Attitudes Toward Technology

As noted in Chapter 2, a person’s attitudes toward technology can provide a context for interpreting the results of an assessment. The committee found that assessments of general, or public, literacy related to technology tend to focus on people’s awareness, attitudes, beliefs, and opinions rather than on their knowledge, capabilities, or critical thinking skills.

Assessments conducted periodically over an extended period of time can track changes in public views on specific issues, such as the use of nuclear power or the development of genetically modified foods. This is one purpose of the data available in Science and Engineering Indicators published by NSB, which address attitudes toward federal funding of scientific research, as well as specific topics, such as biotechnology and genetic engineering, space exploration, and global warming. They also reveal a good deal about people’s beliefs, as distinct from their attitudes. For instance, in 2004, the Indicators focused on the belief in various pseudosciences, such as astrology (NSB, 2004). Recent versions of the NSB reports have compared the attitudes or beliefs of Americans with those of citizens of other countries.

Assessment of attitudes, beliefs, and opinions are often used by government decision makers and others to gauge the effectiveness of public communication efforts or the need for new policies. In the case of technology, measuring attitudes can provide insights into the level of comfort with technology; the role of the public in the development of a technology; and whether public concerns about technology are being heard by those in positions of power. In order to communicate risk effectively, it is necessary to understand the attitudes of those who are being warned (Morgan et al., 2002). The Eurobarometer surveys, for example, which are conducted periodically in the European Union, attempt to measure public confidence in certain technologies, such as the Internet, genetically modified foods, fuel-cell engines, and nanotechnology. Eurobarometer surveys typically involve about 1,000 people (15 and older) in each member country (currently 25 countries).

Measuring attitudes can provide insights into the level of comfort with technology.

The American Association for Engineering Education (ASEE, 2005) developed the Survey of Teachers’ Attitudes About Engineering, an online assessment instrument for gauging the views of K–12 teachers about engineering, engineers, and engineering education (Box 5-3). ASEE plans to use the results of this survey, which includes 44-multiple-choice

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