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Using Movies To Explore Elements Of Technological Literacy

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2009 Annual Conference & Exposition


Austin, Texas

Publication Date

June 14, 2009

Start Date

June 14, 2009

End Date

June 17, 2009



Conference Session

Engineering Courses for Non-engineers

Tagged Division

Technological Literacy Constituent Committee

Page Count


Page Numbers

14.1328.1 - 14.1328.12



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Paper Authors


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

Using Movies to Explore Elements of Technological Literacy Abstract To reach the goal of developing technological literacy among college graduates, many universities offer courses in this area. These courses should help students learn about technology and develop their ability to adapt technology to meet their needs. They should help students recognize pertinent questions about technology, and to understand and act on answers to those questions. After such a course, students should be better prepared to make decisions about technology. In current practice, different elements, such as examples from the history of technology and technology dissection labs, are used to help students develop their knowledge and abilities.

Efforts to promote technological literacy through college courses can only be successful if students will take the courses. Unless a technological literacy course is listed as a requirement, it must be such that students will choose to take it as an elective. Elements that are both educational and appealing make it more likely that students will choose to take the course. This in turn supports the goal of developing technological literacy.

For some aspects of technological literacy, movies can be used to illustrate and explore topics. The author currently uses three movies – Apollo 13, October Sky, and Forbidden Planet – to help students see aspects of technology and engineering, and to recognize the potential for both benefits and risks inherent in technology. Apollo 13 tells a story about complex engineering systems and demonstrates the challenges of making such a system work. The story includes many examples where engineers, operating under constraints, identify and solve problems. October Sky tells an autobiographical story of a group of young men who, after a long learning curve with many failures, develops the technology to make very successful small rockets. While this is a story about high school students, it reflects the perspective of an author who went on to an engineering career with NASA, and the story is a useful study for technological projects at any level. Moving to fiction and a setting in the distant future, Forbidden Planet tells a story of the enticing benefits of new technological marvels. It also explores the risks of unintended and unanticipated consequences. While these movies illustrate important topics, they are also entertaining, and the students enjoy the movies.

In a course promoting technological literacy, movies can be both educational and entertaining for students. The paper will discuss the selection and current use of these movies in the author’s course, along with options to make better use of these resources and to use this element of the course to attract potential students.

Introduction There is growing recognition of the need for people to be better informed about technology. This has led to a technological literacy movement centered in the engineering education community. As described in a National Academy of Engineering publication, Technically Speaking: Why All Americans Need to Know More About Technology, technological literacy gives people the knowledge necessary to understand, think critically about, and make informed decisions about technology.1 The report describes this as having three dimensions: “knowledge, ways of thinking and acting, and capabilities,” and specifics for each of these dimensions (quoted directly from the report as follows).2

Blake, J. (2009, June), Using Movies To Explore Elements Of Technological Literacy Paper presented at 2009 Annual Conference & Exposition, Austin, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--5486

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