International Journal of Technology and Design Education

, Volume 18, Issue 3, pp 313–317

Marc de Vries, Rod Custer, John Dakers and Gene Martin (eds): Analyzing Best Practices in Technology Education

Sense Publishers, Rotterdam, 2007, 260 pp, ISBN 978-90-8790-174-2 (hardback), ISBN 978-90-8790-174-5 (paperback)


    • Purdue University
    • Utah State University

DOI: 10.1007/s10798-008-9058-4

Cite this article as:
Householder, D.L. Int J Technol Des Educ (2008) 18: 313. doi:10.1007/s10798-008-9058-4

Innovation in technology education is at an all-time high in school programs around the world. Yet creative teachers rarely have an opportunity, even in their local settings, to elucidate the goals and outcomes of their programs, to explain why specific activities are chosen, and to point out the specific student outcomes accomplished in the technology classroom. In this volume, 12 technology educators describe eight unique approaches to introducing learners to intrinsically interesting learning opportunities in their classrooms. These compelling accounts communicate the excitement of student exploration of topics ranging from puppetry to biotechnology, from reverse engineering to the history of technology, and to design and construction problems as diverse as electric motors and community planning models.

The panel of editors includes Marc de Vries, Eindhoven University of Technology; Rod Custer, Illinois State University; John Dakers, University of Glasgow; and Gene Martin, Texas State University. In the introductory chapter, de Vries explains the organizational scheme for this pioneering book and orients the reader to the presentations that follow. The volume is patterned after Analyzing Exemplary Science Education, edited by Steve Alsop, Larry Bencze, and Erminia Pedretti. In both publications, innovative practitioners on the international scene were invited to describe their successful implementation of novel classroom experiences for their students and summarize the outcomes of their work.

Accounts by technology educators

The editors invited 12 innovative and creative technology educators to tell the stories of their educational innovations for Analyzing Best Practices in Technology Education. Their essays resulted in eight first-person accounts of the design and implementation of specific learning experiences for students in local settings in Australia, Colombia, India, the Netherlands, New Zealand, the UK, and the USA. These case studies are exceptional accounts of the wide range of purposes, content, activities, and outcomes that characterize contemporary technology education around the world. Highlights from these reports are included in the following discussion.

Paula Wine and Judy Moreland of the University of Waikato reported on the introduction of 11 and 12 year old students in a New Zealand school to the study of biotechnology. Students first learned to prepare popular fizzy drinks from other cultures—sima from Finland, mint kvass from Russia, root beer from the USA, and ginger beer from the UK. Then, they learned to modify fermentation rates by adjusting the proportions of yeast and sugar and to add flavoring agents to modify the taste of the drinks. Finally, they conducted taste tests to determine which of the modifications of the fermented drinks were most appealing to their fellow students and to their teachers.

Diane Novak, Principal of Highland Park School in Manchester, Connecticut and Patrick N. Foster, Central Connecticut State University described the experiences of students in a large, long-term group project, Building a New Community. Eighty students from four elementary schools participated in a 2-year, open-ended challenge to create a design for a new multicultural, non-discriminatory, ecologically sensitive community of 12,000 to 15,000 population. The students worked in teams responsible for planning and zoning, construction, transportation, and utilities; town meetings of the entire group provided periodic reports of progress. The project culminated in the public presentation of a scale model, the Engineer City Map, of the proposed community to an appreciative audience of parents and guests. The installation of an internet-operable webcam enabled community members to view the model for an additional 4-week period.

Kenneth Pryde of Thomas Muir High School in Bishopbriggs, Scotland provided a detailed description of a major interdisciplinary effort involving all the students and teachers in a study of the now abandoned New Lanark textile mills, the community, and the people who lived and worked there. Each of the school subjects centered upon a specific focus. In technology, students experienced a carefully designed discovery approach to learning about energy conversion, power transmission, and mechanisms used in the enormous water-powered manufacturing setting. The culminating field trip to the actual setting involved all the students and all the teachers, whose combined observations and questions contributed to the development of an integrated understanding of the social and technological influences of the past. In reflecting on the outcomes of the major teaching effort, Pryde noted that the excitement of the first experience could not be replicated in subsequent replications, even though these efforts benefited from the planning and instructional materials developed during the initial experience. It may well be that the best educational practice of all is innovation itself—a lesson easily forgotten as teachers stay in their comfort zones of well organized and familiar instruction!

Electricity, electronics, energy, and power are frequently presented as conventional topics in technology education settings, but they may also be approached in innovative ways. Creative teachers in diverse school settings were successful in exciting their students with challenging classroom activities in these subjects. Tony Cox developed robotics activities for his electronics students in Goodwindi State High School in Queensland, Australian. He supplemented his detailed descriptions of the design challenges involved in completing the assignment with reflections on the learning and teaching processes involved and the close relationships between science and technology in this project. He observed that the boys in his class created robots that resembled cars and trucks, while the girls created robots that simulated the appearance and actions of insects. Rather than continuing with the usual task of repairing and rewinding motors in his 10th grade electricity class, Luis Bernardo Rios Escobar decided to challenge his students to design and construct a didactic three-phase squirrel cage motor in the poorly equipped laboratory available to them in Industrial Technical School Laureano Gómez in Bogota, Colombia. His detailed account of their successful efforts to understand design constraints, to find suitable materials, and to construct their prototype is one of the most creative teaching episodes one can imagine. Thelma Kastl reports on her search for “really awesome” power and energy activities for her students at Ashe County High School, West Jefferson, North Carolina, USA. She describes a series of activities building on conventional content and moving through increasingly complicated challenges to consider the design of spacecraft and launchers. Throughout the instructional unit, students were engaged in intellectual discussion and debate on social and environmental issues related to energy and power.

Two innovative approaches to integrating technology into instruction complete the section on classroom innovation. Josine Frederik and Wim Sonneveld of Delft University of Technology, The Netherlands, reported an interesting way to introduce learners to the connection between design requirements and the shapes of technological objects. Unidentified objects are placed in a “mystery box” which will admit one human hand. Learners are challenged to identify the function of the object in the box, using only their hands to gain information about its size, shape, and composition. Group discussions then consider possibilities for alternative uses of the objects and to the potential for more efficient design of existing artifacts.

Swati Mehrotra and Ritesh Khunyakari of the Homi Bhabha Centre for Science Education, TIFR, Mumba, India, provided delightfully detailed descriptions of their efforts to develop an interesting, motivating activity utilizing technology to counteract the tendency toward passive learning in the middle school setting. They chose puppetry as their medium and developed a unit that involved groups in writing stories to be communicated by puppets, designing and constructing the puppets, and presenting puppet shows. They pilot tested the unit in three diverse cultural settings and were successful in integrating the creative writing with the designing and making activities as well as in successful public performances of the shows.

Expert analyses

Reactions to the practitioners’ descriptions were solicited from a selected group of individuals who are internationally recognized for their expertise in technology education. Each expert was asked to review the reports of the practitioners and prepare an analysis from a specific scholarly perspective. This section has chapters on technological literacy, ethics, culture, design, stakeholders, attitudes, motivation, teaching approaches, social aspects, differentiation, and assessment. While this material may be of more interest to students of the field than to practitioners, it does present unusually penetrating looks at the impacts of the innovative practices in technology education.

It should be noted that several individuals among the expert analysts are closely connected to one of the innovations described in the accounts by teachers. One served both as an expert analyst and as the coauthor of one of the teacher accounts, while several of the expert analysts served as formal or informal mentors of the innovative teachers. Most of the analyses demonstrate obvious expertise in the study of the teachers’ reports and providing assessments, descriptions, or explanations of them.

John R. Dakers, one of the editors, explored the components of technological literacy and commented on the contributions of each of the exemplars toward the achievement of technological literacy. Another editor, Rodney L. Custer, identified ethical issues in technology, delineated key ethical concepts in the essays by technology educators, and urged careful consideration of values and ethics in the reform of technology education.

Chitra Natarajan explored the complex relationships between cultural issues and technology education, pointing out the importance of an awareness of the marked contrasts between the cultures of the home and of the school as well as the differences in cultural expectations between teachers and the students. Michael A. De Miranda reported on the interaction between the outstanding programs and the social settings in which they appeared. In addition, he suggested a number of potential connections that might be made between technology education programs and their social and cultural settings. Judy Moreland and Bronwen Cowie discussed the wide variety of teaching approaches that were employed by the innovative teachers.

Several experts were forced to work from limited coverage of their topics in the case studies. P. John Williams analyzed the often-overlooked role of stakeholders, who are rarely identified by technology educators and pointed out the fact that stakeholder groups wield power, legitimacy, and urgency, which play important roles in the development and implementation of contemporary programs of technology education. Kenneth S. Volk developed a comprehensive review of research on attitudes and pointed out specific examples of the teachers’ specific concerns with the attitudes of learners in their classes. Ann Marie Hill looked at the complexity of student motivation and pointed out the difficulty of isolating motivational influences in the instructional setting. Marie Hoepfl provided a comprehensive review of differentiation as a means of providing meaningful educational experiences for all students in the technology education classroom and focused on Kastl’s work in this area.

Other expert authors had more details available to them and could comment in depth on the features of the different case studies. Robert McCormick investigated the design emphases of each of the practitioner chapters, using a comprehensive overview of design as a base. He noted that the approaches to design described by the teachers in their case study reports should not necessarily be assumed to be the approaches that they would use in all of their work. Instead, he suggested the benefits of utilizing different approaches to design and problem solving in a variety of settings.

Richard Kimbell had responsibility for the final chapter on that topic. His keen analysis of the reports of the work of the teachers is a highlight of the book, surely the sort of study the editors had in mind when they invited experts to review the descriptions of innovative practices. This chapter offers an exemplar of the potential of expert analysis, meticulous attention to detail, careful inference from available data, and wise suggestions of potential courses of action.


The reliance upon practitioner reports of their innovative efforts in the technology education classroom and the analysis of their work by experts who had little if any opportunity for direct observation of the actual classroom activities has intrinsic limits. The details reported in the reflections of the experts vary widely, sometimes building upon a rich review of theoretical and applied research dealing with the topic, sometimes concentrating upon the work of the individual practitioners, and sometimes seriously limited by the lack of attention to the specific perspective in the reports of classroom practice. It is not clear that the editors asked each of the practitioners to provide detail on each of the 11 perspectives in their chapters. However, it is clear that the authors of the chapters in Part I did not do so. When practitioners did not provide the information related to specific categories, the analytical experts were left to infer likely emphases or to ignore those reports in their own reflections. The careful reader of the entire volume is therefore left with the feeling that the experts were working from a spreadsheet that was only partially populated at best—and that a good share of the data they needed to do their work was missing in several instances.

Both the opening section written by practitioners and the later section written by experts have endearing virtues. The values of the often unpolished gems in each section overcome the shortcomings of the sections that are less well developed. In many ways, this publication is the first to call our attention to the vast gaps between what technology educators understand well and do effectively and the areas which have received little attention in our work. All in all, the essays, analyses, and critiques in this small volume illuminate the state-of-the-art of contemporary innovations in technology education. The authors have responded well to the challenges set out by the editors and have distinguished themselves through their cutting-edge scholarship and practice.

As noted earlier, several of the analysts could only touch lightly upon their assigned analytical areas because so little deliberate attention has been given to those concerns in technology education. The virtually complete lack of awareness of the complex array of stakeholders in technology education is a case in point. While Williams pointed out stakeholder possibilities that might be considered by the field, one disturbing fact remains: technology education is overlooking the interests of entire groups of its stakeholders, including many who could be strong allies as technology education seeks a full contributing role in the realm of school subjects needed by all learners.

Perhaps most importantly, the treatment of the larger subject of excellence in innovative technology education programs in the collection of essays sharpens the appetite of the reader for more, much more. It would be highly valuable to have more detailed, thicker descriptions of highly effective classroom practices, perhaps developed by qualitative researchers working directly in the naturalistic setting. Richer images of outstanding instruction could withstand penetrating analyses and lead to the development of a stronger theoretical base for innovation in technology education.

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008