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The Concept of Technological Literacy Examined through the Lens of a Case Study Concerning the Boeing 737 Max Accidents

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

TELPhE Division Technical Session 1: Expanding Technological and Engineering Literacies

Tagged Division

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

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Paper Authors


John Heywood Trinity College Dublin

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John Heywood is professorial Fellow Emeritus of Trinity College Dublin- The University of Dublin. He is a Fellow of ASEE and Life Fellow of IEEE. he is an Honorary Fellow of the Institution of Engineers Ireland. He has special interest in education for the professions and the role of professions in society, and the work of ASEE's TELPhE division from whom he has received a best paper and meritorious service awards. He has also received awards from the junior Institution of Engineers for coordinating the observations of the British Astronomical Association and Radio Society of Great Britain of Sputniks 1 and 2. He is author of Engineering Education. Research and Development in Curriculum and Instruction which received an outstanding research publication award from the Division for the Professions of the American Educational Research Association. He is also author of The Assessment of Learning in Engineering Education: Practice and Policy; The Human Side of Engineering, and Empowering Professional Teaching in Engineering

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Every citizen has to contend with the technologies that impinge on their lives in order to avoid being controlled by them, but by no means every citizen is aware that this is the case, or that they are being substantially controlled in what they do by these technologies. To provide awareness of and skill in contending with technology might be considered the raison d’ȇtre of programmes in technological literacy yet TELPhE has paid little attention to technological literacy as a form of public discourse. The intention of this text is to rectify that position, not to end such debate, but to begin it. The rationale derives from a common view of literacy which is “information taken for granted in public discourse”. While curriculum designers would begin by establishing the knowledge that a technologically literate person should take for granted, they would want a citizen to be able to contextualize that knowledge, that is, to be technologically competent. It requires judgement and therefore the capability to react to and act on contingent events. The first purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that while technological literacy is not a discipline it may be considered as an umbrella that brings together various “knowledges” from traditional disciplines for the purpose of developing technological judgement or competence. Technological Competence is the skill that provides us with a technological way of viewing the world in which we live that enables us to respond to and control the contingencies caused by the technologies that accost us in daily life. Since technological literacy embraces engineering literacy the provision of engineering courses for non-engineers will not of themselves develop technological competence even though instruction in qualitative engineering evidently contributes to a liberal education as traditionally conceived. It is argued that the solution to technological problems, in particular those in which the citizenship has an investment, mostly involve “knowledges” other than those that are technical. It is not to argue that they do not require a qualitative understanding of engineering. It is to argue that because they are by their nature contingent, an information giving curriculum based on a collection of traditional disciplines is unlikely to develop technological competency. The most likely curriculum to develop technological competency will be problem/project based, accompanied by a study of qualitative engineering. Because it is likely to require students to obtain knowledge independently, and because individuals and organizations learn, its base should be an active understanding of the nature of learning. Some examples of transdisciplinary programmes are mentioned together with some transdisciplinary texts, but they err on the side of information giving rather than problem solving and critical thinking which lie at the heart of technological competence. The second objective is to use a case study to demonstrate this argument and at the same time illustrate another role for case studies, namely in curriculum development.

Heywood, J. (2021, July), The Concept of Technological Literacy Examined through the Lens of a Case Study Concerning the Boeing 737 Max Accidents Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference.

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