Author Technology and Engineering Teacher - Volume 76, Issue 4 - December/January 2017
PublisherITEEA, Reston, VA
ReleasedNovember 15, 2016
Technology and Engineering Teacher - Volume 76, Issue 4 - December/January 2017

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Technological Literacy: The Proper Focus to Educate All Students

The field should remain true to the hands-on design-based roots but must also provide rigorous instruction that applies STEM skills and situates it as a valuable stakeholder among the core content areas. 



In the mid-1980s, leaders and members of the American Industrial Arts Association (AIAA) took a bold step to transition the field of industrial arts to technology education. Since 1986, numerous works (Savage and Sterry, 1990, ITEA, 1996) defining technology education have been published, with the central concept crystalized into the importance of teaching all Americans to be technologically literate. This focus culminated in 2000 with the release of Standards for Technological Literacy: Content for the Study of Technology (STL) by the International Technology Education Association (ITEA/ITEEA, 2000/2002/2007). The prior work and standards all coalesced to the technological literacy emphasis delivered through various types of technology education courses. This inclusive approach has the goal of teaching technological literacy for all students to be college- and career-ready.


True to Our Roots, Yet Looking Ahead

Prior to the shift to technological literacy, industrial arts (IA) was the content area offered in secondary schools. The focus was on skills development, craftsmanship, and safety. IA was not job preparation with occupational skills; it was about developing in boys the basic tool skills and attitudes needed to contribute to a technically and socially changing democratic society (Smith, 1973). Beginning in the 1960s and 1970s, though, enrollment in industrial arts began to decline, particularly in schools where it was offered as elective coursework. Educational leaders in the field began to lobby for refocusing industrial arts to stay current and remain viable.


Donald Maley proposed in The Maryland Plan: A Junior High School Program in Industrial Arts (Smith, 1973) and Math/Science/Technology Projects for the Technology Teacher (ITEA, 1985) that the goals of technology education should include applications of technology systems, nature, impacts and evolution of technology, problem solving using technology, technological and societal issues, use of technology resources, application of academic content including science, math, and language arts to solve problems, career information, and multicultural and gender diversity. These were revolutionary ideas in the early 1970s that were met with resistance; however, many of these overarching concepts found their way into Standards for Technological Literacy (ITEA/ITEEA, 2000/2002/2007) and continue to influence what is taught today.


Other early calls for change came from the Industrial Arts Curriculum Project developed by The Ohio State University in the 1960s, American Industries Project, Jackson’s Mill Industrial Arts Curriculum, and the Industrial Arts Programs Project at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. ITEA released A Conceptual Framework for Technology Education (Savage & Sterry, 1990), which defined how human adaptive systems interacted with domains of knowledge. The impact of technology on this interaction led to new ideas on the technological method of problem solving; understanding of the resources of people, tools and machines, information, materials, energy, capital and time; and processes related to biotechnology, communication, production, and transportation technologies. A new definition of technology went beyond artifacts to include the processes and systems of technology.


With funding from the National Science Foundation and NASA, ITEA initiated the Technology for All Americans Project in 1994. The project was designed to determine what constitutes a technologically literate person and how technology education should be integrated into K-12 schools (National Research Council, 2002). Starting in 2000, ITEEA released multiple documents related to technological literacy: Standards for Technological Literacy (2000/2002/2007), Advancing Excellence in Technological Literacy (2003), and Measuring Progress: Assessing Students for Technological Literacy (2004). Technological literacy helped shift the focus of our field from primarily developing work skills in boys to teaching all students about technology. These solid foundational efforts paved the way for later curriculum shifts including Integrative STEM Education (Wells & Ernst, 2012/2015) and engineering design without subsequent changes to the standards.


Characterizing Technological Literacy

Technological literacy “involves a vision where each citizen has a degree of knowledge about the nature, behavior, power, and consequences of technology from a broad perspective” (ITEA, 1996, p. 1). Ingerman and Collier-Reed (2011) stated that technological literacy is not a characteristic of an individual, but a characteristic of how one experiences and acts in relation to situations and technological processes while also considering societal engagement. According to ITEA/ITEEA (2000/2002/2007), a technologically literate person understands “what technology is, how it is created, and how it shapes society, and in turn is shaped by society” (p. 9). Collier-Reed (2008) later suggested that a technologically literate person could “understand the nature of technology, have a hands-on capability and capacity to interact with technological artifacts, and be able to think critically about issues relating to technology” (p. 24).


With the rapid technological changes in our society, technological literacy should be an enduring skill within each person. People will need to access information, solve problems, and make informed decisions about and with technology. Dugger (2000) stated that a “technologically literate person has the ability to use, manage, assess, and understand technology…(and) is comfortable with and objective about technology—neither scared of it or infatuated with it” (p. 10). Despite the varying expressions of technological literacy and its characteristics, it has remained the core of technology and engineering (T&E) education courses in many countries for a number of years.


Justification for a Technological Literacy Focus

Numerous research studies have suggested that there is a need to enhance the technological literacy of American citizens. One ITEEA Gallup Poll (Rose, Gallup, Dugger, & Starkweather, 2004) found that 63% of Americans believed engineering and technology were the same thing, and when asked what comes to mind when they heard the word technology, 68% of Americans indicated computers, while 5% specified electronics. These misconceptions of technology and engineering exemplify the need for T&E courses at the secondary level to prepare a more technologically literate citizenry. Seventy-four percent of Americans in the Gallup Poll shared a similar belief, stating that it was very important for people at all levels to develop some ability to understand and use technology. Additionally, 88% thought standardized science, math, and reading tests should include questions to determine how much students understand about technology. This became a reality in 2014 with the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) T&E Literacy (TEL) test. Approximately 21,500 American eighth grade students took this test, which examined the type and amount of T&E courses students completed, how often they spent time tinkering and troubleshooting both in and out of school, who taught them how to build and fix things, and T&E content questions. The results revealed that 48% of the eighth grade students reported never taking a T&E course, and 43% indicated they never took something apart to fix it and see how it works. Moreover, there were greater gaps in the amount of time spent outside of school by low income, minority, and female students trying to figure out how things work, how to fix things, building or testing models, and using different tools/materials/machines. It was found that schools helped reduce these disparities. Regarding the content questions, fewer than half (43%) of the students performed at or above the proficient level (Change the Equation, 2016). These findings indicate that, while many students are benefiting from middle and high school T&E education courses, there are still a significant number of students needing these classes to develop TEL proficiency.


Standards for Technological Literacy identifies seven subtopics of technology that were deemed worthy of standards and benchmarks to be taught in school systems: medical technologies, agriculture and related biotechnologies, energy and power, information and communication, transportation, manufacturing, and construction technologies. These broad, designed-world standards have provided states autonomy in defining which courses are eligible for technology education credit. Potential courses like gaming, television production, engineering, biotechnology, robotics, and others are very diverse, but all include students using the design process to solve open-ended problems. This variety of courses is a benefit to our field, as it allows states to focus on local and state needs while providing schools with the flexibility to offer programs taught by fully certified technology educators.


Applications in Technology and Engineering Classrooms

To demonstrate how T&E education looks as an inclusive approach rather than referring to the many ways that T&E education is commonly taught (e.g., AutoCAD, communication technology, power and transportation, robotics), the authors provide examples of how some states are choosing to teach technological literacy through courses that may be associated with other school content areas or are very new content programs.


The State of Florida declared in 2011 that all television production teachers had to hold technology education certification. Television production is often associated with the language arts electives of journalism or media studies, or as a vocational skills course for work in the broadcast television industry. Loveland and Harrison (2006) identified how a broader-based television production course could teach technological literacy through the design method, problem solving, use of changing technologies, and communication of design solutions. Comprehensive projects could include public service announcements, commercials, documentaries, marketing videos, and music videos. This content area is a natural draw to high school students, resulting in booming enrollment.


North Carolina offers courses in Scientific and Technical Visualization, Game Art and Design, and Advanced Game Art and Design in its visualization curriculum strand in Technology Engineering and Design. These courses teach students how to solve problems using 2D and 3D animation software, use augmented reality as a visual and special tool, and conceptual and data-driven models to teach scientific, mathematical, technological, and engineering content for 21st century skills (Ernst & Clark, 2007).


Lazaros and Embree (2016) made the case for schools to offer biotechnology courses by reason of teaching students how to become technologically literate in biological research and technological breakthroughs. It was suggested that the best strategies included hands-on methods, the broader applications of biotechnology, and the use of computer modeling programs to simulate lab experiments. Furthermore, Wells (2016) found that biotechnology was naturally embedded across all five STL content categories and could be used to intentionally teach content and practices of both science and technology concurrently.


Asunda and Mativo (2016) reported that there are increasing numbers of engineering courses (Project Lead the Way, Engineering byDesign™) linked to academic courses. Despite this, most STEM content is still taught as mathematics and science with little connection to technology or engineering content. Based on Standards for Technological Literacy (ITEA/ITEEA, 2000/2002/2007), Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013) and Common Core State Standards (2014), they suggest that an integrative approach to teaching STEM should focus on active learning through engineering problem-based activities focused on pragmatism and the constructs of systems thinking, situated learning, constructivism, and goal-orientation theory.


The examples described above provide opportunities for all students to enhance their level of technological literacy. Technological literacy encourages T&E educators to collaborate with English, biology, physics, and other teachers to enrich content from different disciplines and increase awareness of the relevance of our courses. Without these broad technological-literacy applications, our field could be viewed as an isolated content area among much larger disciplines.


Future Trends and Issues with Technological Literacy

Due to the timeless nature of the standards and benchmarks chosen (ITEA/ITEEA, 2000/2002/2007) in the late 1990s, the technological literacy focus of T&E education has withstood almost two decades of debate. Many states have incorporated the standards and benchmarks in their curriculum frameworks, and the national Praxis II exams for technology education certification adopted the standards for content test questions. One area of future debate is, “Should the standards be revised or dropped for something new?” If there is a strong push to drop technological literacy and focus solely on engineering, then a change may be inevitable. It is interesting to note, though, that the word engineering is used 160 times in Standards for Technological Literacy, so one could surmise that engineering content is already addressed.


Additionally, if we drop technology from our field to become solely engineering education, do we become a Career and Technical Education (CTE) track or Advanced Placement Honors pre-engineering program specifically for the select few students who want to become engineers? This could cause the collapse of programs in public middle and high schools so that they become a one-teacher program offered as a CTE program of study. Some school systems currently have pre-engineering programs like this, offered as a CTE cluster that is funded through Perkins dollars;  however, these programs employ a selective application process and fail to provide opportunities for every student to enhance his or her technological literacy as provided by current middle and high school T&E courses.


Finally, there is the impact of the shrinking undergraduate teacher preparation programs. The number of programs has dropped from 68 in 2003 to 43 in 2015. The number of graduates has plummeted from 716 in 2003 to 245 in 2015 (Love, Love, Love, 2016). At a time when states are opening up more courses to technology education certification requirements, school districts are finding it increasingly difficult to hire certified T&E teachers to fill these positions. This is leading to the hiring of more out-of-field transfer teachers and engineers with varying requirements of additional coursework to obtain certification. This pathway bypasses state and national Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Preparation (CAEP) accredited teacher preparation programs that emphasize the generalist technological pedagogical practices critical for proficiently teaching T&E concepts. Many of these accredited T&E teacher preparation programs have made a conscientious effort to align their curriculum with the Designed World section of Standards for Technological Literacy (Litowitz, 2014).


If technology is removed from our field, are we prepared to adequately teach engineering concepts? Fantz and Katsioloudis (2011) identified that, although many programs changed their names to reflect T&E education, most were not preparing pre-service teachers with sufficient engineering knowledge to teach this content. The key for the survival of T&E education lies not in shifting our focus away from technological literacy, but in renewing support for the remaining T&E teacher education programs across the United States.



As T&E education seeks to survive a shortage of teachers and funding, among other factors, it must proceed with caution. The field should remain true to its hands-on, design-based roots but must also provide rigorous instruction that applies STEM skills and situates it as a valuable stakeholder among the core content areas. Dropping the T would not solve the public’s misconception of what we teach, rather the authors believe another name change to the field would increase this misunderstanding. Adding engineering to our name has helped provide some clarification in what we do and remedies the common misconception that technology education is instructional technology. Technological literacy is the right focus for the future because it provides an opportunity for T&E education to reach more students, not just those interested in specific vocational skills or becoming professional engineers. The inclusive approach has served the field well over many years. There is room for manufacturing programs in the Midwest, gaming development courses in the South, and traditional courses in rural areas. Making a change to a purist engineering education or returning to an industrial arts focus will not adequately serve our field and will increase pressure to close down secondary and higher education programs nationwide. The inclusive technological literacy approach that serves all students continues to be the best direction for our field at this time.



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Thomas R. Loveland, Ph.D., DTE, is a professor and Director of the M.Ed. program in Career and Technology Education at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in Baltimore, MD. He may be reached at


Tyler S. Love, Ph.D., is Coordinator and an assistant professor of Technology and Engineering Education at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. He can be reached at


This is a refereed article.