Asee peer logo

Development and Application of the Sustainability Skills and Dispositions Scale to the Wicked Problems in Sustainability Initiative

Download Paper |


2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Seattle, Washington

Publication Date

June 14, 2015

Start Date

June 14, 2015

End Date

June 17, 2015





Conference Session

Assessing Social Responsibility & Sustainability

Tagged Divisions

Liberal Education/Engineering & Society, Engineering Ethics, and Educational Research and Methods

Tagged Topic


Page Count


Page Numbers

26.508.1 - 26.508.25



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Justin L Hess Purdue University, West Lafayette Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Justin Hess is a Ph.D. candidate at Purdue University's School of Engineering Education, a Master's student in the School of Civil Engineering and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. He received his Bachelor's of Science in Civil Engineering in 2011 with a minor in philosophy and anticipates receiving his MSCE in 2015, both from Purdue University. His research focuses on understanding engineers' core values, dispositions, and worldviews. His dissertation focuses on conceptualizations, the importance of, and methods to teach empathy to engineering students. He is currently the Education Director for Engineers for a Sustainable World, an assistant editor of Engineering Studies, and a member of the ASEE Committee on Sustainability, Subcommittee on Formal Education.

visit author page


Sarah Aileen Brownell Rochester Institute of Technology

visit author page

Sarah Brownell is a Lecturer in Design Development and Manufacturing for the Kate Gleason College of Engineering at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She works extensively with students in the multidisciplinary engineering capstone design course and other project based elective courses, incorporating human centered design, participatory development, and design for development themes. She was a co-founder of the non-profit Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods (SOIL) which promotes ecological sanitation in Haiti.

visit author page

author page

Richard A House Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology


Alexander T. Dale Engineers for a Sustainable World Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Alexander Dale is the Executive Director of Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) and an adjunct faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh. His academic background is in energy and water policy, life-cycle assessment, and sustainable design. As one of the re-founders of ESW, he has focused on expanding educational opportunities as well as new engagement for faculty and professionals.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Evaluating the Attainment of Sustainability-Related Learning ObjectivesIn this paper, we present the development and refinement of a survey that evaluatessustainability-related learning objectives aligned with courses participating in a multipleuniversity initiative. The first part of this study seeks to determine the reliability of the survey,along with recommendations for where the survey ought to be improved. Second, we use thequantitative survey results to evaluate student’s attainment of the course learning objectives. Thesurvey consisted of 28-items across 4 subscales aligned with the following learning objectivesand sub-objectives:As a result of participating in the course, students will be able to… 1) Develop confidence in responding to wicked, sustainability-related problems 2) Become conscious of the ethical and professional responsibilities within their field in a (a) global, (b) social, and (c) environmental contextThe survey was administered pre-course to 67 students across 3 universities: a large publicuniversity in Midwestern USA, a large public university in Northeastern US, and a privateuniversity in the Midwest. Using pre-course responses, the internal consistency reliability ofsubscales 1, 2a, and 2b was found to be acceptable as measured using Cronbach’s alpha and a 0.7threshold, whereas subscale 2d was only minimally acceptable with an alpha of 0.656. Post-course responses will be used to check these reliability scores a second time and to provideinsights into whether specific questions should be removed or rewritten, and to suggest whetheradditional items may need to be added to these subscales.The survey results show that there is room for students to improve across all categories, whilealso pointing to marked differences in where students at the differing universities started from.For example, students in the Northeastern US course offering looked to be significantly moreconfident in responding to wicked problems as compared to students at the Midwestern privateuniversity, whereas students from the large Midwestern public university seem to besignificantly more aware of global sustainability issues as compared to those at the privateuniversity. Along each scale, paired t-test results will be used to compare individual students’differences pre- and post- course overall for the 67 students, and individually for each university.In addition to these quantitative responses, we will collect and seek alignment between the t-testresults and students’ perceptions of changes across each learning objective using open-endedresponses collected at the end of each survey. These open response questions will include thefollowing: 1) How did your confidence in responding to wicked problems change? 2) How did your perception of your professional responsibility as a professional designer change?Results of this study will provide a quantitative measure that may be replicated at universitiesparticipating in the initiative in the future, as well as anyone hoping to measure similar learningobjectives. Furthermore, it will suggest which learning objectives were attained in the Fall 2014course offerings, and where more foci may be needed in future offerings of these courses.

Hess, J. L., & Brownell, S. A., & House, R. A., & Dale, A. T. (2015, June), Development and Application of the Sustainability Skills and Dispositions Scale to the Wicked Problems in Sustainability Initiative Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.23846

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2015 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015