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Technology Literacy As A Path To “Engineering Solutions In A Global And Societal Context”

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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

13.1191.1 - 13.1191.10



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Paper Authors


David Ollis North Carolina State University

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DAVID F. OLLIS is Distinguished Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at North Carolina State University. He has recently co-authored, with John Krupczak, Hope College, a NSF-sponsored workshop report titled "Improving the Technological Literacy of Undergraduates: Identifying the Research Issues,”, 2005, and was founding Program Chair for Technological Literacy Constituent Committee, ASEE 2006 and 2007.

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


A “device dissection” laboratory has been used by the author for more than a decade to instruct first year engineering students in “How Things Work.” More recently, this lab has been combined with weekly lectures to create a course in technological literacy for non-engineering students. While this pair of courses neatly partitions the offerings into one for engineers and another for non-engineers, the argument has frequently been made that engineering students themselves need to have “Tech Lit” as well, so that they understand not only device construction and operation, but circumstances and forces which drive device evolution in the larger cultural and social contexts of the time.

The format of our Tech Lit course is important: each lab device and associated technical lecture (“engineering solution”) is preceded by an historical survey lecture which provides not only prior examples of “engineering solutions” to the same or similar technical challenges, but also reflects upon the societal and technical settings of the time. While such a lecture pair was first created in order to show the evolution of the technology itself over time, it also naturally reveals the “global and societal contexts” within which each version of the device (engineering solution) was created, grew in frequency of application, and ultimately, perished or was replaced with a yet more modern version.

The evolution of such technical solutions over time thus provides a lovely platform for exploring one of the more problematic ABET/EC 2000 engineering criterion (h): that of providing the undergraduate engineer with “the broad education necessary to understand the impact of engineering solutions in a global/societal context.”

We illustrate how such technological literacy lectures could be used to address EC criterion (h) using three examples drawn from our Tech Lit course: the PC and Jacquard’s weaving machine, the electric guitar, and the bicycle. To focus more sharply, we summarize our lecture treatment of the French introduction of automation via Jacquard’s programming of a silk weaving loom, the guitar and its history of amplification, and the invention and evolution of the bicycle.

The impacts of these engineering solutions remain with us today. Jacquard’s conception of using punched cards to dictate a non-repetitive sequence of instructions to the weaving machine was adapted by Babbage for creating line-by-line programs for computers, a format still practiced today. The guitar has evolved technically through improved amplification, and socially from provision of courtly entertainment to modern concerts for mass audiences. The bicycle, invented as a result of a volcanic explosion, passed through multiple design phases, and today still transports more people than the automobile.

Ollis, D. (2008, June), Technology Literacy As A Path To “Engineering Solutions In A Global And Societal Context” Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--4277

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