Scientific and Technical Visualization in Technology Education.

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Background

As a direct result of an increasingly technologically integrated society and workplace, national emphasis is being placed on schools to produce technologically literate students. “Technological literacy is the ability to use, manage, assess, and understand technology” (International Technology Education Association, 2000/2002). With the release of the Standards for Technological Literacy (STL) document, the need for America’s students to develop a deeper knowledge of the nature, creation, and potentials of technology and its symbiotic role in human society, as well as develop a broader range of technological skills, is progressively more important. Although technological literacy is not limited to computer-based technical proficiencies, those proficiencies remain integral components in the development of technologically literate students. The effective use of technical and scientific graphic communication promotes higher-order thinking and requires students to master sophisticated computer-based technologies. The result is a deeper understanding of the underlying principles involved in the creation and manipulation of graphics and of the concept or data for which they are communicating. Visualization plays a key role in science for communicating scientific findings in a graphical format. Being able to communicate is the key and is at the heart of literacy–scientific or technological. Scientific and technical visualization (SciVis) utilizes computer graphics, simulation, image analysis, and applied art to transform information into a visual form (Jolls, 1991). Students acquire technical proficiencies while addressing scientific and technological content through SciVis. Utilizing multimedia and hypermedia as forms of project-based learning stimulates students to seek answers through in-depth investigation and problem solving, providing for meaningful learning experiences (Kumar, Smith, Helgeson, and White, 1994). Visualization in technology education involves more than the teaching of mechanical and architectural computer-aided design; it requires a broader approach designed to better communicate ideas and concepts through the use of a variety of powerful graphic tools, design concepts, and integrated disciplinary practices. The ability to break down, problem-solve, and communicate ideas and concepts is the main factor behind visualization as it relates to technology and technological literacy (Clark and Wiebe, 2000). Visualization in Technology Education (VisTE) is a standards-based initiative designed to promote the use of graphic visualization tools among students in Grades 8-12. By using simple and complex visualization tools, students can conduct research, analyze phenomena, problem-solve, and communicate major topics identified in STL as well as topics aligned with national science and mathematics standards. Therefore, in the future, students will come into engineering and technology programs at the postsecondary level already having these basic visual skills, with a need to learn more diverse visual skills related to their discipline. The National Science Foundation awarded the VisTE Project, housed in the Department of Mathematics, Science, and Technology Education at North Carolina State University, funding to develop and pilot-test twelve units of instruction. The units utilize SciVis as the means of conveying technological and scientific concepts to students. The VisTE units are based on benchmarks identified in STL and the National Science Education Standards (National Science Teachers Association, 1996). The instructional units cover topics on agricultural and related biotechnologies, medical technologies, transportation technologies, information and communication technologies, and principles of visualization skills. The twelve units are on three CDs. Each VisTE Instructor CD contains an overview of the unit materials, unit projects, teacher resources, and unit PowerPoint presentations.