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Technological Literacy

Towards a reconsideration of technological literacy

By Cathrine Hasse & Jamie Wallace

Technucations working definition of Technological literacy is:

  • ”The learnt ability to gain and combine technical know-how together with other forms of social and cultural understanding to identify and qualify opportunities for the deployment, use and application of new and disruptive technologies within a professional context”.

Background to the working definition

Since the early 1990’s politicians and educational researchers have endeavoured to integrate standards for technological literacy into the so called STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related areas. The term ’technological literacy’ (TL) is related to the attempt to unite the subjects considered as underpinning our technological society in an effort to combat ’technological illiteracy’ within the STEM areas of primary, secondary and higher education as well as of society in general.

A review conducted as part of Technucation project has shown the majority of literature pertaining to the research term ‘technological literacy’ relates to these efforts within primary and secondary education. A large portion of the remaining articles relate to the development of TL within STEM education in vocational or higher education and ultimately the review points to the term being anchored within policy documents discussing politician’s interest in school reform with a particularly TL focus found in USA and Australia.

Common to this complex mix of research and policy orientated literature is the presumption of a predefined curriculum that can satisfy the aims of TL such as STL (Standards for Technological Literacy) or (ITEA 2000,2007). The international organisation for technological literacy (ITEA – International Technology Education Association) defines TL as being able to ‘use, manage, assess, and understand technology’ (ITEA 2007, 9). Much of the research addresses the didactic challenges associated with the implementation of these standards. Similarly Scandinavian and Danish politicians and educational researchers have sought to strengthen TL within primary and secondary schools through a series of educational related initiatives and have in many ways attempted to increase societies general interest in technology and not least policy initiatives with a view to support the use and development of technology. Technucation project aligns with this field although addressing the question of what TL is within every day working life doing so from the basis of new research. ITEA standards point to such a broader understanding of TL that connects it with the commonplace:

"A technologically literate person understands the significance of technology in everyday life and the way in which it shapes the world”(ITEA 2007,33).

However these standards remain detached from any basic research related to what TL is within working life.

Rather than the assumption that TL is associated to a particular competence within a given field, is the assertion that it is something that is learnt and thereby associated within lifelong learning. This coupling between lifelong learning and TL goes beyond the argument of STEM related discussions of curricula implementation and turns the focus towards technology and technological literacy as a process. Consequently everyday learning within the workplace can be seen to play a central role. Accordingly this necessitates a focus upon the interrelations between human-machine (Suchmann 2007), between technologies (Wallace 2010), between technological artefacts and working culture (Hasse 2011), and between sensing and technology (Søndergaard 2009). In other words a TL and technological philosophy able to take into account human relations with technologies (Dakers 2005, 2006, Ihde 2010, Ingerman & Collier-Reed 2011).

In short a TL and technological philosophy able to take into account the human relations with technologies (Dakers 2005, 2006, Ihde 2010, Ingerman & Collier-Reed 2011).

Through our review we have identified a smaller percentage of research papers aligned towards the necessity to research and understand the ways in which TL becomes an everyday practice. This perspective stretching far beyond an understanding of technology as an instrument or tool intended to satisfy predefined and coherent tasks.

Within the STS field there is no direct reference to the term ‘technological literacy’ however there is found a considerable amount of literature providing critical and appropriate discussions towards a newer and more situated understanding of technologies’ interconnections within our everyday lives. Many of these articles suggesting that ‘technological illitaracy’ isn’t simply a matter of the lack of understanding technology itself but rather what technology does to our material and social culture as a result of the complex interactions of our everyday.

We are transforming our world at an alarming rate and in so doing, we are alienating ourselves from it. Our technologically mediated existence is threatening the very democratic process itself. We need to develop a new language, a new literacy, in order to both understand our brave new world, and learn how to live a meaningful existence in it (Dakers 2006, 1).

Given this perspective questions are raised as to the ‘taken for granted’ nature of technological standards referred to in ITEA and further points to the mediation between technology, human life and power that makes it possible to consider technology as a form of ’materialiseret handling’ (Schraube 2009, 297).

Technologies aren’t simply tools but can be interruptive to agents (disruptive technologies) who through creativity or even intimidation reconfigure working life, know-how and human fantasy. Technologies are “evocative objects” (Turkle 2007) and having a deeper understating can permit new questions as to the ways in which technologies arrive at the ability to transform.

In Technucation project we suggest technologies transformational potential as stemming from the cultural learning process attached to an understanding of learning in practice (see for example Chaiklin & Lave 1993, Engeström 2001), that contains both technologies and humans complex interactions as active agents. Technucation builds upon a learning perspective that shifts focus from generally accepted standards and skills towards ‘responsible’ research (Edwards 2002) into the everyday learning processes of teachers and nurses working lives. We examine the ways TL arises through everyday interactions and relations seen from the premise that people learn through, with or from technologies associated with their practice orientated know-how (see Hasse 2011).

The above outlines the background for the projects current working definition for TL intended to be continually reconsidered and assessed throughout the developed the research activity.

”The learnt ability to gain and combine technical know-how together with other forms of social and cultural understanding to identify and qualify opportunities for the deployment, use and application of new and disruptive technologies within a professional context”.

Our reconsideration of the term ’technological literacy’ stems from the wish to account for everyday practice related to what is seen as important and necessary to learn about technology within education. Even though our empirical work centres upon the education of teachers and nurses, our reinterpretation of technological literacy can be seen as equally relevant to other forms of vocational education.


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Revised 21.04.2015