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Exploring Contemporary Issues in Sustainable Energy

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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

Page Count


Page Numbers

26.725.1 - 26.725.9



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Paper Authors


Paul Gannon Montana State University

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Associate Professor, Chemical Engineering

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Ryan Anderson Montana State University

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Justin W Spengler Montana State University


Carolyn Plumb Montana State University

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Carolyn Plumb is the Director of Educational Innovation and Strategic Projects in the College of Engineering at Montana State University (MSU). Plumb has been involved in engineering education and program evaluation for over 25 years. At MSU, she works on various curriculum and instruction projects including instructional development for faculty and graduate students. She also serves as the college’s assessment and evaluation expert.

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Exploring Contemporary Issues in Sustainable EnergyAbstract: In this study, two unique chemical engineering courses were compared in terms ofindividual student responses to standardized questions before and after in-class online research,in addition to their active discussions. The two courses, both focused on “sustainable energy”,were a 100-student 1st year science-core course with primarily non-science majors, and a 40-student 4th year technical elective course with primarily senior-level engineering majors. The in-class online research and discussions were structured in a manner to focus on five issues(science/engineering, environmental, social, economic, and political) related to hydraulicfractured oil/gas well stimulation, or “fracking”. This topic was chosen as a contemporarysocietal issue with significant engineering considerations. Questions were aimed at identifyingstudents’ understanding of basic science and engineering concepts, as well as gauging opinionson the practices and policies related to fracking. Following initial questions, students werepresented basic related science and engineering information in video format. Students, pre-assembled into equal-sized groups, then conducted individual online research focusing on thespecific issue to which their group was assigned. Student scribes were self-identified within thegroups to compile and distill information collected during online research, which theysubsequently shared in open discussion. Students were then asked identical questions followingthe discussion, in addition to rating the effectiveness of the class format on their individuallearning. In general, students’ basic understanding of fracking improved significantly, theiropinions on the topic shifted from neutrality, and the majority agreed that the format waseffective in their learning. Additional results from comparing the two courses, as well asexamples of student-generated materials are presented and discussed in context of improvingapproaches to exploring contemporary issues in engineering courses.

Gannon, P., & Anderson, R., & Spengler, J. W., & Plumb, C. (2015, June), Exploring Contemporary Issues in Sustainable Energy Paper presented at 2015 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Seattle, Washington. 10.18260/p.24062

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