Motivation and methodology: perspectives from an ongoing research enquiry into students' conceptions of technology
This paper outlines the circumstances which have encouraged me to develop my interest into 'what makes 'technology' technology', from a reflection on my own practice, to a formal investigation into students' conceptions of technology in my own and other schools. Although other studies have been undertaken, these have in the main been concerned with values and attitudes towards technology. The methodology reported in this paper enables conceptions of technology to be captured in a form such that a 'conception statement' can be constructed via a predetermined option matrix. This written 'conception statement' enables an individual to confirm that their conception is correctly recorded. In addition to the written form, conceptions held by a number of individuals can be compared both graphically and numerically. The range and frequency of identical conceptions can be determined for any sample of individuals.
The past decade has seen a rapid change in the teaching of technology in schools in England and Wales. This period of change has resulted in many teachers reflecting on their existing practice. The most fundamental question for this area of the curriculum is a deceptively problematic one - what is technology? This can be easily extended to include a consideration of a range of associated questions:
- What do other teachers consider technology to be?
- What do students consider technology to be?
- What do parents consider technology to be?
- What do SCAA and examination board officers consider technology to be?
and focusing on the situation in my own institution:
- What do I condsider technology to be?
- What do other members in my department team consider technology to be?
- How do our conceptions match those held by the working party which formulated the National Curriculum Technology Order?
These questions have significant implications for the development of a school's policy statement and curriculum model for the delivery of technology, and the way in which the programmes of study are interpreted in the construction of schemes of work. My appointment to a Head of Design and Technology post in 1990 caused me to reflect carefully on these questions. The development of a departmental philosophy, policies, schemes of work and supporting INSET activities were key aspects of this new post as the Order for Technology in the National Curriculum came into force.
Initially my interest in students' conceptions of technology was supported by investigative activity for an Open University MA module 'Educational Evaluation'. This investigation has now developed into a research degree project being undertaken at Loughborough University. This article charts the journey through the Open University evaluation project to the research methodology which has been developed to 'capture' conceptions of technology as part of the research programme at Loughborough University. This programme is now well underway and it is hoped that colleagues may find this account interesting and even perhaps be encouraged to reflect formally on aspects of their own practice. I am sure that the Department of Design and Technology at Loughborough University would welcome the opportunity to support other teachers who wish to pursue such research interests.