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Teaching Aspects Of Technological Literacy From A Historical Perspective

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Engineering for Nonengineers: Ideas & Results

Tagged Division

Technological Literacy Constituent Committee

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1146.1 - 13.1146.12



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Paper Authors


Gregory Zieren Austin Peay State University

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GREGORY R. ZIEREN is a Professor of History at Austin Peay State University. He earned his Ph.D. in History from the University of Delaware in 1982. His interests include economic history and the history of technology.

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John Blake Austin Peay State University

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JOHN W. BLAKE is an Associate Professor in the Department of Engineering Technology at Austin Peay State University, Clarksville, TN. He served as department chair from 1994-2005. He received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from Northwestern University, and is a registered Professional Engineer in the State of Tennessee.

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

Teaching Aspects of Technological Literacy From a Historical Perspective


While technological literacy is a topic of special interest to engineering educators, the subject is not limited just to areas of knowledge familiar to engineers. To cover the relevant issues requires knowledge not only of technology, engineering practice, and selected topics from science, but also from business, economics, and the social sciences.

History provides an abundance of examples of technological innovations and their impact on society. Case studies based on these examples can be used to teach aspects of technological literacy. The ideal person to develop historical case studies is both an engineer and a historian. It is rare to find one person who is qualified academically in both fields. If such an individual is not available, then there is the option of forming an instructional team consisting of a historian and an engineer. Working together, this team can present both technological and historical aspects of different technological innovations.

Several years ago, the authors had the pleasure of working as an instructional team to teach a special course in the history of technology. The authors found the experience of team teaching to be both enjoyable and rewarding, and hope that this paper will encourage others to try a similar arrangement. This paper will discuss the course as taught and lessons learned. It will discuss roles for the historian and the engineer in the course, and explore options for enlarging the instructional team to include members from other fields. The paper will also examine administrative issues involved in assigning two instructors to a single course.

The paper will give special emphasis to the historian’s perspective on engineering and technology. To fully appreciate technology, one must understand its impact on society and the economy. The historian who specialized in economic history has a valuable perspective on the impact of technological change on society. Historians who specialize in other fields can point to cases where a technological innovation was a critical element in the course of history. The paper will also explore areas where the engineer’s ability to understand how technology works is needed, and how the expertise of the engineer and the historian can complement each other.


In the National Academy of Engineering (NAE) publication “Technically Speaking,” technological literacy is described as giving people the knowledge necessary to understand, think critically about, and make informed decisions about technology.1 The report describes this as having the dimensions of knowledge, ways of thinking and acting, and capabilities. In this description, knowledge includes understanding of how a technology comes into being and the conditions necessary for its development and how technology changes people’s lives and how humans affect the development of technology. Ways of thinking and acting include helping people learn how to participate intelligently and effectively in making decisions as a community about technology.2

Zieren, G., & Blake, J. (2008, June), Teaching Aspects Of Technological Literacy From A Historical Perspective Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4202

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