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Students and Sustainability: Assessing Students' Understanding of Sustainability from Service Learning Experiences

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Introducing Sustainability into Engineering Education

Tagged Division

Environmental Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1345.1 - 22.1345.11



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Paper Authors

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Jonathan Wiggins University of Colorado, Boulder


Mary E. McCormick Tufts University

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Civil and Environmental Engineering Ph.D. student

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Angela R. Bielefeldt University of Colorado, Boulder

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Angela Bielefeldt, Ph.D., PE, is an Associate Professor in the Department of Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering at the University of Colorado, Boulder (CU). She served as the Director of the Environmental Engineering Program at CU for four years. She has taught the first-year Introduction to Environmental Engineering and senior capstone Environmental Engineering Design courses for a number of years. She is the PI on a Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) site at CU. Her research interests pertaining to engineering education include learning through service, sustainability, women in engineering, and ethics.

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Christopher W. Swan Tufts University Orcid 16x16

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Chris Swan is an associate professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering with additional appointments in the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service and the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach at Tufts University. Dr. Swan has also served as chair of Tufts CEE department (2002 - 2007) and as an officer in the Environmental Engineering division of ASEE (2001 - 2005). Dr. Swan’s current interests lie in the areas of waste reuse, and service-based educational efforts in the engineering curriculum. Specific efforts involving engineering education concern project-based learning and service-based pedagogies – their potential impacts on student learning and how these impacts may be evaluated and assessed.

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Kurt Paterson Michigan Technological University Orcid 16x16

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Kurt Paterson is on the environmental engineering faculty, where he currently serves as Director of Michigan Tech’s D80 Center (, a consortium of 20 research, education, and service programs dedicated to creating appropriate solutions with the poorest 80% of humanity. His research, teaching and service interests focus on appropriate technology solutions that improve public health, international project-based service learning, and engineering education reform. Prof. Paterson teaches courses on creativity, engineering with developing communities, and community-inspired innovation. He has served the American Society for Engineering Education in numerous capacities, as a member of the International Strategic Planning Task Force, the International Advisory Committee, and Global Task Force, and as Chair of the International Division. He actively serves Engineers Without Borders-USA, as a chapter co-advisor, education committee chair, and lead on EWB’s efforts to examine its educational impacts. He is currently leading several NSF-funded projects involving the design and assessment of service learning in engineering education. He is co-author of several recently released books, including: Measuring the Impacts of Project-Based Service Learning on Engineering Education, Engineering in Developing Communities: Water, Sanitation, and Indoor Air, and Environmental Engineering: Fundamentals, Sustainability, and Design.

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Service learning: Motivating students to engineer sustainablyAbstract The evolving engineering education paradigm is centered on the belief that solutions tocurrent and future problems must consider a human dimension. Inherent to this challenge is thenecessary expansion of technological solutions to encompass social, political, environmental,and economic dynamics of systems on a global scale. Correspondingly, the theme underlying allaspects of educational reform is adequate preparation for engineers to address global problems insustainable ways. Educators must work towards shifting engineering pedagogies to help studentslearn a more all-encompassing, human-centered, problem-solving approach. Across the country, institutions of higher education have undertaken the challenge ofincorporating sustainability into curricula through various forms of pedagogy. However, there islittle supporting evidence regarding the quality of these learning experiences, leaving theengineering education community with no robust or established way of measuring and/orcomparing the efficacy of different pedagogies. With recognition of the need to assesssustainable engineering programs, a deeper question is exhumed: What is the appropriateassessment measure(s) for a human centered learning experience? We contend that as teachingmethods shift towards a more holistic approach, assessment must evolve in parallel. Our research involves developing assessment instruments to measure the efficacy ofsustainable engineering courses or programs. Using two complementary instruments, we willexplore whether service learning has influenced students’ knowledge of and motivation topractice sustainable engineering. Our rationale for this exploration rests in the experientialaspects of learning through service; rather than learning about sustainable engineering in aclassroom, students are instilled with the humanistic nature of sustainable engineering throughcommunity involvement. The first instrument is an open-ended, reality-based question designedto measure students’ levels of understanding of sustainable engineering. The second instrumentis an online survey designed to measure students’ confidence, motivation and affect in thesustainable engineering domain. In this paper, we describe the instrument development andvalidation, the results of our pilot study, and future dissemination of validated assessmentinstruments.

Wiggins, J., & McCormick, M. E., & Bielefeldt, A. R., & Swan, C. W., & Paterson, K. (2011, June), Students and Sustainability: Assessing Students' Understanding of Sustainability from Service Learning Experiences Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18676

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