Technology and Engineering Literacy

Technology and Engineering Literacy

Any assessment of students' technology and engineering literacy must start with a clear idea of exactly what technology and engineering literacy means. That in turn requires clear definitions of technology and engineering.

Research shows that most Americans associate technology with computers and related electronic devices. However, while the computer is certainly an important example of technology—and one that plays an especially important role in this framework—historically the term “technology” has had a much broader and deeper meaning, and it is this meaning that is represented in this framework:

  • Technology is any modification of the natural world done to fulfill human needs or desires.

This definition sees technology as encompassing the entire human-made world, from the simplest artifacts, such as paper and pencil, to the most complex—buildings and cities, the electric power grid, satellites, and the Internet. Furthermore, technology is not just the things that people create. It includes the entire infrastructure needed to design, manufacture, operate, and repair technological artifacts, from corporate headquarters and engineering schools to manufacturing plants, media outlets, and distribution networks.

Engineers are the agents for designing the many technologies that modify the world. Engineers may not actually construct artifacts such as calculators, bridges, or airplanes. Engineers develop the plans and directions for how artifacts are to be constructed, as well as design processes such as assembly lines or procedures for clinical trials of pharmaceuticals. The framework uses the following definition of engineering:

  • Engineering is a systematic and often iterative approach to designing objects, processes, and systems to meet human needs and wants.

This framework defines technology and engineering literacy in a broad fashion:

  • Technology and engineering literacy is the capacity to use, understand, and evaluate technology as well as to understand technological principles and strategies needed to develop solutions and achieve goals.

Thus, technology and engineering literacy has much in common with scientific, mathematical, and language literacy. As with these other forms of academic literacy, technology and engineering literacy involves the mastery of a set of tools needed to participate intelligently and thoughtfully in society. The tools are different, but the ultimate goal is the same. One particularly important set of technological tools consists of information and communication technologies, and this framework sees knowledge of these particular technologies as an integral part of technology and engineering literacy.