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Development Of A Technological Literacy Course For Non Engineering Students: Science Of High Technology

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Teaching Technological Literacy - Engaging Students

Tagged Division

Technological Literacy Constituent Committee

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.408.1 - 15.408.13



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Paper Authors

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Thomas Howell San Jose State University

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Patricia Backer San Jose State University

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Belle Wei San Jose State University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Development of a Technological Literacy Course for non- Engineering Students: Science of High Technology

Abstract As citizens, we are confronted by many global and national issues such as the dangers of greenhouse gases and the best choices for energy sources. These questions are fundamentally technical in nature and many people feel ill-equipped to understand the variety of claims and counterclaims as to what is “the truth” on these and other important scientific issues. For many people, the reaction is to give up and accept that the modern world is too complex to understand. To address these issues and improve technological literacy, the College of Engineering (CoE) at San José State University (SJSU) has implemented a new lower division physical science General Education (GE) course for the university--Engineering 5, Science of High Technology. Engr 5 was designed for non-engineering students. Many of the technologies discussed in this class are ones that students naturally wonder about. We cover electronic technologies and show the student the science behind these technologies. In this way, students use real objects (such as portable audio players or microwave ovens) to discuss physical concepts. This course serves two purposes: to increase the technological literary of undergraduate students, allowing them to become more effective and engaged citizens; and to provide knowledge about these technologies to non-engineering students who will work for technology companies in the Silicon Valley after graduating from SJSU.


In 1959, in the midst of the technological explosion in the West, C. P. Snow published his influential essay The Two Cultures1. In his essay, he saw the Western society was “increasingly being split into two polar groups…at one pole we have the literary intellectuals…at the other scientists.” There is “a gulf of mutual incomprehension… but most of all lack of understanding” between these two groups. This lack in understanding that Snow portrayed has been exacerbated today by the increasing advances in technology and engineering, leaving the general public uninformed about the nature of technology and technological innovation.

Byars2 summarized the need for technological literacy classes for liberal arts majors, particularly classes with an engineering-based approach. She emphasized that this need is based on the well-established lack of scientific and technological literacy among the American general public. Surveys3 indicate that many Americans are unable to provide the correct answers to basic questions in science and do not understand the nature of experimentation or scientific inquiry. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)4 noted that literacy had several components:

Current thinking about the desired outcomes of science education for all citizens emphasizes the development of a general understanding of important concepts and explanatory frameworks of science, of the methods by which science derives evidence to

Howell, T., & Backer, P., & Wei, B. (2010, June), Development Of A Technological Literacy Course For Non Engineering Students: Science Of High Technology Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16024

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