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Engineers And Technological Literacy

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2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Technology Literacy for Engineering Students

Tagged Division

Technological Literacy Constituent Committee

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.660.1 - 12.660.10



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Paper Authors

author page

Byron Newberry Baylor University

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

Engineers and Technological Literacy


In his book Designing Engineers, engineer Louis Bucciarelli answers the question “Do you know how your telephone works?” with the rhetorical rebuttal, “Does anyone know how their telephone works?” At first pass, we might be inclined to assume that engineers, scientists, or computer scientists are by default technologically literate—if anyone knows how the telephone works, surely it is them. But the intent of Bucciarelli’s question is to point to a deeper ambiguity about what is means to “know” how something works, even in the case of a technical expert. Essentially what he is asking is “Is anyone really technologically literate?”

This is the question I will explore philosophically in this paper, with particular focus on the technological literacy of technological professionals such as engineers. I will begin by examining the definitions of, and criteria for, technological literacy provided by the NAE report Technically Speaking. I will examine the extent to which those criteria might be satisfied, both for lay people as well as technological professionals. The Technically Speaking report describes some general obstacles to achieving technological literacy. I will discuss these challenges and offer some additional ones, including some to which technological professional contribute, and others which primarily affect technological professionals. I will close by offering some general observations from an engineer’s perspective on the definition and goals of technological literacy.

Engineers’ Contributions to Technological Literacy

If there is a need for the increased technological literacy of people in our society, then it would seem patently obvious that engineers could and should play a vital role in helping to fulfill that need. Thus, the ITEA’s standards document lists the engineering profession among the groups it calls to action.1 Likewise, the National Academies report on technological literacy states, “The technical community—especially engineers and scientists in industry—is largely responsible for the amount and quality of communication and outreach to the public on technological issues.”2 One of the editors of that report, Pearson, has elsewhere discussed the need for the engineering profession to become more engaged with the technological literacy effort.3 For a more specific example, engineers Ollis and Krupczak have proposed that at the college level engineering design faculty could be the primary providers of general technological literacy courses.4

But the engineering profession has not been entirely absent when it comes to popularizing an understanding of engineering and technology. As Pearson points out, the engineering profession has traditionally seen itself as misunderstood or undervalued, which has spurred engineering professional organizations to undertake a variety of efforts throughout the years to publicize engineering and technology.3 Of course, the ultimate success of such efforts is debatable since periodic polls seem to consistently reveal a lack of understanding of those topics by the public. Nonetheless, the profession has devoted resources to the cause. In fact, engineers have a more narrowly self-interested motivation to continue such efforts than just the hope of achieving any general technological literacy. Filling the educational pipeline with young people prepared for, and interested in, careers in engineering is a crucial objective for the profession and one that

Newberry, B. (2007, June), Engineers And Technological Literacy Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--2704

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