söndag 19 maj 2013

On the challenges of teaching sustainability

Back in January - exactly four months ago - I wrote a blog post about just having submitted an abstract for an upcoming conference, Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (to be held in Cambridge at the end of September. The conference theme is "Rethinking the engineer" and I wrote a paper together with my colleague Elina Eriksson called "'It's not fair!' - Making students engage in sustainability" and .

The abstract was accepted and we just finished writing the 10-page long paper. In fact, I submitted the paper on Friday and it was huge relief to be finished with it and send it away before the weekend. It's just one of those things that can make you feel that you can actually (and not just nominally) can take the weekend off!

Perhaps most fun in the paper was to write about the tension between teaching "'vanilla' sustainability (every challenge we face constitutes a problem that can be solved) versus 'doomsday' sustainabiliyt (we face predicaments that cannot be solved)". From the paper:

Doomsday sustainability has no “happy chapter” and runs the risk of shocking, depressing or even paralyzing students (see further below), but can however paradoxically also be liberating, since it takes students’ worries seriously instead of glossing over fundamental problems. This perspective could also work as a call to more fundamental rather than superficial action. 
One student stated after having taken our course that:

“I was interested in marketing and stuff like that before the course, but now I feel like doing something that is more beneficial to humanity.”

Below is the paper abstract - do get in touch if you want a copy of the whole paper!


In this paper, we address the issue of teaching a subject, sustainability, that ideally should permeate the whole engineering education, but at the moment often plays a minor role in the curricula. Here we discuss the tactics of planning and conducting a sustainability course with the explicit goal of truly engaging the students and making an impact on their thinking. Furthermore, we here present a framework that can be used in course planning and analysis. Finally, we discuss how this framework was used in our sustainability course for Media Technology engineering students at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, and the engagement and resulting change in students perception of sustainability. Moreover, we argue that beyond rethinking the engineer and the engineering education, we also need to rethink our roles as university teachers.

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