This has been a busy week. Combined with the fact that I didn't have time to write that much back in December, I hereby give myself permission to supersede the arbitrary limitation of publishing a maximum of two blog posts per week for the rest of this month!
While this and the previous week have been pretty busy (filled with a variety of beginning-of-the-term-stuff), the next two weeks are more calm and I thus hope to have time to also pick up and write about a couple of things that happened "back then" (a month ago).
Based on my new course, "Sustainability and Media Technology", which was given for the very first time half a year ago, I and assistant teacher Elina have discussed and created a structure for a paper and then written an abstract about one important aspect of the thinking that went into planning that course. The main focus in the paper (and in the course) is on not just "delivering facts", but also "discussing values" when giving a university course that touches on topics where many people have strong opinions about (the environment, global warming, the pace of technological development, capitalism, overconsumption, current affluent-but-unsustainable lifestyle patterns - like flying all over the world on our vacations).
We submitted our abstract to the upcoming (September 22-25 Cambridge, UK) 6th international conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD13). I went to that conference the last time it was held - in Gothenburg in September 2010 and I wrote about it on the blog. That was blog post number 3 - this is number 150!
The title of our paper, "It's not fair!", was a comment that was uttered with a lot of heartfelt indignation by a student when she understood that she, as a good climate citizen (or an unhappy peak oil victim), won't be able to travel the world in just the same way people only only a few decades older than her has been able to (e.g. one of our guest lecturers who has travelled the world but now lives frugally in a cottage in the countryside).
“It’s not fair!” – Making students engage in sustainability
Pargman, D.1, Eriksson, E.1
1 Media Technology & Interaction Design, KTH – Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm, Sweden
In this paper, we turn to the subject of teaching a course on sustainability for engineers and the central issue of how to engage students in this (to many students) seemingly peripheral matter in their education. Our starting point is that facts are of importance, but we believe that teaching and examining students only based on facts is not enough to have a prolonged impact on students’ thinking about these important issues. We argue something more and something different is needed in order to engage students. To that end, we as teachers also need to rethink how sustainability can be addressed in engineering educations. Hence, in this paper, we present an analytical model for designing and analyzing sustainability courses. The model contains three dimensions that spans the tensions between 1) delivering facts versus discussing values, 2) “vanilla” sustainability (every challenge we face constitutes a problem that can be solved) versus “doomsday” sustainability (we face predicaments that cannot be solved), and 3) sustainability as relating to the specific engineering discipline in question versus sustainability on a societal (and personal) level.
To exemplify the model, we discuss a sustainability course for media technology students at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, including the trade-offs in terms of the dimensions presented above. For example, how do you create a secure environment where it is possible to open up and discuss sensitive topics, including being prepared to encounter students who dare to frankly talk about their fears concerning the possibility of a future of personal hardships, or a possibly bleak future for life on planet Earth? Furthermore, using the empirical data of students’ hand-ins, we exemplify the outcome of this particular course and discuss the changes we perceived in the students’ attitudes to sustainability issues. We argue that in order to rethink the engineer, we also need to consider the related issues of rethinking the aim of our courses, and rethinking our roles as university teachers.