Soft Skills in the Technology Education Classroom: What Do Students Need?

Article excerpt

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Technology education teachers assist students in becoming technologically literate through teaching hands-on applications of technology and designing curriculum and learning activities that follow Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (STL) (ITEA, 2000/2002/2007). These standards define the content for the study of technology education in Grades K-12; however, after graduating from high school and leaving the technology education classroom, some students continue to pursue further study in technology, engineering, and related fields at the postsecondary level.

There is more to preparing a student to enter into a college-level program in technology or engineering than is covered by national standards. Students must also possess "soft skills" in order to be successful at the postsecondary level. Soft skills have been defined by various authors as personal characteristics such as: work ethics, positive attitude, social grace, facility with language, friendliness, integrity, and the willingness to learn (Bancino & Zevalkink, 2007; Coll & Zegwaard, 2006: Hmelo-Silver, 2007; Lewis, 2007; Lorenz, 2005; Lucci, 2005). Soft skills typically complement a student's hard or technical skills.

Soft skills are an integral part of careers in technology and engineering. Therefore, there is a need to include these skills in career and technical education program areas (Bancino & Zevalkink, 2007). Bancino and Zevalkink noted that:

   The more soft skills training can be integrated directly
   into technical training programs, the more successful
   the graduates will be in the increasingly demanding
   global economy. While some people consider soft
   skills the intangibles, these skills are quickly becoming
   a requirement that drives tangible and measurable
   increases in personal productivity and directly
   translates to sustainable competitive advantage in a
   global marketplace (p. 22).

Infusing these soft skills into education should begin at an early age. However, which soft skills do secondary technology education teachers need to infuse to help prepare their students for their college careers in technology or engineering? Are some soft skills considered to be more valuable at the postsecondary level than others? Coil and Zegwaard (2206) and Lorenz (2005) have indicated that a positive work ethic, a willingness to learn, a positive attitude, language proficiency, flexibility, self-discipline, and teamwork are soft skills that employers desire in college graduates. However, are these the same soft skills that university faculty desire for their incoming freshmen engineering and technology majors? The study described here was designed to help answer that question.

Research Questions

The following research questions were addressed in this study.

1. Which nontechnical competencies or soft skills related to technology education do university engineering faculty indicate should be developed by high school students?

2. Are these identified technology-education-related competencies/attributes already included in existing national K-12 technology education standards?

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Methodology

This study used a three-round modified Delphi technique as noted by Paige, Dugger, and Wolansky (1996) and Wicklein (1993). Farmer (1995) indicated that the selected Delphi technique is "the most appropriate method for attaining consensus" (p. 2) from a large sample group related to student competencies. The Delphi panel for this study consisted of engineering and engineering technology professors from South Carolina State University, Clemson University, and Purdue University, as well as Project Lead The Way (PLTW) affiliate professors. Faculty from Clemson University and Purdue University were selected because of the strong engineering and engineering technology programs at those land-grant institutions. …