Technological education

Technology is a purposeful activity driven by human needs and desires that arise in a particular context. As a consequence, technology may look different depending on the characteristics of a particular environment and culture in which it emerges.

Approaches to technological education flow from our understanding of technology and will naturally vary according to place and time. Technology is an important part of daily life and technological education is important for equipping people to use existing technologies, develop new ones, and participate effectively in making decisions about technology in society.

Technological literacy

The term, technological literacy, encapsulates these ideas. Education Queensland (2000) described it as the extent to which somebody understands and can use and develop technologies. It should include knowledge about technology and its effects, ability to develop technologies to meet needs and wants, and ability to deal with the ethical dimensions of technology.

The USA National Academy of Engineering (2002) took a very similar view, describing the technologically literate person as knowing about technology, being able to use it to accomplish tasks, and being able to think critically and act accordingly about technology. The NAE documents propose three dimensions for technological literacy:

  • knowledge - knowing about technologies, their design, their effects, and their relationship to values in the context of a culture
  • ways of thinking and acting - asking questions about technologies and participating in decision making
  • capabilities - hands-on skills, ability to complete simple tasks at home and work, and applying mathematical concepts to support judgments about technology.

These dimensions are not really separable from each other and are better thought of as interacting with each other. The specific requirements and balance among the dimensions will vary according to circumstances. Being technologically literate enables a person to function more effectively in a society where technology is central to so many activities and has benefits for both individual and society.

Approaches to technology education

Williams and Williams (1996) provided an extensive discussion of technology education, ranging across the evolution of approaches, philosophical underpinnings and curricular approaches.

Approaches to technology education have evolved from vocational education in preparation for employment to a broader view. Traditional views focused on transmission of knowledge from teacher to student, with students working on set projects with teacher instruction to develop skills. By the 1970s Queensland had adopted a transactionist approach in which students developed a more complete set of skills by first designing and then making projects. More recent approaches were characterized as transformationist and have emphasised technology as a human activity and technology education as part of developing the whole person for participation in society.

Philosophical questions around technology education concern epistemology, axiology and metaphysics. Epistemological questions concern the nature of knowledge, including the relationship between scientific and technological ways of knowing, and the relationship between knowing as understanding something and knowing as having the skills to accomplish something. Axiological questions arise around the values that drive adoption of technology and the consequences for different interested groups. Metaphysical questions are around the nature of reality and human control of technology.

Technology can be considered as an object, a process, knowledge about how to do things, or choices based on values. All of these are aspects of technology but from time to time one or other may be emphasised relative to the others. That emphasis is likely to be reflected in the different approaches to curriculum that have emerged over time. Technology has been variously treated as a separate discipline concerned with practical knowledge or knowing by doing, as a set of competencies to be attained, as a combination of intellect and practicality, as a component of personal development, or as a means of social reconstruction through solution of problems.

Current developments

STEM/STEAM

In recent years, especially in the USA but also in Australia and elsewhere, it has become popular to group together the areas of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics as STEM education (STEM Education Coalition). Even more recently it has been suggested that the role of design in technology is important enough to justify including Art (and Design) in the mix to make STEAM (STEM to STEAM and STEAM not STEM).

Computational thinking

The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) produced this video to explain the concept of computational thinking. ISTE is one of a number of organisations and governments promoting the importance of ideas associated with computer programming as an essential element of contemporary education. The UK government moved to rejuvenate the teaching of computing in British schools and the new Australian Curriculum: Technologies includes ideas of computational thinking in the Digital Technologies subject.

When personal computers first began to appear in school classrooms in the 1970s and 1980s there was very little commercially available software available. If the computer was to be used at all it first had to be programmed so teachers and students learned at least the rudiments of programming. As software became available that need faded and fewer classes engaged in programming. There were some exceptions and there was a period in which Logo, the programming language developed by Seymour Papert so that children could program computers rather than be programmed by them, was popular.

However, over the past couple of decades the experience of most classrooms has been with educational software and productivity suites such as Microsoft Office. Some classes have done very creative work with these tools but, as Mitch Resnick suggested in his TED talk, not teaching kids to code is equivalent to teaching them to read but not write. This is an area that will be unfamiliar to many current teachers but is likely to be increasingly important in coming years.

Maker movement

The Maker Movement is an interesting development that has been described as a "response to and outgrowth of digital culture" (The Economist, 2011). New tools and methods of communication have begun to make it easier for people to engage in activities that bring together the digital and the physical worlds. People find pleasure in being able to create objects that are functional and/or decorative, exchange associated ideas, and engage in markets that may be in the real or virtual worlds. In addition to Maker Faires (Dash, 2011) in various locations the products may be sold through various online markets in Facebook, eBay or elsewhere. These developments are reflected in the growth of craft markets and an increasing number of associated craft businesses conducted in the markets or via Facebook. There is potential for technology education by engaging children in real world design and production processes. Indeed, Martinez and Stager (2013) have argued that the maker movement is a natural match for the inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing in the constructionist style. For additional insights listen to an 8 minute podcast interview with Sylvia Martinez.

The recording is of an interview from DML Central conducted by Howard Rheingold with Mitch Resnick of the MIT Media Lab. It offers some insights into the possible value of making, tinkering, and remixing for education. Recall that the MIT Media Lab was initiated by Seymour Papert who originated constructionism as a variant of constructivsm. In essence it suggests that learning is most effective when we make tangible objects in the real world that display what we have learned in practice.

References

Dash, A. (2011). Recognizing the maker movement. Retrieved, February 20, 2012, from http://dashes.com/anil/2011/09/recognizing-the-maker-movement.html

The Economist. (2011). More than just digital quilting. Retrieved, February 20, 2012, from http://www.economist.com/node/21540392

Education Queensland. (2000). Retrieved, September, 2002, from http://education.qld.gov.au/curriculum/area/technology/

Martinez, S. L., & Stager, G. (2013). Invent to Learn. Torrance, CA: Constructing Modern Knowledge Press.

USA National Academy of Engineering. (2002). Technically Speaking: Why all Americans need to know more about technology. Retrieved, February 20, 2012, from http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=10250

Williams, J., & Williams, A. (1996). Technology education for teachers. South Melbourne: Macmillan Education Australia.