Technology and Society

Technology and Society

From the beginning of human culture, technology and society have been closely intertwined. From stone tools to computers and the Internet, technologies have allowed people to shape the physical world and theworld of knowledge to meet their needs and wants, to extend the reach of their bodies, hands, and minds, to span rivers, and to traverse continents. From arrowheads to communication devices, technologies have always been an intrinsic part of civilization, and this is particularly true today, in the early part of the 21st century. This relationship is reflected in all of the national standards documents reviewed for this framework. It follows that awareness of the relationship between technology and society is an essential aspect of technology and engineering literacy.

Essential knowledge and skills for this facet of technology and engineering literacy are divided into four subareas:

  1. Interaction of Technology and Humans;
  2. Effects of Technology on the Natural World;
  3. Effects of Technology on the World of Information and Knowledge; and
  4. Ethics, Equity, and Responsibility.

A fundamental principle in the area of Interaction of Technology and Humans is that societies shape the technologies that are developed and used and that those technologies in turn shape societies. Students are expected to demonstrate their understanding of the positive and negative effects that technologies may have on different aspects of society as well as their capability to analyze historical and current examples of the technology-society relationship using concepts such as criteria, constraints, trade-offs, and consequences. Students should weigh societal and behavioral changes along with purely technological solutions. For example, encouraging the recycling and reuse of household materials may be more cost effective than building new waste facilities.

Effects of Technology on the Natural World takes a nuanced view of the relationship between technology and environmental change, recognizing both the negative impacts of technology on the environment and the ways in which people have used technology to restore and protect natural environments. Students are expected to recognize that technological decisions involve competing priorities and also to consider the consequences of alternative decisions in developing sustainable solutions to environmental problems.

Effects of Technology on the World of Information and Knowledge addresses the increasing access permitted by information technology to expertise and information, the many powerful methods for storage and management of information, the expansion of the capability to express ideas and representations of dynamic phenomena, and the support of distributed teamwork.

The area of Ethics, Equity, and Responsibility addresses one of the most important aspects of technology and engineering literacy—the fact that technological decisions made by some people have significant impacts on others. Many of the thorniest technological issues in society concern effects that cross borders, such as acid rain, and many of them have global implications, such as the attribution and ownership of ideas and products and the effects of fossil fuel use on climate. The focus of this area is on general principles that can be applied when thinking about ethical issues that concern various technologies, although individual assessment items will inevitably tend to focus on a specific technology. The framework identifies the knowledge and skills that students should have for analyzing the issues, gathering evidence that could support multiple perspectives, and presenting alternative solutions to technological issues that have ethical implications. The framework does not take positions on controversial issues.

The following narrative provides an overview of each subarea, followed by tables that detail the knowledge and skills that will be assessed by the 2014 NAEP Technology and Engineering Literacy Assessment in the area of Technology and Society.