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. …