many concerns have been raised that Americans are not as technologically literate as they should be (e.g., Rutherford, 2004), these statements are based on general impressions with little hard data to back them up. Therefore, the starting point for improving technological literacy must be to determine the current level of technological understanding and capability, which areas require improvement first, and how technological literacy varies among different populations—children and adults, for instance.

The goal of the Committee on Assessing Technological Literacy was “to determine the most viable approach or approaches for assessing technological literacy in three distinct populations in the United States: K–12 students, K–12 teachers, and out-of-school adults.”1 The committee was not asked to develop assessment tools but to point the way toward their development.

Assessing Technological Literacy

Technological literacy is an understanding of technology at a level that enables effective functioning in a modern technological society.

To assess technological literacy, one must have not only a clear idea of what it is, but also a good deal of knowledge about assessment. Basically, technological literacy is an understanding of technology at a level that enables effective functioning in a modern technological society. For the purposes of this report, the committee defined technological literacy as having three major components, or dimensions: knowledge, capabilities, and critical thinking and decision making (Figure ES-1). A similar three-part model of literacy has been proposed for information technology (IT) (NRC, 1999).

The “knowledge dimension” of technological literacy includes both factual knowledge and conceptual understanding. The “capabilities dimension” relates to how well a person can use technology (defined in its broadest sense) and carry out a design process to solve a problem. A technologically literate person should, for example, be able to use an automobile, a VCR, a microwave, a computer, and other technologies commonly found in the home or office and should be able to do basic troubleshooting when necessary. The final dimension—the “critical thinking and decision-making dimension”—has to do with one’s approach to technological issues. For example, when a person with highly developed critical-thinking and decision-making skills is confronted with a new


The original charge, which included K–16 students and teachers, was modified because the committee was unable to identify opportunities for assessing college students and faculty (with the exception of pre-service teachers).

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