The fields of engineering and technology have changed enormously in the past decade as the world at large has come to depend on electronic technology for a wide range of activities. Consequently, the demand for qualified, well-rounded engineers and a technologically literate workforce is increasing every year. Professional associations and industry have identified a new set of desirable attributes for an engineering and technology workforce: lifelong learning skills, ability to design for the marketplace, ability to work in a complex group effort, problem-solving ability, communication skills, a broad educational background with an ethical perspective, and ability to work in culturally diverse contexts. Because of these changes, pre-engineering and technology education at the secondary school level has undergone major reevaluation. From 1999 to 2001, CCT collaborated with Brooklyn Technical High School (BTHS) to examine how new technologies can be used to support the reform of pre-engineering education. This work was part of the larger CARETECH Initiative, a collaboration of the school's alumni association, faculty, administration, and parents association, funded by the alumni association, that is attempting to reform the school's curriculum to reflect the interdisciplinary and design-related approaches to teaching and learning that are currently called for by professional associations and industry.
Begun as a specialized pre-engineering public high school in 1922, Brooklyn Technical High School combines comprehensive academic preparation with a grounding in science and technology. It is also New York's only public high school that requires students to choose a major area of concentration in their junior and senior years. Current majors include: architecture, aerospace engineering, biochemistry; biomedical science, chemistry, civil engineering, computer science, electrical, electronic and computer engineering, among others. Despite the breadth and discipline of its curriculum, the school recently recognized that it was more a serendipitous amalgam of general Board of Education requirements and surviving historical features than a clearly thought out strategy for developing a uniquely equipped student body for today's technological society. In addition, although a high school dedicated to preparing students for demanding technological careers, the school had yet to broadly integrate computers and networking technologies effectively into the curriculum.
To help the school best address how new technologies can be used to support reform within the school, CCT conducted some preliminary research to better understand the larger context for reform at Tech and the current needs that exist at the school. Through interviews, focus groups, and surveys with faculty, administration, and coordinators of the program, CCT worked toward fulfilling the following goals:
- Conduct a preliminary assessment of the current state of technology use and resources at Brooklyn Tech
- Assess the goals and directions of all technology-related initiatives within the school to ensure that there are bridges among all these programs when it comes to technology integration
- Assess the goals and directions of teachers involved in the CARETECH reform efforts to understand how technology can best support these goals
- Conduct introductory workshops that expose teachers to tools that are aligned with their curricular goals and, more broadly, engineering and technology education.
There are many ways to approach technology planning and integration. One is to work from the top down to create a school-wide technology plan based on assessments of what is currently happening at schools and what technology is available. While this approach is used by many schools to initiate technology planning, it does not ensure that teachers use technology well, since it does not build on the curriculum per se or the particular reform efforts that teachers are most interested in implementing. The approach advocated in this project was to start with staff and schools that are committed to reform and interested in how technology can be used as a tool within the curriculum.