S1-STEM3-4 - Portrayals of Technology Education in Swedish Upper Secondary Education

3. Research Full Paper
Louise Björlin Svozil1 , Arnold Pears1, Lena Gumaelius1
1 KTH Royal Institute of Technology

In Sweden youth select their trajectory for further studies at the age of 15-16. This choice determines both the content of the next three years of their school education as well as laying the foundation of their future professional careers. The importance of this choice is accentuated by the idea of free choice in our late modern society and how every person is responsible for creating her/his own identity.This study takes a social constructivist approach, viewing technology as a societal discourse that is both created within and a constitutive part of society. Images are chosen as a bearer of discourse, analogous to the claim that postmodernist culture can be seen as ‘post-linguistic’.

The rationale for studying the images schools utilise to advertise their technology programs (TE) is threefold. Firstly, they communicate technology education and TE to presumptive pupils who are interested in choosing TE. Secondly, they communicate technology education and TE to all pupils who go to the gymnasium and might ultimately consider a technological trajectory. Thirdly, they communicate technology education at large to whoever makes their digital way past the school website.

We address the following research questions:
1a) How do Swedish gymnasium schools present their preparatory programmes on their websites?
1b) How is TE presented in contrast to other programmes?
2) To what extent do the features revealed emerge as prevalent?
3) How are these visual discourses connected to broader societal discourses surrounding technology?

Thirty schools around Sweden were selected randomly using the website Gymnasieinfo.se. One or two from each county were included in the study so that the ratio between independently and governmentally operated schools offering TE would be geographically statistically representative. Schools that offered many preparatory programmes were prioritized over those that did not. School websites that did not contain images were not considered. Questions guiding the analysis were: Who/what is seen in the picture? What activity is carried out by whom? Who is watching? What emotions can be seen? At whom/what should the spectator look?

Several high level patterns of discourse associated with the portrayal of TE programmes are identified. Artifact: which associates the discipline with concrete items, manifestations of technology as items. Context: where technology appears as an integral part of industrialisation and a fundamental aspect of modern society. Social: expresses a view of the social nature of technological enterprise integrating disciplines and cultures to address global challenges. 

The presence and variation of visual features designed to communicate TE is vast. Some schools present a stereotypical image of technology education as masculine and centered around artefacts. Other schools present images where both gender and activity does not reproduce the prevailing stereotype.

We analysed pictorial data collected from a sample of gymnasium schools in Sweden. Social constructivism and discourse analysis were applied as a lense to reveal underlying communicative patterns. Our analysis identifies several clearly distinct discourses and this combined with a supplementary content analysis allows us to conclude that despite a rhetoric of change, the dominant discourse of technology education remains Artifact-centric. This finding is deeply problematic in the light of prior research on the impact of an Artifact-centric discourse in the engineering education literature, both in terms of gender balance, as well as the broader accessibility of engineering identities for under-represented socio-economic groups.