Foundation for Technological Literacy
In the past several decades, curriculum developers, engineering professional societies, science centers, and others have devoted effort to initiatives that have improved technological literacy, even if that was not their explicit aim. These span everything from projects to develop instructional materials for the classroom to television programs and museum exhibits. Given the absence of technological literacy on the agendas of both the policy making and education communities in the United States, these initiatives, although modest by comparison with other literacy initiatives, are encouraging. Although the organizations and individuals promoting these initiatives have been working away in relative obscurity, they do constitute a resource for more ambitious efforts.
The study of technology in the K-12 classroom has three distinct forms: (1) a theme in other disciplines, especially science; (2) formal technology education classes; and (3) technician-preparation, vocational, and school-to-career programs, which approach technological understanding and skills as means to employment.
Technology as a Theme Within Science and Other Subjects
One of the first attempts to integrate the study of science and technology in the secondary school curriculum was Man-Made World, a
series of textbooks developed at the State University of New York, Stony Brook, as part of the Engineering Concepts Curriculum Project (1971). Although the texts were never widely adopted, they provided a model for other projects. A decade later, an analysis of studies of science education and student assessments suggested that science education must be focused on content that would prepare students to live and work in a world in which science, technology, and society continually interact (Harms and Yager, 1981). Science textbooks of the day devoted almost no space to the topic of technology or global issues, such as population growth, world hunger, and air quality (Hamm and Adams, 1989; Piel, 1981).
The notion that the social dimensions of science and technology should be part of the science curriculum was echoed in a number of education policy documents of the period (e.g., NCEE, 1982; NSB, 1983; NSTA, 1982). The holistic consideration of subjects that had traditionally been treated separately reflected the growing popularity of the socalled science, technology, and society (STS) paradigm in the United States (Yager, 1996). The influence of these policies on what children were actually taught about technology is difficult to determine. Indirect evidence, such as a 1993 survey of state science supervisors that found that one-third either required or recommended attention to STS themes as part of their science curricula, suggests that STS policies did have an effect, if only by raising expectations (Kumar and Berlin, 1996). Instructional materials, such as the Innovation series of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS, 1984), those developed by the school district of Wassau, Wisconsin (Harkness et al., 1986), and modules created by the New York Science, Technology, and Society Education Project, were among the first to carry the STS theme into U.S. classrooms.
In 1989, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) published Science for All Americans, an elegantly reasoned treatise on the importance of science literacy. The report, and the AAAS standards that followed 4 years later, Benchmarks for Science Literacy (1993), emphasized the importance of technology to science and the interrelationship between science, technology, and society. The National Science Education Standards, another set of comprehensive science standards developed several years later by the National Research Council (NRC) (1996), reinforced the curricular connections between science and technology. These two sets of science standards were the most detailed descriptions of technological literacy for students until the recent publica-
tion of Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (ITEA, 2000).
Many newer instructional materials have tried to meet one or both sets of science standards. These include BSCS’s Science T.R.A.C.S. (Teaching Relevant Activities for Concepts and Skills; 2000), which includes a science and technology strand for K-5 students, and Middle School Science and Technology (2000), which touches on a variety of technological concepts related to change, diversity, limits, and systems. The Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California Berkeley, under its Science Education for Public Understanding program, has produced three year-long courses and a number of shorter curriculum modules that touch on technological issues. The National Science Resources Center, jointly operated by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Academies, has produced science materials for elementary students (Science and Technology for Children) and is developing materials for use in middle school (Science and Technology Concepts for Middle Schools).
A number of NSF-funded projects have developed materials that integrate technology with other subjects, especially mathematics and science (e.g., Integrated Mathematics, Science, and Technology, 2001; Integrating Mathematics, Science, and Technology in the Elementary Schools, 2001). Several of these projects have examined the effects of the technology component on student learning in math and science. In at least one case, scores on international math and science achievement tests were higher among students using the integrated curriculum than in a control group that did not use the materials, suggesting that the technology component of the curriculum boosts learning in other subject areas (Loepp et al., 2000). Similar spin-off benefits in math, science, and reading achievement were found in elementary schools that piloted a curriculum emphasizing contextual learning and design activities (Todd and Hutchinson, 2000).
A number of NSF-funded projects have developed materials that integrate technology with other subjects, especially mathematics and science.
Some features of technological studies, especially encouraging students to identify and design solutions to problems significant in their own lives, may make other academic subjects more interesting and meaningful. For this reason, technology has been recognized as a topic worthy of study by a variety of disciplines outside of science. For instance, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has cosponsored many of the annual national technological literacy conferences organized by the National Association for Science, Technology, and Society. Papers presented at this conference have addressed varied topics, such as focusing on
BOX 4-1 Whole Cloth: Discovering Science and Technology Through the History of American Textiles
The Smithsonian Institution’s Lemelson Center, in partnership with the Society for the History of Technology and the Education Development Center, has developed eight independent curriculum units that examine the history of textiles, the technology and science of their production, and their consumption. Each unit deals with an aspect of cloth or clothing production or use and includes 5 to 10 exercises, a teacher’s essay, and a bibliography. The modules are coordinated with traditional American history, American studies, and American social history courses as taught in middle schools and high schools. Students are asked to interpret primary historical documents, create graphs and charts, and engage in debates and class discussions. The units on early American industrialization, the technology and invention of dyes and dyeing, and the development of nylon, are available online at: <http://www.si.edu/lemelson/centerpieces/whole_cloth/index.html>.
technology, work, and values through poetry (Amram, 1989); improving critical thinking about STS issues through creative writing (Fagan, 1989; Hankins, 1989; Tangum, 1989); and improving student understanding of the complexities of STS issues through drama (Miller and Butcher, 1990). Interesting materials have also been developed combining content from social studies and technology (Box 4-1).
Technology educators are playing an increasingly important role in the development and delivery of technology-related content to students in K-12 classrooms, and technology teachers represent an important resource for attempts to boost U.S. technological literacy. The recent publication of Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (ITEA, 2000) establishes 20 standards in five categories to guide curriculum development for all K-12 students (Box 4-2). ITEA is in the process of developing standards for teacher development, student assessment, and program development to provide a comprehensive vision of technological literacy in a school setting.
During the 7-year process of developing the standards, ITEA worked closely with a number of other organizations that had previously had little if any connection to the technology education community. These organizations included national associations representing math and science teachers, the AAAS, and the National Academies. ITEA benefited
BOX 4-2 ITEA Standards for Technological Literacy
from the support of the NSF and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which jointly funded the standards project.
Technician-Preparation, Vocational, and School-to-Career Programs
Although technological literacy is not the same as technical proficiency, courses and skill development in one area of technology can lead to a better understanding of the nature, history, and role of technology in general. Therefore, although technician-preparation, vocational, and school-to-career programs are mostly intended to prepare people for jobs, they can also enhance some attributes of technological literacy.
Although technician-preparation, vocational, and school-to-career programs are mostly intended to prepare people for jobs, they can also enhance some attributes of technological literacy.
The Carl D. Perkins Vocational Education Act (P.L. 98-524) enacted by Congress in 1984 stimulated the development of technician-preparation programs. Students in tech prep take courses during their last 2 years of high school that are linked (articulated) with two-year associate degree programs at community colleges (Box 4-3).
A consortium of states, through the Texas-based Center for Occupational Research and Development (CORD), developed many of the first tech-prep courses. CORD curriculum materials were the first to teach physics, chemistry, communications (English language arts), and mathematics in an applied way for students whose career goals might depend on skills developed in a two-year technical program. Principles of
BOX 4-3 Technology Studies in Community Colleges
Community colleges play an important part in promoting job-related technological competency by training tens of thousands of people every year in a variety of technology-related fields. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), a total of 998 private or public two-year institutions offer engineering-related technologies programs. Slightly more than 20,000 individuals graduated with associate degrees in this area in the 1996–1997 school year, making it the fourth most popular community-college program. An additional 6,200 people earned engineering technology certificates that year. By comparison, the 955 programs in computer and information sciences awarded about 8,000 associate degrees in 1996– 1997.
Source: NCES, 2000a.
Technology, a two-year, 14-unit, high-school physics curriculum first published in 1984, remains the classic tech-prep textbook (CORD, 1984). The text was recently adapted for a one-year program and reissued as Physics in Context (CORD, 2001).
In recent years, the tech prep concept has been expanded at the federal and state levels to embrace students preparing for a wider range of careers. According to NCES, about half of comprehensive U.S. high schools now offer tech-prep courses (NCES, 2000b), and a variety of instructional materials have been developed to meet this demand. For example, Science in a Technical World, a set of 12 modules developed with NSF support, is intended for applied science courses in grades 11 and 12. Published by W.H. Freeman, current module topics include the Carbonated Beverage Industry, Wastewater Treatment Industry, Plant Tissue Culture, Paint Research and Development, Petroleum Refining, Petroleum Location, Polymer Research and Development, and Pulp and Paper.
In recent years, the tech-prep concept has been expanded at the federal and state levels to embrace students preparing for a wider range of careers.
In 1993, NSF initiated the Advanced Technology Education (ATE) program to support curriculum development and program improvement at selected community colleges. Recipients of ATE awards, usually in collaboration with local secondary schools, four-year colleges and universities, and industry, offer students training in many fields, such as biotechnology, computer and information systems, manufacturing technology, and telecommunications. From fiscal year 1994 through fiscal year 2001, NSF invested $222 million in 420 ATE projects (personal communication, G. Salinger, National Science Foundation, August 2, 2001).
The federal government divides vocational education at the high school level into three categories: (1) courses that prepare students for specific jobs in such areas as agriculture, business, health care, marketing, and trade and industry; (2) courses in family and consumer sciences; and (3) more general courses, such as keyboarding, industrial arts classes, and technology education classes. The trade and industry programs, which include courses in construction, mechanics and repair, and precision production, were the most popular in 1994, the latest year for which data are available. Eight percent of high school students took three or more courses in this area, compared to 16 percent in 1982, reflecting a general decline in student interest in vocational courses and a shift toward college-
prep curricula (NCES, 2000b). In 1994, 97 percent of U.S. high school graduates had taken at least one vocational course, almost the same number as in 1982.
The 1994 School to Work Opportunities Act (P.L. 103-239) focused on coordinating school-based learning and work-based learning and integrating vocational and academic learning for all students, not just those in vocational programs. Many private companies support school-to-work programs as a way of increasing the pool of qualified entry-level workers and reducing the amount of training business must provide for new workers. All 50 states have received federal funds to develop school-to-work partnerships, and nearly three-quarters have enacted laws to continue the partnerships after the federal program ends in 2001 (National School to Work Office, 2000). The connections between tech prep and the school-to-career movement are still being worked out in each state.
Through the National Skill Standards Board (NSSB), the federal government has also been working to develop skill standards for 15 industry sectors. The standards are being developed by volunteers from business, labor, civil rights, and community groups. Standards in manufacturing and sales and service are almost complete, and standards in the education and training, utility, and hospitality and tourism industries are under development (NSSB, 2000). Industry sectors with strong connections to technology include construction; scientific and technical support; and telecommunications, computers, and arts and entertainment. The NSSB is also compiling information on certification and apprenticeship programs around the country in the 15 industry sectors.
The study of technology during the formative years in the K-12 grades is crucial to the development of technological literacy. A number of opportunities for more advanced study of technology are also available, mostly for people pursuing careers as K-12 teachers, curriculum developers, or scholars. Postsecondary education plays an important role in developing the human infrastructure that can support technological literacy.
Undergraduate and Graduate Science, Technology, and Society Programs
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a number of colleges and universities launched programs or courses designed to increase student awareness of interactions among science, technology, and society (STS). In 1982, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation initiated the New Liberal Arts Program, a series of grants to about 30 colleges to help them integrate the study of technology and the engineering process into the general curriculum (Sloan Foundation, press release, November 9, 1982).
The most recent survey to track the progress of STS showed that there were 127 complete programs in 92 American colleges and universities (De la Mothe, 1983). About 100 are estimated to exist today (personal communication, S. Cutcliffe, Lehigh University, December 12, 2000). Even well-established STS programs face substantial hurdles, such as opposition from faculty in traditional disciplines, difficulties in staffing, and maintaining the multidisciplinary approaches STS studies require (Foltz, 1988).
About 100 STS programs exist in the United States today.
Undergraduate majors in STS have been available for some time at elite colleges and research universities, such as Stanford, Cornell, Pennsylvania State University, University of Pennsylvania, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, North Carolina State University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Vassar. Many of the same schools have had graduate programs dealing with technology and society for many years. These programs vary widely in their emphasis on social sciences, history, engineering, and the physical sciences.
Writing and Interdisciplinary Courses in Engineering
Engineering programs have begun to emphasize writing courses in the undergraduate curriculum. One goal of this movement is to ensure that future engineers can convey complex technical concepts and principles to the lay public. These “engineering writing” courses are an example of how the engineering community is attempting to communicate with the larger society, which is affected by the work of engineers.
Since the 1980s and 1990s, many engineering schools have required that all undergraduate engineering students take one or more courses on the social impacts of technology. At Penn State, the largest engineering school in the nation, these courses have been required for all
students since the late 1980s. Similar requirements have been adopted by many other institutions, including Worcester Polytechnic, University of Virginia, Stanford, MIT, Lehigh, Cal Tech, and most of the large state-supported engineering schools.
History, Philosophy, and Sociology of Technology Programs
The first formal courses outside of engineering schools dealing with technology were developed by departments of history and the philosophy of science. Scholars in these disciplines generally considered technology “applied science,” which is apparent in Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society. The society also publishes Osiris, an annual volume of research on the history of science and its cultural influences. History of science programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels have always addressed technology issues. Recently, the Society for the Social Study of Science has applied sociological, anthropological, and sociological techniques to the study of science. The organization’s Handbook of Science and Technology Studies is a landmark reference work in this arena (Jasanoff et al., 1995).
The first formal courses outside of engineering schools dealing with technology were developed by departments of history and the philosophy of science.
Historians have written about technology since the late 1800s (Hughes, in press). In 1958, Melvin Kranzberg and other historians of technology founded the Society for the History of Technology (SHOT), signaling that the study of technology should become a formal, recognized discipline separate and distinct from the study of science. The first issue of the society’s journal, Technology and Culture, featured articles by Lewis Mumford, Peter Drucker, Kranzberg, and others that laid out a vision and research agenda for this new discipline. Today, many colleges and universities offer history, sociology, and philosophy of technology programs, and the research agenda envisioned by Kranzberg and associates has been amplified and fleshed out by symposia, books, and articles. Membership in SHOT now stands at more than 2,000 individuals and 1,500 institutions worldwide (SHOT, 2000).
Philosophy of technology has recently become a separate discipline, distinct from the philosophy of science or philosophy in general. JAI Press has published an influential series of books on philosophy of technology, and philosophers of technology have been included in major endeavors, such as the Human Genome Project, suggesting recognition of
the importance of philosophy of technology, especially to public policy deliberations.
The NSF through its Science and Technology Studies Program spends about $3 million per year to support research and other activities in the history, philosophy, and social studies of science and technology (Hackett, 2000). NSF’s Societal Dimensions of Engineering, Science, and Technology program also supports research on the impacts of technology and engineering.
Management of Technology
A variety of programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels prepare students to assume management responsibilities in technology-based businesses. These programs go by various names, depending on where they are housed in the university. Most are affiliated with an engineering school or a school of management or business. And although the emphasis on engineering-related and management-related topics varies considerably, almost all of these programs blend basic business knowledge with an appreciation for the impact of modern technology on the world of work.
A variety of programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels prepare students to assume management responsibilities in technology-based businesses.
Schools of Education
There are 517 accredited teacher education programs in the United States (NCATE, 2000a). New accreditation standards by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) emphasize that new teachers must have an in-depth knowledge of the subject matter they will teach, the lack of which has been a suspected cause of the poor performance of U.S. students on international assessments of mathematics and science (NCATE, 2000b). Almost one-fifth of U.S. high school teachers who teach science do not have even a minor in science (National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century, 2000). Two hundred twenty schools of education specialize in preparing teachers of science (NCATE, 2000a).
Most of the 80 or so technology teacher education programs in the United States are affiliated with schools of education. NCATE uses program evaluation standards developed by the Council on Technology Teacher Education (CTTE), the professional development arm of the International Technology Education Assocation (ITEA), to review these
programs for accreditation. The CTTE standards are currently being revised to reflect ITEA’s Standards for Technological Literacy.
Technological literacy can be improved outside of the formal K-12 or university setting. Most Americans (about 70 percent) are no longer in school, and for them to become more technologically literate, they must have opportunities outside of the school setting, so-called informal educational settings (Figure 4-1).
Museums and science centers, television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and other media comprise the informal education system, which offers citizens of all ages and backgrounds an opportunity to learn about and become engaged in a variety of issues related to technology. Research indicates that formal, school-based education is the primary contributor to a conceptual understanding in the sciences, but informal education also has a measurable impact on the acquisition of science knowledge (Miller, 1998; 2001). Presumably, the same is true for technology.
Museums and Science Centers
The Association of Science-Technology Centers (ASTC), which represents more than 430 institutions around the world, periodically col-
lects information about activities and programs at these facilities. In one survey, 12 percent of the 2,237 exhibits reported by survey participants were considered to be about technology (ASTC, 1997). Technology was the third most popular subject for exhibits, after those in physics and the life sciences. A considerable number of physics exhibits also dealt substantively with technology issues, and many exhibits were grouped in both the physics and technology categories. The greatest number of technology exhibits were related to computers, but a substantial number were focused on communications, energy and power production, and transportation.
Museums and science centers are increasing their educational programs for children and teachers. According to the survey, 83 percent of U.S. ASTC members sponsored teacher education workshops for teachers already working in schools. Museums and science centers also devoted considerable resources to preparing future teachers. More than 40 percent of survey respondents provided museum staff to teach education courses or workshops at local colleges. Thirty-seven percent indicated they were working with universities on education research projects; and nearly 50 percent provided resource kits for training programs for future teachers. A handful of museums produce instructional materials (e.g., San Francisco’s Exploratorium).
Museums and science centers also devoted considerable resources to preparing future teachers.
For years, experts in the science of learning have tried to determine what and how people learn through museum experiences. An estimated 120 million visitors entered science centers and museums in the United States in 2000, suggesting museums play an extremely important role in informal education (ASTC, 2001). However, because visits to museums serve social, entertainment, and educational purposes, and because museum visits are almost always unstructured and of very short duration, it is difficult to quantify how much museum-goers take away from their visits (personal communication, G. Hein, Leslie University, December 17, 2000). Contextual-model based assessments of learning show that museums increase understanding and interest among nearly all visitors (Falk and Dierking, 2000).
Although the primary focus of science and technology centers is on communicating facts and concepts, they can also put issues into a social context and thus engage the public in meaningful debate about the effects of science and technology. A case in point is “Mine Game,” an exhibit developed in the early 1990s at Science World in Vancouver, British Columbia (Bradburne, 2000). The exhibit was designed to mirror heated
BOX 4-4 “Engineer It”
The theme of the “Engineer It” exhibit at the Oregon Museum for Science and Industry is “think, build, test, do it again.” Funded by NSF and Intel Corporation, the exhibition, which includes a traveling component, is intended to give everyone, especially children, a chance to explore engineering in a practical way. “Engineer It” encourages visitors to use the same steps engineers use to design and build boats, bridges, windmills, and airplanes and then to test their performance in water tanks, shake tables, and wind tunnels. A companion website, <http://www.omsi.org/explore/physics/engineerit/>, provides print and web-based resources for teachers and activities and online games for children.
conflict in the province about the use of natural resources. Museum visitors were challenged to work through competing scenarios of how logging, mining, and environmental protection might coexist.
Exhibits like “Mine Game” are likely to improve technological literacy, especially the dimension of thinking and acting. They engage the public in the messy process of scientific and technological decision making, making concepts such as risk, constraints, and trade-offs of practical value rather than only theoretical importance. Museums and science centers also can contribute to the capabilities dimension of technological literacy, particularly through exhibits that encourage hands-on, problem-solving, and engineering-design activities (Box 4-4).
Television, Radio, Newspapers, and Other Media
Technology as a subject of reporting by print, broadcast, and electronic media is now commonplace. Almost every day, at least one leading story in the local or national news is related to technology. Our fascination with technology is apparent in a ranking of the most important news stories in the twentieth century; almost half involve technology to a substantial degree (Bybee, 2000).
Frequently, the media’s focus on technology has a business or consumer slant. The Washington Post, for example, has a separate section, <www.Washtech.com>, on its main website devoted to business coverage of technology industries. Like many other newspapers, the Post’s print and online coverage of technology often involves developments in computers and other electronic devices. The New York Times, San Jose Mercury News, Toronto Star, and Seattle Times, among others, have stand-alone technology sections focused on devices that employ microchips. Even newspapers that do not have stand-alone sections in their print versions
often have separate technology sections on their websites (e.g., Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, USA Today).
Among television outlets, the Public Broadcasting System (PBS), especially the program “NOVA,” has the longest track record of technology-related programming. In the past 20 years, PBS has run dozens of documentaries, special films, and film series on aeronautics and flight, crime, computers, energy, weapons and warfare, and ancient and modern engineering. Many of these programs have companion books, websites, and resources for teachers to use in the classroom. Among cable networks, the Discovery Channel, The History Channel, The Learning Channel, and Think Network have featured technology-related programming. Network television, by and large, has not invested in programming related to technology or, for that matter, science. Notable exceptions are the news magazines, such as 60 Minutes, 60 Minutes II, 48 Hours, Primetime Live, and Dateline, which run occasional in-depth pieces on technology topics.
The Sloan Foundation has funded series of short segments on science and technology topics on Public Radio International and National Public Radio (NPR), as well as segments of “The Osgood File” on CBS radio that relate to technology. According to the Sloan Foundation, at least 20 million listeners tune in to at least one of these broadcasts every week. In 2000, Sloan funded the production of five one-hour radio documentaries on NPR, “The DNA Files,” on new developments in genetics.
Network television, by and large, has not invested in programming related to technology or, for that matter, science.
Architects and engineers are well positioned to influence the general level of technological literacy and are already taking steps in this direction. The American Institute of Architects (AIA), for example, compiles a media guide to help editors and reporters cover architecture, interior design, and the building industry. The guide provides contact information for architects around the country who are expert on diverse topics, such as building security, environmental sustainability, and home renovation. Through the American Architectural Foundation, AIA runs a grant program that provides funds to local organizations interested in improving public understanding and appreciation of architecture. The foundation also distributes teacher curriculum guides for grades K-12 that
integrate design concepts into science, social studies, art, and other subjects.
A handful of engineering societies have developed and promoted instructional materials for the classroom. One of the most ambitious is the World in Motion series developed for middle schools by the Society for Automotive Engineers (SAE). These eight-week units are focused on problem-solving and design activities. The SAE Foundation supplies activity kits for student experiments, teacher manuals, and instructional videos free of charge to any school that agrees to become partners with a local engineer or company that will provide volunteer support to the classroom.
The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) has been working for the past 3 years to encourage communication and collaboration between practicing engineers and K-12 teachers. The institute recently launched a website, PEERS (Pre-College Engineer/Educator Resource Site; <www.ieee.org/eab/precollege/peers/index/htm>), to facilitate these interactions. In October 2001, IEEE brought together pairs of deans of education and engineering from some 40 universities to consider how technology content might become part of mainstream teacher education and how engineers could become better informed about education theory and practice. IEEE also hosts a comprehensive online resource related to the history of electrical technologies (see Appendix A).
The largest mobilization of engineering talent on behalf of K-12 education occurs during National Engineers Week, held annually during the month of February. A mainstay of the program is the “DiscoverE K-12” program, when 40,000 engineers volunteer in classrooms across the country, interacting with more than five million students and teachers. More than 60 corporations and 75 government, education, engineering and minority organizations supported EWeek 2001.
At least 30 engineering schools or programs in the United States are currently engaged in outreach to the K-12 education community.
At least 30 engineering schools or programs in the United States are currently engaged in outreach to the K-12 education community (NAE, unpublished). These initiatives include career days, which bring in schoolchildren to learn about engineering and engineers, summer programs for students and teachers, and visits by university engineers to local classrooms. A few programs, such as the Center for Engineering Educational Outreach at Tufts University, design and disseminate curricula based on engineering principles (see Appendix A).
The health professions, particularly physician groups, are also working to influence the public understanding of technology. Modern
medicine has become highly technical, both for practitioners and patients, and many people are poorly equipped to participate in their own care. Recently, the American Medical Association Foundation (2000) launched a campaign to improve communication between doctors and patients, partly by simplifying instructions for and descriptions of medical procedures. Doctor-patient communication about the benefits, risks, and role of technology in health care could easily be made a part of this and similar initiatives.
Contests and Awards
A number of professional societies, businesses, and other organizations sponsor contests and award programs intended to interest students in science, engineering, and technology. The majority of these involve participants in a combination of design, construction, and problem-solving activities. The most well known of contests is the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair, which has been administered by Science Service since 1952. Each year, several million students compete in local, state, and regional fairs around the world. After a lengthy winnowing process, 1,200 finalists vie for cash awards and other prizes in 15 categories, including engineering. The top two contestants receive all-expense-paid trips to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm, Sweden.
Several contests attempt to attract participants through robotics. The FIRST Robotics Competition, begun by inventor Dean Kamen in the early 1990s, for example, challenges teams of high school students and engineers to design and build a robot that can defeat another robot in some kind of a game. The competition attracts more than 500 teams each year. In 1998, FIRST initiated a contest for middle school children using LEGO building blocks, sensors, motors, and gears.
A number of professional societies, businesses, and other organizations sponsor contests to interest students in science, engineering, and technology.
Real-world problem solving is the focus of the TEAMS (Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science) Contest, sponsored by the Junior Engineering Technical Society (JETS). Roughly 1,700 four-to-eight person teams participated last year. Odyssey of the Mind and the Future Problem Solving Contest also emphasize creative problem-solving skills, but students do not participate in hands-on, design-and-build activities.
The National Engineering Design Challenge, sponsored by JETS and several other organizations, encourages the creation of products with
practical applications. The finals of this competition, which attracts about 80 teams from around the country, are held in conjunction with National Engineers Week. In the Future City Competition, also part of National Engineers Week, students design a city of the future using SimCity software, build a scale model of part of the city, and propose a solution to a technological problem facing the city.
No one has attempted to assess the impact of these contests on student learning or future career choices, although some programs collect attitudinal or anecdotal information about student participants, their parents, teachers, and coaches. A FIRST survey of participants in the robotics competition found, for example, that 70 percent of the students became more interested in science, and an equal percentage of their parents believe the contest experience was a factor in their children wanting to attend engineering school.
Participation in Technological Decision Making
Several federal agencies have formal mechanisms in place for involving the public in the planning and, sometimes, execution of federally funded projects, some of which have technological aspects. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), for example, requires its grant recipients to provide opportunities for public input on major transportation initiatives. DOT publishes case studies documenting public participation (DOT, 1997a, b, c). Even with these guidelines, however, complex civil works projects can severely test the efforts of local politicians, engineers, and the public at large to work cooperatively (Hughes, 1998).
Applicants for block grant monies from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) are required to involve citizens in the planning process for housing, homeless, and community and economic development projects. HUD publishes examples from around the country of best practices related to citizen participation (HUD, 2001). Technology-related issues in HUD-funded projects involve environmental concerns, the design and construction of new buildings, and the revitalization of existing commercial or residential areas.
A number of community organizations in the United States, so-called community-based research groups, initiate, and sometimes participate in and even fund, research projects. This approach is sometimes called “participatory research.” Some of these organizations have been
active for two decades or more; most are much newer. Because these groups are generally small and independent, it is difficult to gauge the extent of their activities. The Loka Institute, an Amherst-based nonprofit, has identified about 75 community-based research organizations around the country, a dozen of which appear to be at least partly concerned with technological issues (Loka Institute, 2001). Many activities by community-based organizations are funded by foundation, university, or local government monies, as well as federal agencies (e.g., CDC, 2001; NIEHS, 2001; USDA, 2001).
In some countries, formal mechanisms for involving the public in discussions about the development and use of technology are more common than they are in the United States. Consensus conferences bring together experts and nonexperts to encourage discussions about the scope and implications of technology. Unlike the approach to consensus conferences pioneered by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, in European consensus conferences the conclusions and recommendations are developed by a panel of laypersons, not experts (Van Eijndhoven, 1997).
The Danish Board of Technology (Teknologirådet), which provides technology assessment services to the Danish Parliament, held what was probably the first such consensus conference in the world in 1987, on gene technology in industry and agriculture. To date, the board has sponsored 19 conferences on various topics, including electronic identity cards, educational technology, and the future of private automobiles. A least a dozen other countries, including Japan and South Korea, have attempted to emulate the Danish approach.
In some countries, formal mechanisms for involving the public in discussions about the development and use of technology are more common than they are in the United States.
Scenario workshops, also pioneered by the Danish Board of Technology, involve the public and other stakeholders—usually business leaders, policy makers, and technical experts—in forward-thinking discussions of the local dimensions of sociotechnical challenges. Scenario workshops are intended to develop solutions to specific problems rather than to explore the use and regulation of technology generally (Andersen and Jaeger, 1999).
The scenario approach was used first in Denmark in the early 1990s to examine the topic of urban ecology. A modified version of the technique, called the European Awareness Scenario Workshop® (EASW), was adapted by the European Commission’s (EC) Sustainable Cities and
Towns Campaign in 1994. EASW is a tool to help communities respond to the sustainability agenda (Agenda 21), drafted during the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. EASW scenarios have been developed on four broad themes: the urban environment, regeneration, information and communication, and mobility. In addition, 60 workshops have been held in nine European cities under the auspices of FLEXIMODO, an EC project overseen by a consortium of Dutch, Danish, Italian, and Portuguese organizations (EC, 2000).
Science shops, which originated in the Dutch university system in the mid-1970s, coordinate and sometimes conduct research on social, scientific, and technological issues in response to questions posed by community and public-interest groups as well as by individuals. Public participation in the process is essential, but it is not the overarching purpose. The science-shop approach was developed to engage the academic research community in the solution of societal problems (Utrecht University, 2000).
According to the General Secretariat Dutch Scienceshops, there are 33 science shops at 11 universities in the Netherlands. Each has one or more areas of expertise, such as the environment, physics, chemistry, medicine, or architecture. Science shops or similar organizations are doing work in Denmark, Norway, Germany, Austria, Northern Ireland, England, Canada, South Korea, Malaysia, Israel, and Romania. The EC is currently studying ways to internationalize the science-shop model to increase public access to science (General Secretariat Dutch Scienceshops, 2000).
Another approach, constructive technology assessment (CTA), is designed to include technology users in the technology design process. Rather than focusing on the problems of existing technologies or the potential applications of a technology, CTA focuses on public concerns and desires during the “construction” of a technology. In this respect, CTA is different from other methods of involving lay citizens in technology assessment. The Rathenau Institute (formerly the Netherlands Organisation of Technology Assessment) has been instrumental in the development of the CTA concept. The Dutch government has used the CTA approach to examine the introduction of novel protein foods that could replace meat in the diet. Other countries, notably Denmark, Norway, and Germany, have also used CTA-like processes (Schot and Rip, 1997).
Evidence for Impact
Up to now, very few studies have been done to determine whether the views, concerns, and actions of the nonexpert public actually influence choices about technology. Nor has the effect of such participation on public understanding of science and technology—or on technological literacy—been carefully evaluated. Recently, a small group of mostly European researchers has begun to examine the impact of public participation on decision making. One of the first studies attempted to determine the extent to which consensus conferences influenced the legislative decisions of the Danish Parliament (Joss, 1998). The study involved a mail survey of members of the parliament, follow-up interviews with five of those who responded, and an analysis of parliamentary proceedings and legislation.
The survey showed that 75 percent of members of Parliament had heard of consensus conferences, and half of those had attended at least one. Of those who were familiar with consensus conferences, 13 percent felt that the conferences sometimes led to parliamentary discussions, debates, or initiatives, such as issuance of laws or guidelines. The study documented a number of instances in which consensus conferences were mentioned in parliamentary proceedings or debates. At least one conference, on human genome mapping in 1989, served as the basis for new legislation.
Very few studies have been done to determine whether the views, concerns, and actions of the nonexpert public actually influence choices about technology.
Following a series of Danish scenario workshops in 1992 on urban ecology, the Danish government established a national committee, which is credited with several initiatives encouraging public debate about sustainable housing. But no assessment was done on the long-term effects of the workshops on the communities in which they were held (Andersen and Jaeger, 1999).
An evaluation of the only U.S. participatory consensus conference to date, “Telecommunications and the Future of Democracy,” concluded that the conference had “no actual impact” on the substance of telecommunications policy or on the general thinking about the issue among policy makers (Guston, 1998). But the assessment did find that the nonexpert participants in the process learned a good deal about telecommunications technology and about consensus conferences and the role of citizens in public decision making.
Taken together, the available evidence suggests that formal public participation in technological decision making can influence policy
making, although the effect may be difficult to measure. Public participation does appear to help citizens become more versed in technological matters, at least according to their self-reporting.
The breadth of efforts to boost technological literacy has been impressive. Information to improve the understanding of technology is available in many venues, from kindergarten classrooms to graduate seminars, from news stories in local papers to the exhibit halls of science museums. In terms of promoting the three dimensions of technological literacy, the most extensive efforts have been directed toward the K-12 classroom, for which a cadre of thoughtful technology educators, curriculum developers, and others has produced high-quality instructional materials, textbooks, websites, and other resources. The science standards developed in the early and mid-1990s have provided a framework for integrating science and technology into the classroom, and the newly published ITEA standards for technological literacy could inform teaching and learning about technology for decades to come. For these improvements to be meaningful and lasting, standards, instructional materials, and assessments will have to be coordinated.
Another major impediment to lasting reform is the lack of information about how people, especially students, learn about technology in formal and informal settings. However, interest in the science of learning is burgeoning among educators and policy makers, which is encouraging for the future of technological literacy.
For improvements to be meaningful and lasting, standards, instructional materials, and assessments will have to be coordinated.
Given the large proportion of citizens who are no longer in school, the informal education system must become a major focus for promoting technological literacy. However, unlike in formal education, where standards, curriculum, and testing govern what is taught, there are no similar pressure points influencing what museums, the media, and others in the informal sector do—or choose to neglect—in their role as educators. An additional concern is the difficulty of determining what people actually learn from exhibits, television programming, or science and technology contests.
The overall situation is discouraging. Many projects have had an impact on student or public understanding of technology but have been of limited duration. And some of the most effective initiatives have reached only a few people. Until a drive for technological literacy is consistently
reinforced in schools and in informal education settings, and until rigorously developed standards, curriculum, and assessments have been developed and put in place, the prospects for sustained improvement are slim.
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