June 14, 2015
June 14, 2015
June 17, 2015
NSF Grantees Poster Session
26.118.1 - 26.118.21
A Sustainability Toolbox for Engineers: Exploring how Students are likely to Engage in Sustainability EducationCurrent approaches to teaching sustainability in undergraduate engineering programs tend to focus on teaching ABOUT sustainability, where largely traditional techniques are used to transmit concepts, facts, and information between teacher and student. Teaching FOR sustainability is similar to education that is FOR the environment where students gain knowledge, values, attitudes, commitment, and skills needed to protect the planet. With sustainability added to the mix, this teaching is done in such a way that viable solutions meet present needs without compromising those of future generations. Student attitudes toward and preconceptions about sustainability can affect the success of both teaching approaches. Although the central goal in our study is to explore best practices to teach FOR sustainability, our preliminary results are likely to apply to all those who teach concepts of sustainability to engineering students in their courses. In our preliminary work, we have interviewed three students in engineering (freshman, junior, senior) who pre-‐selected for the interview based on their interests in sustainability and conducted three focus groups, consisting of freshman through seniors, who are a random representation of the whole engineering student body. These focus groups were conducted in two classes: (a) a junior level class in Sustainable Design for the Developing World; and (b) a senior level class in Sensors and Sensor Systems. From this small sample size of 25 students at a single institution, we find a surprising range of sophistication regarding how to students view sustainability in terms of both their personal lives and their careers as engineers. We also find themes that emerge independent of sophistication of thought regarding sustainability. For example, a majority of students feel powerless to impact sustainability in their careers and lives, and often hold a cynical view of the prospects of technology becoming more sustainable. This cynical view holds that capitalism will stand in the way of any meaningful progress to make technology more sustainable for future generations, as corporations are unlikely to deviate from profit-‐oriented motives and sustainability-‐motives are frequently at odds with those quests for profit. Students are also more able and more willing to engage in deeper discussions of sustainability when the topics hit close to home. Short product life cycles associated with cell phones are more likely to generate animated interest from students than sustainability challenges in developing communities thousands of miles away. To some extent, this is expected, but it offers some challenges in covering the spectrum of global sustainability in an equitable and authentic way in the undergraduate engineering experience. Our poster will look at these interview and focus group responses in the context of how to structure tools for teaching FOR sustainability in engineering curricula.
Wilson, D., & Roberts, R., & Allendoerfer, C., & Kim, M. J. (2015, June), A Sustainability Toolbox for Engineers: Exploring How Students Are Likely to Engage in Sustainability Education Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23459
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