ERIC Identifier: ED459371
Publication Date: 2001-00-00
Author: Wonacott, Michael E.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Adult Career and Vocational Education Columbus OH.
Technological Literacy. ERIC Digest.
It's a commonplace today that technology--for good or ill--will play an ever
larger role in our lives at home, at work, and in the community. There is also
some consensus, in an era of educational reform and standards, on the need for
technological literacy and the definition of it. Recently developed standards
for technological literacy identify knowledge, skills, and attitudes all
students need to use and judge technology intelligently and responsibly. This
Digest provides information to K-12 educators about the need and standards for
technological literacy and the steps necessary to implement those standards.
DEFINITIONS AND RATIONALE
What is technology? A definition
of technology literacy might well begin with a definition of technology.
Technology consists of all the modifications humans have made in the natural
environment for their own purposes (Dugger 2001)--inventions, innovations, and
changes intended to meet our wants and needs, to live longer, more productive
lives. Such a broad definition of technology includes a broad spectrum of
artifacts, ranging from the age-old (flint tools, wheels, levers) to the
high-tech (computers, multimedia, biotechnologies). In short, if humans thought
of it and made it, it's technology.
Two important points need to made about such a broad definition of
technology. First, although some writers address only computer and
communications technology (e.g., Selfe 1999), technology is usually defined to
include far more than instructional or communications technology (Custer 1999).
Computers, e-mail, and Web TV are only one part of the array of devices and
procedures we encounter in day-to-day life--everything from digitized kitchen
appliances to transportation systems and integrated manufacturing. Second,
science and technology, although closely related, are different (Sanders 1999).
Science generates knowledge for its own sake, proposing and testing
explanations. Technology, on the other hand, develops human-made solutions to
real-world problems. Of course, science uses technology to generate knowledge
and technology uses scientific knowledge to generate solutions, so the two are
integrally connected; but they are different fields driven by different concepts
and processes (Bybee 2000).
What is technological literacy? Just as technology involves more than
computers and the Internet, technological literacy involves more than hands-on
skill in using technology (Bugliarello 2000). Certainly, knowing how to use
information technology is increasingly important in our knowledge society,
whether we are looking for a job, marketing a service, or shopping for a
product. We must also be able to use other devices, like microwaves, copying
machines, and self-service gas pumps, that have become part of everyday life at
home, at work, or in the community. However, the ability to use technology is
only one part of technological literacy. What are the other parts?
Interpreting a large body of work on technological literacy from a variety of
fields, Gagel (1997) suggested common elements of an enduring, inherent
technological literacy that can last through the fast, continuous changes in
technology. This type of technological literacy would include knowledge about
the details of individual technologies and about the process of technology
development. It would also include a holistic understanding of the historical
and cultural context of technology and adaptability based on initiative and
resourceful thinking. Finally, enduring, inherent technological literacy would
include four generalized competencies: "(a) accommodate and cope with rapid and
continuous technological change, (b) generate creative and innovative solutions
for technological problems, (c) act through technological knowledge both
effectively and efficiently, and (d) assess technology and its involvement with
the human lifeworld judiciously" (p. 25).
These elements are mirrored in other descriptions of technological literacy.
Prime (1998) characterizes technological literacy as consisting of knowledge and
skills. Broad knowledge areas include problems that might be solved with
technology, important technologies, social and cultural effects of technology,
prerequisite knowledge from other disciplines (e.g., math), and the form or
structure of technological knowledge. Skills include both manipulative and
cognitive skills (e.g., evaluation, analytical thinking, creativity, problem
solving, research, analysis, design). Affective skills include the capacity to
act for the right reason and exhibit concern for moral and ethical implications
of technological choice, as well as attitudes such as independence and
interdependence, caring, environmental concern, social responsibility, and
positive work habits.
Why is technological literacy so broad? There is wide agreement that
technological literacy should be defined very broadly, for two reasons
(International Technology Education Association [ITEA] 2000). The range of
technology available today is very broad, as is the range of human problems that
technology might solve; creation of new technologies and extension of old
technologies will only increase the ranges of both. As a result, individuals
need more than just knowledge of current technology and skills in using it; they
also need an additional set of knowledge and skills to accommodate and use the
new and changed technologies of tomorrow. This additional set of knowledge and
skills includes learning-to-learn skills--information, inquiry, independent
learning, media, and group skills (Potter et al. 2000).
Just as important, however, are the knowledge and skills all will need for
informed, responsible decision making as workers, consumers, and citizens
(Bugliarello 2000; Gilberti 1999). Responsible decision making requires an
understanding of the relationship between technology, humans, and the
environment and of the limits of science and technology; the ability to
distinguish between fact and conjecture, to examine the values associated with
technology, and to develop one's own values; and some experience in applying
technology to solve problems. For example, chlorofluorocarbons are great as
refrigerants and foam-blowing agents but they also damage the ozone (ITEA 2000).
And we know the Internet can affect how people interact and communicate, do
business, and entertain themselves, but we don't know what its long-term effect
Some educators are particularly concerned about the articulated belief system
that links literacy and technology, the "grand narrative...[that] science +
technology + democracy (+ capitalism) + education = progress + literate
citizenry" (Selfe 1999, pp. 122-123). Will the powerful, common-sense appeal of
such a belief system lead us to accept without question both its assumptions and
its conclusions? Has the equation of technology with progress blinded us to the
fact that technology may simply reproduce social problems? Great concern is
expressed about unequal access--at home, in the workplace, and in school--to
online telecommunications and technology for women, minorities, and the poor.
Equally, concern is expressed about affluent, highly educated nontechnologists
who are estranged from technology and prefer to leave it to the technologists,
abdicating their own responsibilities as informed citizens, consumers, and
STANDARDS FOR TECHNOLOGICAL LITERACY
These concerns are
reflected in STANDARDS FOR TECHNOLOGICAL LITERACY: CONTENT FOR THE STUDY OF
TECHNOLOGY (ITEA 2000). The product of lengthy and careful collaboration among
educators, engineers, and scientists conducted by ITEA's Technology for All
Americans Project (TfAAP), 20 cognitive and process standards are grouped in 5
The Nature of Technology--characteristics and scope of technology; core concepts
of technology; the relationships among technologies and connections between
technology and other fields
Technology and Society--cultural, social, economic, and political effects of
technology; effects of technology on the environment; role of society in the
development and use of technology; influence of technology on history
Design--attributes of design; engineering design; role of troubleshooting,
research and development, invention and innovation, experimentation in problem
Abilities for a Technological World--apply the design process; use and maintain
technological products and systems; assess the impact of products and systems
The Designed World--medical technologies; agricultural and related
biotechnologies; energy and power technologies; information and communication
technologies; transportation technologies; manufacturing technologies;
Specific, developmentally appropriate benchmarks define precise student
outcomes for four clustered grade levels (K-2, 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12). Extensive
additional narrative provides fuller explanations of the intent of standards and
examples and details of grade-level benchmarks; vignettes illustrate
instructional activities and experiences to implement benchmarked standards.
ITEA calls for technology education for all students, from kindergarten
through high school, with attention to gender, minority, and equity issues. The
association recommends that standards be included in curricula for both
technology education and other subject areas and applied in conjunction with
other national, state, or local standards for technological literacy and other
IMPLEMENTING THE STANDARDS
TfAAP has begun development of
three sets of related standards critical to implementation (Dugger 2000-2001):
assessment standards (good practice in measuring student learning for formative
and summative purposes); professional development standards (for inservice and
preservice teacher preparation); and program standards (framework for a
consistent, articulated, coordinated K-12 technology program).
Another essential step toward implementing the standards is curriculum
development. One statewide effort has developed a model K-12 standards-based
technology education curriculum based on state K-12 technology education
standards and correlated with ITEA standards (Mino et al. 2001). TfAAP's ongoing
summer implementation workshop provided valuable clarification in developing
teacher tasks, student activities, and student work examples based on the
standards. Future plans include Internet dissemination and district-level
professional development; a website will contain a relational database of
classroom activities, searchable by standard or grade level, with examples of
student work correlated to level of competency, as well as model curriculum and
implementation plans for all state standard content areas.
With or without a model curriculum, individual teachers will play a major
role in incorporating ITEA standards into existing programs (Sumner 2001).
Teachers must compare ITEA standards to state, district, program, and course
standards, outcomes, objectives, or goals to determine whether current materials
and activities fit ITEA standards. If existing components fit ITEA standards,
they can be used without modification; a partial fit can be rectified by
modifying existing components. New components need to be developed for ITEA
standards that are not currently addressed.
Teacher education must also play a role in implementing ITEA standards for
technological literacy (Reeve 2001). Courses in technology education should at
least identify which standards for technological literacy they cover.
Eventually, upper-level curriculum and teaching methods courses must provide
detailed knowledge about standards and give students the opportunity to develop
curriculum materials and activities to implement the standards.
In the end, implementing the standards for technological literacy will depend
on leadership and partnership. Teachers, curriculum specialists, and
administrators can and must provide leadership to the educational community;
developing a cadre of leaders is one of the first steps in nationwide
implementation (Dugger 2000-2001). Ultimately, meeting the challenge of
providing the study of technology to all students at all levels will require a
partnership of all parties interested in improving levels of technological
literacy--teachers, principals, superintendents, state supervisors, teacher
educators, students, parents, educational equipment providers and publishers,
engineers, scientists, mathematicians, technologists, and the community at large
(ITEA 2000). And meeting that challenge will require careful attention to issues
of equity and access so that all segments of society can enjoy the benefits of
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