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Ministry of Education.
Kaua e rangiruatia te hāpai o te hoe; e kore tō tātou waka e ū ki uta

Characteristics of technology

Technology is defined as “purposeful intervention by design”, and technological practice as the activity through which technological outcomes are created and have impact in the world.

Technological outcomes are designed to enhance the capabilities of people and expand human possibilities. They change the made world in ways that have positive and/or negative impacts on the social and natural world.

Technology uses and produces technological knowledge. Technological communities endorse technological knowledge as valid when it is shown to support the successful development of technological outcomes.

All technology exists within a historical context, influenced by and influencing society and culture.

Technological practice is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary, relying more than ever on collaboration between the technology community and people from other disciplines.


Cheryl Pym shares how she sees characteristics of technology as the driver – as what drives technological practice.

Duration: 03:49


I think the most important thing for me is that I see the nature strand as being the umbrella. So characteristics of technology is all around what happens that drives our tech practice. So, for a long time we’ve looked at the production of outcomes as the thing that we focus on, but I’d like to see us flip some of that round, so that we look at the characteristics of technology as the driver.

So, I get quite excited about thinking about the social and political and historical perspectives that drive the attitudes and values that create a technological development, and that’s what characteristics of technology is all about really.

It’s about the technologists and the people at the time who influence the developments but are impacted on by the development. So when we collaborate to create something, which is the tangible outcome or the system or environment, it’s what happened to create that in the background that you don’t tangibly put your finger on, but it’s there as what happens.

If we look at technology as intervention by design, so we interact with products, and our whole intent is to make things better for us, so we are trying to improve not only the world we live in but our own capacity. So one of the descriptors in the higher levels of characteristics of technology is about extending human capacity, what it means to be human. So I was listening to National Radio the other day, and they were talking about the bicycle as being one of the first inventions that extended human capability. Now I’m not sure whether the bike is the first thing that did that, but really when you think about what it means for us to be people who used to walk and then have a bike, which you know started as penny-farthings and trikes and all sorts of other things, suddenly we moved much faster. And so it extended the capability, and you can put your finger on a number of developments over the course of history that allowed us to extend our capacity as human beings, and right up until the invention of space travel.

And I think that’s quite exciting for kids to look at what the world around them has been, is now, and what are the possibilities of the future, and that’s all around the nature of our technology and technological developments.

When students are engaging with characteristics for technology because it’s not just about practice, it moves outside practice to actually extend their creative, analytical, reflective, innovative thinking. So they become not just merely replicators of something, which they’ve seen before, but they become innovators. So, they look at the world around them and how can we make it better, and that’s one of the questions I like teachers to ask their kids. What could we do with technology that would improve our life, improve our world, make things better for us? So that they create innovative solutions, not just replicate something or adapt something.

So one of the challenges I think I’ve got for teachers around technology education in general is that instead of driving technology in the classroom via practice as the starting point is to reverse their thinking a little and start looking at characteristics of technology or tech outcomes, or the nature strand, and start extending student horizons and then situate practice so that they flip the driver, because so often we’ve driven things out of student practice. Let’s flick it round and drive it out of the nature of technology as something we can hang fundamentals off, because that’s where our attitudes and values towards technology are driven and are formed. And we want our students to be critical thinkers and consumers and creators of technology in the future. So let’s start there. That’s the challenge I think for teachers.

Characteristics of technology: Key ideas (Word 2007, 156 KB)

Acknowledgment: This paper is derived from an earlier version by Dr Vicki Compton and Cliff Harwood.

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