Wednesday, April 23, 2014
LITERACY IN TECHNOLOGY

Defining Technological Literacy

One useful way to think about technological literacy is as a component of the more general, or "cultural," literacy popularized by educational theorist E.D. Hirsch, Jr. Hirsch pointed out that literate people in every society and every culture share a body of knowledge that enables them to communicate with each other and make sense of the world around them. The kinds of things a literate person knows will vary from society to society and from era to era; so there is no absolute definition of literacy. In the early twenty-first century, however, cultural literacy must have a large technological component. Technological literacy is a much richer concept than computer literacy, although the two are often confused. Technological literacy can be thought of a comprising three interrelated dimensions that help describe the characteristics of a technologically literate person.

Characteristics of a Technologically Literate Person

A technologically literate person: Knowledge Recognizes the pervasiveness of technology in everyday life. Understands basic engineering concepts and terms, such as systems, constraints, and trade-offs. Is familiar with the nature and limitations of the engineering design process. Knows some of the ways technology shapes human history and people shape technology. Knows that all technologies entail risk, some that can be anticipated and some that cannot. Appreciates that the development and use of technology involve trade-offs and a balance of costs and benefits. Understands that technology reflects the values and culture of society. Compare your Tech Savvy with those who participated in a Gallup poll on technological literacy. Ways of Thinking and Acting Asks pertinent questions, of self and others, regarding the benefits and risks of technologies. Seeks information about new technologies. Participates, when appropriate, in decisions about the development and use of technology. Capabilities Has a range of hands-on skills, such as using a computer for word processing and surfing the Internet and operating a variety of home and office appliances. Can identify and fix simple mechanical or technological problems at home or work. Can apply basic mathematical concepts related to probability, scale, and estimation to make informed judgments about technological risks and benefits.

What is Technology?

Technology is the process by which humans modify nature to meet their needs and wants. Most people, however, think of technology in terms of its artifacts: computers and software, aircraft, pesticides, water-treatment plants, birth-control pills, and microwave ovens, to name a few. But technology is more than these tangible products. Technology includes all of the infrastructure necessary for the design, manufacture, operation, and repair of technological artifacts, from corporate headquarters and engineering schools to manufacturing plants and maintenance facilities. The knowledge and processes used to create and to operate technological artifacts -- engineering know-how, manufacturing expertise, and various technical skills -- are equally important part of technology. Technology is a product of engineering and science, the study of the natural world. Science has two parts: (1) a body of knowledge that has been accumulated over time and (2) a process-scientific inquiry-that generates knowledge about the natural world. Engineering, too, consists of a body of knowledge-in this case knowledge of the design and creation of human-made products-and a process for solving problems. Science aims to understand the "why" and "how" of nature, engineering seeks to shape the natural world to meet human needs and wants. Engineering, therefore, could be called "design under constraint," with science-the laws of nature-being one of a number of limiting factors engineers must take into account. Other constraints include cost, reliability, safety, environmental impact, ease of use, available human and material resources, manufacturability, government regulations, laws, and even politics. In short, technology necessarily involves science and engineering.

The Nature of Technology

The nature of technology has changed dramatically in the past hundred years. Indeed, the very idea of technology as we now conceive it is relatively new. For most of human history, technology was mainly the province of craftsmen who passed their know-how down from generation to generation, gradually improving designs, and adding new techniques and materials. By the beginning of the twentieth century, technology had become a large-scale enterprise that depended on large stores of knowledge and know-how, too much for any one person to master. Large organizations were now required for the development, manufacture, and operation of new technologies. Complex networks of interdependent technologies were developed, such as the suite of technologies for the automobile. These include gas and oil refineries, filling stations and repair shops, tire manufacturers, automobile assembly plants, the highway system, and many more. The government began to play a larger role in shaping technology through technological policies and regulations. The meaning of the word "technology" evolved to reflect these changes. In the nineteenth century, technology referred simply to the practical arts used to create physical products, everything from wagon wheels and cotton cloth to telephones and steam engines. In the twentieth century, the meaning of the word was expanded to include everything involved in satisfying human material needs and wants, from factories and the organizations that operate them to scientific knowledge, engineering know-how, and technological products themselves. As the nature of technology changed, its meaning became more vague, leaving room for misconceptions that sometimes led to questionable conclusions.

Technology and Science

Science and technology are tightly coupled. A scientific understanding of the natural world is the basis for much of technological development today. The design of computer chips, for instance, depends on a detailed understanding of the electrical properties of silicon and other materials. The design of a drug to fight a specific disease is made possible by knowledge of how proteins and other biological molecules are structured and how they interact. Conversely, technology is the basis for a good part of scientific research. The climate models meteorologists use to study global warming require supercomputers to run the simulations. And like most of us, scientists in all fields depend on the telephone, the Internet, and jet travel. It is difficult, if not impossible, to separate the achievements of technology from those of science. When the Apollo 11 spacecraft put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon, many people called it a victory of science. When a new type of material, such as lightweight, superstrong composites, emerges on the market, newspapers often report it as a scientific advance. Genetic engineering of crops to resist insects is also usually attributed wholly to science. And although science is integral to all of these advances, they are also examples of technology, the application of unique skills, knowledge, and techniques, which is quite different from science.

Technology and Innovation

Technology is also closely associated with innovation, the transformation of ideas into new and useful products or processes. Innovation requires not only creative people and organizations, but also the availability of technology and science and engineering talent. Technology and innovation are synergistic. The development of gene-sequencing machines, for example, has made the decoding of the human genome possible, and that knowledge is fueling a revolution in diagnostic, therapeutic, and other biomedical innovations.

"Technically Speaking What is Tech. Lit?". The National Acadenies. 03-25-10 .

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