History Column

IEEE’s REACH Program Enhances Technological Literacy Skills in the Pre-University Environment

By Kelly McKenna, REACH Program Manager, IEEE History Center

In the United States today, both formal and informal education circles are focusing a great deal on STEM education. Every student will be a STEM consumer and a citizen in a STEM-based society, regardless of whether or not they are a STEM student or become a STEM worker. This means that every student graduating from secondary school needs some basic level of technological literacy.

The Institute of International Technology and Engineering Educators Association (ITEEA) defines technological literacy as “one’s ability to use, manage, evaluate, and understand technology” (ITEA, 2000/2002), and goes on to say that “in order to be a technologically literate citizen, a person should understand what technology is, how it works, how it shapes society and in turn how society shapes it.” Citizens’ understanding of technology in this manner is essential for a society to be technologically literate.

In the United States, education standards are defined independently by each state; however, there are defined recommended national standards for both the Humanities and Science disciplines, both of which include technological literacy.  The National Council for the Social Studies’ (NCSS) recommended standards includes a theme on “Science, Technology and Society” and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which is supported by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, provide detailed descriptions of key scientific ideas and practices that all students should learn by the time they graduate from high school, and highlights “Links Among Engineering, Technology, Science and Society” as a core idea.  NGSS further states that, by the end of 12th grade, students should “come to appreciate that science and the current scientific understanding of the world are the result of many hundreds of years of creative human endeavor.”

History offers an ideal conduit for teaching technological literacy, as not only does it offer a way to introduce an understanding and an appreciation for the many hundreds of years of technological developments and creativity found in today’s tech society, but it is also a subject that every student has to take, whether or not they are in a STEM program. History provides a strategic opportunity to enhance technological literacy skills of all students, and the IEEE History Center’s REACH (Raising Engineering Awareness through the Conduit of History) program is perfectly positioned to do just that.

Through the lens of history, the IEEE REACH educational resources situate science, technology, and engineering in their social and humanistic contexts. Each REACH inquiry unit, or lesson plan, focuses on one of nine areas of human endeavor, as defined by the recommended NCSS social studies standards:  Agriculture; Manufacturing; Materials and Structures; Energy; Communication; Transportation; Information Processing; Medicine and Healthcare; and Warfare.  When implemented in the classroom, the resources help students learn about technological inventions, developments, and advancements, and provide them with an opportunity to explore the connections such technologies have with society, economics, culture and politics. Students discover how technology shapes society and how society shapes technology, and analyze the influence science and technology have on knowledge and beliefs to obtain a greater understanding of how it is relevant to their lives and their future.

NGSS also states “any [science] education that focuses predominantly on the detailed products of scientific labor—the facts of science—without developing an understanding of how those facts were established or that ignores the many important applications of science in the world misrepresents science and marginalizes the importance of engineering.” IEEE REACH combats this potential misrepresentation and potential marginalization of the engineering profession by providing all teachers and students with the tools needed to understand the importance of the applications of science in the world.

Where science education traditionally has provided the “how,” REACH provides the “why,” as well as the “when and where.” Through a history perspective, REACH highlights how, over time, science and engineering have affected society and how, in return, society has affected science and engineering, directly addressing both the Social Studies (NCSS) and the Science (NGSS) education standards as they relate to technology, society, and the environment. In addition, the IEEE REACH Program directly meets the needs of technological literacy standards.

In the two short years since the IEEE REACH program’s website went “live,” it has acquired more than 600 subscribers, with educators coming from all but five U.S. states, and from 42 countries outside of the United States. These educators provide the potential to reach more than 350,000 students! As the REACH Program continues to grow its content and outreach, IEEE continues to help students obtain the skill sets needed to be technologically literate citizens.

Kelly McKenna is REACH Program Manager at the IEEE History Center at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. For more articles by the History Center staff, visit their publications page at: https://ethw.org/Archives:Books_and_Archival_Publications or visit the IEEE History Center’s Web page at: https://www.ieee.org/about/history_center/index.html. The IEEE History Center is partially funded by donations to the History Fund of the IEEE Foundation


Kelly McKenna

Kelly McKenna is program manager for the IEEE REACH program.

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