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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.


These illustrative examples demonstrate how skills and understandings related to the characteristics of technology component could be developed at different school levels.

Learning experiences

Teacher and a group of students looking at an old style bicycle

The following learning experiences have been provided to support teachers as they develop their understanding of the characteristics of technology component of the technological knowledge strand.

There is no expectation that these would form the basis of any specific unit of work in technology. The learning experiences have been summarised from classrooms across New Zealand and provide examples of student achievement across a range of levels.

Junior primary

Students are asked to look around them and discuss what they see in terms of them belonging to the made world, the natural world, or the social world.

Select a range of technological outcomes (things that belong to the made world) and ask students to discuss what they think the purpose of each technological outcome is and why they think it was developed. Encourage them to think about what life may have been like before it was developed and how it has changed things for different groups of people – children, adults, teachers, and so on, as appropriate to the example.

Students could work in groups and select a particular example and see if they can work out how and why it might have been developed. They could think about the types of things the technologist would have needed to know to make the selected example appropriate for particular users and environments.

Ongoing discussions encourage students to reflect on their own technological practice (past and present if appropriate) and make links between what technologists do and what students can and should be doing.

Students achieving at level 1 could be expected to:

  • identify things around them that belong to the made world and suggest why they may have been developed
  • identify the types of things a technologist would have had to take into account when developing a technological outcome.

 Students achieving at level 2 could be expected to:

  • identify the year their selected technological outcome was made and discuss what factors might have impacted on its development at this time
  • identify how their outcome changed how people do things and discuss any positive and/or negative impacts it has had on society and/or the environment
  • make suggestions as to how the technological outcome may change in the future and describe how this may impact on the made, social, and natural world.

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Senior primary

Working in "expert groups", students explore a selected technological development that is related (in some way) to the current or future context within which they will undertake their own technological practice.

For example, if the teacher planned to have students involved in developing a skin care product, different groups might look at developments associated with: a specific product from the past, a specific product currently available, essential oil extraction, Māori practices associated with skin care, evaluation procedures, packaging protocols, and so on. 

Each group would explore how historical contexts and environmental locations have impacted on the selected development, and provide specific examples of the influence of particular people, groups, or social conventions. They could also explore how the technological development had impacted on individuals, society, and the environment. Students identify the knowledge that was necessary for different stages of the development and explain how such knowledge influenced decision making at key points.

The students explain to the teacher why the technological development they have selected might be useful in developing a better understanding of the context within which their own technological practice will be undertaken.

Prior to the group beginning to work in-depth, teachers provide guidance on how realistic/appropriate the selected development is, based on things like the availability of resources (information and/or people) and its relevance to future work. Each group develops a means of presenting their results to the whole class for critique. Class discussions are held to identify points of commonality and difference, and to begin to identify the different types of knowledge that underpin technology.

Students achieving at level 2 could be expected to:

  • identify how their selected technological development has changed over time
  • identify both positive and negative impacts that the development has had on a variety of people in the past and today
  • make suggestions as to how their technological development might impact on how people do things in the future.

Students achieving at level 3 could be expected to:

  • explain why their selected technological development has changed over time
  • describe how their selected technological development has impacted on the social world over time
  • describe how their selected technological development has impacted on the natural world over time
  • describe what technological knowledge is.

 Students achieving at level 4 could be expected to:

  • identify how their selected technological development has changed people's sensory perception and/or physical abilities and discuss the potential short and long term impacts of these changes
  • identify examples of creative and critical thinking within their selected development
  • identify the knowledge and skills that have supported different selected developments and categorise these into different disciplines.

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Junior secondary

Students could explore a contemporary technology-related controversial context (for example, genetic engineering, stem cell research, climate change, alternative energy sources, environmentally-friendly building design, and so on) and identify issues that have arisen from this context.

As part of this, they could interview a range of people to establish their views and explore in depth the influences on and impacts of people's perceptions and attitudes on related technological developments. Current codes of practice related to the wider context (both national and international), could be identified and their development and purpose explained and analysed in terms of how they may influence future developments both positively and negatively.

Students achieving at level 3 could be expected to:

  • describe the physical nature of a Technological Outcome they are developing and describe how it could function and why it would be suitable for particular users
  • explain how changes to the physical nature of their outcome could enhance its fitness for purpose.

Students achieving at level 4 could be expected to:

  • describe the proper function of the selected technological outcome
  • explain how the technological outcome might be able to be used by end-users for purposes other than what it was originally designed for
  • discuss the likely impact of using technological outcomes in alternative ways.

Students achieving at level 5 could be expected to:

  • explain how explorations of their own outcome in various contexts allowed them to gain a deeper understanding of how they could modify their design to reduce user misuse and/or inappropriate environmental location
  • explain the concept of malfunction, and use the selected Technological Outcome to illustrate the difference between malfunction and failure due to wear and tear
  • explain why the Technological Outcome malfunctioned and identify changes in its design should you be developing the outcome today.

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Senior secondary

Students identify a technologist and carry out a series of interviews with them about their work in order to develop an informative case study about their technological practice. The technologist selected should allow students insight into the interdisciplinary nature of technological developments and the collaboration practices of technologists. The interviews (face to face, email, phone, and so on) need to be appropriate for the technologist and could be supplemented with additional explorations (for example, analysis of product information, websites, marketing materials, related articles, and so on). Students ask questions that will identify the details of a technological outcome the technologist is working on or has completed in the past.

It is important that the student allows the technologist to identify a technological outcome they are comfortable discussing. Issues associated with intellectual property and market sensibility could be explored by the student in relation to this.

Students also work with the technologist to establish:

  • the technological knowledge and other knowledge and skills they require
  • the personal and professional attributes they have
  • the way in which they work with others.

Extensive investigation of the decision-making processes employed by the technologist could be undertaken, and their levels of creative and critical thinking explored in the context of the identified example.

After completing their individual case study, students could set up a series of formal debates focussing on such things as "technologists should be held accountable for any technological disasters". In taking part in the debate, students pool the understandings gained from comparing and contrasting individual case studies to develop collaboratively based affirmative or negative arguments.

Arguments should recognise the complexity of technology as a collaborative field that requires complex decision making based on different perspectives, creative and critical thinking, and practical and functional reasoning. Arguments should also provide insights into student understanding of such things as the role of codified technological knowledge, personal influences, and sustainability issues that impact on technological developments.

Students achieving at level 4 could be expected to:

  • explain how a technologist seeks to change how people perceive the world and/or their physical abilities and discuss the potential short and long term impacts of these on society and/or the environment
  • identify examples of creative and critical thinking in the decision making of a technologist
  • identify the knowledge and skills used in the technologist's practice and categorise this into different disciplines.

Students achieving at level 5 could be expected to:

  • discuss the role of creative and critical thinking in the technologist's practice
  • explain how the past experiences, attitudes, and knowledge of the technologist impacts on how they undertake their work
  • identify codified technological knowledge important to the technologist and explain how it impacts on their practice
  • explain how and why the identified technological knowledge became codified.

Students achieving at level 6 could be expected to:

  • discuss the interdisciplinary nature of the knowledge and skills used in the technologist's practice
  • identify examples of collaboration the technologist is involved in and explain how this impacts on their work
  • explain an example of when codified knowledge has been challenged due to new knowledge, capability, or changing social pressures
  • discuss the advantages and disadvantages of technologists working in collaborative teams, and what techniques technologists use to manage such team work and any intellectual property issues that may arise.

Students achieving at level 7 could be expected to:

  • explain how ongoing contestation and competing priorities impact on decision-making processes undertaken by technologists, and discuss examples of how decisions reflect a technologist's own background, their colleagues' backgrounds, established codes, and the influential contemporary factors from wider physical and social environments
  • discuss the influences of rapidly developing technological knowledge and capability and changing social expectations on technological practice
  • explain how technologists employ creative and critical thinking to support innovative practice and discuss the role of technologists when challenging existing social boundaries.

Students achieving at level 8 could be expected to:

  • illustrate and explain the complexity of technological practice that must be undertaken to manage on-going contestation and competing variables (from technologists, stakeholders, general public, and wider social and physical environments) to ensure resulting interventions in the world are justifiable
  • explain why technological developments result in unknown and/or unanticipated consequences, and critique the role of technology in the development of sustainable environments
  • argue for or against the requirement for technologists to collectively embrace a level of social responsibility.

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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