Soft and Hard Technologies in Technology Education

Soft and Hard Technologies in Technology Education

Kin Wai Michael Siu (The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong & Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA) and Yi Lin Wong (The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-8246-7.ch022
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Abstract

There is a common misconception that technology is limited to physical devices (i.e., hard technology). However, technology also includes soft technology, which is concerned with human and social factors. The emphasis on hard technology has prevented technology education from widening its scope and thus catering to the needs of a changing society. This chapter first briefly identifies the common definitions of soft and hard technologies. It then argues that technology education should emphasize both hard and soft technologies. Through a case study of Hong Kong, the chapter identifies the issues surrounding the inclusion of soft technology in the technology curriculum. The issues comprise the outdated perceptions of the government and schools with respect to technology, teachers' backgrounds, and students' abilities. The chapter then proposes recommendations and suggestions for resolving these issues. The future trend of an all-round and balanced approach toward hard and soft technology in technology education is discussed.
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Background

The English word “technology” originated from the Greek word “tekhnologia,” meaning “systematic treatment” (Oxford Dictionaries, 2013). It is derived from the ancient Greek notion of “techne” (craft) (Reydon, 2012). Technology was associated with any man-made artifacts that were different from natural products. Ancient Greek philosophers believed that there was a fundamental distinction between natural products and artifacts, and that “technology learns from or imitates nature” (Franssen, Lokhorst, & van de Poel, 2009).In this view, artifacts are unable to reproduce themselves whereas natural products are able to reproduce, grow, and change. Obviously, the understanding of technology in ancient Greece focused on artifacts that were distinct from nature, and the purpose of these artifacts was generated to fulfill certain needs. Jin (2011) posited that in primitive times, technology was “the making and use of tools and the utilization of fire and language” (p. 22), which we would regard as hard technology.

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