Before we start, I’d better list the intended learning of technology education. This summary relates to the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Framework (Technology), published in 2007 and due to be replaced by the Australian Curriculum in 2014.
In the technology learning area, students develop understandings that:
- technologies include any artefact, system, environment, service, or information that has been developed by humans to meet needs and wants, or solve problems;
- society’s needs and wants change over time, and so has technology; the inter-relationship results in a kind of evolution of technology;
- technology design and production decisions are influenced by purpose, context, specifications and constraints;
- aspects of appropriateness must be considered in design and production of technologies; these include functional, aesthetic, ethical, cultural, economic, and sustainable considerations;
- there are positive and negative impacts of the design, development, use and disposal of technologies on people, local, regional and global communities, and the environment;
- the technology process can involve investigation, design, production and evaluation, and these stages are non-linear;
- selection of resources for the production of technologies is made according to their suitability for meeting the requirements of the design; and
- selection of techniques and tools for the production of technologies is made to enhance the quality of the products, and to meet design ideas, standards and specifications.
I tend to think about technology education as having four main activities:
- analysis of technologies according to their purpose(s), context, specifications and constraints;
- appreciation for the role that technology has played in social evolution (that technology has impacts and consequences);
- practise of the innovation process including phases of investigation, design, production and evaluation; and
- development of relevant and valuable skills for the generation of new technologies.
What’s the difference between technology education, educational technology, and ICTs for education? Good question ;). Click through to find my answer.
What is a Technology?
Technology is any material, system or information that has been developed or manipulated by humans to meet a need or serve a purpose. Technology can be thought about at three levels:
- a means to fulfil a human purpose, i.e. a fork.
- an assemblage of practices and components, i.e. a cooked meal
- a collection of devices, systems and engineering products, i.e. a restaurant.
So technologies can be simple (such as a fork), or can be quite complicated (such as a meal with several courses). A set of integrated technologies (such as tables, chairs, tablecloths, dinner settings, etc in addition to uniforms, a service system, kitchen systems, cooking tools, processed food, etc) can be seen as a single technology (a restaurant).
Part of the analysis of technology is that it has purpose and works in a context. Let me give you some examples of this.
We can all agree that the mobile phone is a technology. It is man-made and meets a need.
It has several purposes – to make phone calls, text message others, and if it’s fancy, connect to the internet. Broadly, we can say it’s purpose is communication. It also stores information about our daily lives, such as dates and times for appointments, contact details for others, etc. A second broad purpose is organisation.
In terms of contexts we can think of how your mobile phone is used in social contexts and when and where it works. Your mobile phone is used in a variety of social contexts: personal, familial, professional. It only works when it has access to power (a battery) and a communications network (your telco).
Do you think of your pet dog as a technology? Probably not. But consider that your dog was (and all domesticated animals were) bred by humans to meet a need. In the case of the your pet dog, its breed was developed and your pup itself raised to meet the need of companionship. In this way we can see that dogs, cats and other domesticated animals are indeed technologies. Their purposes are varied: some for company (pets), some for guidance (think of a seeing-eye dog or racehorse), some for consumption (cattle and sheep) and some for clothing (to provide us with wool, leather, fur etc). The contexts in which these animals live or work (in the case of the seeing-eye dog or the racehorse) is also specific. The contexts for these technologies are deeply complicated as a result of them also being living things, and need more careful consideration than that of a mobile phone. It’s a challenging thought, isn’t it?
Technologies also have specifications and constraints.
Your mobile phone is a particular size and shape, made up of particular materials that have certain useful properties, including glass, plastic, silicon, aluminium, etc. These are the specifications. Most mobile phones have a similar size and shape (although they didn’t always; mobile phones have evolved), and are made of similar materials. While they don’t have the exact same specifications, they are near enough to be recognised as a mobile phone.
Your pet dog has specifications. We all recognise a pet dog when we see one, despite no two being exactly the same! Can you think of the specifications of a pet dog?
The limits to the technology, or the use of the technology, are called constraints. My mobile phone can take pictures and videos, but only until it runs out of storage space, and only up to a particular size (8 megapixel, or 1080p videos at 50 fps). There are constraints to other uses of the phone, but the one constraint that applies to all uses is battery; it will only keep operating until it has run out of power.
Are there any constraints to your pet dog? As an individual, or as a species?
Continue to Part 2 of Four Ways to Consider Technology Education.