Literacy and Technology: Reflections and Insights for Technological Literacy
Charles W. Gagel
Bemidji State University
Anyone familiar with the literature of technology education over the past decade should agree that defining technological literacy has proven to be an unexpectedly complex and difficult task. The field of Technology Education alone has expended untold thousands of hours in pursuit of what it means to be literate in technology. This article is based on an interpretive study (Gagel, 1995) that sought to unravel many of the epistemological mysteries that have frustrated the field's efforts at understanding technological literacy. The study investigated the works of over 200 authors and institutions from across 12 different fields and disciplines (viz., anthropology, business, education, engineering, government, history, industry, linguistics, philosophy, science, technology, and theology). This article will highlight some of the study's findings and provide an example of their use in deriving learner outcomes.
Rationale and Method
The study's aim was to bring the profession closer to a shared and deeper understanding of technological literacy. It was posited that the absence of such understanding would only lead to a lack of clarity with goals and methodologies in the classroom when teaching toward technological literacy as a learner outcome. This prospect led to the fundamental research question: How can technological literacy be advanced or measured when a widely accepted understanding of its meaning and structure has not been established?
It was assumed that the problem of definition was rooted in a lack of understanding technology; literacy was thought to be understood. Later, both technology and literacy were found to be the subjects of ongoing debate within several fields of study (Lewis & Gagel, 1992). There was indication that the way technology and literacy were understood depended heavily on one's scholastic tradition. It was reasoned that the controversy surrounding the terms would confound the problem of establishing a widely accepted understanding of their combined expression (technological literacy). Thus, an attempt to reconcile the differences seemed in order.
Reconciliation presented a problem with selecting an appropriate research methodology. Assuming the existence of an intrinsic partiality within each scholastic tradition, a method was needed that would allow each tradition an equal voice in the research, as in presenting evidence in a judicial setting. Here, assorted evidence could be engaged in a critical discourse aimed at establishing a meaning based on reasoned interpretation instead of derived consensus, which may or may not be rationally valid (i.e., we could agree on the wrong solution). Since hermeneutic methods seek "to establish a shared understanding and mutual agreement where these have not existed or to repair mutual understanding and agreement where these have been disturbed" (Radnitsky, 1973, p. 214), the approach seemed well suited for the problem. Thus, hermeneutic principles were used to guide an ongoing dialectical discourse over nearly 300 pages of dissertation research. The aim was to resolve the problem through dialectical synthesis and critical thematic analysis. Given the conversational nature of such inquiry, explanation of the principles and process was woven through the dialogue as the research unfolded. This article is written in a similar manner; however, not having read the research, the reader may find certain aspects of the approach unfamiliar. To address this possibility I will digress for a moment and briefly highlight the process. (Note: For an in-depth discussion of hermeneutic science, see Brown, 1989; Patton, 1990; and Van Manen, 1990. For characteristic writings in hermeneutic practice, see Hollinger, 1985; Levinson & Mailloux, 1988; Mueller-Vollmer, 1985; and Ormiston & Schrift, 1990.)
In dialectical inquiry, the researcher "systematically weighs contradictory facts or ideas with a view to the resolution of their real or apparent contradictions" (Morris, 1981, p. 364). For instance, in a grammatical sense, "Technological Literacy" could be said to emphasize technology, where "technological literacy" could be said to emphasize literacy (more on this later). The matter of emphasis gives basis for a dialectical movement. A dialectical movement refers to the argument that follows from a previous argument. Assuming a synthesis has been achieved in the first argument, the synthesis forms the thesis for the second argument, and so forth. Another position is added and the process continues. In this form of inquiry a conversation is maintained between the researcher (the author), the reader (the research partner), and the text (or notion) being investigated. The dialogue records a pathway to a given premise, thus creating an audit trail for the research partner to follow.
The topics (or texts) to be discussed are selected according to the insight they may offer the conversation. Here, triangulation and the seminal prominence of a work are critical; in short, the work must be recognized as worthy of comment. This study examined the often-cited works of many authors; for example, the philosophers and historians of technology, the scholars and practitioners of the scientific and technical communities, the linguists and theorists of the language arts community, and a selection of theologians, politicians, and anthropologists representing certain ideological perspectives. Important works included: American Association for the Advancement of Science (1989), Dyrenfurth (1991), Egan (1987), Gee (1989a), Hirsch (1988), Jarvie (1983), Savage & Sterry (1990a), Scribner & Cole (1981), Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (1991), Staudenmaier (1985), Zasloff (1983), and many others.
Hermeneutic science then requires that the selected authors be allowed to speak truthfully; that is, the researcher must not construct an interpretation out-of-context. The text must be allowed to speak for itself, literally, without editorial license. Context must also be considered in terms of cultural tradition and historical moment. What is important in one tradition may not be important in another or at a different place in time. Hence, the interpretation must reflect an intensive search for a reasonable meaning. The integrity of the ensuing arguments must be maintained and logically supported. The validity of the process is based on the soundness of the arguments and supporting evidence offered. The researcher must provide evidence on his/her own behalf as well. Evidence of being familiar with the subject and its relevant dimensions establishes one's creditability for offering an interpretation. Finally, the researcher must avoid using obscure language. Here, a well-explicated dialogue that is relevant to the everyday lived experience of those involved is crucial. For a shared understanding and mutual agreement to be established, a clear and well supported dialogue is essential, even though the inherent prolixity is often criticized. Our conversation will now continue with the notion of grammatical emphasis and its dialectic nature. More explanation of the hermeneutic process will follow.
In the research, the matter of emphasis seemed to center on technology or literacy. This should not be taken as one at the exclusion of the other, but rather the degree one is taken proportionately with the other. If scholastic tradition can predict one's tendency to favor a particular view, then Technology Education-by virtue of name alone-would tend to favor an emphasis on technology. This is not a difficult assumption to support. Most of the field's literature reflects an involvement with technology. However, it is the field's treatment of literacy, or lack thereof, that is brought into question by the dialectic. Given the field's station in the general curriculum and its claim of advancing technological literacy (International Technology Education Association, 1990), there appeared to be reason for concern. For instance, by favoring an emphasis on technology, it could be said that one is viewing literacy through technology-colored glasses. If, on the other hand, one favors literacy, one is viewing technology through literacy-colored glasses. This raises the question: Of the two positions, which is more appropriate, thus more defensible, for Technology Education? There is another issue, however, that needs to be introduced before this question can be adequately considered, perceived relevance (Keller, 1983).
The issue of perceived relevance is grounded in a debate centered on the nature of general education. Contrary to popular belief, true general education does not constitute a smorgasbord curriculum of superficial study. The underlying principle is that whatever is included in the curriculum should be generalizable to most all aspects of life and living in modern civilization (Childe, 1956; Hirst, 1975; Phenix, 1964). Perceived relevance, therefore, questions how well a given curricular content serves the aims of general education. For Technology Education, the way it emphasizes technology is brought into question.
Critics of the field's predecessor, Industrial Arts Education, have long contended that the curriculum was too specialized, that it was too vocational, thus not relevant for general education (Kantor & Tyack, 1982). As for appropriate emphasis, perceived relevance seems to indicate that the more acceptable position would be to interpret technological literacy from the literacy side of the expression. This is due, in a hermeneutic sense, to the common understandings of technology and literacy. Technology is commonly associated with tools, products, and little else, restricting it to a realm closely aligned with manufacturing and other forms of work; thus a specialized (vocational) connotation. Literacy, on the other hand, is commonly associated with reading and writing, a readily recognized necessity for life in general; thus a generalized (universal) understanding. Accordingly, the common understanding of literacy appears more clearly aligned with the goals of general education than the goals of technology. Therefore, given the requirements of perceived relevance, the study of technology should not be restricted to the commonly held understandings of technology, as has been its tradition; rather, technology should be cast in a more universal, literacy-oriented setting. Technological literacy, in part, would require the changing of commonly held beliefs regarding the nature of technology; in effect, as Technology Education intends, making a broad, unbiased, widely shared understanding of technology commonplace.
Some may feel that the matter of perspective (emphasis) is merely rhetorical. The distinction, though subtle, lies more deeply with the underlying philosophical predispositions that tend to favor one perspective over the other. These predispositions ultimately color the content and outcomes of a curriculum. Viewing literacy through a technology-colored lens (our colored-glasses analogy) would allow one to perceive only those things that are technology-specific in nature. This would be viewing technology in the context of technology-a narrow field of vision. On the other hand, if technology were viewed through a literacy-colored lens, one would still perceive a large degree of technology (by virtue that it is the center of his/her focus), but because the perspective is from a literacy position, the perception would include other things as well. The effect would be viewing technology in the context of literacy, a broad field of vision.
It is the other things captured in the broader field of vision that promise to align better Technology Education's perspective with those of the general curriculum. Technology Education has shifted its focus in the literacy direction by changing from the industrial arts focus to the technology focus (assuming technology as a broader topic than industry). Still, it could be argued that the field's heritage has tinted its view of technology, therefore violating certain precepts of perceived relevance. In today's climate of educational reform this could be a potentially hazardous position, having far-reaching implications for the future of Technology Education as an autonomous content area. The goal, therefore, is to improve the quality of the filter and lens through which the field views technology. Only then, from the standpoints of rational argument, perceived relevance, and general education, can the outcome of technological literacy be more clearly defined and, in like manner, more reliably measured.
Reflections and Insights
A conversational technique known as phenomenological reflection was used to elicit the themes of the respective topics. The technique engages the conversation in a process of revealing the essential and incidental themes of a notion (or phenomenon). "In determining the universal or essential quality of a theme [emphasis added] . . . [the] concern is to discover aspects or qualities that make a phenomenon what it is and without which the phenomenon could not be what it is" (Van Manen, 1990, p. 107). "(P)henomenological themes may be understood as the structures of experience. . . . [Themes are] the experiential structures that make up that experience" (Van Manen, 1990, p. 79) and provide a means of capturing the essence of what is being studied-they give shape to something shapeless. A theme emerges according to natural variation in the dialogue. Indigenous (frequently occurring) concepts are drawn directly in the form of key words or phrases; or, in the absence of these mostly self-revealing concepts, by sensitizing concepts provided by the researcher and derived from social science theory, the research literature, or issues identified previously within the study (Patton, 1990). These concepts coalesce into the thematic patterns which form the essential or incidental themes of a particular notion. This process of formulating themes and thinking deeply about their relation with a particular phenomenon can be quite revealing. Its purpose is to bring to mind things one would not be cognizant of or otherwise consider.
At this point our attention is set for moving to a presentation of the derived themes of literacy and technology. The reader is reminded that dialectical inquiry assumes that one has participated in the actual research conversation, therefore, having an audit trail to follow. Short of reading (sharing in) the research itself, there is no way to fully replicate the trail. In an article format, it must be assumed.
The Themes of Literacy
The discussion of literacy produced six essential themes: cognitive performance, cultural identity, knowledgeability, language communication, reading and writing, and utility. Without question, the most common characteristic of literacy that qualified as an essential theme was Reading and Writing. It appears that most people find thinking of literacy incomprehensible without reading and writing coming to mind. When asked what literacy is, the common response seems to be merely the ability to read and write; which, as the research revealed, fails to recognize the full nature of literacy. Thinking more deeply about reading and writing often raises the question: What is reading and writing? The likely response would include a reference to communications, or the conveying of an idea through writing. Thinking of literacy without a purpose rooted in communication is difficult. Certain corollaries to this question require that unless the communication is presented in a shared language, particularly a shared set of phonetic symbols (Ong, 1982), communication cannot occur. According to Gee (1989a, 1989b), a shared language is essential to literacy. It is one's use of language that he uses to define literacy. As before, it seems nearly as incomprehensible to think of reading or writing without language and communication as it is to think of literacy without reading and writing. Thus, Language Communications, particularly in the written mode, qualifies as an essential theme of literacy.
Probing deeper, one might ask what is being communicated through this written language? A likely response would include ideas, information, or something held in the mind. What is held in the mind, especially if it can be articulated, is fundamentally the meaning of knowledge. If what is held in the mind cannot be communicated to and understood by another person, Childe (1956) argues that it does not qualify as legitimate knowledge. The research portrayed knowledge in two forms: first, the knowledge being communicated; and second, the knowledge that enables the communication to occur (cf., know-how). Knowledge, in this sense, is an integral part of literacy primarily through its mode of transfer (i.e., knowing how to read and write) and the shared language that conveys the message. Moreover, there is a connotation that affords being literate with possessing higher levels of knowledge, particularly formal knowledge. Given the close association between these aspects of being literate, an essential theme seems apparent, Knowledgeability. Now, to think of literacy and ignore the existence of literate knowledge, even if only a knowledge of reading and writing, would be neglectful of the research.
With language's communicative function, the effectiveness and efficiency by which communication occurs suggests another important theme. Gee (1989a) defined literacy in terms of one's control of language; he did not necessarily specify a written discourse. Control refers to a proficiency in the use of language that allows one to communicate successfully. There are two important themes here. First, being proficient implies a mastery-level of performance. Such mastery requires a refined level of knowledge, comprehension, and reasoning appropriate to the situation. Therefore, it would not be unreasonable to consider one literate in one area yet illiterate in another, even though one is able to read and write. In this manner, literate performance is judged by something other than reading and writing; that is, Cognitive Performance. It is interesting how being literate brings to mind certain expectations of performance that fall beyond the realm of reading and writing.
The second language control theme comes from the nature of the discourse. Several authors (e.g., Gee, 1989a, 1989b; Hirsch, 1988; Langer, 1987; Purves, 1987) suggest that one's ability to use language in secondary discourses (i.e., the discourse of a certain group or context) is determined by the degree of intimacy with the traditions and customs of a said discourse. To identify with and communicate within a given discourse, one must be articulate in the language and knowledge shared by the members of the discourse's community; that is, to successfully communicate within a given field one must be able to use the field's language. These discoveries about literacy make it difficult to think of being literate without considering the context and ability to perform given certain circumstances. How these themes interact and how they tend to identify and empower a person within a given group seems to reveal the components of still another essential theme, Cultural Identity.
The empowerment mentioned above captures a sense of literacy that may be its most universal theme, Utility. Zasloff (1983) argues that literacy opens the mind to new ideas and encourages one to accept and adjust to change more readily. In our context, the opening of the mind is a manifestation of a learned ability to communicate across time, across great distances, and across any number of cultures (e.g., national, political, economic, spiritual, and organizational). It seems to follow that the benefit of this openness is limited by one's ability to comprehend and critique what is being communicated. This ability, it would further seem, is limited by the knowledge, skills, and abilities one already possesses (Schwab, 1964). In short, to make sense of, and benefit from, something, one must possess the wherewithal to understand and capitalize on whatever it is.
Such reasoning may appear to support the psychological restructuring effect often attributed to becoming literate; however, given the evidence which disputes such a claim, hermeneutics requires a more cautious assessment. Reading and writing, by their nature, obviously affect one's thought patterns; after all, both require a certain linear processing. The evidence seems less controversial, however, if reading and writing are viewed merely as alternative channels for the mind to communicate. Thus, through multiple channels of communication and the access to a greater pool of knowledge which they provide, one's understanding of a situation can be enhanced. Therefore, being informed better, one can accept and adapt to new situations more readily.
Recall that Van Manen's (1990) notion of essential themes maintains that they are what make a phenomenon what it is, that without them it would be something different. Recall also that he referred to an incidental theme-a theme nonessential to the makeup of a phenomenon. Consider, however, that being incidental does not mean that an adjunct or minor theme is unimportant. It may be unimportant in the sole consideration of a given notion; yet it may hold some degree of importance if the notion is combined with another. Hence, the pairing of literacy and technology may hold yet unrealized themes which are now only incidental in their singular discussion. A few of these seemingly inconsequential themes will be reviewed while the reader's cognitive disposition is attuned to literacy before moving to the discussion of technology.
Embedded in the conversation is a notion that literacy exists along a continuum; that is, literacy is situational. It can be thought of in terms of skill and time. Certain sociocultural characteristics identify one with a particular group (or interpretive community). Hirsch (1988) describes how knowledge emerges, enters the mainstream, and then passes in terms of being current for any particular place and time. Together, these suggest that if one does not stay current in the knowledge and language of a field, the measure of literacy in that field is short-lived. Thus, there is evidence for an incidental theme which can be labeled, Continuum Ephemerality. Even if literacy is viewed as only reading and writing, the notion of continuum ephemerality still finds merit in the expression, Use it or lose it!
A second minor theme follows from the discussion of literacy's effect on the consciousness. In a discussion of orality and literacy (Ong, 1982), becoming literate was acclaimed for abilities ranging from abstract thinking and logical reasoning to a host of higher-order cognitive functions (the psychological restructuring effect). In discussions of its ambient effects, literacy was described as a learned pattern of thinking; but reading and writing were not necessarily the causal agents. Langer (1987) explained how electronic multimedia could produce many, if not all, of the same effects. Scribner and Cole (1981) found that the alleged literacy effect could also be explained by schooling; thus suggesting that certain thinking patterns may be more attributable to the schooling process than learning how to read and write. In combination these effects suggest a Multimedia Schooling theme.
The apparent impact of multimedia schooling is observable in today's education and employment institutions. The inability to transfer what is learned through traditional instruction to the real world has become the focus of research into learning styles, attention disorders, generalization skills, and any number of phenomena that suggest a problem with instructional practices and evaluation techniques. Could it be that multimedia is providing a less laborious means of learning and, as such, has become the means of choice for young people today? Cressy (1983) explains that from a historical perspective, becoming literate was often considered a laborious and time-consuming task, one not worth the effort unless an immediate benefit were available. If reading and writing are viewed best as channels of communications, then it would seem reasonable to expect a modern view of literacy to require a certain command of these multimedia channels in addition to reading and writing.
There is another incidental theme worth mentioning. Earlier arguments that were considered suggest that literacy unlocks potential by making more information available through a familiarity and ease with the written word. Literacy enhances the ability to learn faster, more quickly, and better. Literacy was explained as an activity and a way of thinking, not merely a set of skills. If these and other similar positions are indeed accurate, literacy appears to possess many attributes of a catalyst. By definition a catalyst is an agent that stimulates or precipitates a reaction, development, or change. Discussions of cultural literacy, orality, language, ambience, and discourse have hinted that such a conceptual theme (Catalyst), may be appropriate for an enlightened view of literacy.
The Themes of Technology
The discussion of technology revealed seven discernible themes: ambience, artifact, evolution, invention, knowledge, praxis, and technique. As with literacy the discussion began with a question: What is technology? Technology is commonly thought of as objects, hardware, or apparatus. The study termed this attribute, Artifact. The kind of artifact would undoubtedly be tools, instrumentation, and the like (the material objects and products of human activity). The nature of the activity became a second theme, Technique. These conceptions were present in nearly every discussion of technology. To exclude them from a conversation on technology would so alter its character that few would recognize it. Doing so would violate basic hermeneutic tenets that require common understandings to be honored. However, artifact and technique appear to represent very limited views of technology; but they are essential themes, nonetheless.
Probing for what undergirds the techniques, another theme surfaces, Knowledge. It is the knowledge that engenders material culture. It is a body of knowledge pertaining to mostly technical matters. Although other than technical matters are often debated, technological knowledge tends to be described in distinctly technical and scientific terms; for instance, technical skill, problematic data, engineering theory, and scientific concepts (Staudenmaier, 1985). While crucial, these components alone do not produce artifacts. Production appears to be the combined effect of technological knowledge, certain preconditions of the human situation, and a cognitive ability to somewhat systematically bring it all together into a final product or accomplished task (Jarvie, 1983; Usher, 1954). It is the questioning of this combined effect that raises the dialogue to the next level of meaning.
One could assume that before one can do, one must know; that knowing must precede doing. The problem with this assumption is that it can be disputed on grounds of mere reflex or dumb luck. While many human advances occur serendipitously, technological advances tend to occur because something is thought possible and someone becomes determined to figuring out how. That person, it should be noted, has not necessarily understood why or if something is possible, nor has the person known exactly how to go about it; but through persistence, ingenious and resourceful thinking, and perhaps a bit of luck, the task is accomplished. The word that seems to capture the essence of this universal endeavor is Invention. People are quite good at inventing ways of securing their needs and fulfilling their wants.
To think about technology without invention coming to mind is now difficult. Not that the word itself always comes to mind, but rather the mode of thinking that characterizes the invention process. This pattern of thinking has been described as the engineering method (Hubka & Eder, 1988; Koen, 1988) and technological method (Pucel, 1992; Savage & Sterry, 1990a 1990b), which are similar strategies for solving mostly technical problems. Certain aspects of these strategies, however, appear to ignore the moment when the elements of a problem's solution coalesce in a phenomenon known as the flash of insight (Reed, 1988; Usher, 1954). While this is largely an unpredictable and unexplained phenomenon, cognitive psychology suggests that the flash does not occur independently; that certain preconditions of knowledge, skills, abilities, and resources need to be in place beforehand. This view draws on the image of "the light coming on" or the "aha" sensation when a workable solution to a problem is realized. The historical record indicates that technological advance is due as much to persistent experimentation through heuristic means as much as algorithmic means. Given the research, of the two problem-solving strategies, the heuristic approach appears to be the more natural process for technology. The algorithmic approach is more scientific.
Another theme derived from the notion that one must know before one can do is Praxis. Here, the relationship between knowing and doing is understood as the application of knowledge and skill. Unlike invention-which tends to exist as an inspired and creative act, and thus is not always efficient or practical-praxis is the purposed and efficient application of practical knowledge (i.e., knowledge of how to apply knowledge). Praxis is the use of know-how (practical knowledge) and a level of mastery (skill) that ensure both effectiveness and efficiency (Kotarbinski, 1965). It is described by Towers, Lux, and Ray (1966) as a knowledge of practice-ways of doing that bring about a desired end through efficient action. Praxis is perhaps the most inclusive and descriptive of the essential themes of technology; it epitomizes those inherent, unchanging, and enduring attributes that identify one as a member of a technologically literate community. It is the nature of these communities or environments that gives cause for another important theme, Ambience.
Most settings have certain characteristic technologies. In combination, these technologies form the technologically textured ecosystem of the human lifeworld described by Ihde (1990). The research portrays this texturing in two forms, neither of which is independent of human experience. One form is the tangible elements of the built environments in which people spend most of their time; for example, the articles, structures, and methods of everyday life. The second is less tangible but no less present. It is the collection of attitudes, values, and motivations that are influenced by the former. Perhaps the most compelling reason for advocating a holistic study of technology is the consequences of a technocentric ideology shaped by such texturing and interplay (Clarke, 1983; Ellul, 1964; Feenberg, 1991; Muller, 1973).
Today's advanced technology is more complex than ever. The ever-changing nature of technology is a good example of what Teilhard de Chardin (1964) referred to as complexification. Others have simply called it technological development. The notion that technology is an evolving force is nothing new. How human existence has gotten to this point is the focus of another question (or theme), What is the nature of technological evolution? What is its mechanism? What are the forces behind this form of Evolution. If technology is simply viewed as artifacts and techniques, how then does it manage to mold itself into more complex forms? How are technological devices (i.e., the Wright Flyer) transformed into the complex devices of today's world-say, a Boeing 747 Jumbo jet? Unlike in the living world, the evolution of technology occurs rapidly, even though its devices are inanimate and incapable of procreation. In the living world, the force behind the theory of evolution is natural selection. The force in the technological world is the satisfying of human needs and wants. The mechanism through which needs and wants are gratified is not the artifacts or techniques themselves. Rather, it is the combination of knowledge and intelligence that created them. The evolution of technology is an evolution of technological knowledge and the cognitive processes that apply it.
Hopefully the reader will agree that thinking about technology without these themes coming to mind has become more difficult. Because technology and literacy have emerged as knowledge-based phenomena, one should not be surprised that they share certain incidental themes as well, for instance, Continuum Ephemerality. This theme will not be elaborated because the same attributes that apply to literacy also apply to technology. Knowledge, another shared theme, holds certain technologic dimensions that warrant further discussion.
Three subordinate themes are incidental to knowledge's place with technology; namely, Emancipation, Sphere of Dependence, and Scientization. The latter is perhaps the most obvious. A number of authors refer to technology as scientized technology, practical science, or scientific technique (Habermas, 1971; Russell, 1972; Skolimowski, 1966). Here, the notion is that science is becoming an almost essential theme of technology. It is so common for science and technology to be spoken of together that it could be argued they have become essential to each other. It could be further argued that a syncretism of science and technology already exists to such a degree that they cannot be meaningfully separated-they are merely different manifestations of the same body of knowledge.
The Sphere of Dependence theme recognizes that current technological knowledge is dependent upon a sphere of supporting technological knowledge. New technology is developed out of, and with, old technology. This is the basis for technological innovation; that is, taking what one knows to work in one situation, modifying it, and reapplying it in a different situation. Although innovation may appear as a simple generalization skill, it is different because it exists at an applied (practical) level instead of at a level of abstract laws and principles. Familiarity allows one to see similarities, for example, between the digging arm of a backhoe excavator and the manipulator arm of an industrial robot; between the fluid motions of a hypodermic syringe and a hydraulic actuator; or between the workings of a snow blower and the grain-head of a combine harvester. The research suggests that innovation can be further argued to include Koen's (1988) heuristic rules, Staudenmaier's (1985) design-ambient integration, and Basalla's (1988) cumulative change theory. Innovation is the seedbed that nurtures invention's flash of insight. The concept maintains, for example, that before nuclear fission could be thought of and put to use, an awareness and understanding of the atomic world were first necessary, and so forth.
The Emancipation theme holds two variations. First, in a liberating role, technology allows humans to adapt to their environment. Second, and perhaps least recognized, is technology's interplay with ideological and political forces. In this, technology can be a conscious or unconscious power. How this power is managed is a function of one's attitude and beliefs about technology (cf., Ambience). Unfortunately, as Muller (1973) observed, too few people recognize that many of today's environmental and social problems are exacerbated by a view of technology that tends to separate it from its human source. This attitudinal dimension of technology has begun to receive attention in other areas of the general curriculum. In Technology Education, until recently, the teaching of this dimension remained a largely uncharted and often criticized practice. Given the world today, an understanding of these ideological and political dimensions of technology is vitally necessary to an informed citizenry-the goal of general education.
Finally, there is a dimension of technology, like literacy, that is culturally universal (DeVore, 1967; Keesing, 1966); that is, the ubiquitous occurrence of technology (like language) in human cultures. Technology and language appear both physiologically and psychologically rooted in the human species (Bickerton, 1990; Chomsky, 1986; Lancaster, 1973). As a species, we can no less avoid being technologic than we can avoid being linguistic. There is an Innateness about both technology and literacy. They are both essential to our nature!
This concludes the reflective narratives. Given the purpose of gaining a deeper understanding of technological literacy, what can now be said about the interrelationships between technology and literacy? Figuratively speaking, if the essential and incidental threads of meaning that run through each notion are woven together, what would be the characteristics of the resulting fabric? Does the interplay (warp and woof) form the fabric of technological literacy? The nature of this new fabric, that is, the combined effects of literacy and technology, will now be considered.
Interpreting Technological Literacy
One of the first questions that comes to mind is, What would a truly hermeneutic treatment require of an interpretation? Given that cultural tradition and historical context are critical to sound hermeneutic practice, what then can be said about technological literacy under these requirements? Pondering such questions leads back to the opening grammatical thesis where literacy is the noun and technological is the restrictive adjective. In light of the research, literacy becomes the conceptual foundation upon which a technological framework can be established for a culturally-and historically-referenced meaning. Cultural tradition speaks of common understandings while historical context establishes the point in time in which the understandings are useful. Such interpretive guidelines help ensure that the final interpretation is perceived relevant to the everyday conduct of life within any given cultural setting at any given time. What then can be said about literacy and its connection to technology?
The research has established that literacy has several interacting themes, which at various times imply different meaning. When spoken of alone, common understanding associates being literate with being able to read and write. Pressed further, a dimension of proficiency, especially with reading and writing, comes to light. At a still deeper level, common understanding tends to recognize a state of being knowledgeable (or well informed). Here, being literate in technology suggests both being knowledgeable in, and having proficiency with, technology. This conceptualization of technological literacy draws on the essential themes of both literacy and technology; that is, literacy's knowledgeability and cognitive performance, and technology's knowledge, invention, and praxis. When considering these dimensions, one is ultimately left with a question of degree. To what extent are these dimensions necessary for being considered literate? As before, cultural tradition and historical context can provide guidance.
Being literate in technology can be extrapolated through common understanding to include a proficiency and knowledge in the articles that provide witness of the literacy phenomenon. That is to say, the technology of writing produces an artifact (the written word) through a variety of other artifacts (sticks, quills, pens, presses) and techniques (hieroglyphs, cursive, print, lithography). Cultural tradition assumes a shared knowledge of written symbols and their meaning. Historical context assumes that the words and phrases formed by the symbols will convey useful information within the cultural tradition's time period, and that the artifacts and techniques of the conveyance were as effective and efficient as the time period's technological development has made possible. Therefore, it could be said that the degree of technological literacy is a measure of one's command (or control) of the technologies that produce the artifacts and techniques. Here, the articles are merely evidence of an otherwise invisible phenomenon. In turn, by comparing performance with the accepted norms of a cultural tradition at a given historical moment, one's degree of technological literacy can be determined; but only for the time period being assessed. This time- and culture-centered phenomenon suggests that a conceptualization of technological literacy takes into consideration the notion of a proficiency and knowledge continuum and the ephemeral nature of its relevance.
In the context of history and cultural tradition, the usefulness of common understandings also exists along a continuum and only for a certain period in time. There are certain curricular implications regarding perceived relevance involved here. What is useful to everyday life, and thus beneficial to most everyone, is changing constantly. The curriculum has a choice of either focusing reactively on the visible effects of change or proactively on the underlying cause of change. Unfortunately, common understanding seems to focus on the artifacts and techniques of technology (the visible effects of change) more than on the knowledge and inventiveness that is technology (the underlying cause of change). Such focus interprets usefulness in terms of hardware and short-term high-visibility programs that appear to produce the desired outcome yet deny the emancipatory power and utility of the underlying praxiological basis of technology. Such a curriculum is marked by increasing costs and decreasing performance because it misinterprets, and thus misrepresents, the effect of technology (the evolution of artifacts and techniques) for the cause that is technology (knowledge, praxis, and invention). Cast in such a mold, the usefulness of technological literacy is hardware- and technique-specific, and thus short-lived and expensive-and difficult to defend as general education. Such an interpretation violates the holistic principles of hermeneutic science when it interprets only a part of technology as the whole.
Emerging from the conversation is a view of technological literacy that is fluid, as opposed to fixed. To maintain relevance its content would evolve as a function of changing cultural traditions. The utility of such a literacy would depend on its ability to adapt and keep pace with constant change. What engenders such an ability appears rooted more in the resourcefulness of the human mind than in the artifacts and techniques available at a given moment. Such resourcefulness seems to reflect the cognitive dimensions of both literacy and technology. Given that utility and adaptability depend heavily on what is known by the individual, the form of knowledge that appears most useful is praxiological knowledge. When it comes to getting things done, it seems safe to say that a good measure of practical knowledge is necessary in everyday life-and thus relevant to a general education. But useful knowledge does not necessarily guarantee adaptability. There appears to be a measure of inventiveness (or technological thinking) involved in achieving such adaptability, and thus resourcefulness.
The notion of technological thinking seems to encompass many of the cognitive elements of technology. Working in combination with both literate and technological knowledge, this form of thought could be argued as the programming of the technically thinking mind. This thinking is a habit of mind that analyzes the variables of a given problem; accesses appropriate other knowledge, artifacts, and techniques, and reconfigures them for the present situation; and ultimately creates the preconditions required for the flash of insight to occur. One being so inclined has a strong tendency to scrutinize how things and systems are made and how they work, which is a characteristic behavior of a technologist.
This pattern of thinking appears to rely more on the heuristic methods of praxiology than on the algorithmic methods of mathematics and science. As implied earlier, heuristics seem to be the more natural mode of technological problem-solving. This kind of knowledge, however, is not well represented in the curriculum. Its rule-of-thumb nature seems to suffer the same prejudice as orality. In today's world, it would seem that a holistic interpretation of technological literacy calls for an understanding of both scientific and technologic methods of solving problems.
As for the place of ambience and cultural identity in technological literacy, their combination suggests that a certain ecological sensitivity be demonstrated by one so literate. Thus, a sense of ecological responsibility on the part of every citizen is a vital part of technological literacy: a form of technological citizenship in which one accepts certain rights and obligations regarding the introduction of new technology (1992). It is the form of human ecology that recognizes the relationships between human groups and their physical and social environments. It also acknowledges the potential detrimental effects of modern civilization on both environments and seeks to avoid or correct such effects.
The technological literacy emerging here is reflective of Hirsch's (1988) Cultural Literacy in that it is intended for every citizen. It also shares the problem that Hirsch had with capturing the essential elements of scientific and technological knowledge. With the ever-increasing expansion of today's scientific and technological knowledge, an exhaustive listing of content for either would be an admirable achievement. But, as Hirsch concluded, such content would far surpass the constructs of common knowledge and have limited utility due to its fleeting nature. So, where does this lead in trying to determine a meaningful knowledge base and performance criteria for technological literacy?
First, every citizen should benefit from the effort. Given the omnipresent nature of technology and the ideals of a truly general education, the common needs and wants of all citizens would be the necessary guide for deriving content. In determining the nature of such content, one could, for example, consider the following questions: Would being technologically literate mean that everyone should know how to calculate the volumetric efficiency of a gasoline engine? Would it mean that everyone should be able to purchase and install a spark plug? Would it mean that everyone should be aware of the effects of gasoline combustion on the environment? These questions serve only to illustrate the point that not all people are engineers nor are they fond of handiwork; yet, all are citizens of planet Earth. Trying to derive a content that equally services each of these questions is difficult to imagine unless one looks beyond the superficial evidence of technology (viz., tools and artifacts) and focuses on the effectual underlying elements that are inherent, unchanging, and enduring; which, as it turns out, seem to be the mostly cognitive applications of technological knowledge, praxis, and invention.
Deriving Outcomes for Technological Literacy
It should be evident that the intention of this study was not to generate a list of competencies (or definitions). In fact, much of the impetus for this study was due to the abundance of such lists (e.g., Barnes, 1987; Dugger, 1988; Dyrenfurth, 1991; Fleming, 1989; Halfin, 1973). Instead, it was reasoned that the lack of progress toward an agreed-upon content and structure for the curriculum was due, in most part, to inadequate selection criteria; which was the result of an insufficient understanding of technological literacy. The themes revealed in this study give shape to a general technological literacy. In curriculum design, the themes can serve as conceptual guides in the formulation of decision rules for the selection of competencies and instructional strategies. In addition, the themes serve to establish a universe of discourse in which a rational discussion of technological literacy can proceed.
The present challenge is to clarify a new understanding, to determine what are the important things to consider for technological literacy to be effectively articulated in the curriculum. Such articulation usually begins with learner outcomes. If technological literacy is to be the ultimate outcome of an instructional effort, what then are its characteristics? What would it look like in practice in the curriculum? In the spirit of this investigation, technological literacy outcomes should represent a certain identity kit (Gee, 1989a) for one being considered literate in general technological matters.
If an identity kit can be assembled that captures the criteria laid out for technological literacy-that is, one containing those effectual elements having an inherent, unchanging, and enduring quality-then this study seems to suggest that it include both technological and praxiological knowledge, a holistic understanding of technology's ambience, and a technical adaptability engendered by inventive and resourceful thinking. The study suggests a collection of competencies that would enable one to (a) accommodate and cope with rapid and continuous technological change, (b) generate creative and innovative solutions for technological problems, (c) act through technological knowledge both effectively and efficiently, and (d) assess technology and its involvement with the human lifeworld judiciously.
Recall that according to the original dialectic, technological literacy outcomes should reflect the themes of technology as viewed in light of those of literacy. When viewed from a literacy perspective, the global outcome and identity statements above provide a conceptual basis for considering the overall mix of competencies required for a general education treatment of technology. When viewed from a technology perspective, the statements suggest the kinds of outcomes that Technology Education, as one of many general education contributors, could be expected to deliver. Overarching all of this would be the relevance of what everyone needs to know about technology.
To demonstrate how the research can be utilized to derive relevant outcomes along the lines of the thematic structures, an exercise in practical deliberation (Schwab, 1969) will be carried out in the following paragraphs. By allowing the themes of literacy and technology to frame the discussion, a greater sense of their interdependence within Technology Education's curricular domain can be realized. For instance, the reader will recall that one of the most dominant themes of literacy was Language Communications. If this theme were viewed in technological perspective, what related outcomes could be extrapolated for technological literacy? Is there a communicative language of technology that sustains or promotes the global outcomes stated above? If so, what is its nature? What is its presence in the Technology Education curriculum? The deliberation proceeds as follows.
Almost anyone who is familiar with the traditions of Technology Education would agree that technical drawing (cf. drafting) is a communicative language of technology. The concept of technical drawing is based on evidence that humankind developed a universal graphic language early. Over time, the graphic representation of ideas was refined and resulted in two primary forms of graphic communications; artistic and technical (Giesecke, Mitchell, Spencer, Hill, & Dygdon, 1980). In a technology perspective, the technical form of graphic communications holds several parallels with literacy's Language Communications theme. There are symbolic, cultural, knowledge, cognitive, and utility parallels that can be considered through this relationship.
In light of the research, an ability to read and write in a technical language with some degree of proficiency would seem an obvious goal for a curriculum claiming to advance technological literacy. From a symbolic viewpoint, technical drawing parallels with written language are easily established. There are prescribed symbols. There is a standard syntax and there is a standard lexicon. Certain cultural parallels also are supported through the symbolic language just as with oral language. Here, being articulate in a language requires a knowledge that is shared by the community in which the language is used. In a technical community, a knowledge of its processes, materials, systems, and applications is vital for efficient communications (i.e., the exchange of technical information). The relationship between efficiency and praxis also is brought to mind here.
When it comes to design within these technical communities, it could be argued that without a technical vocabulary (an articulation of technical knowledge, skill, and ability), one would have difficulty creating innovative solutions to technical problems because one would not command a proficiency with the cognitive tools of technological thought. In this sense, technical drawing provides a graphic mode of thought through which designs are developed and problems are solved-in much the same way as native languages serve as thought language. In the past, such a mode of thought was limited by the physical tools used in writing down (drafting) and visualizing (illustrating) one's thoughts. Today's computer-aided design and drafting, coupled with rapid prototyping technologies, allows the exploration of hundreds of alternative designs with a speed, precision, and physicality never before possible. In today's world, such applications are no longer limited to the commonly perceived industrial community.
It is interesting to observe how easily this one technological subject area can be rationalized along the themes of literacy. Admittedly, technical drawing may have more in common with what literacy is normally thought to be; but when one looks beyond the superficial symbols of language, the underlying knowledge and articulation are what represent true language skills. These underlying phenomena are what presents the greatest challenge for the technology curriculum. Although traditionally present, most of these underlying qualities were treated secondarily, with primary emphasis being devoted to drafting skills (constructing the perfect line and the perfect letter). Like most other manual labor of the industrial era, the computer has displaced them with cognitive labor. Today, communication skills must be thought of in terms of person-to-person, person-to-machine, and machine-to-machine. Not only does this development call for a command of the interface language of the machine, but also of the culture that produces the machine. Like the new machinery, the culture that produces it requires precise communication. What the research suggests for the technology curriculum is that the emphasis of a technical drawing activity today would be on precision communication; that is, the primary focus would be on identifying, capturing, and relaying technical information in graphic form accurately, completely, and in accordance with standard conventions of the language's use.
These latter qualities have occurred mostly in advanced studies of technical drawing. Now that manual processes have been replaced by mostly cognitive processes, the challenge for instructional design is to determine what level of proficiency (command of the language) is appropriate for the different levels of the curriculum. With the time required for developing manual skills now reduced or eliminated by the computer, the more cognitive dimensions of technical drawing can be introduced earlier in the instructional sequence. The time made available by these changes can provide for a greater development of application knowledge and technological creativity (i.e., invention).
For Technology Education the added challenge is to determine an appropriate treatment of technology themes, in concert with literacy themes, for one to achieve the above proficiency within the context of its specific technical cultures (production, transportation, etc.). The research suggests that such proficiency (competence) requires an intimacy with the shared experiences of a given technical community. Such intimate knowledge, it would seem, requires participation in the affairs of the community; which in the case of Technology Education, are the affairs of production and so on. Thus, as with spoken languages, immersion in the culture of the language is where the fullest measure of proficiency is gained; without such close proximity, important aspects of the experience are lost. Again, by their very nature, it seems that literacy and technology must be experienced in order to be learned effectively.
The question that remains for instructional efficiency, and ultimately outcome derivation, is how much and what kind of experience is necessary? A simple answer to this question does not exist. The research has suggested many factors-the themes, identity statements, and global outcomes-that need to be considered in the determination of technological literacy outcomes. Nonetheless, many questions remain about the makeup of such outcomes. The research indicates that much work still remains before technological literacy can be accurately measured. There does not appear to be a valid measurement strategy, let alone a valid instrument; both of which assume a reasonably established agreement as to what technological literacy actually entails. What has been gained is a conceptual understanding that can provide direction in the development of criteria for selecting specific competencies, which then can be objectively measured. The successful development of criteria will be determined by how well further research can address certain questions raised by this study. A number of these questions are presented as recommendations for further research in the next (and final) section.
Given the applied nature of technology, there is need of a deeper understanding of its ways of solving problems. What are the key components of knowing, learning, and thinking within technology's everyday lived experience? What is the nature of the chain of events that lead to the flash of insight? Is there a technologically unique, supporting knowledge that guides such a chain of events? For instructional purposes, can a cognitive profile of such characteristics be developed for identifying individual needs?
The research has also given reason to pursue the development of teaching strategies based on heuristic problem-solving in addition to the already familiar algorithmic methods. What are the characteristics of heuristic problem-solving, especially in the technical settings of everyday life? What collection of knowledge and experience can serve best at producing heuristic problem-solvers? Given their natural basis, are heuristic strategies more easily generalizable to other situations than algorithmic methods? What would a problem-solving activity based on only heuristic strategies look like?
Many questions remain unanswered regarding the reality of what every citizen needs to know about technology. Given the emergence of smart machines, expert systems, virtual reality, and myriad other technological creations, what does a person really need to know? What will the typical citizen of the 21st century need to know about technology? With knowledge doubling every two or three years, as some estimate, how can one say what technological literacy will be necessary in the future? If a speculation is made on the basis of technological artifacts alone, prediction is even less assured. One thing, however, does seem reasonably predictable. As long as humans continue to practice technology, what it takes to be considered technologically literate will change. Technological literacy, like its operative agent technology, is an ever-changing phenomenon. However technology is defined today, we can be certain that by tomorrow it will have changed.
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