söndag 22 maj 2016

Sustainable development for ICT engineering students


My previous blog post was about a paper we recently submitted to the 8th Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD), a conference that sits at the intersection of 1) engineering educations, 2) sustainability and 3) pedagogics (teaching). Well, we actually submitted a second paper to that conference, "Sustainable development for ICT engineering students - “What’s in it for me?”".

I like the title and I especially like the fact that it sort of neatly builds upon and connects to a paper that me and Elina presented at the 6th EESD conference back in 2013, "It’s not fair!” - making students engage in sustainability"

Writing this paper can partly been seen as "the next step" after teaching our course on Sustainability and ICT, after doing course evaluations and after incrementally developing the course after each cycle that it has been given. The paper authors (Elina Eriksson, Daniel Pargman, Anna Björklund, Anna Kramers and Karin Edvardsson Björnberg) are all KTH teachers and we together teach three different courses about ICT and sustainability to students in three different KTH engineering programmes (Media Technology, Computer Science and Information and Communication Technology). Writing the paper gave us the chance and a reason to get together and compare our respective courses. Writing the paper did, in a sense, constitute course development.

Something really nice was that we, at the very last meeting we had (just a few days before the deadline) got an idea for the next paper we should write together (perhaps for the next EESD conference?). While the actual contents of that paper for the most are pretty hazy, we do already have a great title for it: "Educating the unreasonable engineer". The title is a play on a quote by George Bernard Shaw and I will keep you updated on the progress of that paper (perhaps sometime during the spring of 2018... - we have long lead times in the academy...).

Here's a quote from the introduction of our paper. It states the challenge we are all dealing with in our three courses:

"the three main reasons for students to apply to our three computer-related educational programmes were: 1) the reputation of the university, 2) career opportunities and 3) an interest in technology and the natural sciences. As to “contributing to a sustainable society”, this option was chosen by a meagre 8% of the new Information and Communication Technology students, 6% of the Media Technology students and a dismal 2% of the Computer Science students. Our students imagine their future selves as busy writing code, designing apps or developing media content in their future professions, but not as working with anything related to sustainability. So, how can we get this particular group of engineering students to care about topics such as climate change, ecological crises, overpopulation, overconsumption, resource depletion, energy scarcity, global poverty, inequality etc.? From the point of view of a typical student, we as teachers need to be able to answer the question “What’s in it for me?”, as well as “Why should I care?” and “What can I do?”."

And, here's the paper abstract:


The importance of sustainable development (SD) is hardly possible to refute; however, sustainable development has been a relatively peripheral subject in computer-related engineering educations. Sustainability, with its global and potentially all-encompassing connotations, is still seen by many Information and Communication Technology (ICT) students as a topic of little relevance to their future careers. So how can teachers convince these students that sustainability is a topic that can be both relevant and interesting for them? From the point of view of the student; “What’s in it for me?”.

In this paper we describe and compare our efforts to plan and teach three introductory courses on SD in three different ICT-related educational programmes at KTH Royal Institute of Technology. The courses were planned separately, but they will be analysed together. We discuss two dimensions that we have found to be imperative in our endeavour to engage our students. The first dimension is to handle the balance between sustainability on a general level versus sustainability as specifically related to ICT. The second dimension is to handle the tension between teaching facts versus an emphasis on students’ reflections and/or practicing skills. We argue that overcoming the challenge of making sustainability relevant to the students is central for successfully teaching these courses.

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