Techno-mathematical literacies

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Editor: Richard Noss, London Knowledge Lab | Institute of Education | University of London

Contributors .../...


The term captures two important aspects of the ways that mathematics surfaces in workplace situations. First, that the knowledge involved is much closer to a literacy than a skill; and second, that it is almost always represented as knowledge mediated by a computer.

Why literacy? A literate person is someone who is competent in using language, both written and verbal, across different contexts and working with different rules and conventions. This core idea of literacy is crucial for mathematics as well: individuals need to be able to understand and use mathematics as a language that increasingly pervades the workplace through IT-based control and administration systems as much as conventional literacy (reading and writing) has pervaded working life for the last century.

Why techno? This literacy is expressed through technological artefacts. It is the particular nature of mathematical skills in workplaces, where IT is pervasive, which distinguishes the kind of knowledge involved: a computer graph, for example, has properties different to a pencil-and-paper graph, and a column of numbers on a spreadsheet can be manipulated as an object in ways in which it's paper-and-pencil "equivalent" cannot.

The idea of techno-mathematical literacies is related to other approaches that have taken a general perspective of the education process as it is experienced by young people - cf. (OECD, 2003) and the Quantitative Literacy movement in the USA (e.g., Steen, 1997). For example, the OECD's Programme of International Student Assessment (PISA) defines it as follows:

Mathematical literacy is an individual's capacity to identify and understand the role that mathematics plays in the world, to make well-founded judgements and to use and engage with mathematics in ways that meet the needs of that individual's life as a constructive, concerned and reflective citizen. (OECD, 2003, p. 24).

In workplaces, as much as in the broader culture, this kind of necessary mathematical literacy is supplemented by the ubiquity of the computer: Noss (1998) and diSessa (2000) offer extensive discussion of the idea of mathematical literacy, showing how the new forms of computational technology that are used for doing mathematics are connected with new ‘mathematical literacies'. The most complete description and examples techno-mathematical literacies is to be found in Hoyles, Noss, Kent and Bakker (2010): for a review, see Gainsburg, 2011).

Related terms

Literacy, literacies

Translation issues


Disciplinary issues

Not to be confused with technomathematics: TMRF Technomathematics Research Foundation

Key references

[1] diSessa, A. (2000). Changing Minds: Computers, Learning, and Literacy. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

[2] Gainsburg J. Book Review: Hoyles, C., Noss, R., Kent, P., & Bakker. A. (2010). Improving mathematics at work: The need for techno-mathematical literacies (2011) Educ Stud Math 76:117-122

[3] Hoyles, C, Noss, R., Kent, P. and Bakker, A. (2010). Improving Mathematics at Work: The need for techno-mathematical literacies. Abingdon: Routledge

[4] Noss, R. (1998), New numeracies for a technological culture, For the Learning of Mathematics, 18, 2, 2-12.

[5] OECD (2003), PISA 2003 assessment framework, Paris: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

[6] Steen, L. A. (Ed.) (1997). Why Numbers Count: Quantitative Literacy for Tomorrow's America. New York: The College Board.

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