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Teaching Technological Literacy As A Quest, Or "Searching For Self In The Engineering Cosmos"

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2006 Annual Conference & Exposition


Chicago, Illinois

Publication Date

June 18, 2006

Start Date

June 18, 2006

End Date

June 21, 2006



Conference Session

Questions of Identity

Tagged Division

Liberal Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

11.1227.1 - 11.1227.15



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Paper Authors

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David Ollis North Carolina State University

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

Teaching Technological Literacy as a Quest, Or “Search for Self in the Engineering Cosmos”


At an April 2004 NSF-NAE faculty workshop on teaching Technological Literacy at the undergraduate level, it became obvious that:

There was no consensus definition of “technological literacy,” and There was no consensus format among the twelve presenters of technological literacy courses.

Why would twelve different faculty develop “technological literacy” courses absent any common, simple definition ? The premise of this paper is that the voluntary creation and teaching of such a course represents, broadly speaking, a kind of academic quest, wherein the protagonist sets out on a large voyage to explore the history and modernity of his/her discipline, and more deeply, his or her own place in the engineering cosmos, by the learning which comes through the development of such a multi- dimensional course. This hypothesis is illustrated using the author’s experiences, and examples drawn from the 2004 NAE-NSF workshop.


At a recent engineering workshop for Technology Literacy, sponsored by NSF and held at the NAE 1, the faculty presenters consisted of a few forty-somethings and an easy majority of engineering elders. Why would an “old guard” be the dominant course inventors for this topic, when new engineering courses are typically initiated by younger faculty ? Why would accomplished senior researchers and a former dean and department heads teach a course characteristically populated by undergraduates outside their departments and college? And why did no consensus technology literacy emerge at this workshop, when undergraduate engineering courses are famous for their uniformity within the US, due largely to common utilization of a few widely accepted texts in each discipline?

Reflection on the individual presenters showed that their academic journeys were logically similar in origin, but not in structure. The dominant majority were simply teaching the understanding of technology, or colloquially “How Stuff Works ,“ from the point of view of their individual disciplines, as illustrated in Table 1 2

TABLE 1 Technology Literacy Courses Titles and Instructors 2 Course title Instructor

Designing People.......................................................... James Baish, Bucknell University

Ollis, D. (2006, June), Teaching Technological Literacy As A Quest, Or "Searching For Self In The Engineering Cosmos" Paper presented at 2006 Annual Conference & Exposition, Chicago, Illinois. 10.18260/1-2--366

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