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The Philosophical Foundations of Technological and Engineering Literacy

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2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Columbus, Ohio

Publication Date

June 24, 2017

Start Date

June 24, 2017

End Date

June 28, 2017

Conference Session

The Philosophy of Engineering and Technological Literacy

Tagged Division

Technological and Engineering Literacy/Philosophy of Engineering

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Paper Authors


R. Alan Cheville Bucknell University

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R. Alan Cheville studied optoelectronics and ultrafast optics at Rice University, followed by 14 years as a faculty member at Oklahoma State University working on terahertz frequencies and engineering education. While at Oklahoma State, he developed courses in photonics and engineering design. After serving for two and a half years as a program director in engineering education at the National Science Foundation, he took a chair position in electrical engineering at Bucknell University. He is currently interested in engineering design education, engineering education policy, and the philosophy of engineering education.

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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 of Ireland. He has special interest in education for the professions and the role of professions in society. He is author of Engineering Education. Research and Development in Curriculum and Instruction. His most recent book is The assessment of learning in Engineering Education Practice and Policy. IEEE Press/Wiley.

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The purpose of this paper is to discuss the importance of philosophy in discussions of technological literacy, and to point out that actionable definitions of technological literacy are not possible without philosophy. Technological literacy has been broadly conceived as relating to the designed world, which exists in conjunction with the natural and social worlds. Definitions of technology tacitly include the social world since social institutions produce technologies, governments regulate them, and engineers design them. Within this broad sphere, however, there are competing definitions of technological literacy that confuse the issue of how to best develop technological literacy in students through education. When one also considers engineering literacy, scientific literacy, and information literacy and the more recent push for economic and media literacy, these confusions are magnified.

To make sense of the many definitions of technological literacy it helps to look broadly at the groups that promote them. Each group has an explicit or tacit epistemology, and considering the definitions that arise from these views help to illuminate the underlying aims and objectives of teaching technological or engineering literacy. Here we briefly look at five perspectives: understanding technology in society, training students to manage technology in their lives, the need to have a technically literate workforce, philosophy of technology, and engineering. While each viewpoint has underlying aims and philosophies, the perspective of understanding technology in society provides a sufficiently expansive view so that meaningful problems can be posed and addressed by students. We explore some of the problems this view suggests and find that technological literacy can be taught as a transdisciplinary area of study (science, technology, and society programs), an area of philosophical inquiry (philosophy of technology), or in ways that organize inquiry across disciplines so students develop a personal philosophy.

Cheville, R. A., & Heywood, J. (2017, June), The Philosophical Foundations of Technological and Engineering Literacy Paper presented at 2017 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Columbus, Ohio. 10.18260/1-2--28992

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