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May 1, 1996
Vol. 53
No. 8

In Alberta / Career and Technology Studies: Crossing the Curriculum

An innovative Canadian program for junior and senior high school students blends careers and technology with academic subjects and the fine arts.

Alberta's new Career and Technology Studies (CTS) program updates and expands existing business education, home economics, industrial education, and vocational education into an integrated curriculum for grades 7-12, reorganizing them into 22 strands. Traditionally, these four Practical Arts programs have been separate curriculums at both the junior and senior high levels. Career and Technology Studies courses range from Agriculture to Wildlife, Electro-Technologies to Fashion Studies (see fig. 1). This reorganization restructures the Practical Arts to better address the challenges of a postindustrial society.

Figure 1. Alberta's 22 Career and Technology Strands

  • Agriculture

  • Career Transition

  • Communication Studies

  • Community Health

  • Construction Technologies

  • Cosmetology

  • Design Studies

  • Electro-Technologies

  • Energy and Mines

  • Enterprise and Innovation

  • Fabrication Studies

  • Fashion Studies

  • Financial Management

  • Foods

  • Forestry

  • Information Processing

  • Legal Studies

  • Logistics

  • Management and Marketing

  • Mechanics

  • Tourism Studies

  • Wildlife

A major difference between Career and Technology Studies and the traditional Practical Arts program is the belief that CTS is appropriate for all students (see fig. 2). In the context of this program, the term "career" relates not only to students' occupational aspirations, but also to their personal and community life. The program encourages students to use technology to advance their personal goals and to develop career-specific competencies that support a seamless entry into postsecondary programs and the workplace.

Figure 2. Traditional Practical Arts vs. Alberta's Career and Technology Studies

In Alberta / Career and Technology Studies: Crossing the Curriculum - table

Traditional Practical Arts

Alberta's Career and Technology Studies

Specified timeFlexible time
Organized by gradeOrganized by levels
Provincial and state decision makingSchool-based decision making
Operates on deficit modelOperates on model for success
Separate programIntegrated programs
Limited approved resourcesEncourages resource-based classrooms
Curriculum developed by Department of Education and teachersCurriculum developed by teachers with input from postsecondary schools, business, and industry
Assumes job preparationAssumes personal use, career exploration, career entry, and postsecondary preparation
Emphasis on knowledge and skill development (primary focus on tools and processes)Emphasis on knowledge, skills, and attitudes (focus on developing and recognizing personal growth)

CTS allows students the opportunity to investigate concepts and technology across the entire curriculum, thus providing the application side of core programs and complementing courses such as art, drama, music, and physical education. Kenneth Gray (1991) validates this view of education: The primary goal of integrating academic and vocational education is to make the experience of applied vocational education more accessible to academic students, [and the] advanced academic courses ... more accessible to students concentrating in vocational education (p. 443).

Within a Broader Curriculum

How can teachers help blend in this new curriculum? First, they can assign projects that encourage students to actively seek out connections with other courses. For example, students in Design Studies integrate science and English course content in designing, producing, and presenting an animation. Students and teachers can negotiate different ways to develop this design task into a joint project. At Lester B. Pearson High School in Calgary, students have created science animations on how a virus attacks a cell, and how sound waves work. They have also produced animated scenes from Romeo and Juliet for humanities, television commercials for the Management and Marketing strand, and short stories for French and Spanish.
A second way to make learning more relevant to students' lives is by showing possible applications of the skills being taught. For example, students taking an Information Processing course at Pearson High School apply their skills in keyboarding, word processing, spreadsheets, databases, and graphics to other coursework. They use word processing and graphic skills when writing essays and reports, and spreadsheet and database skills to prepare lab assignments and solve mathematical problems.
Students studying two different subjects, such as marketing research and statistics, can team up on a single project. Designing instruments, collecting and analyzing data, drawing conclusions, and making recommendations engage both sets of students in critical inquiry. Students use technology to present their findings. The integrated project allows students to deepen their knowledge of theory by applying concepts to practical situations. Wiggins (1993) calls this type of learning authentic assessment, that is, the real, "messy" uses of knowledge in context—the "doing" of a subject.
Third, teachers can reinforce concepts from CTS in other subject areas. For example, the grade 11 social studies curriculum asks students to consider what it means to be global citizens with social responsibilities. A Management and Marketing module called "Business in the Global Marketplace" reinforces this topic. By investigating entrepreneurial opportunities in the global marketplace, students link issues related to the economy, environment, and human rights. In the process, they define what it means for businesses to be good global citizens, using the concept of "profit with principles" to reflect and reinforce the learning they acquire in social studies.

Authentic Performance Assessment

Within each module, learner expectations define conditions and criteria for assessing student performance. In order for students to gain high school credit, they must demonstrate their knowledge and skills at a defined level of performance. To help teachers assess these competencies, program staff members, in collaboration with teachers, are developing summative assessment tools and collecting exemplars of student work.
Authentic or performance-based assessments bring integrity to the learning and are flexible enough to encourage teacher and student creativity. For example, a learner expectation in the Management and Marketing strand requires students to apply management systems and strategies by completing a management analysis report. Students must identify a system that needs improvement, such as increasing attendance at sporting events or improving efficiency in the cafeteria line. Students define the problem, offer a rationale for changing the system, develop and implement a plan for change, and monitor the changes. The final report format can be as creative as students wish, including written, oral, video, and other multimedia formats.
Portfolios fit well into the Career and Technology philosophy because they encourage students to take pride in their projects and showcase their competencies. The portfolio helps teachers identify generic competencies (for example, use of critical thinking skills, cooperation, or communication) by demonstrating the level of students' knowledge and skills.
Integrated into all modules is the development of basic competencies in self-management and social interaction. Self-management includes managing learning and resources, solving problems, and being innovative. Social interaction includes communicating effectively; participating in teamwork, leadership, and service; and demonstrating responsibility.
To manage learning, students must take responsibility for their own learning and for developing critical thinking skills; to manage resources, they must seek out, use, and evaluate a variety of resources. To be innovative problem solvers, students must search out opportunities and challenges, take risks, and look at knowledge in new ways. Communicating effectively promotes skills in written, oral, visual, and multimedia presentations. Teamwork, leadership, and service foster the development of collaborative workers who brainstorm ideas, attempt to reach consensus, and critique one another's performance.
As students progress through these stages, they are responsible for demonstrating higher levels of competency. In the early stages, they do not have the knowledge, skills, or attitudes necessary to independently manage their own learning. Teachers need to help them develop strategies for self-direction, time management, and critical thinking.

A Collaborative Process

The Career and Technology Studies program promotes linkages among elementary, junior high, and senior high schools, as well as postsecondary programs and the workplace. The competency-based curriculum allows beginning high school students to demonstrate what they know and can do as a result of their prior experiences. To provide continuous learning experiences for students, schools share information about what they are offering and enact policies that allow students to challenge module learner expectations. For example, students might organize an exit portfolio from junior high that shows evidence of meeting all learner expectations within a module. High schools have an obligation to honor these experiences by giving students advance standing or high school credit for their junior high work.
CTS also actively searches out postsecondary programs that link directly to the 22 strands. Programs may be based in universities, community colleges, or technical institutes; or may be apprenticeship programs or entry-level workplace positions. Aligning the curriculum with these programs supports the premise that technological advancements and societal changes require the lifelong acquisition of new knowledge, skills, and attitudes.
Developing the Career and Technology Studies curriculum has been a collaborative process. A teachers' task force created and revised the draft curriculum for each strand. Then teachers from across Alberta participated in field reviews to validate the curriculum at the classroom level. To ensure credibility, a focus group for each strand—with representatives from schools, universities, technical institutes, business, and industry—gave input throughout the development process. An advisory committee of representatives of postsecondary institutions, business, industry, and school system staff provided feedback regarding all strands. In addition, a communication network received input from teachers and provided them with updates.
Revisions and validation of assessment standards are currently in progress, with the goal of full implementation by September 1997. Panels of teachers are revising conditions, criteria, and standards, and developing assessment tools for use in the program.

New Teaching Practices and Structures

As business education, home economics, industrial education, and vocational education teachers implement Career and Technology Studies, they are finding many more opportunities to create open environments, incorporate critical thinking skills into performance-based activities, learn new technologies, and collaborate with colleagues in developing integrated projects.
A move toward site-based decision making has accompanied the program's implementation in Alberta. School communities select from among the 22 strands and more than 600 modules to build a program that meets the needs of their local community. Approaches to program planning and implementation are as unique and diverse as the learners and their communities.
Career and Technology Studies promotes change in schools by encouraging a shift from isolated Practical Arts programs to a collaborative curriculum relevant to all students. The results-based focus presents a challenge to schools. Changing from time-based credit hours to a competency-based curriculum means allowing students to challenge and surpass what they already know and can do. Instead of being providers of information, teachers become mentors, facilitators, and coaches who encourage students to explore subject content. Teachers must also become actively engaged in the learning process.

Gray, K. (February 1991). "Vocational Education in High School: A Modern Phoenix?" Phi Delta Kappan 72, 6: 437-445.

Wiggins, G. (November 1993). "Assessment: Authenticity, Context, and Validity." Phi Delta Kappan 75, 3: 200-208.

Susan Looman deWijk has been a contributor to Educational Leadership.

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