Proceedings of the First AAAS Technology Education Research Conference

Technology Education Research Conference: Reflections

Pam B. Newberry
International Technology Education Association

While compiling my thoughts and reflections on the Technology Education Research Conference, I found myself asking to what degree the goals of the conference were achieved and to what extent the conference changed or inspired participants to take the steps necessary to focus on and to put into action a research agenda for technology education. Consideration of the intended goals of the conference planners, the interactions that took place during the conference, and recognition of the dependence on the contributions of the participants are paramount to answering these questions. The presentations and the live discussions that followed helped to frame my reflections on the conference.

The hosting of the conference by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) was significant in that it provided a unique opportunity for networking and discussion with science and technology educators. Members of AAAS, the International Technology Education Association (ITEA), and related professions discussed critical issues and concerns in an open forum that allowed an exchange of ideas, perspectives, and culture that until now was not considered or exploited.

One of our conference goals was to enable researchers and thinkers to collaborate in the uncharted research area of how children learn technological ideas. Presenters who shared their current studies had an opportunity to present and exchange their successes, failures, and lingering questions with other international science and technology scholars. In retrospect, I believe this goal was achieved. It was a healthy mix made possible by the support of AAAS. The resulting discussions with participants, particularly during the closing session, seemed to reinforce that a research agenda is critically needed. It became apparent that an agenda that deals with how children learn technological ideas is paramount to the future of education in technology and science with such projects as Benchmarks for Science Literacy and Standards for Technological Literacy leading the initiative.

Furthermore, it follows that the legacy begun with the publication of Benchmarks and the much anticipated Standards for Technological Literacy demonstrates that there is a strong need to combine experience and practice with research. This combination aids in the stimulation of change in practice after careful reflection on the outcomes of research. Due to the small size of the conference, we had the luxury of extensive interaction across disciplines, cultures, and nations. It was largely an open event where results were discussed freely and intensively! Aiming the conference at teachers with a strong interest in research and researchers and using formats such as workshops, panel discussions, and presentations was key to successful interaction.

Participants clearly declared and identified needed research areas. It was interesting to note the various listings of those areas. Though a final listing was not identified, the ideas that were gathered will provide much fodder for an intended follow-up meeting at the ITEA conference in the spring of 2000.

The open forums and panel discussions about the variety of methodologies of research available in technological research provide a window for thinking out of the box. The idea of creating a "research culture" that is taking a "journey" in the study of technology is the most important aspect that evolved out of this discussion. From past experience, a research agenda or plan has been proposed and developed for the study of technology education, but there was no considerate effort to make the plan part of a total picture of research for the study of technology. The resulting research was rambled and haphazard as though we were just going "somewhere out there." With a consciously developed "journey" of where we want our "research culture" to move toward in the study of technology, our profession may likewise move forward in developing curriculum and activities that evolve out of alternative paradigms and reflect a global view of learning technology.

Parallel to the theme of the study of technology for all were discussions about the need for more studies, the ideas of constructivism, integration, diversity, effectiveness of the study of technology, and public attitudes toward technology. In addition, the reporting on how students are learning and why they learn was an important contribution to the overall debate of where we need to go from here. We acknowledged the lack of assessment and discussed how to develop effective assessment tools. The questions that were repeated by many reflected a need for the development of realistic experiences from which students can learn. What abilities are core capabilities for a diploma? What is the balance between ‘about’ and ‘how to do’ technology? How do all of these issues and concerns contribute to overall technological literacy?

The conference revealed the idea that there are three ways to advance the course of the field: research, teacher practice and reflection, and policy. We also need to come to terms with the fact that the field is in the making and thus we need to address questions proposed in different forms throughout the conference. Do we want students to understand what technologists do? Do we want students proficient to the point of being technicians, and, if so, to what degree? Do we want students to be creative and capable of making and building? Do we want students to have an understanding of how things work with a mastery of the core concepts and processes? How much time does a student need to learn technology with other students or alone? Where do students have difficulty in learning technology and why?

Of the many special tasks faced by the field of technology, perhaps none is more important than assessment. The day-to-day real world experiences of students typically lead to powerful learning, however, we do not currently provide documentation in a formal manner. In regard to assessment, questions abound. Do we assess performance, knowledge, disposition, or aptitude? How do we put assessments together in order to assess in a real way? The methods of assessment we choose to initiate will reflect what we believe is necessary for students to develop technological literacy and what they should know about technology. The practices and methodologies we propose will also reflect how we consider gender, multiple intelligences, performance, and the inclusion of hands-on tasks.

Due to time restraints and many issues on the table, little time was given to teacher education. Teacher education is a necessary requirement for implementing the study of technology for all. Further education and professional development for teachers is critical to the successful use of standards whether they come from Benchmarks or Standards for Technological Literacy. There are questions for future consideration. To what degree do teachers need to understand and be able to do technology? What subjects should be taught? Who should teach them? Where do teachers have difficulty teaching technology and why? How does the delivery of education through multi-media, long distance, and information technology effect the impact and possibilities of learning about technology? From this standpoint, the preparation of teachers and the contributions of reflected research and practice demands intensive work.

The AAAS Technology Education Research Conference provided a forum to raise many questions that must be synthesized and massaged to formulate a research agenda and course of action. We now must turn our attention to the follow-up meeting at the ITEA conference in Salt Lake City as the next step of planning our "journey." The "journey" cannot begin until we have a map with a planned course. Currently, we have many suggestions on topics we may visit, but we have not considered what we must take, how long we plan to stay, or when we plan to return to a particular topic for further investigation. The conference was a good beginning, but we need more focus on research issues such as the relationship of technology to science, arts, language arts, social studies, mathematics, the understanding of the evolution of design, systems thinking, knowing and doing, and learning how to engage the unengaged. We still need to address the proverbial question of time. What must be removed, replaced, or adjusted from the school curriculum that will provide ample time for all K-12 students to develop technological literacy? And in order to make change happen, we need to identify what causes students to develop "wrong" thinking about technology. Time is an issue not just for the school curriculum, but also for the planning and developing of a research agenda that will enable us to help the world recognize the value of technology. AAAS Technology Education Research Concerence sparked the momentum. We must keep it going.