All four of these definitions of technology are very similar and reinforce each other: The Standards for Technological Literacy defines technology as “the innovation, change, or modification of the natural environment in order to satisfy perceived human wants and needs.”

The National Science Education Standards states, “…the goal of technology is to make modifications in the world to meet human needs.”

The American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) Benchmarks for Science Literacy presents the following: “In the broadest sense, technology extends our abilities to change the world: to cut, shape, or put together materials; to move things from one place to another; to reach farther with our hands, voices, and senses.”

The National Academy of Engineers and National Research Council publication, Technically Speaking, technology is described as “…the process by which humans modify nature to meet their needs and wants.”

Technology, science, mathematics, and engineering are closely interconnected. Science, which deals with. . . understanding the natural world, is the underpinning of technology. Science is concerned with what is in the natural world, while technology deals with what can be invented, innovated, or designed from the natural world. Rodger Bybee, President of Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS), explains:

The lack of technological literacy is compounded by one prevalent misconception. When asked to define technology, most individuals reply with the archaic, and mostly erroneous, idea that technology is applied science. Although this definition of technology has a long standing in this country, it is well past time to establish a new understanding about technology . . . it is in the interest of science, science education, and society to help students and all citizens develop a greater understanding and appreciation for some of the fundamental concepts and processes of technology and engineering.

Mathematics is the science of patterns and relationships. It provides an exact language for technology, science, and engineering. Developments in technology, such as the computer, stimulate mathematics, just as developments in mathematics often enhance innovations in technology. One example of this is mathematical modeling that can assist technological design by simulating how a proposed system may operate.”

Engineering is the profession in which a knowledge of the mathematical and natural sciences gained by study, experience, and practice is applied with judgment to develop ways to utilize economically the materials and forces of nature for the benefit of mankind. There are strong philosophical connections between the disciplines of technology and engineering. The engineering profession has begun to work with technology teachers to develop alliances for infusing engineering concepts into K-12 education. The alliances will provide a mechanism for greater appreciation and understanding of engineering and technology. The National Academy of Engineering is an avid supporter of technological literacy.

The Standards for Technological Literacy (STL)defines technological literacy as the ability to use, manage, assess, and understand technology. More specifically, the STL defines technological literacy as being: The ability to use technology involves the successful operation of the systems of the time. This includes knowing the components of existing macrosystems and human adaptive systems and knowing how the systems behave. The ability to manage technology involves ensuring that all technological activities are efficient and appropriate. Assessing involves being able to make judgments and decisions about technology on an informed basis rather than an emotional one.

Understanding technology involves the ability to understand and synthesize facts and information into new insights. From a related perspective, a publication prepared by the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) and the National Research Council (NRC) entitled Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More About Technology (2002), states that technological literacy encompasses three interdependent dimensionsknowledge, ways of thinking and acting, and capabilities. Like literacy in science, mathematics, social studies, or language arts, the goal of technological literacy is to provide people with the tools to participate intelligently and thoughtfully in the world around them.

Technological literacy, like other forms of literacy, is what every person needs in order to be an informed and contributing citizen for the world of today and tomorrow. Therefore students, to achieve technological literacy, must develop a broad range of technological knowledge and abilities. On the other hand, technological competency is what some people need to be prepared to be successful in a technical career. Teachers must be technological competent to direct student learning.

Technologically literate people are problem solvers who consider technological issues from different points of view and relate them to a variety of contexts. They understand technological impacts and consequences, acknowledging that the solution to one problem may create other problems. They also understand that solutions often involve tradeoffs, which necessitate accepting less of one quality in order to gain more of another. They appreciate the interrelationships between technology and individuals, society, and the environment. Technically Speaking states, Technological literacy is more of a capacity to understand the broader technological world rather than an ability to work with specific pieces of it.

Technologically literate people understand that technology involves systems, which are groups of interrelated components designed to collectively achieve a desired goal or goals. No single component, device, or process can be considered without understanding its relationships to all other components, devices, and processes in the system. Those who are technologically literate have the ability to use concepts from science, mathematics, social studies, language arts, and other content areas as tools for understanding and managing technological systems. Therefore, technologically literate people use a strong systems-oriented, creative, and productive approach to thinking about and solving technological problems.

Technologically literate people can identify appropriate solutions and assess and forecast the results of implementing the chosen solution. They understand the major technological concepts behind current issues and appreciate the importance of fundamental technological developments. They are skilled in the safe use of technological processes that may be prerequisites for their careers, health, or enjoyment. Most importantly, technologically literate people understand that technology is the result of human activity.

Several groups, organizations, agencies, and institutions have made the case for technological literacy, including the International Technology Education Association (ITEA) as well as National Academy of Engineering (NAE), and the National Research Council (NRC). As the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century reported in 2001: The health of the U.S. economy . . . will depend not only on [science, math, and engineering] professionals but also on a populace that can effectively assimilate a wide range of new tools and technologies. The results of a 2001 Gallup Poll indicate a very narrow view of technology by the American public, who define it as primarily computers and the Internet. A number of questions in the poll focused on the study of technology and technological literacy as a part of the school curriculum. When provided with a definition of technology more accepted by experts in the field, nearly all of the respondents (97%) agreed that schools should include the study of technology in the curriculum. Of those 97%, over half said that they thought the study of technology should be required as a school subject. The public believes technological literacy should be a part of high school graduation requirements.

How widespread is technological literacy among Americans today? Unfortunately, no definitive research exists on this topic. Levels of technological literacy vary from person to person and depend upon backgrounds, education, interests, attitudes, and abilities. Many people are not prepared to perform routine technological activities or appreciate the significance of engineering breakthroughs.

The study of technology has traditionally not been accepted as a core subject area requirement in many elementary, middle, and high schools. For most individuals, technological literacy has been traditionally gained through daily activities. However, technological processes and systems have become so complex that the happenstance approach is no longer effective. A massive, coordinated effort is needed in order to achieve a technologically literate populace. This should involve schools, mass media and entertainment outlets, book publishers, and museums. Schools, in collaboration with the community, must bear the bulk of this effort, because the educational system can provide the most comprehensive study of technology.