Admitting engineering students with the best chance of success: technological literacy and the Technological Profile Inventory (TPI)

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South African Society for Engineering Education


University of Cape Town


1st Biennial Conference of the South African Society for Engineering Education

In this article we describe the development and validation of an instrument – the Technological Profile Inventory (TPI). The instrument can be used to determine whether an applicant’s level of technological literacy is suitable for admission to an engineering programme. It might be argued that students entering an engineering programme should demonstrate a level of technological literacy, not sought during the admission process at most universities in South Africa, which rely primarily on the National Benchmark Testing instrument and the National Senior Certificate examination results. The items used in the TPI were drawn from a previous study (Collier-Reed, 2006) and were based on a rigorous qualitative analysis of interview data which was in turn informed by categories that emerged from a phenomenographic analysis. Data were collected from 198 Engineering and 237 Commerce students and the items subjected to exploratory factor analysis and Cronbach alpha testing. The result of the analysis was a modified version of the TPI where the data were found to be reliable and valid. The significant factors that defined the ‘nature of technology’ were found to be the view of technology as either an artefact or related to a process, while those constituting ‘interaction with technological artefacts’ were direction and tinkering. A cohort analysis suggests that the anecdotal view of the possible difference in technological literacy between Commerce and Engineering students is supported by the data – Commerce students are statistically more likely to view technology as an artefact and interact with technological artefacts only when directed to do so, a less technologically literate position. Further work involves determining how to meaningfully combine the scores achieved by an individual completing the TPI to ultimately determine a score indicative of their applicable level of technological literacy.

This is an extract, with permission, from the proceedings of the 2011 SASEE Conference.