Basic technoliteracy involves learning how to use and socially manage the wide range of tools and material artifacts that are fashioned by humanity to modify the natural environment in order to meet people’s perceived wants and needs. Historically, this functional form of technoliteracy has been more narrowly conceived as the proper domain of public schools’ vocational programs, such as delivered in home economics courses concerned with the proper use of household technologies; shop-floor courses that teach carpentry, metalwork, and the manipulation of automotive repair tools; and typewriting, wordprocessing, and computer-programming courses designed to familiarize students with various professional office machines.
Since John Dewey’s Democracy and Education (1916), however, theorists of educational foundations have maintained critiques of the curricular attempt to reduce technoliteracy to such functional and vocational exercises. Consequently, critical theories and programs of technoliteracy have arisen that are additionally concerned with both generating pedagogical attention to the systemic aspects of technology and facilitating the comprehension of technology as complex networks of social, cultural, economic, political, and historical processes that govern the creation and operation of technological artifacts proper. Accordingly, contemporary movements for critical technoliteracy seek to expand technological studies across the curriculum toward helping students achieve democratic and socially reconstructive understandings about the costs and benefits of our modern technological age as well as its possible futures. This entry looks at technoliteracy from the perspectives of public education, international policy, and scholarly research.
Technoliteracy In Public Schools
The past few decades have seen the worldwide, exponential growth of information-communication technologies, emergent digital media, and other types of high-tech scientific innovation related to the rise of a technologically induced global network society in which new forms of culture, politics, and technologically mediated existence are increasingly the norm. During this same time, trends in U.S. educational policy have been toward the correlative expansion of merely functional versions of technoliteracy that have sought simply to train students in standardized computer and information skills and to transform schools into a marketplace for corporate technological goods and services.
In 1983, the U.S. government released the report A Nation at Risk, which first articulated a vision of American students as unprepared to meet the requirements of the coming high-tech information age and recommended that a basic computer science course for personal and work-related purposes become mandatory within school curricula. By 1996, with the nascent World Wide Web generating major sociocultural transformation, the U.S. Department of Education began to refer to technological literacy as the new basic skill and to call for the saturation of public schools with computer-associated technology along with requisite training in this technology for both students and teachers alike.
Most recently, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and 2004’s U.S. National Education Technology Plan have reinforced and extended this view of functional and market-based technoliteracy. Both policies advocate for information-communication technology and other forms of new media to be infused in innovative ways across the curriculum such that every student, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, family income, geographic location, or disability, will have mastered computer-based competency standards by the end of the eighth grade. Notably, in all of these policies, little attention is paid to the need to educate students to understand the more critical and complex aspects of technology as part of the process of realizing a more technoliterate citizenry and good society.
A reductive policy approach to technoliteracy is not mirrored at the international level, where the United Nations has developed the educational goal of “science and technological literacy for all” (STL) as part of its Project 2000+ campaign on behalf of equitable social and community-building practices. Project 2000+ began in 1993 as the brainchild of UNESCO and eleven major international agencies with a combined mission to prepare citizens worldwide to understand, deliberate on, and implement technological strategies in their everyday lives around sustainable development issues such as population, health, environmental well-being, and cultural welfare.
Although Project 2000+ actively incorporates pedagogical strategies concerned with the management and use of information-communication technologies, it is important to recognize that STL is specifically committed to promoting multiple ways of knowing and deploying appropriate technologies—technologies that can be defined as the simplest, most sustainable means of responding to a given human end. In this context, STL attempts to make people conscious of the potential for new technologies to exacerbate divides between rich and poor, male and female, and the global North and South. STL also supports education into the nature of and need for local cultural tools as well as the way in which global technological trends can be meaningfully embedded within vernacular traditions and values. Therefore, even though the United Nations finds that technoliteracy is a universal goal of mounting importance due to present global technological transformation, Project 2000+ programs in STL require that various individuals, cultural groups, and states will formulate the questions through which they gain literacy into global technology differently and for diverse reasons.
Although U.S. policy that conceives of technoliteracy as a type of vocational competency in the use and development of information-communication technologies differs markedly from the international STL movement, scholars continue to work on critical theories of technoliteracy that draw upon founding work in the field by intellectual figures such as Dewey, Paulo Freire, Ivan Illich, Marshall McLuhan, Herbert Marcuse, and Neil Postman. A key document in this respect is “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures” by the New London Group (1996), a leading amalgam of technoliteracy scholars from the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia.
Through the concept of multiliteracies, the New London Group attempts to highlight how dramatic developments in contemporary technology are affecting a hybridic shift and increase in the communication of the world’s cultural and linguistic diversity. For these reasons, the New London Group believes that traditional literacy programs should also evolve to help students learn how to critically reflect upon and navigate their immersion in diverse linguistic, visual, audio, spatial, gestural, and multimodal forms of technological environments such that people become empowered to have more creative choice about their life’s work and are thus able to help design their own social futures.
In similar fashion, there has been much significant work done in theorizing forms of critical media literacy, critical computer literacy, and critical multimedia literacy as part of a pedagogical movement for a more robustly democratic and socioculturally reconstructive form of technoliteracy. Therefore, although standards-based, vocational forms of technoliteracy continue to dominate professional education on the large, they are countered significantly by attempts to legitimate culturally sensitive, sustainable, and other critical forms of technoliteracy both domestically and internationally. These latter forms hope to fashion the enhancement of a literacy of critique so that students can begin to name the technological system that constitutes their lives as citizens, describe and grasp the rapid technological changes occurring as defining features of a burgeoning global network society, and learn to engage experimentally in creative and counterhegemonic practices in the interests of a more radically democratic and self-reflective world.
- Dakers, J. (Ed.). (2006). Defining technological literacy: Towards an epistemological framework. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Kahn, R., & Kellner, D. (2005). Reconstructing technoliteracy: A multiple literacies approach. E-Learning, 2(3), 238–251.
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