July 1, 2005
What is Technology Literacy?
In its most basic form, literacy itself can be defined as competency in some area. While literacy has often been defined in terms of print literacy—the ability to read and write—this definition has been expanded as other forms of knowledge have been identified. Literacy itself denotes an essential or necessary quality—something necessary for survival in contemporary society. Similarly, literacy also implies power; those who are literate have access to knowledge and opportunity that those who are not literate do not.
When it comes to technology literacy, then, an obvious first question is “what is technology?” When the International Technology Education Association asked people to name the first thing that came to their mind when they heard the word “technology,” 68% of people surveyed answered “computers” (access the survey here). However, technology is so much more than computers! Depending on who you ask, definitions of technology vary greatly:
The World Bank defines technology as a means of information transfer:
“Mechanisms for distributing messages, including postal systems, radio and television broadcasting companies, telephone, satellite and computer networks.”
The National Institutes of Health focuses on technology as a practical
application: “the application of scientific or other organized knowledge--including any tool, technique, product, process, method, organization or system--to practical tasks. In health care, technology includes drugs; diagnostics, indicators and reagents; devices, equipment and supplies; medical and surgical procedures; support systems; and organizational and managerial systems used in prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation.”
Wikipedia takes a broad approach to defining technology: “the
development and application of tools, machines, materials and processes that help to solve human problems."
Thus, technology may be a tool or machine, like a computer, or it may be a process, such as a method for making steel. However, a key feature of technology is that its end goal is the improvement of human lives.
Returning to technology literacy, then, one might speculate that definitions may vary according to how one defines technology. What follows here is a range of definitions, based on a cursory internet search of “technology literacy.”
The National Academy of Engineering defines technological literacy as an awareness of and an ability to be conversant in the technologies we use every day (from Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More About Technology). More specifically, the NAE suggests that technological literacy includes “an understanding of the nature and history of technology, a basic hands-on capability related to technology, and an ability to think critically about technological development (pp. 11-12). NAE does not directly define technology itself, however.
The International Technology Education Association defines technology literacy as “the ability to use, manage, assess, and understand technology” (2000, p. 9). John Hansen of the Center for Technology Literacy expands this definition of technology literacy to suggest that technology literacy is “An individual's abilities to adopt, adapt, invent, and evaluate technology to positively affect his or her life, community, and environment” (Center for Technology Literacy). Hansen argues that other definitions of technology literacy, such as those of the NAE and the ITEA fail to acknowledge the important role of empowerment in technology literacy. (Perhaps empowerment is a key factor in any definition of literacy itself.)
Hansen further extends his definition with five pillars that define a technologically literate person, worthy of note (and quoted directly) here:
(1) Self-efficacy, in other words, they perceive themselves as capable of learning about technology to achieve specific objectives and extending their influence in the world, even when confronted with unknown and ambiguous situations.
(2) Rational decision-making, in other word, exhibit willingness to: 1) take control of their decisions; 2) invest time and energy in achieving solutions; and
3) take necessary risks to explore divergent options. In short, they would not, nor would they want to, leave these kinds of decisions to others.
(3) Prerequisite knowledge and skills, in other words, have an adequate knowledge and skill base to seek, evaluate, and implement technological solutions. They would be able determine the discrepancy between what they know and what they need to know to achieve appropriate solutions.
(4)Critical application, in other words, rely on their abilities and knowledge to use technology to meet personal and shared goals and to make a positive difference in the world, and
(5) Reflective practice, in other words, they reflect on: 1) how and why they use technology as they do; 2) how they and technology interrelate with their surroundings; and 3) the technological strategies they use to achieve their objectives. (Center for Technology Literacy).
Hansen ultimately concludes that “technology literacy is the extension of human potential and influence through technology, regardless of the specific technology” (Center for Technology Literacy). In exploring technology literacy initiatives, this definition seems like a reasonable place to start.
Posted by chri1010 at July 1, 2005 11:10 AM | Definitions
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