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Keywords:

  • informal learning;
  • media;
  • representation

Abstract

Background

Many adolescents develop ideas about and attitudes toward engineering through their exposure to out-of-school representations of science and technology. Yet few studies have investigated the nature of these representations and found ways to use them in formal engineering learning.

Purpose

This article explores media representations of science and technology that today's adolescents are familiar with. It analyzes how the embedded representations compare with those found in academic engineering and examines how these representations influence students' knowledge of and dispositions toward engineering.

Design/Method

In a design-based research project, a group of high school students personally selected texts (found in magazines, videos, Web sites) related to topics of mechanics and electricity. A constant comparative method was used to analyze student interviews, while discourse analysis was used to analyze their selected texts. The analyses of two exemplary texts, a Motor Trend automobile magazine article and a Mythbusters television episode, are presented to illustrate the main findings.

Results

Several characteristics of out-of-school representations are similar to engineering representations in their explanations of technically complex systems, prototype building, and testing. Out-of-school representations also present contrasting views of technology due to the diverging practices and rhetorical purposes of media professionals. This contrast poses affective challenges for beginning engineering students.

Conclusions

Because out-of-school representations have the potential to shape adolescents' interests, we need to understand how they create both opportunities and obstacles for engineering education and public communication.