Directly after the ICT4S conference ended on Thursday (Sept 1), I took the train from Amsterdam to neighbouring Belgium and the fairy tale city of Bruges. I settled in but then went to visit Sofie Lambert and Mario Pickavet at Ghent University the day after. Sofie and Mario had attended the workshop Elina and I organised in Amsterdam at the beginning of the week and they have also written the (2015) paper "Post-peak ICT: Graceful degradation for communication networks in an energy constrained future" together with other members of their research group. Sofie is a Ph.D. student and Mario is the head of the "Green ICT Research Cluster" of the larger group "Internet Based Communication Networks and Services (IBCN)" at the Department of Information Technology at Ghent University. I gave a talk at their department (an updated version of the Peak Computing talk I gave at UCI in 2014) and spent an afternoon of discussions with members of their research group. The Post-peak ICT paper is of interest to the Computing within Limits crowd but it turned out that it was mostly Sofie who had that interest and it seems her plan is to present her dissertation later this year and then pursue opportunities outside of the academic world.
The weekend was then "free" (spent for the most indoors working) before the second conference in a row, the 8th Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD 2016) opened with a keynote and a Sunday evening welcome reception in the Bruges city hall. The keynote, "Engineering Education for Sustainable Development - Why are we here?" was given by the previous conference's best paper authors Richard Vaz and Scott Jiusto from the U.S. They finished their talk by posing a number of highly relevant questions:
- Why are we here?
- What do we want for our students? (...and, what do they want from us?)
- What do we want for ourselves?
- What might we contribute to what "others" (the university, companies, society etc.) want?
- How do we engage with the wicked problems of changing our own institutions to support our visions?
Vaz and Jiusto also discussed a topic that relates a lot to what me and my colleague Elina have written about, namely the question of motivation. Their conclusion was that authenticity is highly motivational. Students want the chance to do authentic work. To do something for a reason other than (and beyond) getting a grade is motivational. "Authentic" does not need to mean "exotic" (other continents), it could equally well be a trip to the other side of the city. Their conclusion was that learning goes up as soon as you leave your campus, go into real communities and do real work with them. There also needs to be a project sponsor to welcome, procure and direct the students and who can say "we want your help us with this".
I've been to two out of the previous seven EESD conferences, first the 5th EESD conference in Gothenburg in 2010 - my very first conference about sustainability and my third ever blog post (this is #395) - and then the 6th EESD conference in Cambridge 2013. The EESD conferences are for people who are in the intersection of engineering educations, sustainability and teaching. Probably most often in that particular order. People like me go there; I work at the Royal Institute of Technology (we only have engineering educations), I teach and do research on sustainability (the results which are displayed in this blog) and I sometimes reflect upon and write "amateur" papers on teaching and pedagogics as part of my own betterment and advancement (often together with my colleague Elina Eriksson).
In sum, this is not really the conference to go to in order to keep up with the research forefront - I'm not sure there really is a research front in this area - but rather a forum for mutual learning and for being inspired by what others do in terms of teaching engineering students about sustainability. I also think the organisers seem to think quite a lot about the social program and about creating opportunities for social interaction between attendees also beyond the program itself (e.g. social activities every night; welcome reception, conference dinner, Belgian night (beer tasting) etc.). It's therefore not surprising that I met up and reestablished contacts with Swedes I had met before (Magdalena Svanström, Ulrika Lundqvist, Anna Nyström Claesson and Andreas Hanning - all from Chalmers in Gotherburg as well as with KTH colleagues of mine (Karin Edvardsson Björnberg, Emma Strömberg, Elisabeth Ekener, Jon-Erik Dahlin, Fredrik Grönberg and Olga Kordas). I went into some sort of hyper-social mode at the conference and made a lot of new acquaintances, for example Sara Trulsson, Claes Fredriksson, Matty Janssen, Ola Leifler, Kateryna Pereverza and Oleksii Pasichnyi (SE), Annina Takala (FI), Veronica Sanchez Romaguera and Bland Tomkinson (Manchester, UK), Edward Conlon and Edmond Byrne (IE), Karel Mulder (NL), Bernard Mazijn (BE), Javier Orozco-Messana, Nuria Llaverias and Jordi Segalas (ES), Susan Nesbit and Naoko Ellis (CA), Scott Jiusto and Eric Kennedy (US), Najat Alsomali (SA) and Michele Rosano (AU).
All in all I had a great time at EESD and there's also a bunch of papers I am going to read that were presented at the conference. One of them is for sure the paper that my KTH "colleague" Sara Trulsson (never met her before the conference) wrote because she won the Best Paper Award with the paper "Active learning as a supportive teaching method to address climate change in higher education"! Also, I already have two or three ideas for papers for the next conference (which will be held 2018 at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey - it's not too far away from Philadelphia).
The ambience of the conference was really nice and it surely helped that it was situated in a small medieval Belgian city. The actual conference venue was at the University College West Flanders' Campus Sint-Jorisstraat (I lived 270 meters away on the very same street) and the building definitely gave off Hogwartsy vibes (also see the photo at the very end of this blog post):
There were three keynotes at the main conference that I thought were really good! Much more serious, straight-talking and "extreme" than I would have thought. No circumlocutions but just telling it like it is. I liked all three a lot!
1) Nicholas A. Ashford (Professor of Technology and Policy at the Engineering Systems Division of M.I.T) talked about Major challenges to Engineering Education for Sustainable Development. He was extremely critical of neoliberal deregulation of just about everything. He also pointed out that this (the problems we face as well as the solutions) are all about money. And politics. Some fundamental questions we need to ask ourselves more often are:
- What are the causes of unsustainble industrial systems?
- What are the visions for a sustainable future?
- What or who is standing in the way of achieving that future?
2) David Peck (Professor of Industrial Design Engineering at Delft University of Technology) talked about Building a circular economy and an analysis of the implications for engineering education. David discussed a term I had not heard before, "Critical materials", a product of the economic importance * the risk of supplies of that particular material. And, these materials are everywhere, including in all of our electronics. And they are hard to recycle (there is zero incentive to recycle them). Product life extension strategies (recycling, upcycling, sharing) are a good start but they in the end only help us buy time. He proposed we should learn some important lessons from how the UK handled materials scarcity during the second world war. Back then they actually developed mandated design specifications for the most durable, least materials-intensive products - and transgressions were punishable by law!
3) Walter Stahel (Full Member of the Club of Rome, Founder-director of The Product-Life Institute Geneva gave a keynote that doubled as an introduction to a debate called "Beyond the triple helix". This was another great talk but I did unfortunately not take any notes.
At the conference, there was a demonstration of "The sulitest" (http://sulitest.org). It tests how much you know about sustainability (15 subjects in 4 main themes). It has apparently become very popular, the homepage claims that (currently) 445 universities and corporations in 51 countries have used it. It might be interesting to look into the possibility of using this in our education.
The program was divided into four streams and there were five session in each stream throughout the conference;
- The A stream focused on circular economy, design and resources
- The B stream was about "Outside the box thinking" (issues that are not common in engineering education
- The C stream was about the core issue of all EESD-conferences: (barriers to) (innovative) teaching, as well as reforming programmes and curricula
- The D-stream was organised in terms of academic/engineering disciplines
I presented two papers at the conference; "Sustainable development for ICT engineering students - “What’s in it for me?”" in the D stream session "EESD and Disciplinary Approaches" and "Patterns of Engagement: Using a board game as a tool to address sustainability in engineering educations" in the B stream session "Social Responsibility in EESD". These two and all other papers will eventually turn up online proceedings "in the coming months".
My main complaint about the conference concerns the clustering of paper into session. I didn't think about it too much until I heard someone else complain about it. I obviously don't really know the problems the organisers faced putting together the sessions, but it did at times feel like the clustering of three papers into a session had a certain element of randomness to it. My second paper was about our use of games in sustainability education. There were two other papers about using games in education (both written by people at or with a connection to KTH and one was Sara's Best Paper), but these three papers were placed in three different sessions and I unfortunately didn't have the opportunity to hear any of the other two presentations. This is but one example, but it did fell more than once like one paper didn't fit the other two papers in a session or that there might have been an uneasy balance between the title of the session and the papers in that session. I'm for example not at all sure that our paper about using games in our education fits the description "social responsibility in EESD" particularly well. This unfortunately pulled down the quality of a part of the program some. Someone I talked to offered the suggestion that there should have been a number of suggested keywords that authors could choose from at the time they submitted their papers to the conference. I realise this is a difficult problem and I don't know exactly what would be the best way to solve it, but I do know it should be improved.
I have never heard the term "circular economy" be used as many times in such a short while as I did at this conference. The theme of the conference was "Building a circular economy together" and boy did we run in circles around this concept! I raised a question at the final session and we had an interesting discussion about the relationship between circular economy on the one hand and sustainability/sustainable development on the other hand.
There really is something to be said for have a conference in a small rather than a large city. Small cities are manageable in ways that big cities aren't. It's easy to learn how to navigate the city and to walk between events. They are cosy too and none more so than Bruges. It's like the old city in Stockholm but 10 times bigger. I really liked Bruges despite the fact that I did not spend very much time walking around the city.
The place were I lived was amazing. It was perhaps the best value for money that I have ever had. It was an Airbnb apartment in a small house with only two apartments. The hostess an her family lived in an apartment upstairs and I rented the lower-floor apartment. More like a small castle in fact. Below is my living room and there was also a hall, bathroom, toilet, bedroom and kitchen - all really really nice and very tastefully decorated. On the last evening we had a beer-testing event and it was literally 363 meters away from my apartment (according to my smartphone). I had to skip out for 45 minutes to handle a Skype conference call that spanned two continents - but was back at the pub less than five minutes after I hung up. The last night of my 10-day two-conference road trip was also the first night when I had the energy to actually keep on keepin' on for a night of modest alcohol intake but of deeply intoxicating academic discussions (ok, so some might argue it was the other way around but they are all so very Wrong!)
One more thing. I had some time in Bruges between the conferences and had planned to spend the major part of Saturday working. Instead I stumbled upon a hilarious US comedy group, Lonely Island, that I had never heard of before. I must have spent half the day watching YouTube videos of their songs. I was fascinated by Lonely Island but also about the fact that I had never heard of them despite the fact that they've been around for 10 years. It turns out few of my friends have heard of them, but when I asked my students almost all of them (at least almost all of the Swedish students) had heard of them years ago. Lonely Island are crude and vulgar, they use supremely foul language, but, they are very very funny. Since I then continued to listen to their songs during my stay in Bruges, I will probably always connect Bruges and EESD with Lonely Island and their songs. Some great songs/videos of theirs are "YOLO" (in-ge-ni-ous), "Jack Sparrow" (perfectly synchronised) and "We like sportz" (nerdy raised to new heights). Their many sexually explicit songs range from the quite inappropriate "I just had sex" (very explicit) all the way to the deeply disturbing (which I can't link to). Still, they are comical geniuses with perfect control of language, facial expression, gestures, timing and pop cultural references. The fact that they have just released their first movie (this past summer), "Popstar: Never stop never stopping", is something that totally passed me by and I now hope they will create a couple of new videos with some of the Popstar song. For example "I'm so humble" ("Bar none, I am the most humble-est ... Number one at the top of the humble list ... I'm so ordinary that it's truly quite extraordinary ... I'm not your normal definition of a rock star ... I don't complain when my private jet is subpar ... I guess in a way, bein' gracious is my weakness ... People say I'm so unpretentious for a genius").
PS. I just learned that Aaron Opdyke from University of Colorado has also blogged about EESD: day 1, day 2 and day 3.
PS #2: The full proceedings are now (Dec 2016) available online here (as one big pdf file)!
PS #3: The official EESD photographer took this picture of the EESD 2010 chair Magdalena Svanström and of me: