Author Technology and Engineering Teacher - Volume 76, Issue 4 - December/January 2017
PublisherITEEA, Reston, VA
ReleasedNovember 15, 2016
Technology and Engineering Teacher - Volume 76, Issue 4 - December/January 2017

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A Proposition to Engineer a Bridge

Now is a time for the association to make an organized effort to engineer and construct a bridge between the two communities of technology and engineering education and industrial education.


Even thirty years after the International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA) retired its discipline name as industrial arts (Foster & Wright, 1996), there are still a significant number of educators who refer to themselves as industrial arts or industrial technology teachers (Spencer & Rogers, 2006). Even more importantly, there are still a significant number who currently teach a traditional industrial-based curriculum within their programs—with full support from their administration and community (Kelley & Wicklein, 2009). However, in terms of representation within ITEEA, there are very few who identify themselves as industrial educators, and since the 1980s there has been a significant decline in the number of industrial-based presentations at the annual conferences (Reed & LaPorte, 2015).


Some may assume the majority of industrial educators have transitioned along with ITEEA away from an industrial-arts-based curriculum and migrated toward technology and engineering education. However, a careful examination of the literature and an even further look at the local school districts would demonstrate a very different story. The literature over the past three decades has confirmed:

  • “This study’s findings indicate that technology educators strongly support traditional industrial arts” (Kraft, 2001, p. 54).
  • “Though no states reported using the term 'industrial arts' or 'industrial education’ for technology education, when asked if traditional industrial arts and technology education operated concurrently, 34 of 39 states reported yes” (Akmal, Oaks, & Barker, 2002, p. 17).
  • “The data seem to suggest that while many support technological literacy, design, and engineering as major components of an undergraduate program, an almost equal number resist this idea and prefer an undergraduate program that revolves around more traditional industrial curriculum organizers” (Daugherty, 2005, p. 57).
  • "It appears that the field of technology education has not moved far from its industrial arts roots” (Kelley & Wicklein, 2009, p. 17).


So if the industrial educators are still in existence, why are they no longer well represented within ITEEA? Have the educators joined another association that more closely aligns with their beliefs and values of technical learning through skills development in using tools and machines? Or are they no longer connected with a national association and instead operating in isolation within their local communities?


ITEEA has made significant gains over the past two decades and should be commended for its work in technology and engineering literacy. Through its recent STEM initiatives, the discipline has made significant progress in its century-long effort to be incorporated into the general education program within school districts, especially at the elementary and middle school levels. This article is not a proposition to return back to the industrial heritage. It is, however, an effort to shine a light on the fact that, over the past three decades, ITEEA has failed to create a connection with its foundational core and in so doing has disenfranchised the very community upon which it was built and thereby limited its possible integration in the local school districts, especially at the secondary level.


There may have been a time when it seemed the industrial curriculum had lost its relevance, and in order to make a successful transition to technology education it was necessary for the organization to make a distinction between the two (Volk, 1996). But now, after 30 years, the realities of our society and the nationwide emphasis on college and career readiness have demonstrated that there are components of the former industrial arts curriculum that still hold significance to local communities. Additionally, the local industrial educators have found a way to persevere even without support at the national level. If the industrial arts-based curriculum and educators are here to stay, now is the time for the association to make an organized effort to engineer and construct a bridge between the two communities of technology and engineering education and industrial education.


Importance of Technology and Engineering Literacy

This is not to suggest that the association should discontinue its efforts regarding technology and engineering education. The curricular focus of STEM is an effective and appropriate effort, especially in the current educational landscape. The emphasis on technological and engineering literacy is a timely and effective vision for the association. But this is a call for the professional community to consider the possibilities of teaching technology and engineering literacy within an industrial education environment. This, rather than previous efforts that expected every educator to abandon industry-based curriculum and replace it with a broad-based technology and engineering curriculum, typically including some type of modular learning environment (Carter, 2013; Weymer, 2002). Though these environments may have worked for some, there are a significant number of educators and districts that prefer an industry-based curriculum and need support with integrating technology and engineering literacy into their current curriculum, rather than recommendations to completely change it into something different.


Recent efforts to incorporate STEM into the discipline are not necessarily new. One of the first formalized curriculums related to engineering education was the Principles of Technology (PT) program developed in the mid-1980s by the Center for Occupational Research and Development in Waco, Texas (Dugger & Johnson, 1992). The PT program attempted to integrate skill-based vocational educational courses with knowledge-based physics courses by utilizing an interdisciplinary approach combining technology, applied physics, and applied mathematics (Dugger & Meier; 1994). The result was the development of a two-year sequence of applied physics courses that taught physics concepts through project-based learning. The PT program was intended to draw students who would normally follow the vocational education track and allow them to learn physics-based principles through hands-on learning opportunities. 


Then, in the 1990s, another comprehensive secondary-level engineering education program was developed called Project Lead the Way (PLTW). Similar to the PT program, PLTW was designed as a curriculum to bridge the gap between traditional technical courses and academic courses. The program combined a high level of academic rigor with hands-on classroom experiences related to the engineering education field (Brophy, Klein, Portsmore, & Rogers, 2008). The PLTW program was designed as a four-year sequence of courses that included foundational courses during the first year, specialization courses during the second and third years, and a capstone course during the fourth year (Brophy et al., 2008). 


ITEEA’s Engineering byDesign™ (EbD™) curriculum was developed through the efforts of its Center to Advance the Teaching of Technology and Science beginning in 2004 (ITEA, 2006). The curriculum has been promoted as a standards-based solution for teaching technology and engineering literacy in Grades K-12 and provides daily projects, activities, and discussions in the areas of construction, manufacturing, information and communication, transportation, and power and energy (Walach, 2015). At the elementary level, the curriculum creates connections between the various STEM areas and emphasizes invention, innovation, and inquiry. At the middle school level, the curriculum allows students to explore the various areas of technology and systems and continue advancing in invention and innovation. Then, at the high school level, the curriculum provides greater depth and experiences in the foundational areas of technology, technology and society, and technological design (ITEEA, 2016).


Though these types of programs have many strengths, they have not necessarily met the needs of the educators and districts that desire to offer an industry-based program and therefore have lacked relevance and appeal to industrial educators. Further, similar to the modular efforts, the programs typically expect a transformational change away from industry-based curriculum, whereas some educators and districts desire to maintain the hands-on, skill-based, and project-oriented nature of the traditional industry-based programs. Though there is evidence of the adoption of the various STEM-based programs across the nation, the strong existence of industry-based programs has demonstrated the need for another solution in order to effectively attract the attention of the industrial-based community.


Engineering a Bridge 

The first steps in the engineering design process are to identify and define the problem (Eide, Jenison, Mashaw, & Northup, 2001). The primary purpose of this article is to highlight the problem that has existed for the past three decades (a disconnect between industrial educators and proponents of technological literacy) and to make a recommendation for ITEEA to begin the design process in engineering a bridge to reconnect with industrial arts and industrial technology educators. The construction of any significant bridge is a complex endeavor, and this proposition to build a bridge between technology and engineering education and industrial education will certainly require a multiyear effort from within and outside of the professional community.


Though not typically stated, another practical component of the "identify" and "define" stages of the engineering design process is a rationale as to whether or not the problem is worth solving.

There is no question that the half-century-old industrial education curriculum needs improvement. But change in education will most likely be evolutionary—as compared to revolutionary—and the proposed changes will need to align with the beliefs and values of the industrial education community. A high school instructor teaching six traditional classes of woodworking may not be giving his or her students the best opportunity to be successful in a future career. However, the students may be learning work ethic, creativity, problem-solving, and industrial skills that will most certainly be beneficial later in life. The key for a sustainable change effort is to begin embedding the project and skill-based nature of traditional shop classes with the science, technology, engineering, and math concepts that are important today—and that is a problem worth solving.


STEM Within an Industry-Based Program

There are a vast number of STEM concepts that could be incorporated into the design and production of a wood dresser, a metal trailer, or a set of architectural house plans. The solution, at least for the industrial community, is not to get rid of the shop projects and replace them with modular-type technologies and learning labs, but instead to develop and provide the professional development needed to learn and teach the STEM concepts related to the shop projects and provide practical examples for how to incorporate the STEM lessons into the industrial arts-based programs.


One area of similarity between industrial arts and technology and engineering education is the emphasis on design. The key difference between the two programs tends to be how the design process is taught and implemented within the curriculum. In industrial arts curriculum, design includes more of a trial-and-error process where the problem is identified, a solution is implemented, and evaluations are made on the success of the solution (Williams, 2010). On the other hand, the engineering design process incorporates more predictive mathematical analysis and optimization, particularly in the areas of statics, dynamics, thermodynamics, stresses, deflections, and loads (Eide, Jenison, Mashaw, & Northup, 2001; Williams, 2010). However, with the proper professional development and support materials, these STEM concepts could be incorporated into an industry-based program while still allowing the learning environment to incorporate traditional skill-based projects in the areas of woodworking, metals, and drafting/CAD.



The curricular focus of technology and engineering literacy is an effective and appropriate effort for ITEEA, especially in the current educational landscape. This call to action proposes that the ITEEA community consider the possibilities of teaching technology and engineering literacy within an industrial-based curriculum and creating the professional development and learning materials needed to assist educators with integrating STEM concepts into an already established industrial arts or industrial technology program. Through this process, ITEEA may find another platform for teaching technology and engineering literacy, and the industrial education community may find the guidance, connectedness, and professional development it has needed for several decades. If this were to be achieved, the association could find a whole new community of educators looking for a national association to connect with and opportunities to engage in professional development. In working together—while embracing differences—the two communities may find they have more in common than they imagined and can accomplish so much more together than they ever could separately. It’s time for the professional community to begin engineering a bridge.



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Kenny Rigler, Ph.D., serves as an assistant professor in the Department of Applied Technology at Fort Hays State University. He currently teaches undergraduate coursework in technology and engineering education, graphic communications, and instructional technology and focuses his research in the areas of technology and engineering education, organizational change, and higher education leadership. He can be reached at


This is a refereed article.