Making the Connection: Technological Literacy and Technological Assessment. (Resources in Technology)
Deal, Walter F., The Technology Teacher
One of the major goals of technology education is to provide a pathway to technological literacy. However, there is much disagreement in defining and describing technological literacy. The definition of technological literacy spans a broad spectrum and includes knowledge about computers and software applications, the capability, to use the tools and materials of technology, and preparation for life-long learning in a technological world.
There are many dimensions in the definition of technological literacy. These include the definitions of technology and literacy. Accordingly, technology may be defined as: "... how people modify the natural world to suit their own purposes. From the Greek word techne, meaning art or artifice or craft, technology literally means the act of making or crafting, but more generally it refers to the diverse collection of processes and knowledge that people use to extend human abilities and to satisfy human needs and wants." (Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology, p. 11)
Technology may also be defined as the application of knowledge, tools, materials, and resources to achieve commercial or industrial objectives and to meet the needs of human wants and desires. This definition of technology, as well as other definitions that may be found in dictionaries, offers little specific insight as to what technology really is.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines literacy as "The condition or quality of being knowledgeable in a particular subject or field: cultural literacy; biblical literacy." (The American Heritage[R] Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Copyright [c] 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.) The implication is that literacy may address specific areas of knowledge such as technology. We may also add that literacy may have various levels. For example, a mechanic or carpenter may reflect one level of literacy, while an engineer or architect may demonstrate other levels of literacy.
Technological literacy may also be defined simply as the ability to use, manage, assess, and understand technology (Standards for Technological Literacy, p. 18). As technology teachers, we should look beyond the immediate benefits of teaching technical skills and knowledge and focus on the concept of technological literacy as a process. Specifically, technological literacy is a process where the learner develops the capability as a life-long learner to use, manage, and assess the impact of technology and understand the technological nature of our society. Part of this process is at times overlooked, and learning how to assess and evaluate the impact of technology on society and the environment represents a significant issue in the definition of technological literacy.
Making the Connection: Technological Literacy and Technology Assessment
Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (STL) identifies and defines 20 standards that every student should know and be able to do to be technologically literate. These standards address a broad scope of technological concepts that include the nature of technology, technology and society, abilities for a technological world, and the designed world. Benchmarks are identified and used at the elementary, middle, and high school levels to articulate knowledge and abilities that will enable students to meet these standards. An examination of STL reveals a very rich perspective of content, philosophy, and strategies for identifying the characteristics and expectations of a technologically literate person.
Standards four, five, six, and seven relate to technology and society. Standard Four--developing an understanding of the cultural, social, economic, and political effects of technology--establishes a context for evaluating and assessing the impacts of technology. In this context, society and technology are mutually interactive spheres. The needs and wants of society affect technological development, and technological development, inventions, and innovations influence the development of society. In essence, changes in technology will cause changes in society. For example, the introduction and acceptance of the automobile as a common mode of transportation changed the mobility patterns of individuals and brought about a host of other related businesses and industries. Roads were built connecting towns and cities, and new businesses were created to support the needs of individuals and automobiles. Parallel changes in society appeared in overt and subtle ways. Isolated towns and communities were no longer remote and isolated, so that family and friends could visit with relative ease. The automobiles became a status symbol of mobility and conversation very early on in its development. Today is not unlike a day in 1910 when people would talk about their new automobiles, their features, and how cool they looked. But back then, who would have thought that the automobile would have made such drastic changes in the way that we work and play today? It is in this context that we can look back in time and assess the impact of technology on society, culture, and environment.
Today, as members of society, we perform "mini-technological assessments" nearly every day, particularly when we purchase a new product or service. We may buy a new CD, DVD or MP3 player, a television, or subscribe to a new online service, and we must consider related technological needs. For example, when buying a DVD movie we must consider whether or not our computer or DVD player will meet the technical requirements necessary to play it. When we purchase a new video game, will it be compatible with the hardware that we have? These issues and decisions are part of a larger picture of the characteristics of technologically literate persons and the assessment process. Though not formal, they are assessments made in how we make decisions about technology.
In a formal sense, technology assessment may be thought of as a systematic process where the identification, analysis, and evaluation of the potential secondary consequences of technology are made in terms of its impacts on social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental systems. Technology assessments are made in a neutral and objective manner to assist in a decision process. Technology assessment is a class of policy studies, which attempts to look at the widest possible scope of impacts on society of the introduction of a new technology (or the extension of an old one) in an intelligent manner. When new technologies are introduced and old ones expanded or retired, there are consequences that are foreseen and unforeseen. As we look at the impacts of technology, both new and old, there are six areas of impact that can be identified--these include social, cultural, political, economic, environmental, and ethical impacts. Within each of these impact areas, there are six dimensions that can be identified. Some of these consequences are desirable and others undesirable. Figure 1 shows these dimensions and relationships of the impacts of technology. For example, the invention and development of cellular telephones have changed the way that we communicate and provided a high degree of mobile communication. These are planned, intended, and desirable features of cell phones. However, there are also unplanned, unintended, and undesirable outcomes such as the emergency communications that were available during the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in New York on September 11,2001. The benefit of cellular communications saved many lives because of its portability and communication connection without wires. Conversely, the use of cellular phones while driving an automobile can be attributed to an increase in accidents. This has caused state governments to enact laws prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving an automobile. These are unplanned, unintended, and undesirable outcomes.
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Relevance Trees and Futures Wheels
There are a number of methods that that can be used to assess the impact and future of technology. These methods include normative forecasting and exploratory prediction such as identified in Table 1. A relevance tree (The Futures Group, p. 1) is an analytical technique that subdivides a broad topic into increasingly smaller subtopics and components. The end result is a visual tree-like hierarchical structure that shows a particular topic in increasingly finer detail. A relevance tree is a systematic analysis that can show the current and future structure of an industry area, domain, or issue. The key concept is the collection and organization of detailed and accurate information that is organized and structured so as to show relationships of possible or probable outcomes.
The Futures Wheel (Glenn, p. 1) is another tool that can be used to represent complex issues and relationships in a highly visual manner. The futures wheel is developed around a central theme and used with brainstorming strategies as a technique to identify current issues and predict future outcomes. When using a futures wheel to assess the impact of technology, a panel or group of experts gathers to examine the social, cultural, political, economic, environmental, and ethical impact areas. Within each of these impact areas the six positive and negative dimensions are addressed in an analytical manner. An example of a futures wheel is shown in Figure 2. The futures wheel is a useful tool in analyzing the broad impacts of technology, as it has a broad focus and is useful as an input to a policy-making decision process.
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Strategies for Teaching
There are many strategies for teaching problem-solving and critical-thinking skills along with assessing the impacts of technology. A futures wheel, such as shown in Figure 3, is one strategy that can incorporate research, critical thinking, and team skills with a minimum of materials and equipment. The major materials are a pencil and paper and access to an information resource such as a library. Assessment themes may be assigned or selected from a group of themes that may relate to local developments, national, or international topics. The activity may begin with a class discussion as to why it is important to understand technology and its impacts. Sample topics may be discussed, such as transportation or construction issues, new developments in biotechnology, or the impact of the Internet. A teacher-facilitated discussion should lead students to consider positive and negative impacts as well as related dimensions such as planned and unplanned outcomes, and desired and undesirable issues. After discussion, the class is divided into teams to begin their futures wheel assessment process, Photo 1. At the conclusion of the assessment activity each team presents its analysis to the class and makes a summary recommendation.
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There are many definitions of technological literacy. Some are directed toward knowledge about computers and computer skills. However, the International Technology Education Association, through its premier publication, Standards for Technological Literacy, provides an excellent definition of technological literacy and a context for teaching and learning about it. STL provides narratives explaining each standard, benchmarks identifying enablers or expectations of students, and a rich series of vignettes illustrating how the standards may be implemented in a classroom or laboratory environment. Standards four, five, six, and seven relate to technology and society. Standard Four--developing an understanding of the cultural, social, economic, and political effects of technology, establishes a context for evaluating and assessing the impacts of technology. The futures wheel critical thinking activity provides a process of analyzing technology and its impacts that is open-ended and challenging. The process emphasizes the assessment process and reinforces the concept of technological literacy.
Sample Learning Activity
Context: Assessing the Impact of Communication Technologies
Communication technologies play a major role in today's global information-based society. Most of the major technical developments in communication have occurred during the last 200 years. The telegraph, telephone, audio and video recorders, television, and satellites are just a few of these major developments. Could you imagine what it would be like to live in a society where these technologies did not exist?
Today it is not uncommon for businesspeople to use pagers, beepers, cellular phones, voice mail, etc. to "keep in touch" with clients and colleagues. These technologies and services have made our world a fast-paced and competitive arena in which to work and play. Gaining an understanding of how these technologies work, as well as their impacts, can assist in giving you a leading edge over the competition in the job market and assist people in making intelligent decisions about new technologies and making good consumer choices.
Congress is currently studying the impacts of the Internet, providing access for school children, taxation, and privacy issues. The Internet represents a new frontier in business and electronic commerce as well as a global information medium. New issues regarding copyrights, freedom of speech, privacy and security, access, and regulation are at the heart of many discussions and debates. Should the Internet be regulated? Should it be part of a social program that provides access to those who cannot afford it? Is there such a thing as the "digital divide?" Should the Internet be a haven for hackers, terrorists, and pornographers? These and many other issues are yet to be resolved.
In a legal suit last year regarding new music and playback technologies, the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) wanted to stop the production of Diamond Multimedia's Rio[R] MP3 player. It was claimed that these nifty little players that will play 11 hours of CD quality music on a penlight battery violate the intellectual property rights of artists and the recording companies. The suit was later dropped. Claims were made that the recording companies are just not keeping up with the technology and using old business models that do not fit the Internet age.
More recently, the recording industry brought a suit against Napster for copyright violations of digital music. This was thought to be a "free" music store! Intellectual property rights and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 will be a big issue in the age of the Internet. How will it affect you or the many companies involved with information and entertainment technologies?
Challenge (task to be completed by assessment teams) Technology assessment may be thought of as the systematic identification, analysis, and evaluation of the potential positive and negative consequences of technological developments. These consequences may include political, social, cultural, economic, environmental, and ethical impacts. A futures wheel may be used to visually describe the potential impacts of a particular technological development or issues. The class will be divided into three groups. The challenge for each group is to prepare a futures wheel that identifies the impacts of the technology, policy, or actions on society. These impacts should include planned, intended, desired, unintended, unplanned, and undesired effects of the Internet on society. Sample assessment areas include:
* Assess the impact of the Internet.
* Assess the impact of DVD disks and players on VCR tapes and players.
* Assess the impact of the AOL-Time/Warner merger.
* Assess the Microsoft vs. the U.S. Department of Justice antitrust case and its significance.
* Assess the impact of computers in the workplace and home.
* Assess the impact of wireless devices (phones, pagers, palms, etc.) in the workplace and home.
* Assess the impact of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 on the distribution and use of communication and information products.
* Apply critical-thinking and problem-solving skills to solve an assessment problem.
* Use collaborative learning strategies to assess the impacts of technology on society.
* Use effective writing and presentation skills to prepare and present an oral report.
* Demonstrate technology skills to prepare a communication product.
Materials and Equipment
Pencil and paper, library access or other reference material, or, optionally, an Internet connection, personal computer, graphics or presentation software, and printer.
Were research skills used in locating information about the impacts of the topic or issue?
Was a futures wheel designed and constructed that includes political, social, cultural, economic, environmental, and ethical impacts? Was a one-page narrative executive summary prepared?
Were the consequences of these issues and technologies explored including planned, intended, desired, unintended, unplanned, and undesired effects of the topic or issue?
Was a collaborative or team approach used in the technology assessment process?
Were effective communication skills used in preparing and presenting an oral report about the impacts of the technology?
Table 1. Techniques for assessing and forecasting the impact of technology. Normative Forecasting Exploratory Prediction * Relevance Trees * Trend extrapolation * Futures Wheel * Individual Genius * Mission Flow Analysis * Delphi Studies * Scenario Development
International Technology Education Association. (2000). Standard Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology Reston, VA: Author.
Glenn, Jerome C., The Futures Wheel, AC/UNC Millennium Project, (www.futurovenezuela.org/_curso/ 15-futweel.pdf), 1994.
The Futures Group, Relevance Tree and Morphological Analysis, (www.futurovenezuela.org/_curso/ 12-tree.pdf), 1994.
This activity can be completed with pencil and paper quite effectively. However, it may be desirable to integrate technological skills by using a computer and applications software (such as Microsoft Word[R] or PowerPoint[R]) and using their drawing capabilities (Corel Draw![R] CAD software) or a web page editor or other available software. Hyperlinks can be added to the "impact bubbles" that are linked to websites or text references that are stored on a local drive. Color may be used to provide a key to each of the major impact areas and subtopics along with lines and arrows to show connection and linking issues. The end result can be a fun and exciting critical thinking activity that results in a highly interactive document that illustrates an understanding of the assessment process and impacts of technology.
Walter F. Deal, Ph.D. is an associate professor in the Department of Occupational and Technical Studies at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.…
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Publication information: Article title: Making the Connection: Technological Literacy and Technological Assessment. (Resources in Technology). Contributors: Deal, Walter F. - Author. Journal title: The Technology Teacher. Volume: 61. Issue: 7 Publication date: April 2002. Page number: 16+. © 2009 International Technology Education Association. COPYRIGHT 2002 Gale Group.
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