June 15, 2019
June 15, 2019
October 19, 2019
Educational Research and Methods
Educators are increasingly using ‘wicked’ problems, characterized as problems with responses rather than solutions, multiple stakeholders, and no conclusive formulation, to engage engineering students. Reducing lead exposure from drinking water infrastructure is a wicked problem that has gained national attention after experiences in Washington D.C. and Flint, MI. Many have called for an improved federal standard to reduce lead exposure from drinking water, and only a handful of states require K-12 testing of schools for lead levels. Around the US, cities and citizens are grappling with lead in their drinking water, with limited spaces for discussions on targeted lead levels, costs of remediation, and types of solutions needed. A group project for an undergraduate Environmental Engineering Laboratory was developed and implemented to address lead in drinking water after the release of a local newspaper article on lead levels in local K-12 schools just before the semester began.
In this paper, we discuss the format of the course, the results from the class project, and how the integration of a wicked problem helped to develop an understanding of contemporary problems and their integration through engineering approaches. To do this we reviewed student work, conducted a survey to capture their experience, and integrated incites from the faculty and Teaching Assistants. Students worked on various parts of the overarching project titled, “Demystifying lead in the City’s drinking water.” The specific research components were iteratively defined by the students and addressed: lead contamination in cities’ water supplies around the US, human health and regulations for lead in drinking water, water infrastructure and supply in the city under investigation, mapping of socioeconomic and demographic data with age of water infrastructure and city data on lead levels in schools, experimental examination of water in local parks, and solutions for reducing lead exposure. Students delivered their results as a project plan, report, and poster session. An activity log captured their project participation. Emphasis was placed on communicating research findings through the poster session. The students gained a deeper understanding of their local wicked problem, further investigated a subtopic within the wicked problem and developed valuable research skills. The open research question and developing their own methods to address the wicked problem was an initial challenge for the students. This challenge was compounded by the difficulty of communicating their questions and findings amongst groups in different research components.
In presenting the students with a wicked problem, the course outcomes and ABET criteria would be satisfied while allowing the students to practice non-linear thinking approaches to problems and solutions. Though the activities presented in this paper are specific to the city where the university is located, the ideas, activities, and approaches can be adopted to other topics, locations, and classes.
Buerck, A. M., & Trotz, M. A., & Ortiz Carabantes, E., & Delgado, D. A. (2019, June), Integration of a Local Wicked Problem into the Environmental Engineering Laboratory Curriculum Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--32994
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