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D. Ethics, Equity, and Responsibility

Design and Systems

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We live in a global society that is increasingly dependent on technology. In the drive to satisfy human needs and wants, people have developed and improved ways to communicate, move people and goods, build structures, make products, enhance ideas, cure diseases, use energy, and provide nutritious and safe food and water as well as numerous other innovations. Technological development has resulted in a vast network of products and systems—often called "the designed world"—that is constantly changing. The study of engineering design and systems is the study of the world in which all humans live and which all students will shape by the decisions they make as workers, consumers, and citizens.

Because students live in a complex technological world, they face decisions every day that involve technology. Some of these are simple choices, such as deciding whether to use paper, plastic, or reusable bags for groceries or choosing which form of entertainment to enjoy, and others are more far-reaching and complex, such as which type of job to choose or what sort of medical treatment to select. How well students are prepared to make those choices depends in part on their understanding of technology. Essential knowledge and skills in this area of technology and engineering literacy are divided into four subareas:

  1. Nature of Technology
  2. Engineering Design;
  3. Systems Thinking; and
  4. Maintenance and Troubleshooting.

Understanding the Nature of Technology requires that one take a broad view. Simply put, technology satisfies the basic human needs for food and water, protection from the elements, health, energy, improved transportation, better and cheaper products, and improved communication. Students are expected to understand that the laws of nature provide limits on the types of technologies that can be developed. No one can create a perpetual motion machine, for example, as machines always require more energy input than they provide as useful output.

Students are also expected to distinguish between science, technology, and engineering, and to recognize that science enables improvements in technology, while technological improvements created by engineers often lead to advances in science. Students should also recognize that some problems can be solved through behavioral rather than physical changes, for example, by encouraging the use of carpools to relieve traffic congestion rather than constructing additional highway lanes.

Engineering Design is an iterative and systematic approach to creating solutions to a broad variety of problems to meet people's needs and desires. The process of design includes defining problems in terms of criteria and constraints; researching and generating ideas; selecting between or among alternatives; making drawings, models, and prototypes; optimizing, testing, evaluating the design, and redesigning if needed; and, eventually, communicating the results.

Systems Thinking concerns the capability to identify the components, goals, and processes of systems. It also entails an understanding of such systems principles as feedback and control and also the ability to use simulations or other tools to predict the behavior of systems.

Maintenance and Troubleshooting are how most people encounter technology on a daily basis—by troubleshooting technologies that malfunction and by maintaining tools and systems so they do not break down. The better a person understands the way something works, the easier it is to maintain it and to track down problems when they arise.

Each of the above sub-areas relates to one of the broad categories included in the ITEEA Standards for Technological Literacy. A table illustrating these connections is presented in appendix F.