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Increasing Technological Literacy Through Improved Understanding Of Technology Emergence And Diffusion

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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

15.725.1 - 15.725.16

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Paper Authors

author page

Steven Walk Old Dominion University

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

Increasing Technological Literacy through Improved Understanding of Technology Emergence and Diffusion


Understanding technology change and how to influence the process has been identified as a critical societal problem, and efforts to define and increase technological literacy have been underway as an approach to solving the problem. Technological literacy cannot be complete, therefore, without an understanding of major processes of technological and social change.

Contrary to popular wisdom and belief, the emergence and diffusion of new technology is a relatively orderly and predictable process. Successful results in the forecasting of technological change have given fresh perspectives on acceptance criteria and adoption rates of new technology. Quantitative technology forecasting studies have proven reliable in projecting in time technological and social change using relatively simple models such as logistic growth and substitution patterns, precursor relationships, constant performance improvement rates of change, and the identification of anthropologically invariant behaviors. In addition, extensive studies of the evolution of patents have uncovered not a series of breakthrough discoveries or creations, but predictable trends of incremental technological innovation, governed by a short list of parametric variations.

This paper presents an overview of the major processes describing technological change indentified through quantitative technology forecasting techniques, and the author provides several examples of his experiences researching and applying the methodologies. The author shares his experience introducing the concepts and sample studies in discussions of career and personal technology choices with undergraduate students in introduction to engineering and engineering technology courses.


Literacy in technology, including knowledge of technological and social change, has been cited in various organization and research publications1,2,3 as cornerstone to maintaining social, cultural, and economic progress in the United States and around the world. The means to model and project technological and social change has been improving over the years. Reliable quantitative forecasting methods have been developed that project the growth, diffusion, and performance of technology in time, including projecting technology substitutions, saturation levels, and performance improvements. These forecasts can be applied at any stage of a technology lifecycle to better predict future technology performance, assess the impact of technological change, and improve technology planning and investment. Knowledge of such means to understand and project paths of technology and innovation would constitute important content in a technology literacy program.

Often what is published as a technology forecast is simply scenario planning, usually made by extrapolating current trends into the future, with perhaps some subjective insight added. Typically, the accuracy of such predictions falls rapidly with distance in time. Quantitative

Walk, S. (2010, June), Increasing Technological Literacy Through Improved Understanding Of Technology Emergence And Diffusion Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky.

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