider research methodology outside of the context of the problems to be investigated. Doing so is in some ways analogous to considering the tools we wish to use and then delimiting what we might build to those tools. But one has to start discourse somewhere. I have chosen to focus on a particular area that relates to methodology, the area of assessment.

In the reviews that I have done of the research in other fields, I have noticed that many studies, especially those done in mathematics and science, have focused upon changes in achievement. In other words, set up an experimental group and a control group, give a treatment to the experimental group, and then administer an achievement test at the end to see if there is a difference. Moreover, achievement tests are used to make comparisons, locally and globally, along with a whole host of other purposes, some valid and some not. A significant problem is that there is no standardized achievement test in technology education to conduct such studies. Thus, we have no way to parallel the research in other disciplines, to show that technology education makes a difference, and to make comparisons.

On the other hand, a significant advantage that technology education has is that we do not have a standardized achievement test. We have therefore avoided the trappings and pitfalls of measuring achievement solely based upon written tests. There may be consensus that a laboratory-based, inquiry approach to teaching science is the best approach. But if science achievement is determined by exclusively cognitive, written measures, then inquiry-based teaching is suddenly seen as a nice-to-have rather than an essential approach. The situation is exacerbated when cognitive-only standards of learning are used as the sole yardstick of the success of the teacher and of the schools in general.

Technology education has worked toward becoming a required experience for all students. There are compelling reasons for doing this as a part of the literacy of our citizens and their need to make decisions about technology that are based upon knowledge. This includes not only decisions at the polls, but decisions as consumers and everything that falls in between. But technology is quite different from science, mathematics, and other core school subjects. The difference is that the essence, the very soul, of technology education is doing.

The point here is that a hands-on teaching method is not just a matter of sound pedagogy for technology education. Rather, doing (or practice) forms the core of the content of the field. It thereby sets us apart from other disciplines and subjects in the school. It is what is unique about the field and it represents the unique way in which it contributes to the development of students. Though practice in other fields may be the means to cognitive knowledge, in technology education, cognitive knowledge is often the means to understanding practice. Virtually all fields study about technology. What sets technology education apart is the doing. Imposing paradigms from other fields that do not recognize these unique features will break the back and spirit of technology education.

Instruments to measure achievement in technology education are sorely needed to extend the research agenda in the field. But such instruments must place doing in a position of primal importance.