Proceedings of the Second AAAS Technology Education Research Conference

Technological Literacy: Researching Teaching and Learning in the K-12 Setting

Jared Berrett

Brigham Young University

The second American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) sponsored Technology Education Research Conference brought together professionals interested in teaching technology in K-12 settings. The intent was to share ideas that would promote quality research on how students learn technological literacy skills. In considering how the conference has shaped my thoughts on the research needs and directions for technology education in the future, I have chosen to further the discussion on two important items brought out in the conference.

  • Technology education is not alone in its interest in technological literacy, and
  • Teaching practice is a valuable and underutilized source of knowledge.

Technology teacher educators must realize that we are not alone in our research efforts and interest in technological literacy. By learning about other fields' views and efforts to create technologically literate students, and by investigating the commonalities and differences in our goals and outcomes, the research we conduct will be interesting to a much broader audience. In addition, in order to determine what teaching and learning processes promoted by technology education are valuable, we must consider alternative ways of understanding the processes. The traditional empirically based correlational, Delphi, and statistically based research methods cannot provide the insight into the question of "how" technological literacy is taught. However, by valuing teacher practice as another way of knowing and researching the learning outcomes of that practice we will begin to be able to understand how we can help our students better learn to be technologically literate.

Technological Literacy-We're Not Alone

The rapid advancement of technological innovations and their impact on our society is making it imperative to understand how schools can help students become technologically literate. In technology teacher education we realize that we must study how students learn technological literacy skills and how teachers can facilitate the development of those skills in order to achieve this goal. This issue was an important item discussed during the second AAAS Technology Education Research Conference. One of the big challenges, however, is that many professionals in our technology teacher education field do not look outside the profession to inform their discussion of technological literacy. Technology educators are not alone in their interest in teaching students to become technologically literate. By becoming informed by what other fields are doing, we can reach a broader audience in disseminating our views and goals.

Literacy has long been recognized as an important element of an individual's education. Many people consider literacy as the ability to read and write, but there is a current impetus for changing definitions of literacy brought about by technology (Tyner, 1998). Several fields of study including library science, science education, information technology, computer science, and instructional technology use closely related terms such as "media literacy" (Brunner and Tally, 1999; Considine, 1990; Silverblatt, 1995), "computer literacy" (Bernstein and Havig, 1999; Horton, 1983), and "information literacy" (Rassool, 1999; Spitzer, Eisenburg, and Lowe, 1998). But how do these terms differ from "technology literacy?"

The International Technology Education Association (ITEA) has defined technological literacy as "human innovation in action" (ITEA, 1996). The recently published Standards for Technological Literacy (ITEA, 2000) states that a technologically literate person has "the ability to use, manage, assess, and understand technology." The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) however, has published the National Educational Technology Standards for Students (NETSS) where technologically competent students are described as "information technology users; information seekers, analyzers, and evaluators; problem solvers and decision makers; creative and effective users of productivity tools; communicators, collaborators, publishers, and producers; and, informed, responsible, and contributing citizens" (ISTE, 2000).

The ISTE organization has traditionally focused on what is often referred to as "instructional technology" (Gagné, 1987) or "educational technology" while the ITEA organization and profession has promoted a broader view of technology to include all human endeavors that use knowledge and materials to solve problems. These two approaches to technology have significantly differed in definition and scope in the past, yet a careful review of both standards reveals that the differences are becoming blurred. The field of technology education is placing more emphasis on design, problem solving, and critical thinking while instructional technology is beginning to place emphasis on the broader socio-educational goals of citizenry, critical thinking, and problem solving. It is evident that these fields and their views of technology are coming closer and closer together.

Science is another field that is embracing technology in its domain of knowledge which is causing many to wonder then, "What is the domain of technology as it relates to science?" The sponsor of this conference, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is focused on the reform of science, mathematics, and technology education through the efforts of Project 2061 (AAAS, 2001). The Science for All Americans (SFAA) (AAAS, 1989) document and Benchmarks for Science Literacy (AAAS, 1993) show that technology is recognized and embraced as an integral part of science. Scientific literacy is defined as recognizing the interdependence of science, mathematics, and technology, understanding key concepts and principles, familiarization within the natural world, and using scientific knowledge and ways of thinking for individual and social purposes (AAAS, 1989). Science must rely on technology to perform experiments, test, validate, verify, and develop many of its theories and to apply its natural laws. Technology is mutually dependent upon science for understanding the natural world and improving or creating new technologies. SFAA promotes technology as the process for solving technological problems, like in engineering. From this perspective, scientifically literate people know how technology connects to society and have an understanding of the elements of the designed world including agriculture, materials, manufacturing, energy, communication, health, and computer technologies and the implications for the human enterprise (AAAS, 1989).

During the 2001 AAAS conference, many people voiced concerns that technology education must keep itself completely separate from science and other fields. I feel that if this opinion is taken to the extreme, our field will continue to look at technological literacy in a vacuum, which will eventually lead to our professional downfall. Instead, I believe technology teacher education has a wonderful opportunity to partner with other organizations and fields of study to mutually figure out how we can promote a technologically literate citizenry. Does that mean we are the same as instructional technology or science professionals and teachers? Of course not, but we need to determine the best practices for teaching technological literacy and determine "if" and "what" students are learning in those situations. Getting more committees together to discuss the teaching/learning process and surveying the profession further will not provide the needed answers to these questions. What technology teacher education researchers need to do is get into the classrooms and investigate. The possibilities for affecting the long term stability of the profession and potential impact the profession can have on students is only limited by our ability to make connections with others in their endeavor to help our society become technologically literate. As researchers, we must not ignore diversity in our sampling methods, literature reviews, and research designs-we must embrace it.

Teaching Practice and Naturalistic Inquiry

There have been many efforts to determine what technological literacy is and what skills it might include. To date, much of the research from the technology teacher education field has been rhetorically-, philosophically-, or logically-based commentary which has attempted to describe or define technological literacy. Some efforts have been made that go beyond reflection, opinion, and rhetoric. These studies have empirically sought to compile lists of competencies primarily through questionnaires or methodologies (Dyrenfurth, 1984; Foster and Perreault, 1986; Halfin, 1973; Rosenfeld, 1988). There also have been studies aimed at developing instruments and measuring technology literacy (Hayden, 1991; Jones, 1997; Smalley, 1984; Zuzovsky, 1997), but this has been difficult to do without a general disciplinary agreement about what technological literacy is. Exploring technological literacy in an innovative and refreshing hermeneutical approach, Gagel (1995; 1997) suggested that technological literacy is as dynamic as the society we live in and that "as long as humans continue to practice technology, what it takes to be considered technologically literate will change." (1995, p. 296)

In the words of DeVore, "with so much effort to describe it, there has been little agreement on what it is or how to attain does one attain it?" (1987). As mentioned earlier in this paper, we must stretch beyond our past common research designs and learn from the actual practice of exemplary teachers. We must learn more from the actual practice of teachers who are in the schools dealing with the interrelated issues of how science, technology, and educational technology overlap, for instance, and try to understand how they deal with it in their teaching practice. Furthermore, we must investigate students in those classrooms to determine what practices lead to what types of technological literacy skills and knowledge. In other words, we need to look at teaching practice as another way of knowing.

It is my opinion that investigating teaching practices and student learning can best be done through naturalistic inquiry and qualitative measures. The call for this type of research is not new to the field, nor to this conference—Cajas (2000; 2001) and Zuga (1994; 1996) determined that 80 percent of all technology education research was quantitative; Foster (1992; 1996) called for the need to go beyond descriptive survey research; and, Lewis (1999) suggested that if our research is student based, then it should be conducted in the classrooms. In the 1999 AAAS conference, McCormick (1999), Bennett (1999), Rowell (1999), and others called for more qualitative teacher practice-oriented research. This year, the need was brought up several times by Sanders, Barlex, Kolodner, and others, who furthered the discussion about the need for more in-depth understanding of how practice can inform our understanding.

Qualitative researchers study things in their natural setting in an attempt to make sense of, interpret, or understand phenomena in terms of the meanings which people bring to them (Denzin and Lincoln, 2000). Qualitative study does not generally begin with a theory to test, but instead a theory is allowed to inductively emerge throughout the research. The investigator begins by gathering detailed information and forms categories or themes until a theory or pattern emerges (Creswell, 1994). Case studies in particular as noted by several people at the conference would be a good place to start. Lincoln and Guba (1985) suggest that in case studies, an explanation that develops during naturalistic or qualitative research is actually the creation of patterns or a "pattern theory." A case study is an empirical inquiry that investigates a contemporary phenomenon with its real-life context (Yin, 1994) particularly suitable for studies interested in process (Merriam, 1998). The process that occurs when a teacher is teaching technological literacy is just such a phenomenon. The case study provides a framework which allows the use of the most appropriate methods to be used to answer particular research questions or issues which as Stake (1995) advocates, provides effective ways of studying educational programs, education and social services and social service programs. Instead of starting with a theory and proving it or testing a process or product, understanding the uniqueness of the case will be the central focus (Erickson, 1986). Some of the field work methods to be considered as part of one's case study might include:

Case Study Methods




The purpose of the observations is to describe the setting, activities, and people who participate in the setting, as well as their activities and the meanings of the setting (Patton, 1980).

Document Analysis

Analyzing documents is a non-intrusive method of attempting to understand communications or how one individual is conveying meaning to another (Gall, Borg and Gall, 1996).


"Open ended" (Yin, 1994) or structured (Merriam, 1998) interviews can be used to gather informants' opinions and insights into the case.

Audio and Video

Taping allows for situations to be repeatedly reviewed, and it enables patterns to be seen and charted over time ( Hopkins , 1985).

Once the data are obtained, analysis must be conducted to bring order to the data. This is generally done by organizing it into patterns, categories, and basic descriptive units. As the researcher interprets the data, he or she attaches meaning and significance to the analysis, explaining descriptive patterns and looking for relationships and linkages among descriptive dimensions (Patton, 1980). Finally, meaning is derived while looking for salient points and themes (Miles and Huberman, 1994) through comparisons, analysis of natural conflict, struggles, and success throughout the case (Stake, 1995).

Of course with all disciplined inquiry, validity must be protected. Validity is one of the greatest challenges to naturalistic inquiry. It is important that researchers avoid the promotion of ideas that they think are important while completely missing or misrepresenting other significant issues within the case. Triangulation can be used to address this challenge. Multiple perspectives from participants and multiple methods of data gathering can be continuously considered and analyzed to get the most correct picture of the case. Data source and methodological triangulation (Denzin, 1984) is specifically used to ensure the results are valid. As patterns emerge and if patterns coincide, they build the internal validity of the case (Yin, 1994).


How is technological literacy taught and learned? This was one of the central questions considered at the AAAS 2001 conference that has been influencing my thinking. While attempting to answer parts of this question in our research, it is important to realize we are not alone in our concern. This question touches fields well beyond technology education. For instance, the President's Council on the Advancement of Science and Technology in 1997 reported that teachers should "focus on learning with technology, not about technology (PCAST, 1997). Other organizations however, like the National Science Foundation (NSF, 1992), support the traditional view of technology educators in acknowledging that technology is a separate field of study involving the application of learned principles to specific, tangible situations. Essential also to our study is the consideration of research in related fields as they discover what skills are learned through other approaches. Instead of shunning others' definitional differences, perhaps we should embrace them and show the connections we have on common ground with them through our research.

In searching for understanding about the teaching and learning process of technological literacy, great insight can be obtained from actual teacher practice. Instead of sending surveys out to determine what teaching practice looks like through self reflection measures, conducting research inside classrooms provides another view-another way of knowing. Qualitative research can provide a framework and disciplined method for conducting research in classrooms. By doing so, the opportunity is created to generate an intimate account of what teaching and learning is occurring through the words and actions of those who are actually involved.

So where do we go from here? I believe the Standards for Technological Literacy can be a great foundation or starting point to launch a technology teacher education research agenda into the teaching and learning of technological literacy skills. "The Technology Content Standards specify what every student should know and be able to do in order to be technologically literate, and it offers criteria to judge progress" (ITEA, 2000). If researchers will investigate how technology education programs, with dedicated classrooms, laboratories, curriculum, instruction, and teachers, promote technological literacy, we will begin to make a significant contribution to the knowledge base needed in our field and in our society.



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