Technological literacy and social purpose

  • Published on
    21-Mar-2017

  • View
    213

  • Download
    0

Transcript

  • This article was downloaded by: [Western Kentucky University]On: 16 November 2014, At: 14:09Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House,37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Theory Into PracticePublication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/htip20

    Technological literacy and social purposePaul W. De Vore aa Professor of education , West Virginia UniversityPublished online: 05 Nov 2009.

    To cite this article: Paul W. De Vore (1992) Technological literacy and social purpose, Theory Into Practice, 31:1, 59-63, DOI:10.1080/00405849209543525

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00405849209543525

    PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE

    Taylor & Francis makes every effort to ensure the accuracy of all the information (the Content) contained in thepublications on our platform. However, Taylor & Francis, our agents, and our licensors make no representationsor warranties whatsoever as to the accuracy, completeness, or suitability for any purpose of the Content. Anyopinions and views expressed in this publication are the opinions and views of the authors, and are not theviews of or endorsed by Taylor & Francis. The accuracy of the Content should not be relied upon and should beindependently verified with primary sources of information. Taylor and Francis shall not be liable for any losses,actions, claims, proceedings, demands, costs, expenses, damages, and other liabilities whatsoever or howsoevercaused arising directly or indirectly in connection with, in relation to or arising out of the use of the Content.

    This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematicreproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in anyform to anyone is expressly forbidden. Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found at http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

    http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/htip20http://www.tandfonline.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1080/00405849209543525http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00405849209543525http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditionshttp://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-and-conditions

  • Paul W. De Vore

    Technological Literacy and Social Purpose

    Throughout this century, schools have been ina state of flux as they have attempted to meetthe needs of a constantly changing society.Within the field of technology, there has beenconsiderable confusion as to direction, a confu-sion that has resulted from a variegated past ofdifferent curricular movements designed to servevarious politically acceptable purposes. Therehas also been confusion about the place of tech-nology within education as a field of study.

    The context in which programs in technol-ogy education exist today presents a new chal-lenge and responsibility. The new context ne-cessitates not only an integration with fields ofstudy such as science and society, but alsodirects attention to the evolution of the disci-pline and science of technology as a significantfield of study mandated to meet the need forinformed human action in a changing world.

    A Changing WorldWe live in an interdependent, ever-chang-

    ing worlda world of accelerating industrializa-tion, rapid population growth, widespread mal-nutrition, increasing depletion of nonrenewablesources of energy, and a deteriorating environ-ment. As the number, magnitude, and serious-ness of the problems continue to increase, wehave at the same time more scientists, econo-mists, statisticians, political scientists, lawyers,

    Paul W. De Vore is professor of education at WestVirginia University.

    and other experts and specialists than ever be-fore. What seems to have taken place is anillusion of progress but no true progress in im-proving the potential for a long-term quality fu-ture for all people.

    In earlier times our technical means werenot as powerful and dependency on multiplesubsystems was not as great. If systems weredisturbed, they returned to equilibrium in a rela-tively short period of time and damage to hu-man beings and the environment was limited.Not so with the technical systems of the 20thcentury. Eric Sevareid (Kidder, 1987) cited threeproblems he believes are new in history, eachof which is related directly to the creation anduse of technical means: "One is the leap intospace. Another is the existence of ultimateweapons. And the third is the poisoning of thenatural resources of lifethe rivers, air, andfood" (p. 6). Sevareid pointed out that he didnot believe any of our real problems would besolved in outer space but rather in "inner space,"within the inner person and on "terra firma."

    Dependency on common sense and the folkknowledge of yesterday will not suffice in to-day's increasingly complex technological envi-ronment. Many years of disciplined and sys-tematic study are required to understand thebehavior of our technical systems and their im-pact on the human, social, and environmentalrealms. The context and reality are different and,thus, a different order of knowledge, know-how,and responsibility are needed.

    Theory Into Practice, Volume XXXI, Number 1, Winter 1992

    Dow

    nloa

    ded

    by [

    Wes

    tern

    Ken

    tuck

    y U

    nive

    rsity

    ] at

    14:

    09 1

    6 N

    ovem

    ber

    2014

  • Kidder (1990) noted that the two major is-sues that will shape the next decade will betechnology and ethics. He questioned where wewill get the designers and engineers who areethically sound enough and knowledgeableenough to be responsible for the technologicalenterprises of the future. These and other anal-yses have altered our thinking, changed our viewof the world, and brought about a shift in ourcultural paradigm.

    A Shifting ParadigmA new perspective and a new ethic have

    been evolving from an increasing awareness thatthe earth is not large enough, nor the resourcesplentiful enough, to tolerate a long-term escala-tion of our current anthropocentric and aggres-sive technological behavior. We have come tothe realization that we inhabit a living planetthat has limits to clean air, fossil fuels, potablewater, waste absorbing capacity, and the resil-ience of its life-support ecosystems (Harman,1977, p. 7).

    The predominant world view in the Westhas been based on a technocratic, industrial-scientific paradigm that perceives nature as amechanistic system that can be understood viaits simple components and their external rela-tions. The belief is that nature should be con-trolled for the benefit of humans and that onlyminor adjustments in technological systems arenecessary to protect the earth's ecosystem fromharm (Drengson, 1983, p. 63). When testedagainst the criteria of sustainability, this per-ception of the world seems to be lacking. Theevidence is mounting of extensive, and at timesirreversible, damage being done to the ecosys-tems that sustain and nourish life.

    This reexaminaron of our thinking has cre-ated a shift from viewing life in instrumental waysto perceiving the intrinsic worth of all life. Thechallenge to educators, and to technology edu-cators specifically, is to address the many im-plications this new perception has for the struc-ture, content, and research direction of the dis-cipline of technology.

    A New Role for KnowledgeOur future and the future of succeeding gen-

    erations will depend on human action based onknowingknowing about the earth and the be-havior of humans and the interrelation between

    natural systems and technological and socialsystems. Public policies and individual actionswill require new levels of responsibility, a re-evaluation of our ethics, and a reassessment ofthe nature, content, and structure of education.

    The current ethic, which supports individu-al and collective violence against nature andhumans, has brought about destructive conse-quences for life on earth. Jonas (1984) asserts,when "the realm of making [technological activ-ities] invades the space of essential action, thenmorality must invade the realm of making, fromwhich it has formerly stayed aloof, and must doso in the form of public policy" (p. 9). In Jonas'sview, acquiring the knowledge required for in-telligent human action becomes a duty beyondanything claimed for it heretofore.

    Thus, the very act of creating technicalmeans has brought about the necessity of re-assessing what it means to be educated in theworld today. Our technological activities havebecome the "infinite forward thrust of the race,its most significant enterprise, in whose perma-nent, self-transcending advance to ever greaterthings the vocation of [humankind] tends to beseen, and whose success of maximal controlover things and [ourselves] appears as the con-summation of [our] destiny" (Jonas, 1984, p. 9).

    The new imperative calls for individual andcollective understanding and control in the de-sign, development, and use of the technicalmeans of society in relation to the natural orderof which humans are a part. This mandates anew form of literacy for citizens throughout theworld, a technological literacy grounded in thecontext of ethical, individual, and collective re-sponsibility.

    A New LiteracyTechnological literacy is a form of literacy

    never before provided by schools and formaleducation. If our choice is to live in a free dem-ocratic society where every individual becomesultimately responsible for the proper function-ing of the community and nation, then we allmust be prepared for our critical roles as deci-sion makers and contributors to the functioningof an increasingly complex world.

    Two driving forces are behind the changein thinking about education in a democratic-technological society. One concerns the impactof technological illiteracy on the community ornation. The other relates to the shift in the cul-

    60 Theory Into Practice

    Dow

    nloa

    ded

    by [

    Wes

    tern

    Ken

    tuck

    y U

    nive

    rsity

    ] at

    14:

    09 1

    6 N

    ovem

    ber

    2014

  • tural paradigm that emphasizes technologicalliteracy as a part of basic literacy.

    From a social perspective, technologicallyilliterate citizens affect a community and nationin many ways. Among the more critical are thefollowing:

    1. an increasing drain on the resources of a com-munity by citizens unable to contribute in ameaningful and productive way in an increasinglytechnological world;

    2. a loss of competitive economic potential by busi-nesses and industries unable to obtain employeescapable of functioning effectively in complex,ever-changing, technological environments;

    3. a lessening of defense and disaster responsepotential during times of national emergency, dueto a citizenry that lacks knowledge and know-howin the technologies; and

    4. a growing number of citizens disenfranchised,both economically and politically, from participat-ing effectively in the governance andmanagement of their communities.

    It is not possible to select, design, operate ap-propriately, or control technical means and sys-tems without a thorough knowledge and under-standing of the behavior of technological sys-tems (how and why they work) and the relationof these systems to humans, their society, andthe natural environment. The technological sys-tems of the future will, in general, need to bemore complex, not less, because of the require-ment that they be compatible with the naturalenvironment and th diverse bioregions of theearth. The systems will also be more complexand diverse in order to meet the goal of transi-tioning to a sustainable social-technological fu-ture.

    Technological literacy has become a nec-essary and basic component in the educationof all citizens. Such a literacy prepares citizensto be conversant in the language of technolog-ical systems and to comprehend the basic con-cepts required for understanding the dynamics,interrelatedness, and impacts of technical meansat all levels of society and the natural environ-ment.

    Technological literacy not only prepares cit-izens for their responsibilities in managing theircommunities but also prepares them to func-tion responsibly and effectively in the economicrealm. It reconnects people to the technical sys-tems from which they have become separated.

    The Study of TechnologyThe nature and character of technical means

    have evolved over many centuries. The study ofthe creation and use of this reservoir of know-ing and doing is the field of study called tech-nology. Perceptions of the importance of tech-nical means have changed as the means havechanged. Perceptions about technology as afield of study have also changed. Viewpointsabout technology range from technology asthings or tools only to technology as a majorcomponent of the adaptive systems1 of society.The word technology brings to mind mental con-structs such as skill, artifacts, technique, engi-neering, a body of knowledge, a discipline, asystems of means, or an effect. Each of theseviewpoints has contributed to a more completeunderstanding of the nature of technology aswell as adding to the confusion.

    Even standard definitions of technologytend to cloud the issue. The numerous dictio-nary definitions of the word technology include(a) the branch of knowledge that deals with theindustrial arts, applied science, and engineer-ing; (b) the science of the application of knowl-edge to practical purposes; and (c) the totalityof the means employed by a people to providethe material objects of their culture (De Vore,1980).

    Others define technology from the perspec-tive of their discipline. Economists define tech-nology with reference to production; sociolo-gists from the perspective of social relationsand political structures; and engineers in termsof physical structures or technical systems. Ifthere is an agreement, it is that the createdtechnical means and adaptive systems are wo-ven into the entire fabric of Western society andincreasingly so in other societies as well.

    The Science of TechnologyThe diverse and conflicting viewpoints about

    technology are of little help to those concernedwith public policy, education, and technologicalliteracy. The diverse viewpoints only increasethe confusion and dissonance. With no com-mon agreement on meaning, it is difficult topursue intelligent public policy, develop validcurricula, or establish programs to attain de-sired levels of technological literacy.

    Most unabridged dictionaries define theword science as a branch of knowledge or studydealing with a body of facts, truths, or concepts

    Volume XXXI, Number 1 61

    Dow

    nloa

    ded

    by [

    Wes

    tern

    Ken

    tuck

    y U

    nive

    rsity

    ] at

    14:

    09 1

    6 N

    ovem

    ber

    2014

  • systematically determined, or as systematicknowledge of the physical, material, or naturalworld. There is general agreement that sciencemeans not one branch of knowledge but nu-merous branches such as psychology, anthro-pology, geology, and biology. Each of thesebranches of knowledge, including technology,shares a common factorthe systematic de-termination of facts, truths, knowledge, and un-derstanding of the behavior of the systems be-ing studied with the goal of being able to pre-dict the behavior of the system (De Vore, 1988).

    The intellectual endeavors involved in thechoice, creation, and control of the technicalmeans of today are of a different order fromthose of the craft or trade era of the past. Thenew modes of thinking have established thebase for the new discipline and the new sci-ence. Those involved in the science of technol-ogy are concerned with investigating the pro-cesses of creating technical means and the ev-olution of technical means and society. Theyare concerned also with determining the behav-ior of tools, machines, and adaptive systemsand the relation of these elements to humans,their societies, and the life-giving and life-sus-taining environment.

    Technologists base their work on informa-tion about the behavior of multiple variables anddynamic environments. Their goals are predict-ability, replication, reliability, optimization, theefficiency and conservation of system opera-tions, and the compatibility of technical sys-tems with the natural environment. Rules andsystematically determined procedures are basedon knowledge and understanding of the behav-ior of technical systems and their elements.Emphasis is on objectively determined, logical,orderly, and disciplined approaches (De Vore,1988).

    The development of the "knowing base" ofthe science of technology involves a number ofintellectual processes including defining theproblem, observing, analyzing, visualizing, mod-eling, computing, communicating, measuring,predicting, questioning and hypothesizing, in-terpreting data, constructing mathematical andphysical prototypes, experimenting, testing, anddesigning and managing systems. These are theintellectual processes of the discipline.

    Structure of the DisciplineThe goals, scope, and structure of the sci-

    ence of technology have evolved over time. Like

    other disciplines, the science of technology hasevolved into sub-disciplines and fields of inves-tigation including micro and macro systems. Theprimary adaptive systems of human societieshave been identified as those concerned with(a) the transformation of natural resources intouseful products, (b) the movement of physicalmassmaterials, products, and peopleby var-ious technical means within the several naturalenvironments and (c) the movement of informa-tion including the technical means of coding,transmitting, receiving, decoding, storing, andretrieving of information.

    Transformation activities are classified asproduction systems and consist of extracting,growing, processing, manufacturing, and con-structing. Those activities associated with themovement of physical mass are classified astransportation systems. Those technical activi-ties associated with the movement and use ofinformation are classified as communication andinformation systems.

    These three adaptive systems exist in allhuman societies at some level of sophistica-tion. These systems contain the fundamentalelements that provide the technological base ofany society. Within these systems are the uni-versal technological endeavors essential to thehuman civilization process. These cultural uni-versals provide the foundation for the deriva-tion of the common learnings essential to un-derstanding the behavior of our technologicalculture. Understanding the behavior of thesesystems is central to being culturally literate andcapable of participating in a responsible way ina democratic, technological society.

    In this context, the science of technologyis the science whose practitioners are involvedin the systematic study of the creation, evolu-tion, utilization, and behavior of adaptive sys-tems (tools, machines, materials, techniques,physical and biological processes, and techni-cal means) and the behavior of these elementsand systems in relation to humans, their societ-ies, and the life-giving and life-sustaining envi-ronment. Thus, a technologist or student of tech-nology might be involved in a number of activi-ties including (a) creating technical devices,means, or systems utilizing specific technicalmeans; (b) studying the behavior of various tech-nical systems; and (c) identifying and correctingthe impact of various technical means on hu-mans, their society, and the natural environment.

    62 Theory Into Practice

    Dow

    nloa

    ded

    by [

    Wes

    tern

    Ken

    tuck

    y U

    nive

    rsity

    ] at

    14:

    09 1

    6 N

    ovem

    ber

    2014

  • One of the critical factors that affects thecomprehension and understanding of human en-deavors in the technological realm is that ev-erything is related. No element or system standsalone. Each is a part of the whole and eachcontributes and interfaces with the total.

    Therefore, curricula and programs of studyin technology, designed for the purpose of at-taining technological literacy, would contain theessential elements of the primary fields of en-deavor noted above. Briefly, these essential el-ements would consist of, but not be limited to,the following categories of knowing and doing:

    1. The history, evolution, nature, and developmentof technical means, including knowledge of thepeople, places, cultures, and environmental con-text in which the means were invented and de-veloped;

    2. Knowledge and understanding of the processesof invention and innovation, including experiencein the processes;

    3. Knowledge and understanding of the behavior ofadaptive systems and subsystems, such as com-munication and information systems, productionsystems, and transportation systems, and thetools, machines, materials, techniques, and thebiological and physical transformation and ener-gy conversion processes associated with thesesystems; and

    4. Knowledge and understanding of the behavior ofvarious technical elements and adaptive systemsand the assessment of the impact of these ele-ments and systems in relation to humans, theirsocieties, and the natural environment withinagreed upon ethical contexts.

    The above four categories form the primarycore of knowing, doing, and understanding forprograms in technology designed to contributeto the new literacy. These are the universalsthat form the foundation from which the com-mon body of knowledge and cultural universalsof technological literacy are derived.

    ConclusionThe technical means and systems created

    by humans are deeply embedded in the social,economic, and cultural components of society.They have impacted greatly on the potential forhuman development, the nature and character-istics of societies throughout the earth, and thenatural environment. Without significant chang-es in the selection, design, and control of tech-

    nical means at all levels of human activity, thelong-term prognosis for a quality human futureis limited.

    We have reached a critical juncture in thehistory of civilization, a juncture that requires anew order of knowledge and an understandingof the place of humans and their technicalmeans in the total order of life. This new knowl-edge and understanding is a part of a new liter-acy, a technological literacy. The new literacy isgrounded in an evolving paradigm that has as acentral ethic the intrinsic worth of all life.

    At no time in the history of education hasthe mission been so clear. At no time has therebeen such a noble and challenging opportunityfor educators from many disciplines to cometogether in an integrated cooperative effort tocontribute to their communities and the worldas a whole. It is an opportunity for humans toreassert themselves as stewards of the earth.This can be done if we accept the challengeand prepare ourselves with the required knowl-edge.

    Note1. Major adaptive systems: production systems, in-cluding growing, processing, manufacturing, andconstructing; communication and information sys-tems; and transportation systems.

    ReferencesAyres, R.U. (1988). Technology: Wealth of nations.

    Technological Forecasting and Social Change,33, 189-201.

    De Vore, P.W. (1980). Technology: An introduction.Worcester, MA: Davis Publications.

    De Vore, P.W. (1988). Technology: An examen. Jour-nal of Industrial Teacher Education, 25(3), 7-18.

    Drengson, A.R. (1983). Shifting paradigms: Fromtechnocrat to planetary person. Victoria, B.C.,Canada. Lightstar Press.

    Harman, W.W. (1977, February). The coming trans-formation. Futurist, 11, 4-12.

    Jonas, H. (1984). The imperative of responsibility: Insearch of an ethic for a technological age. Chi-cago: The University of Chicago Press.

    Kidder, R.M. (1987, January 28). Sevareid on U.S.future. The Christian Science Monitor, pp. 1, 6.

    Kidder, R.M. (1990, June 11). A look back, a lookforward, and a bow. The Christian Science Mon-itor, p. 13.

    Koestler, A. (1941). Darkness at noon. New York:Macmillan.

    Volume XXXI, Number 1 63

    Dow

    nloa

    ded

    by [

    Wes

    tern

    Ken

    tuck

    y U

    nive

    rsity

    ] at

    14:

    09 1

    6 N

    ovem

    ber

    2014

Recommended

View more >