Engineering and Standards for Technological Literacy

Article excerpt

After reading the title of this article you may be asking yourself, "what are the connections between engineers and technological literacy?" You may be surprised by the level of interest on the part of the engineering community in developing a technologically literate citizenry and by the efforts of several professional engineering associations in promoting technological literacy and Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (STL) (ITEA, 2000).

The Need for Technological Literacy

The recently released report, Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More About Technology, succinctly states the overriding benefit of being technologically literate: "In a world permeated by technology, an individual can function more effectively if he or she is familiar with and has a basic understanding of technology." ITEA commissioned the Gallup Organization to conduct a poll on the level of technological literacy held by adults in the U.S. (The article appeared as an insert in the March issue of TTT). The results indicate that the respondents were very interested, but limited in their knowledge about technology.

In addition, William A. Wulf, President of the National Academy of Engineering, recently stated that we now have a society that is totally dependent on technology, and yet our citizenry is almost technologically illiterate. Dr. Wulf described his three-part definition of technological literacy that includes: 1) a body of knowledge and the artifacts that come from that knowledge, 2) a process that we call engineering, and 3) a process of innovation or commercialization. He went on to explain that technology is the word that is used to describe the body of knowledge and the artifacts that result from that body of knowledge, and the word engineering is used to describe the process. George Bugliarello, Chancellor of Polytechnic University, New York, takes a broad view of the need for technological literacy when he stated, "The issues in our everyday life for which we need technological literacy go beyond knowing how to use computers and other technological devices, essential as that knowledge is. These issues affect how we go about making personal decisions as well as community decisions ... They are issues of risk, safety, cost effectiveness, standards, and tradeoffs, all interwoven. None of these concepts is emphasized in the teaching of the sciences."

Why Do Engineers Care About Technological Literacy?

Schools and school districts cannot keep up with the rapid pace of technological innovation. Engineers are largely responsible for these innovations. The engineering profession sees the clear need for a technologically literate population and supports efforts to enhance the level of technological literacy among all citizens. Standards for Technological Literacy can provide clear direction in improving technological literacy at the pre-college level. Chalmers Sechrist, Professor Emeritus from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, agreed and stated, "Standards for Technological Literacy serves as a guideline and can be used to solve a design problem with multiple solutions. Without these, teachers will not be able to enrich their curricula and promote engineering as a discipline." Jerry Yeargan, engineering professor at the University of Arkansas and 2001 President of ABET, stated, "Establishing Standards for Technological Literacy is not about getting more students into engineering, it is about getting the right students into engineering." In analyzing the effect that Standards for Technological Literacy can have on industry, Harry Roman, research engineer with PSEG Utility in New Jersey, said, "Technological literacy standards will give me the confidence that a student I may hire will have been well-grounded in a system of contextual and integrated problem solving that mimics the real world of business. …