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Applying Threshold Learning Theory to Teach Sustainable Business Practice in Post-graduate Engineering Education

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2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


San Antonio, Texas

Publication Date

June 10, 2012

Start Date

June 10, 2012

End Date

June 13, 2012



Conference Session

Interdisciplinary Experiences and Assessment in Environmental Engineering

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

25.202.1 - 25.202.16



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Paper Authors


Cheryl J.K. Desha Queensland University of Technology

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Cheryl Desha is a lecturer in sustainable development in the faculty of engineering and science (School of Earth, Environment and Biological Systems), Queensland University of Technology. She is also a Principal Researcher in the Natural Edge Project (TNEP) research group, a non-profit academic network for research, education, and innovation for sustainable prosperity. Desha graduated in 1999 from environmental engineering and worked for consulting engineering firm Arup for four years, also undertaking work placement within the Queensland government. From 2004, Cheryl worked for Griffith University in formal collaboration with TNEP, as a lecturer in the School of Engineering and member of the Urban Research program. In 2011, she moved to QUT as part of TNEP's transition to a new hosting arrangement, as a lecturer in sustainable development and member of the Sustainable Built Environment National Research Centre. She and her colleagues continue to work on capacity building for sustainable development, focusing on what needs to be embedded and how this can be rapidly undertaken.

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Charlie Hargroves The Natural Edge Project

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Charlie Hargroves has a degree in engineering (civil-structural), is currently completing his Ph.D. focused on carbon structural adjustment (with Professor Peter Newman at Curtin University), and has been the co-author of four international books on sustainable development, with the latest two listed in the Top 40 Sustainability Books of 2010 by the Cambridge University Sustainability Leadership Program. He is a Sustainable Development Fellow at the University of Adelaide and a Co-founder and principal researcher with the Natural Edge Project, a collaborative partnership for research, education, policy development, and strategy for sustainable development, based in Australia. His main research interests include merging technological opportunities, capacity building, and community behaviour change with policy and strategic planning to achieve carbon structural adjustment.

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Using Threshold Learning Concepts to teach Sustainable Business Practice in Post-Graduate Engineering EducationAt the beginning of the 21st Century, society is grappling with numerous sustainabilitychallenges related to both mitigating environmental impacts of past and currentdevelopment, and adapting future development to changes in climatic conditions, resourcescarcity, and increasing levels of consumption and population pressures. Not only are thechallenges grand in scale and complex in their interconnectedness, a number require asubstantial – it could be said transformational - shift in understanding to be able to deliversolutions that are genuinely sustainable. As governments and industry around the world seekto respond to these challenges, higher education institutions are being called on to rapidlybuild capacity amongst undergraduate and practising professionals. In particularpostgraduate education is the focus of significant attention with urgent demand forprofessionals that can practice sustainable development.However, embedding such capacity within the postgraduate curriculum is significantlychallenged by a number of factors, including the limited number of courses in a typicalgraduate program (6-8), and the scarcity of academics with expertise in sustainabledevelopment. Within this context, this paper presents the results of a qualitative action-research inquiry into how post-graduate students could develop capacity in sustainabledevelopment within a course. This particular course, ‘Sustainable Business Practice’, wastaught by the author, and comprised 120 postgraduate students from a variety of disciplinarybackgrounds. The method included identifying four ‘key’ threshold learning concepts(decoupling, whole system design, resource productivity and biomimicry), which oncelearned, would provide a pathway to having a transformational learning experience aroundthe ‘complex threshold concept’ of sustainable business practice. The paper presents detailsof the study and findings from an evaluation survey and semi-structured interviews with asubset of the students in the course. The outcomes of this study will be used to informpostgraduate curriculum renewal in other courses in the same institution, in addition toinforming a framework for rapidly embedding sustainability within the engineeringcurriculum.

Desha, C. J., & Hargroves, C. (2012, June), Applying Threshold Learning Theory to Teach Sustainable Business Practice in Post-graduate Engineering Education Paper presented at 2012 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, San Antonio, Texas. 10.18260/1-2--20962

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