Education for Sustainable Development in Engineering

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by: Rosemary Tomkinson, Charles Engel, Bland Tomkinson and Alvin Lawson

1. Introduction

This report is of a study, funded by the Higher Education Academy’s Engineering Subject Centre, whose primary aim was to produce guidance for Engineering schools in designing modules or threads to embed sustainable development within the curriculum. A secondary aim was to investigate the use of Delphii techniques in curriculum designii.

This work stems partly from a belief that issues of sustainable development are best tackled on a broad front and not in a single-discipline fashioniii. The underlying philosophy of the team towards education for sustainable development was one of encouraging collaboration, both between the various branches of engineering and also between engineers and other professions, to help towards the remediation of challenges that generally fall under the category of ‘wicked problems’iv. This has underpinned many of the ideas and much of the work that we have initiated in this area. The pilot projectv that we have been undertaking in the University of Manchester, sponsored by the Royal Academy of Engineering, proved a useful step along the road, but it is only a first step. A brief report on this project is appended at Appendix C. We saw synergy between the RAEng project and this project; in particular, we used the experience we gained on the pilot module in order to shape the issues to be tested in the Delphi process. This was a very cost-effective way of achieving something that we believe to be of great value across the subject area and also, potentially, for other disciplines in UK universities.

2. Setting up the consultation

The project undertook a modified ‘Delphi’ study to bring convergence of the views of experts from a range of engineering disciplines. This focused on a small number of related questions – for example ‘What is a working definition of ‘Sustainable Development’ in the context of engineering education?’, within an overarching one of ‘How may students in a Faculty of Engineering be assisted to develop a set of competences which will enable them to contribute to S D related aspects in their professional practice? ‘

The initial step was to identify a team of experts to participate in the consultation. From our project for the Royal Academy of Engineering, we had already built a small core of contacts and we invited some of these to suggest others, in order to build a comprehensive list. We contacted all of those on this initial list to see if they were willing to participate and this reduced the number to thirty. The consultation was then conducted in four phases:

• In Round I we circulated a suggested list of questions and asked participants both to comment on the questions and also to suggest others if they wished.

• In Round II the consultation invited open ended suggestions in relation to the overarching question and the wider list of considerations.

• In Round III the consultation invited participants to review the summary of suggestions from Round II, ranking them and adding further suggestions.

• Round IV reported back to the participants on the outcomes of the consultation. These could then play a central role at an in depth discussion among those interested in the further development of education in sustainable development in the field of Engineering.

Participants were not required to participate in every round or to complete every question in that round: each was able to contribute to the extent that he or she wished. This meant that we had different numbers of responses for the different rounds and, indeed, different respondents. We had made provision for an additional consultation round – between III and IV – if necessary, but we felt that we had already achieved a fair degree of convergence of responses by the end of Round III.

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