Dr Emma A Taylor, Royal Academy of Engineering Visiting Professor, Cranfield University and Professor Sarah Jayne Hitt, PhD SFHEA, NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University, discusses embedding ethics in engineering education through wide use of deaf awareness: a gateway to a more inclusive practice.

“An ethical society is an inclusive society”. This is a statement that most people would find it hard to disagree strongly with. As users of the EPC’s Engineering Ethics Toolkit and readers of this blog we hope our message is being heard loud and clear.

But hearing is a problem:

One in five adults in the UK are deaf, have hearing loss or tinnitus. That is 12 million adults or 20% of the population. In the broader context of‘ ‘communication exclusion’ (practices that exclude or inhibit communication), this population figure may be even larger, when including comprehension issues experienced by non-native speakers and poor communication issues such as people talking over one another in group settings such as during meetings.

This ‘communication exclusion’ gap is also visible in an education context, where many educators have observed group discussion and group project dynamics develop around those who are the most dominant (read: loudest) communicators. This creates an imbalanced learning environment with the increased potential for unequal outcomes. Even though this ‘communication exclusion’ and lack of skills is such a huge problem, you could say it’s hidden in plain sight. Identification of this imbalance is an example of ethics in action in the classroom.

Across all spheres, we suggest that becoming deaf aware is one way to begin to address communication exclusion issues. Simple and practical effective tips are already widely disseminated by expert organisations with deep in the field experience (see list of resources below from RNID). Our collective pandemic experience took us all a great step forward in seeing the benefits of technology, but also in understanding the challenges of communicating through the barriers of technology. As engineering educators we can choose to become more proactive in using tools that are already available, an action that supports a wider range of learners beyond those who choose to disclose hearing or understanding related needs. This approach is inclusive; it is ethical.

And as educators we propose that there is an even greater pressing need to amplify the issue and promote practical techniques towards improving communication. Many surveys and reports from industry have indicated that preparing students for real world work environments needs improving. Although they often become proficient in technical skills, unless they get an internship, students may not develop the business skills needed for the workplace. Communication in all its forms is rightly embedded in professional qualifications for engineers, whether EngTech, IEng, CEng or other from organisations such as the UK’s Engineering Council.

And even when skills are explicitly articulated in the syllabus and the students are assessed, much of what is already being taught is not actually being embedded into transferable skills that are effectively deployed in the workplace. As education is a training ground for professional skills, a patchy implementation of effective and active practice of communication skills in the education arena leads to variable skill levels professionally.

As engineers we are problem solvers, so we seek clarification of issues and derivation of potential solutions through identification and optimisation of requirements. The problem-solving lens we apply to technology can also be applied to finding ways to educate better communicators. The “what” is spoken about in generic terms but the “how”, how to fix and examine root causes, is less often articulated.

So what can be done? What is the practical framework that can be applied by both academics and students and embedded in daily life? And how can deaf awareness help get us there?

Our proposal is to work to embed and deploy deaf awareness in all aspects of engineering education. Not only because it is just and ethical to do so, but because it can help us see (and resolve) other issues.  But this won’t, and can’t, be done in one step. Our experience in the field shows that even the simplest measures aren’t broadly used despite their clear potential for benefit. This is one reason why blogs and toolkits like this one exist: to help educators embed resources and processes into their teaching practice.

It’s important to note that this proposal goes beyond deaf awareness and is really about reducing or removing invisible barriers that exist in communication and education, and addressing the communication problem through an engineering lens. Only when one takes a step back with a deaf awareness filter and gets the relevant training, do your eyes (and ears) open and see how it helps others. It is about improving the effectiveness of teaching and communication.

This approach goes beyond EDI principles and is about breaking barriers and being part of a broader student development approach, such as intellectual, emotional, social, and personal growth. The aim is to get students present and to be in the room with you, during the process of knowledge transfer.

As we work on making our engineering classrooms better for everyone, we are focusing on understanding and supporting students with hearing impairments. We are taking a step back and getting re-trained to have a fresh perspective. This helps us see things we might have missed before. The goal is not just to be aware but to actually improve how we teach and communicate.

We want our classrooms to be inclusive, where everyone’s needs are considered and met. It is about creating an environment where all our students, including those with hearing impairments, feel supported and included in the learning process. And stepping back and taking a whole human (“humanist”) view, we can define education as an endeavour that develops human potentialnot just an activity that produces nameless faceless quantifiable outcomes or products. As such, initiatives such as bringing forward deaf awareness to benefit broader communication and engagement provide a measurable step forward into bringing a more humanistic approach to Engineering Education.

So what can you do?

Through the EPC’s growing efforts on EDI, we welcome suggestions for case studies and other teaching materials and guidance that bring together ethics, sustainability and deaf awareness (or other issues of inclusivity).

We’re pleased to report that we are aiming to launch an EDI Toolkit project soon, building on the work that we’ve begun on neurodiversity. Soon we’ll be seeking  people to get involved and contribute resources, so stay tuned! (i.e. “If you have a process or resource that helped your teaching become more inclusive, please share it with us!”).

 

RNID resources list

 

Other resources

 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

This article is also available here.

Author: Mike Murray BSc (Hons) MSc PhD AMICE SFHEA (Senior Teaching Fellow in Construction Management, Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, University of Strathclyde). 

Topic: Links between education for sustainable development (ESD) and intercultural competence. 

Tool type: Teaching. 

Engineering disciplines: Civil; Any. 

Keywords: AHEP; Sustainability; Student support; Local community; Higher education; Assessment; Pedagogy; Education for sustainable development; Internationalisation; Global reach; Global responsibility; EDI. 
 
Sustainability competency: Self-awareness; Collaboration; Critical thinking.

AHEP mapping: This resource addresses two of the themes from the UK’s Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this resource to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

Related SDGs: SDG 4 (Quality education); SDG 16 (Peace, justice, and strong institutions). 
 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: More real-world complexity; Active pedagogies and mindset development; Authentic assessment.

Educational level: Beginner. 

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

This resource describes a coursework aligned to three key pedagogical approaches of ESD. (1) It positions the students as autonomous learners (learner-centred); (2) who are engaged in action and reflect on their experiences (action-oriented); and (3) empowers and challenges learners to alter their worldviews (transformative learning). Specifically, it requires students to engage in collaborative peer learning (Einfalt, Alford, and Theobald 2022; UNESCO 2021). The coursework is an innovative Assessment for Learning” (AfL) (Sambell, McDowell, and Montgomery, 2013) internationalisation at home (Universities UK, 2021) group and individual assessment for first-year civil & environmental engineers enrolled on two programmes (BEng (Hons) / MEng Civil Engineering & BEng (Hons) / MEng Civil & Environmental Engineering). However, the coursework could easily be adapted to any other engineering discipline by shifting the theme of the example subjects. With a modification on the subjects, there is potential to consider engineering components / artifacts / structures, such as naval vessels / aeroplanes / cars, and a wide number of products and components that have particular significance to a country (i.e., Swiss Army Knife).

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 

 

Learning and teaching resources: 

 

Rationale: 

There have been several calls to educate the global engineer through imbedding people and planet issues in the engineering curriculum (Bourn and Neal, 2008; Grandin and Hirleman 2009). Students should be accepting of this practice given that prospective freshers are ‘positively attracted by the possibility of learning alongside people from the rest of the world’ (Higher Education Policy Unit, 2015:4). Correspondingly, ‘international students often report that an important reason in their decision to study abroad is a desire to learn about the host country and to meet people from other cultures’ (Scudamore, 2013:14). Michel (2010:358) defines this ‘cultural mobility’ as ‘sharing views (or life) with people from other cultures, for better understanding that the world is not based on a unique, linear thought’.  

 

Coursework brief summary extracted from the complete brief:

Civil Engineering is an expansive industry with projects across many subdisciplines (i.e. Bridges, Buildings, Coastal & Marine, Environmental, Geotechnical, Highways, Power including Renewables. In a group students are required to consult with an international mentor and investigate civil engineering (buildings & structures) in the mentor’s home country. Each student should select a different example. These can be historical projects, current projects or projects planned for the future, particularly those projects that are addressing the climate emergency. Students will then complete two tasks: 

 

Time frame and structure: 

1. Opening lecture covering:

a. Reasoning for coursework with reference to transnational engineering employers and examples of international engineering projects and work across national boundaries. 

b. Links between engineering, people, and planet through the example of biomimicry in civil engineering design (Hayes, Desha, & Baumeister, 2020) or nature-based solutions in the context of civil engineering technology (Cassina and Matthews ,2021). 

c. Existence of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as RedR UK (2023) Water Aid (2023) and Bridges to Prosperity (2023). 

d. The use of corporate social responsibility (CSR) to address problematic issues such as human rights abuses (Human Rights Watch, 2006) and bribery and corruption (Stansbury and Stansbury) in global engineering projects.  

 

2. Assign students to groups:

a. Identify international mentors. After checking the module registration list, identify international students and invite them to become a mentor to their peers.  Seek not to be coercive and explain that it is a voluntary role and to say no will have no impact on their studies. In our experience, less than a handful have turned down this opportunity. The peer international students are then used as foundation members to build each group of four first-year students. Additional international student mentors can be sourced from outside the module to assist each group. 

b. Establish team contracts and group work processes using the Carnegie Mellon Group Working Evaluation document

 

3. Allow for group work time throughout the module to complete the tasks (full description can be found in the complete brief). 

 

Assessment criteria: 

The coursework constitutes a 20% weighting of a 10-Credit elective module- Engineering & Society. The submission has two assessed components: Task 1) a group international poster with annotated sketches of buildings & structures (10% weighting); and Task 2) A short individual reflective writing report (10% weighting) that seeks to ascertain the students experience of engaging in a collaborative peer activity (process), and their views on their poster (product). Vogel et al, (2023, 45) note that the use of posters is ‘well-suited to demonstrating a range of sustainability learning outcomes’. Whilst introducing reflective writing in a first-year engineering course has its challenges, it is recognised that  reflective practice is an appropriate task for ESD- ‘The teaching approaches most associated with developing transformative sustainability values stimulate critical reflection and self-reflection’ (Vogel et al, 2023, 6). 

Each task has its own assessment criteria and process. Assessment details can be found in the complete coursework brief.  

 

Teaching reflection: 

The coursework has been undertaken by nine cohorts of first-year undergraduate civil engineers (N=738) over seven academic sessions between 2015-2024. To date this has involved (N=147) mentors, representing sixty nationalities. Between 2015-2024 the international mentors have been first-year peers (N=67); senior year undergraduate & post-graduate students undertaking studies in the department (N=58) and visiting ERASMUS & International students (N =22) enrolled on programmes within the department.  

Whilst the aim for the original coursework aligns with ESD (‘ESD is also an education in values, aiming to transform students’ worldviews, and build their capacity to alter wider society’ -Vogel et al ,2023:21) the reflective reports indicate that the students’ IC gain was at a perfunctory level. Whilst there were references to ‘a sense of belonging, ‘pride in representing my country’, ‘developing friendships’, ‘international mentors’ enthusiasm’ this narrative indicates a more generic learning gain that is known to help students acquire dispositions to stay and to succeed at university (Harding and Thompson, 2011). The coursework brief fell short of addressing the call ‘to transform engineering education curricula and learning approaches to meet the challenges of the SDGs’ (UNESCO,2021:125). Indeed, as a provocateur pedagogy, ‘ESD recognises that education in its current form is unsustainable and requires radical change’ (Vogel et al ,2023, 4).  

Given the above it is clear that the coursework requirement for peer collaboration and reflective practice aligns to three of the eight key competencies (collaboration, self-awareness, critical thinking) for sustainability (UNESCO, 2017:10). Scudamore (2013:26) notes the importance of these competencies when she refers to engaging home and international students in dialogue- ‘the inevitable misunderstandings, which demand patience and tolerance to overcome, form an essential part of the learning process for all involved’. Moreover, Beagon et al (2023) have acknowledged the importance of interpersonal competencies to prepare engineering graduates for the challenges of the SDG’s. Thus, the revised coursework brief prompts students to journey ‘through the mirror’ and to reflect on how gaining IC can assist their knowledge of, and actions towards the SDG’s. 

 

References: 

Beagon, U., Kövesi, K., Tabas, B., Nørgaard, B., Lehtinen, R., Bowe, B., Gillet, C & Claus Spliid, C.M .(2023). Preparing engineering students for the challenges of the SDGs: what competences are required? European Journal of Engineering Education, 48(1): 1-23 

Bourn, D and Neal, I. (2008). The Global Engineer: Incorporating Global Skills within the UK Higher Education of Engineers. Engineers against Poverty and Institute of Education. 

Einfalt, J., Alford, J & Theobald, M.(2022). Making talk work: using a dialogic approach to develop intercultural competence with students at an Australian university, Intercultural Education, 33(32):211-229 (Grandin and Hirleman 2009). 

Harding, J and  Thompson, J. (2011). Dispositions to stay and to succeed, Higher Education Academy, Final Report 

Higher Education Policy Unit .(2015). What do prospective students think about international students 

Human Rights Watch. (2006). Building Towers, Cheating Workers: Exploitation of Migrant Construction Workers in the United Arab Emirates  

Michel, J. (2010). Mobility of engineers; the European experience, In UNESCO, Engineering: Issues, Challenges and Opportunities for Development, pp 358-360 

Sambell, K, McDowell, L and Montgomery, C.(2013). Assessment for Learning in Higher Education. London: Routledge. 

Scudamore, R. (2013). Engaging home and international students: A guide for new lecturers, Advance HE 

Stansbury, C. and Stansbury, N. (2007) Anti-Corruption Training Manual: Infrastructure, Construction and Engineering Sectors, International Version, Transparency International UK. Online.  

UNESCO. (2021). Engineering for Sustainable Development, delivering on the sustainable development goals,  

Universities UK. (2021). Internationalisation at home – developing global citizens without travel: Showcasing Impactful Programmes, Benefits and Good Practice,   

Vogel, M., Parker, L., Porter, J., O’Hara, M., Tebbs, E., Gard, R., He, X and  Gallimore,J.B .(2023).  Education for Sustainable  Development: a review  of the literature 2015-2022, Advance HE 

 

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Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters. 
 
 
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Author: Onyekachi Nwafor (CEO, KatexPower). 

Topic: Electrification of remote villages. 

Tool type: Teaching. 

Relevant disciplines: Energy; Electrical; Mechanical; Environmental. 

Keywords: Sustainability; Social responsibility; Equality, Rural development; Environmental conservation; AHEP; Renewable energy; Electrification; Higher education; Interdisciplinary; Pedagogy. 
 
Sustainability competency: Anticipatory; Strategic; Integrated problem-solving.

AHEP mapping: This resource addresses two of the themes from the UK’s Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this resource to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.  

Related SDGs: SDG7 (Affordable and Clean Energy); SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities); SDG 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities). 
 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: More real-world complexity; Active pedagogies and mindset development; Cross-disciplinarity.

Educational level: Intermediate. 

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

This case study offers learners an explorative journey through the multifaceted aspects of deploying off-grid renewable solutions, considering practical, ethical, and societal implications. It dwells on themes such as Engineering and Sustainable Development (emphasizing the role of engineering in driving sustainable initiatives) and Engineering Practice (exploring the application of engineering principles in real-world contexts). 

The dilemma in this case is presented in six parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Parts two and three develop and complicate the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case study allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and/or activities, as desired.    

 

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 

 

Learning and teaching resources: 

 

 

In accordance with a report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) and statistics provided by the World Bank, approximately 633 million individuals in Africa currently lack access to electricity. This stark reality has significant implications for the remote villages across the continent, where challenges related to energy access persistently impact various aspects of daily life and stall social and economic development. In response to this critical issue, the deployment of off-grid renewable solutions emerges as a promising and sustainable alternative. Such solutions have the potential to not only address the pressing energy gap but also to catalyse development in isolated regions. 

Situated in one of Egypt’s most breathtaking desert landscapes, Siwa holds a position of immense natural heritage importance within Egypt and on a global scale. The region is home to highly endangered species, some of which have restricted distributions found only in Siwa Oasis. Classified as a remote area, a particular community in Siwa Oasis currently relies predominantly on diesel generators for its power needs, as it remains disconnected from the national grid. Moreover, extending the national grid to this location is deemed economically and environmentally impractical, given the long distances and rugged terrain. 

Despite these challenges, Siwa Oasis possesses abundant renewable resources that can serve as the foundation for implementing a reliable, economical, and sustainable energy source. Recognising the environmental significance of the area, the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency (EEAA) declared Siwa Oasis as a protected area in 2002. 

 

Part one: Household energy for Siwa Oasis  

Imagine being an electrical engineer tasked with developing an off-grid, sustainable power solution for Siwa Oasis village. Your goal is to develop a solution that not only addresses the power needs but also is sustainable, ethical, and has a positive impact on the community. The following data may help in developing your solution.   

 

Data on Household Energy for Siwa Oasis:

 

Activities: 

  1. Analyse typical household appliances and their power consumption (lighting, refrigeration, pressing Iron).
  2. Simulate daily energy usage patterns using smart meter data.
  3. Identify peak usage times and propose strategies for energy conservation (example LED bulbs, etc)
  4. Calculate appliance power consumption and estimate electricity costs.
  5. Discussion:  

a. How does this situation relate to SDG 7, and why is it essential for sustainable development? 

b. What are the primary and secondary challenges of implementing off-grid solutions in remote villages? 

 

Part two: Power supply options 

Electricity supply in Siwa Oasis is mainly depends on Diesel Generators, 4 MAN Diesel Generators of 21 MW which are going to be wasted in four years, 2 CAT Diesel Generators of 5.2 MW and 1 MAN Diesel Generator 4 MW for emergency. Compare and contrast various power supply options for the household (renewable vs. fossil fuel). 

 

  1. Renewable: Focus on solar PV systems, including hands-on activities like solar panel power output measurements and battery sizing calculations. 
  2. Fossil fuel: Briefly discuss diesel generators and their environmental impact. 

 

The Siwa Oasis community is divided over the choice of power supply options for their households. On one hand, there is a group advocating for a complete shift to renewable energy, emphasising the environmental benefits and long-term sustainability of solar PV systems. On the other hand, there is a faction arguing to continue relying on the existing diesel generators, citing concerns about the reliability and initial costs associated with solar power. The community must decide which power supply option aligns with their values, priorities, and long-term goals for sustainability and energy independence. This decision will not only impact their day-to-day lives but also shape the future of energy use in Siwa Oasis. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

  1. Debate: Is it ethical to impose new technologies on communities, even if it’s for perceived improvement of living conditions?
  2. Discussion: How can engineers ensure the sustainability (environmental and operational) of off-grid solutions in remote locations?
  3. Activities: Students to design a basic solar PV system for the household, considering factors like energy demand, solar resource availability, and budget constraints.  

 

Part three: Community mini-grid via harnessing the desert sun 

Mini-grid systems (sometimes referred to as micro-grids) generally serve several buildings or entire communities. The abundant sunshine in Siwa community makes it ideal for solar photovoltaic (PV) systems and based on the load demand of the community, a solar PV mini grid solution will work perfectly. 

Electrical components of a typical PV system can be classified into DC and AC. 

 

DC components: The electrical connection of solar modules to the inverter constitutes the DC part of a PV installation. Its design requires particular care and reliable components, as there is a risk of significant accidents with high DC voltages and currents, especially due to electric arcs.  

The key DC components are:  

 

AC components: The equipment installed on the AC side of the inverter depends on the size and voltage class of the grid connection (low-voltage (LV), medium-voltage (MV), or high-voltage (HV) grid). Utility-scale PV plants usually require the following equipment:  

 

Activities: 

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.  

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters. 

To view a plain text version of this resource, click here to download the PDF.

Author: Ema Muk-Pavic, FRINA SHEA (University College London) 

Topic: Links between sustainability and EDI 

Tool type: Guidance. 

Relevant disciplines: Any. 

Keywords: Sustainability; AHEP; Programmes; Higher education; EDI; Economic Growth; Inclusive learning; Interdisciplinary; Global responsibility; Community engagement; Ethics; Future generations; Pedagogy; Healthcare; Health.
 
Sustainability competency: Self-awareness; Normative; Collaboration; Critical thinking.

AHEP mapping: This resource addresses two of the themes from the UK’s Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this resource to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.  

Related SDGs: All 17. 
 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Active pedagogies and mindset development; More real-world complexity.

Who is this article for: This article should be read by educators at all levels in Higher Education who wish to understand how engineering practice can promote sustainable and ethical outcomes in equality, diversity, and inclusion. 

 

Supporting resources: 

Center for Responsible Business (CRB). (2023). Case study: Sustainability initiatives by a gemstone manufacturing organisation: community engagement, decent work and gender empowerment. New Delhi: Center for Responsible Business (CRB) 

Montt-Blanchard, D., Najmi, S., & Spinillo, C. G. (2023). Considerations for Community Engagement in Design Education. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 9(2), 234-263.  

Phillips SP, G. K. (2022, Nov 5). Medical Devices, Invisible Women, Harmful Consequences. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Nov 5, 19(21). 

Royal Academy of Engineering. (2018). Designing inclusion into engineering education. London: Royal Academy of Engineering.  

Sultana F, e. a. (2023). Seaweed farming for food and nutritional security, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and women empowerment: A review. Aquaculture and Fisheries, 8(5), 463-480 

 

Premise:  

The role of engineering is to enhance the safety, health and welfare of all, while protecting the planet and reversing existing environmental damage by deploying engineering solutions that can meet urgent global and local needs across all sectors (Engineering Council, 2021). The socioeconomic and environmental problems are strongly linked and finding responsible solutions is of imminent urgency that requires a holistic interdisciplinary perspective.  

 

Sustainability and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI): 

Equality, diversity, and Inclusion are interlinked concepts that emphasise equal opportunities, the inclusion of underrepresented groups, and the benefits that derive from diverse perspectives within the engineering field. Because sustainability is a global phenomenon, achieving the objective of “providing for all” should be a priority for all engineering professionals to ensure solutions are developed that benefit all (Jordan et al., 2021).  To address sustainability challenges, engineers need to keep in mind that some communities are disproportionately impacted by climate change and environmental harm. It is essential to empower these communities to create systematic change and advocate for themselves. 

 

A strategic pedagogical approach to sustainability and EDI: 

A variety of pedagogical strategies can be applied to incorporate diversity and inclusion perspectives into sustainability engineering. Rather than adopting an “add-on” approach to the existing programmes it is recommended to fully embed inclusive and sustainable perspectives in the existing curriculum. These perspectives should be incorporated following a learning path of the students, from the beginning of the programme in the engineering fundamentals, starting with raising awareness and understanding of these perspectives and gradually improving student knowledge supported by evidence and further to implementing and innovating in engineering practice and solutions. By the end of the programme, diversity and inclusion and sustainability perspectives should be fully incorporated into the attitude of the graduates so that they will consider this when approaching any engineering task. This approach would go hand-in-hand with incorporating an ethics perspective. 

Some practical examples of implementation in the programme and gradually deepening student learning are: 

 

1. Awareness and understanding: 

a. Define sustainability and its relation to EDI. 

b. Engage with practical examples in modules that can be considered and discussed from EDI, ethical, and sustainability perspectives (e.g. present a product related to the subject of a class; in addition to discussing the product’s engineering characteristics, extend the discussion to sustainability and diverse stakeholders perspective – who are the end users, what is the affordability, where does the raw material comes from, how could it be recycled etc.)  

 

2. Applying and analysing: 

Seek out case studies which can expose the students to a range of EDI issues and contexts, e.g.: 

a. Examples of “sustainable” engineering solutions aimed toward “wealthy” users but not available or suitable for the “poor”. Question if EDI was considered in stakeholder groups (who are the target end users, what are their specific needs, are the solutions applicable and affordable for diverse socioeconomic groups (e.g. high-tech expensive sophisticated medical devices, luxury cars).

b. Examples of product design suffering from discriminatory unconscious bias (e.g. medical devices unsuitable for women (Phillips SP, 2022); “affordable housing projects” being unaffordable for the local community, etc.). 

c. Positive examples of sustainable engineering solutions with strong EDI perspectives taken that are also financially viable (e.g. sustainable water and sanitation projects, seaweed farming for food security and climate change mitigation (Sultana F, 2023), sustainable gem production (Center for Responsible Business (CRB), 2023) etc.) 

 

3. Implementing, evaluating, and creating: 

a. Use existing scenario-based modules to focus on finding solutions for the sustainability problems that will improve socioeconomic equality, access to water, improvement of healthcare, and reduction of poverty. This will guide students to implement sustainability principles in engineering while addressing social issues and inequalities. 

b. In project-based modules, ask students to link their work with a specific UNSDG and evidence an approach to EDI issues. 

 

4. Provide visibility of additional opportunities:

Extracurricular activities (maker spaces, EWB UK’s Engineering for People Design Challenge, partnership with local communities, etc.) can represent an additional mechanism to bolster the link between sustainable engineering practice and EDI issues. Some of these initiatives can even be implemented within modules via topics, projects, and case studies. 

A systematic strategic approach will ensure that students gain experience in considering the views of all stakeholders, and not only economic and technical drivers (Faludi, et al., 2023). They need to take account of local know-how and community engagement since not all solutions will work in all circumstances (Montt-Blanchard, Najmi, & Spinillo, 2023). Engineering decisions need to be made bearing in mind the ethical, cultural, and political questions of concern in the local setting. Professional engineers need to develop a global mindset, taking into account diverse perspectives and experiences which will increase their potential to come up with creative, effective, and responsible solutions for these global challenges. (Jordan & Agi, 2021) 

 

Leading by example: 

It is of paramount importance that students experience that the HE institution itself embraces an inclusive and sustainable mindset. This should be within the institutional strategy and policies, everyday operations and within the classroom. Providing an experiential learning environment with an inclusive and sustainable mindset can have a paramount impact on the student experience and attitudes developed (Royal Academy of Engineering, 2018). 

 

Conclusion: 

Engineering education must prepare future professionals for responsible and ethical actions and solutions.  Only the meaningful participation of all members of a global society will bring us to a fully sustainable future. Thus, the role of engineering educators is to embed an EDI perspective alongside sustainability in the attitudes of future professionals. 

 

References: 

Burleson, G., Lajoie, J., & et al. (2023). Advancing Sustainable Development: Emerging Factors and Futures for the Engineering Field. 

Center for Responsible Business (CRB). (2023). Case study: Sustainability initiatives by a gemstone manufacturing organisation: community engagement, decent work and gender empowerment. New Delhi: Center for Responsible Business (CRB). 

Engineering Council. (2021). Guidance on Sustainability. London: Engineering Council UK. 

Faludi, J., Acaroglu, L., Gardien, P., Rapela, A., Sumter, D., & Cooper, C. (2023). Sustainability in the Future of Design Education. The Journal of Design, Economics and Innovation, 157-178. 

International Labour Organization. (2023). Transformative change and SDG 8: The critical role of collective capabilities and societal learning. Geneva: International Labour Organization.  

Jordan, R., & Agi, K. (2021). Peace engineering in practice: A case study at the University of New Mexico. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 173. 

Montt-Blanchard, D., Najmi, S., & Spinillo, C. G. (2023). Considerations for Community Engagement in Design Education. The Journal of Design, Economics, and Innovation, 9(2), 234-263.  

Phillips SP, G. K. (2022, Nov 5). Medical Devices, Invisible Women, Harmful Consequences. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2022 Nov 5, 19(21). 

Royal Academy of Engineering. (2018). Designing inclusion into engineering education. London: Royal Academy of Engineering. 

Sultana F, e. a. (2023). Seaweed farming for food and nutritional security, climate change mitigation and adaptation, and women empowerment: A review. Aquaculture and Fisheries, 8(5), 463-480.  

United Nations. (2023). The Sustainable Development Goals Report. New York: United Nations. 

 

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Authors: Peter Mylon MEng PhD CEng FIMechE PFHEA NTF and SJ Cooper-Knock PhD (The University of Sheffield). 

Topic: Maker Communities and ESD. 

Tool type: Knowledge. 

Relevant disciplines: Any. 

Keywords: Interdisciplinary; Education for sustainable development; Makerspaces, Recycling or recycled materials; Employability and skills; Inclusive learning; Local community; Climate change; Student engagement; Responsible consumption; Energy efficiency; Design; Water and sanitation; AHEP; Sustainability; Higher education; Pedagogy. 
 
Sustainability competency: Collaboration; Integrated problem-solving.

AHEP mapping: This resource addresses two of the themes from the UK’s Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this resource to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.  

Related SDGs: SDG 4 (Quality education); SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation); SDG 11 (Sustainable cities and communities); SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production); SDG 13 (Climate action). 
 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Active pedagogies and mindset development; Cross-disciplinarity.

Who is this article for? This article should be read by educators at all levels in higher education who are curious about how maker spaces and communities can contribute to sustainability efforts in engineering education. Engaging with this topic will also help to prepare students with the soft skill sets that employers are looking for. 

 

Premise:  

Makerspaces can play a valuable role in Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). In this article, we highlight three specific contributions they can make to ESD in Engineering: Makerspaces enable engineering in real-world contexts; they build cross-disciplinary connections and inclusive learning; and they promote responsible consumption.   

 

A brief introduction to makerspaces: 

In recent years, a ‘makerspace’ movement has emerged in Higher Education institutions. While most prevalent in the US, there are now a number of university-based makerspaces in the UK, including the iForge at the University of Sheffield, the Institute of Making at UCL, and the Makerspace at King’s College London. So what is a makerspace, and what do they have to do with Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)?  

Makerspaces are part of a larger “maker movement” that includes maker fairs, clubs and magazines. Within universities, they are “facilities and cultures that afford unstructured student-centric environments for design, invention, and prototyping.” (Forest et al., 2016). Successful and inclusive makerspaces are student led. Student ownership of makerspace initiatives deepens student motivation, promotes learning, and encourages peer-to-peer collaboration. Successful makerspaces produce thriving learning communities, through which projects can emerge organically, outside of curriculum structures and discipline boundaries.  

In terms of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), this means that students can bring their passion to make a difference, and can meet other students with similar interests but complementary skill sets. With support from the University, they can then be given opportunities to put their passion and skills into practice. Below, we focus on three concrete contributions that makerspaces can make to ESD:  Opportunities for applied learning; expanded potential for cross-disciplinary learning, and the chance to deepen engaged learning on sustainable consumption.  

 

1. Maker communities enable engineering in real world contexts:

1.1 ESD rationale 

ESD enables students to think critically about possible solutions to global challenges. It encourages students to consider the social, economic, and political context in which change takes place. ESD also spurs students to engage, where possible, with those beyond the university.  

It may be tempting to think of engineering as simply a technical exercise: one in which scientific and mathematical knowledge is taken and applied to the world around us. In practice, like all other professions, engineers do not simply apply knowledge, they create it. In order to do their work, engineers build, hold, and share ideas about how the world works: how users will behave; how materials will function; how they can be repaired or disposed of; what risks are acceptable, and why. These ideas about what is reasonable, rational, and probable are, in turn, shaped by the broader social, political, and economic context in which they work. This context shapes everything from what data is available, to what projects are prioritised, and how risk assessments are made. Rather than trying to ignore or remove these subjective and context-based elements of engineering, we need to understand them. In other words, rather than ask whether an engineering process is impacted by social, political, and economic factors we need to ask how this impact happens and the consequences that it holds. ESD encourages students to think about these issues.  

 

1.2 The contribution of makerspaces 

The availability of both equipment and expertise, and the potential for practical solutions, means that makerspaces often attract projects from outside the university. These provide opportunities to practise engineering in real-world contexts, where there is the possibility for participatory design. All such projects will require some consideration of social, political, or economic factors, which are at the heart of the Sustainable Development Goals.  

One example of this is SheffHEPP, a hydroelectric power project at the University of Sheffield. In response to requests for help from local communities, students are designing and building small-scale hydroelectric power installations in a number of locations. This multidisciplinary project requires an understanding of water engineering, electrical power generation, battery storage and mechanical power transmission, as well as taking into consideration the legal, financial, and environmental constraints of such an undertaking. But it also requires Making – students have made scale models and tested them in the lab, and are now looking to implement their designs in situ. Such combinations of practical engineering and real-world problems that require consideration of the wider context provide powerful educational experiences that expose students to the realities of sustainable development. 

 

There are a number of national and international organisations for students that promote SDGs through competitions and design challenges. These include: 

 

Student engagement with such activities is growing exponentially, and makerspaces can benefit students who are prototyping ideas for the competitions. At Sheffield, there are over 20 co-curricular student-led projects in engineering, involving around 700 students, many of which engage with the SDGs. In addition to SheffHEPP and teams entering all of the above competitions, these include teams designing solutions for rainwater harvesting, vaccine storage, cyclone-proof shelters for refugees, plastics recycling, and retrofitting buildings to reduce energy consumption. As well as the employability benefits of such activities, students are looking for ways to use engineering to create a better future, with awareness of issues around climate change and sustainability increasing year on year. And none of these activities would be possible without access to maker facilities to build prototypes.  

 

Linked to the makerspace movement is the concept of hackathons – short sprints where teams of students compete to design and prototype the best solution to a challenge. At Sheffield, these have included: 

 

In summary, Makerspaces enable students to access multiple initiatives through which they can engage in learning that is potentially participatory and applied. These forms of learning are critical to ESD and have the potential to address multiple Sustainable Development Goals.  

 

2. Maker communities build cross-disciplinary connections and encourage inclusive learning:

2.1 ESD rationale 

Global complex challenges cannot be resolved by engineers alone. ESD encourages students to value different forms of knowledge, from within and beyond academia. Within academia, makerspaces can provide opportunities for students to collaborate with peers from other disciplines. Cross-disciplinary knowledge can play a crucial role in understanding the complex challenges that face our world today. Makerspaces also offer an opportunity for students to engage with other forms of knowledge – such as the knowledge that is formed through lived experience – and appreciate the role that this plays in effective practices of design and creation. Finally, makerspaces can help students to communicate their knowledge in ways that are understandable to non-specialist audiences. This inclusive approach to knowledge creation and knowledge sharing enables students to think innovatively about sustainable solutions for the future.  

 

2.2 The contribution of makerspaces   

Cross-disciplinary spaces  

Student-led makerspaces encourage students to lead in the creation of cross-disciplinary connections. For example, at the University of Sheffield, the makerspace has primarily been used by engineering students. Currently, however, the students are working hard to create events that will actively draw in students from across the university. This provides students with a co-created space for cross-disciplinary exchange as students train each other on different machines, learning alongside each other in the space. At other times, staff from different disciplines can come together to create shared opportunities for learning. 

The cross-disciplinary nature of makerspaces and the universality of the desire to create encourages a diverse community to develop, with inclusivity as a core tenet. They can often provide opportunities for marginalised communities. Makerspaces such as the ‘Made in Za’atari’ space in Za’atari refugee camp have been used to give women in the camp a space in which they can utilise, share, and develop their skills both to improve wellbeing and create livelihoods. Meanwhile, projects such as Ambessa Play have provided opportunities for young people in refugee camps across the world to learn about kinetic energy and electronic components by creating a wind-up flashlight.  

 

Spaces of inclusive learning  

Maker projects also allow students to engage with their local communities, whether creating renewable energy installations, restoring community assets or educating the next generation of makers. Such projects raise the profile of sustainable development in the wider public and give students the opportunity to contribute to sustainable development in their neighbourhoods. 

 

3. Maker communities promote responsible consumption:

3.1 ESD rationale 

ESD does not just influence what we teach and how we teach; it also shapes who we are. A central tenet of ESD is that it helps to shape students, staff, and educational communities. When this happens, they are – in turn – better able to play their part in shaping the world around them.  

 

3.2 The contribution of makerspaces  

Even before the concept was popularised by the BBC’s ‘The Repair Shop’, repair cafes had begun to spring up across the country. Such facilities promote an ethos of repair and recycling by sharing of expertise amongst a community, a concept which aligns very closely with the maker movement. Items repaired might include furniture, electrical appliances, and ornaments. Related organisations like iFixit have also helped to promote responsible consumption and production through advocacy against built-in obsolescence and for the ‘Right to Repair’. 

The same principles apply to Making in textiles – sustainable fashion is a topic that excites many students both within and outside engineering, and makerspaces offer the opportunity for upcycling, garment repair and clothes shares. Students can learn simple techniques that will allow them to make better use of their existing wardrobes or of used clothing and in the process begin to change the consumption culture around them. At the University of Sheffield, our making community is currently planning an upcycled runway day, in which students will bring clothing that is in need of refresh or repair from their own wardrobes or from local charity shops. Our team of peer-instructors and sewing specialists will be on hand to help students to customise, fit, and mend their clothes. In doing so, we hope to build an awareness of sustainable fashion amongst our students, enabling an upcycling fashion culture at the university.  

 

Conclusion: 

Education for Sustainable Development plays a vital role in enabling students to expand the knowledge and skills that they hold so that they can play their part in creating a sustainable future. Makerspaces offer a valuable route through which engineering students can engage with Education for Sustainable Development, including opportunities for applied learning, cross disciplinary connections, and responsible consumption.  

 

References: 

Forest, C. et al. (2016) ‘Quantitative survey and analysis of five maker spaces at large, research-oriented universities’, 2016 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition Proceedings [Preprint]. (Accessed 19 February 2024). 

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. 

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters. 

 
To view a plain text version of this resource, click here to download the PDF.

Authors: Paola Seminara (Edinburgh Napier University); Alasdair Reid (Edinburgh Napier University).

Topic: Sustainable materials  in construction.

Engineering disciplines: Civil engineering; Manufacturing; Construction.

Ethical issues: Sustainability; Respect for the environment; Future generations; Societal impact; Corporate Social Responsibility.

Professional situations: EDI; Communication; Conflicts with leadership/management; Quality of work; Personal/professional reputation.

Educational level: Intermediate.

Educational aim: Practising Ethical Analysis: engaging in a process by which ethical issues are defined, affected parties and consequences are identified, so that relevant moral principles can be applied to a situation in order to determine possible courses of action.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This case involves an early-career consultant engineer working in the area of sustainable construction. She must negotiate between the values that she, her employer, and her client hold in order to balance sustainability goals and profit. The summary involves analysis of personal values and technical issues, and parts one and two bring in further complications that require the engineer to decide how much to compromise her own values.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

The dilemma in this case is presented in two parts. If desired, a teacher can use the Summary and Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in the Summary and Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities as desired.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

News articles:

Business:

Journal articles:

Educational institutions:

Citizen engagement organisation:

Professional organisation:

NGOs:

 

Suggested pre-reading:

Learners and teachers might benefit from pre-reading the above resources about EDI and enacting global responsibility, as well as introductory material on construction with mass timber such as information from Transforming Timber or the “How to Build a Wood Skyscraper” video.

 

Summary:

Originally from rural Pakistan, Anika is a construction engineer who has recently finished her postgraduate degree, having been awarded a fully funded scholarship. During her studies, Anika was introduced to innovative projects using mass timber and off-site methods of construction. After completing her studies, she was inspired to start her own consultancy practice in the UK, aiming to promote the use of sustainable materials within the construction industry.

James is the director of a well-established, family-owned architectural firm, originally started by his great-grandfather who was also a prominent societal figure. In the last year, James and his colleagues have sought to develop a sustainability policy for the firm. A key feature of this new policy is a commitment to adopt innovative, sustainable construction solutions wherever possible. James has been contacted by an important client who wants to commission his firm to work on a new residential development.

James first met Anika at university when they were both studying for the same postgraduate degree. Having a high regard for Anika’s capability and professionalism, James contacts Anika to propose working together to develop a proposal for the new residential development.

James hopes that Anika’s involvement will persuade the client to select construction solutions that are aligned with the new sustainability policy adopted by his firm. However, the important client has a reputation for prioritising profit over quality, and openly admits to being sceptical about environmental issues.

Anika schedules a meeting with the client to introduce herself and discuss some initial ideas for the project.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Personal values – What are the different personal values for Anika, James, and the client? How might they conflict with each other?

2. Activity: Professional communication – Elevator pitch activity part 1 – Working in groups of 2-3 and looking at the three different stakeholders’ personal values, each group will create a persuasive pitch of 1 minute used by Anika to convince the client to focus on sustainability.

3. Activity: Technical Analysis – Assemble a bibliography of relevant projects using mass timber and off-site methods of construction, and identify the weaknesses and strengths of these projects in terms of sustainability and long- and short-term costs and benefits.

4. Activity:  Professional communication – Elevator pitch activity part 2 – After conducting your technical analysis, work in groups of 2-3 to revise your elevator pitch and role play the meeting with the client. How should Anika approach the meeting?

 

Dilemma – Part one:

After the first meeting, the client expresses major concerns about Anika’s vision. Firstly, the client states that the initial costings are too high, resulting in a reduced profit margin for the development. Secondly, the client has serious misgivings about the use of mass timber, citing concerns about fire safety and the durability of the material.

Anika is disheartened at the client’s stance, and is also frustrated by James, who has a tendency to contradict and interrupt her during meetings with the client. Anika is also aware that James has met with the client on various occasions without extending the invitation to her, most notably a drinks and dinner reception at a luxury hotel. However, despite her misgivings, Anika knows that being involved in this project will secure the future of her own fledgling consulting company in the short term – and therefore, reluctantly, suspects she will have to make compromises.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Leadership and Communication – Which global responsibilities does Anika face as an engineer? Are those personal or professional responsibilities, or both? How should Anika balance her ethical duties, both personal and professional, and at the same time reach a decision with the client?

2. Activity: Research – Assemble a bibliography of relevant projects where mass timber has been used. How might you design a study to evaluate its structural and environmental credentials? What additional research needs to be conducted in order for more acceptance of this construction method?

3. Activity: Wider impact – Looking at Anika’s idea of using mass timber and off-site methods of construction, students will work in groups of 3-4 to identify the values categories of the following capital models: Natural, Social, Human, Manufactured and Financial.

4. Activity: Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion – Map and analyse qualities and abilities in connection with women and how these can have a positive and negative impact in the construction industry.

5. Discussion: Leadership and Communication – Which are the competitive advantages of women leading sustainable businesses and organisations? Which coping strategy should Anika use for her working relationship with James?

 

Dilemma – Part two:

Despite some initial misgivings, the client has commissioned James and Anika to work on the new residential development. Anika has begun researching where to locally source mass timber products. During her research, Anika discovers a new off-site construction company that uses homegrown mass timber. Anika is excited by this discovery as most timber products are imported from abroad, meaning the environmental impact can be mitigated.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity: Environmental footprint – Research the Environmental Product Declaration of different construction materials and whole life carbon assessment.

2. Discussion: Is transportation the only benefit of using local resources? Which other values (Natural, Social, Human, Manufactured and Financial) can be maximised with the use of local resources? How should these values be weighted?

3. Discussion: Professional responsibility – How important is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Construction? How could the use of local biogenic materials and off-site methods of construction be incorporated into a strategic CSR business plan?

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Author: Martin Griffin (Knight Piésold Consulting, United Kingdom). 

Keywords: Equity; Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI); Collaboration; Bias; Social responsibility; Design. 

Who is this article for? This article should be read by educators at all levels in higher education who wish to integrate social sustainability, EDI, and ethics into the engineering and design curriculum or module design. It will also help to prepare students with the integrated skill sets that employers are looking for. 

 

Premise:

No engineer is an island; it is not good for an engineer to act in isolation. Rather engineers need to be part of a welcoming community in order to thrive.  How an engineering professional interacts with either other engineers and non-engineers is essential for building a culture and professional environment of collaboration, creating environments where engineers can create meaningful bonds with one another and feel comfortable communicating openly. This requires recognising and understanding how unconscious bias and privileges can create divides and foster negative professional (toxic) environments, and being committed to establishing standards of conduct for and addressing issues related to EDI. There is a great need to advocate for fellow engineers providing places to belong and empowering them to thrive in their chosen profession and career pathways. This includes people who are part of one or more underrepresented groups that have been historically, persistently, and systemically marginalised in society based on their identity, such as race, colour, religion, marital status, family status, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and age. 

The Royal Academy of Engineering and EngineeringUK (2018) frequently publish reports on the demographics of engineers and the skills shortage in the workforce.  These reports highlight the under-representation of people from ethnic and minority groups, those with a disability or impairment, or those who are LGBTQ+.  In addition, the Institute of Engineering and Technology  recently reported that only 9% of businesses take particular action to increase underrepresented groups into their workforces.   

Engineering and technology are for everyone. It is morally right to ensure that everyone has equal opportunities and by doing so we can improve our world, shape our future, and solve complex global challenges. In order to accomplish these moral imperatives, we need to include a diversity of talent and knowledge. Furthermore, in the UK we still face a nationwide skills shortage threatening our industry. To address this and ensure the sustainability of our industry we must support equal opportunities for all and be truly inclusive. 

 

The three values: 

The three values of EDI are timeless and should be embedded into the way that engineering professionals act, starting with recognition that the unfair treatment of others exists. This unfair treatment may take the form of bullying, harassment, discrimination (either direct or indirect), victimisation, microaggressions, gaslighting, bias and inequity. An engineer’s role must also include advocating for the support of others in this regard too.  Each of the three values are very different, but all three together are essential to create opportunities for engineers to grow and thrive, and for a productive and creative engineering community to flourish. 

Equity encourages fair processes, treatment, and possibilities for everyone, resulting in an equal playing field for all. It acknowledges that oppressive systems have created varied circumstances for different engineers. By valuing equity, engineers must commit to fairly redistributing resources and power to address inequalities that systems have intentionally or unintentionally created, diminishing the impact of such circumstances and ensuring equitable opportunities.  Equality relates to ensuring engineers and groups are treated fairly and have access to equal opportunities. Note, it should be emphasised that equity is not the same as equality; in the simplest terms, equality means ‘sameness,’ and equity means ‘fairness’.  Thus, equality has become synonymous with ‘levelling the playing field’, whereas equity is synonymous with ‘more for those who need it’. 

Diversity refers to how diverse or varied a particular environment is, be it an engineering consultancy, academic funded research team, interdisciplinary joint venture designing as part of a national megaproject, and so on. Diversity involves professional openness and conscientiousness towards diverse social interactions. Therefore, diversity also involves intentional representation and collaboration with others from different demographic characteristics, identities, and differing experiences. Engineers should feel welcome to be their full self without the need to mask, being able to contribute and bring fresh perspectives where they are in attendance. 

Inclusion refers to a state of conscious belonging, meaning all are respected, empowered, and valued. Inclusivity should therefore be ingrained in an engineer’s daily operations and surrounding culture, being able to feel comfortable being their authentic selves. Inclusion involves extensive representation across roles, levels (grades) and the aforementioned demographic characteristics, recognising who is and is not in the room and the valuable perspectives and experiences they can bring. Inclusion also relates to ensuring all engineers feel valued and supported, where the benefits of creativity, innovation, decision making and problem solving are realised.   

 

Incorporating EDI in engineering education:

It is not possible to place EDI in a box and open it occasionally such as for annual awareness weeks or as an induction week module. It is a lifestyle, a conscious choice, and it needs to be embedded in an engineer’s values, approach and behaviours. Making engineering EDI an integral part of engineering ethics education will not involve an abstract ethical theory of EDI but rather a case-based approach. The teaching of EDI within engineering ethics through case studies helps students consider their philosophy of technology, recognise the positive and negative impact of technology, imagine ethical conduct, and then apply these insights to engineering situations. Moreover, when similar ethical modules have touched students, they are likely to remember the lessons learned from those cases. Several case studies found in the Ethics Toolkit that reference EDI concerns are listed at the end of this article. 

Good contemporary practical examples should be presented alongside case studies to promote and demonstrate why EDI ought to be embedded into a professional engineer’s life. The need to raise awareness, highlight the issues faced, and accelerate inclusion of Black people is provided in the Hamilton Commission report, focusing on all aspects of UK Motorsport including engineering. The importance of gender inclusivity in engineering design and how user-centred practices address this are addressed by Engineers Without Borders UK. Creating accessible solutions for everyone, including those who are disabled, is seen in the ongoing development of Microsoft’s Accessibility Technology & Tools. BP has launched a global framework for action to help them stay on track and progress in a positive way. The further benefits EDI brings to design and delivery in construction engineering are demonstrated by Mott Macdonald.   

Inclusive Engineering (similar to the principles of Universal Design) ensures that engineering products and services are accessible and inclusive of all users. Inclusive Engineering solutions aim to be as free as possible from discrimination and bias, and their use will help develop creative and enlightened engineers. Ethical responsibility is key to all aspects of engineering work, but at the design phase it is even more important, as we can literally be designing biases and discrimination into our technological solutions, thus amplifying existing biases. Recommended guidance is provided within PAS 6463:2022 as part of the engineering design process; this is a new standard written to give guidance on designing the built environment for our neurodiverse society. With the right design and management, it is possible to eliminate, reduce or adjust potentially negative impacts to create places where everyone can flourish equally.  

It is vital to recognise that achieving true equality, diversity, and inclusion is complex and cannot be ‘fixed’ quickly. An engineer must participate in active learning and go on a six stepped journey of self-awareness from being ‘not listening,’ ‘unaware,’ ‘passive,’ ‘curious,’ and ‘ally,’ to ‘advocate.’ A ‘not listening’ attitude involves shaming the unaware, speaking on behalf of others, invalidating others, clumsy behaviours, being bigoted, prejudiced, antagonistic and unwilling to listen and learn. Cultivating an ‘ally’ attitude is being informed and committed, routinely and proactively championing inclusion by challenging accepted norms, and taking sustained action to make positive change. It is for this reason the values of EDI should be part of an engineering professional’s ongoing lifestyle to have any real and lasting effect on engineering environments. 

Therefore, the importance of EDI needs to influence how an engineering professional thinks, acts, includes others and where engineers seek collaborative input. The concept of engineering is far more important than any individual engineer and sometimes engineers need to facilitate opportunities for voices to be heard. This involves respect and empathy to create trusted relationships and the need for self-awareness and self-development. Sometimes this means stepping back so that other engineers can step forward.   

 

Resources and support: 

Specific organisations representing protected characteristics such as InterEngineering have the goal to connect, inform and empower LGBTQ+ engineers.  Likewise, the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) and the Association for Black Engineers (AFBE-UK) provide support and promote higher achievements in education and engineering.  The aforementioned organisations are partnered with the Royal Academy of Engineering to highlight unheard voices, raise awareness of the barriers faced by minority groups, and to maximise impact. Many other umbrella groups, for instance Equal Engineers, also raise awareness of other underrepresented groups, such as the neurodivergent in engineering, by documenting case studies, undertaking surveys, holding regular careers events and annual conferences, and more.   

There is evidence to support the widely accepted view that supporting and managing EDI is a crucial element in increasing productivity and staff satisfaction. Diverse experiences and perspectives bring about diversity of thought which leads to innovation. It allows everybody to be authentic at work and provides the opportunity for diverse voices to be heard. Consequently, implementing EDI has proven to increase performance, growth, and innovation, as well as improvements in health, safety and wellbeing. EDI will therefore help to prepare students with the fundamental attitudes that are needed as practitioners and human beings.  

Finally, engineering with EDI embedded into a professional engineer’s lifestyle will make a difference to those most in need. In a globalised world it will put us in a good position to bring innovation and creativity to some of the biggest challenges we face together. Equitable, diverse and inclusive engineering must be at the heart of finding sustainable solutions to help shape a bright future for all. 

 

References: 

Resources in the Ethics Toolkit that link to EDI: 

Additional resources: 

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Case enhancement: Facial recognition for access and monitoring

Activity: Prompts to facilitate discussion activities. 

Author: Sarah Jayne Hitt, Ph.D. SFHEA (NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University).

 

Overview:

There are several points in this case during which an educator can facilitate a class discussion about relevant issues. Below are prompts for discussion questions and activities that can be used. These correspond with the stopping points outlined in the case. Each prompt could take up as little or as much time as the educator wishes, depending on where they want the focus of the discussion to be. The discussion prompts for Dilemma Part three are already well developed in the case study, so this enhancement focuses on expanding the prompts in Parts one and two.

 

Dilemma Part one – Discussion prompts:

1. Legal Issues. Give students ten minutes to individually or in groups do some online research on GDPR and the Data Protection Act (2018). In either small groups or as a large class, discuss the following prompts. You can explain that even if a person is not an expert in the law, it is important to try to understand the legal context. Indeed, an engineer is likely to have to interpret law and policy in their work. These questions invite critical thinking and informed consideration, but they do not necessarily have “right” answers and are suggestions that can help get a conversation started.

a. Are legal policies clear about how images of living persons should be managed when they are collected by technology of this kind?

b. What aspects of these laws might an engineer designing or deploying this system need to be aware of?

c. Do you think these laws are relevant when almost everyone walking around has a digital camera connected to the internet?

d. How could engineers help address legal or policy gaps through design choices?

2. Sharing Data. Before entering into a verbal discussion, either pass out the suggested questions listed in the case study on a worksheet or project on a screen. Have students spend five or ten minutes jotting down their personal responses. To understand the complexity of the issue, students could even create a quick mind map to show how different entities (police, security company, university, research group, etc.) interact on this issue. After the students spend some time in this personal reflection, educators could ask them to pair/share—turn to the person next to them and share what they wrote down. After about five minutes of this, each pair could amalgamate with another pair, with the educator giving them the prompt to report back to the full class on where they agree or disagree about the issues and why.

3. GDPR Consent. Before discussing this case particularly, ask students to describe a situation in which they had to give GDPR consent. Did they understand what they were doing, what the implications of consent are, and why? How did they feel about the process? Do they think it’s an appropriate system? This could be done as a large group, small group, or through individual reflection. Then turn the attention to this case and describe the change of perspective required here. Now instead of being the person who is asked for consent, you are the person requiring consent. Engineers are not lawyers, but engineers often are responsible for delivering legally compliant systems. If you were the engineer in charge in this case, what steps might you take to ensure consent is handled appropriately? This question could be answered in small groups, and then each group could report back to the larger class and a discussion could follow the report-backs.

4. Institutional Complexity. The questions listed in the case study relate to the fact that the building in which the facial recognition system will be used accommodates many different stakeholders. To help students with these questions, educators could divide the class into small groups, with each group representing one of the institutions or stakeholder groups (college, hospital, MTU, students, patients, public, etc.). Have each group investigate whether regulations related to captured images are different for their stakeholders, and debate if they should be different. What considerations will the engineer in the case have to account for related to that group? The findings can then be discussed as a large class.

 

Dilemma Part two – Discussion prompts:

The following questions relate to macroethical concerns, which means that the focus is on wider ethical contexts such as fairness, equality, responsibility, and implications.

1. Benefits and Burdens. To prepare to discuss the questions listed in the case study, students could make a chart of potential harms and potential benefits of the facial recognition system. They could do this individually, in pairs or small groups, or as a large class. Educators should encourage them to think deeply and broadly on this topic, and not just focus on the immediate, short-term implications. Once this chart is made, the questions listed in the case study could be discussed as a group, and students asked to weigh up these burdens and benefits. How did they make the choices as to when a burden should outweigh a benefit or vice versa?

2. Equality and Utility. To address the questions listed in the case study, students could do some preliminary individual or small group research on the accuracy of facial recognition systems for various population groups. The questions could then be discussed in pairs, small groups, or as a large class.

3. Engineer Responsibility. Engineers are experts that have much more specific technical knowledge and understanding than the general public. Indeed, the vast majority of people have no idea how a facial recognition system works and what the legal requirements are related to it, even if they are asked to give their consent. Does an engineer therefore have more of a responsibility to make people aware and reassure them? Or is an engineer just fulfilling their duty by doing what their boss says and making the system work? What could be problematic about taking either of those approaches?

 

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Case enhancement:
Business growth models in engineering industries within an economic system

Activity: Defending a profit-driven business versus a non-profit-driven business.

Author: Dr Sandhya Moise (University of Bath).

 

Overview:

This enhancement is for an activity found in the Dilemma Part one, Point 4 section of the case: “In a group, split into two sides with one side defending a profit-driven business and the other defending a non-profit driven business. Use Maria’s case in defending your position.” Below are several prompts for discussion questions and activities that can be used. These correspond with the stopping points outlined in the case. Each prompt could take up as little or as much time as the educator wishes, depending on where they want the focus of the discussion to be.

 

Session structure:

1. As pre-class work, the students can be provided the case study in written format.

2. During class, the students will need to be introduced to the following concepts, for which resources are provided below (~20 min):

3. Group activity (15 min +)

4. Whole class discussion/debate (15 min +)

 

Learning resources:

Ethics in Engineering resources:

Professional Codes of Conduct resources:

Corporate Social Responsibility Resources:

ESG Mandate Resources:

In recent years, there have been calls for more corporate responsibility in environmental and socioeconomic ecosystems globally. For example:

In 2017, the economist Kate Raworth set out to reframe GDP growth to a different indicator system that reflects on social and environmental impact. A Moment for Change?

Further reading:

 

Group Activity – Structure:

Split the class into two or more groups. One half of the class is assigned as Group 1 and the other, Group 2. Ask students to use Maria’s case in defending their position.

 

Group activity 1:

Group 1: Defend a profit-driven business model – Aims at catalysing the company’s market and profits by working with big corporations as this will enable quicker adoption of technology as well as economically benefit surrounding industries and society.

Group 2: Defend a non-profit driven business – Aims at preventing the widening of the socioeconomic gap by working with poorly-funded local authorities to help ensure their product gets to the places most in need (opportunities present in Joburg).

 

Pros and Cons of each approach:

Group 1: Defend a profit-driven business model:

Advantages and ethical impact:

Disadvantage and ethical impacts:

Group 2: Defend a non-profit driven business:

Advantages and ethical impact:

Disadvantage and ethical impacts:

 

Relevant ethical codes of conduct examples:

Royal Academy’s Statement of Ethical Principles:

Both of the above statements can be interpreted to mean that engineers have a professional duty to not propagate social inequalities through their technologies/innovations.

 

Discussion and summary:

This case study involves very important questions of profit vs values. Which is a more ethical approach both at first sight and beyond? Both approaches have their own set of advantages and disadvantages both in terms of their business and ethical implications.

If Maria decides to follow a profit-driven approach, she goes against her personal values and beliefs that might cause internal conflict, as well as propagate societal inequalities.

However, a profit-driven model will expand the company’s business, and improve job opportunities in the neighbourhood, which in turn would help the local community. There is also the possibility to establish the new business and subsequently/slowly initiate CSR activities on working with local authorities in Joburg to directly benefit those most in need. However, this would be a delayed measure and there is a possible risk that the CSR plans never unfold.

If Maria decides to follow a non-profit-driven approach, it aligns with her personal values and she might be very proactive in delivering it and taking the company forward. The technology would benefit those in most need. It might improve the reputation of the company and increase loyalty of its employees who align with these values. However, it might have an impact on the company’s profits and slow its growth. This in turn would affect the livelihood of those employed within the company (e.g. job security) and risks.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Author: Dr Fiona Truscott (UCL). 

Keywords: Ethical theories; Societal impact; Decision making; Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI); Health. 

Who is this article for?: This article should be read by educators at all levels in higher education who wish to better understand ethics and its connection to engineering education. It is also useful for students who are being introduced to this topic. 

 

Premise: 

Engineering, technology, and society have always had a close relationship, with changes and innovations in each affecting the other two. For instance, being able to communicate and access information instantaneously and 24/7 has changed our relationships with family, friends and colleagues as well as with employers and governments. While this certainly has some benefits, such as being able to work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, is always being connected a good thing? We’ve seen a blurring of the lines between work and home with both positive and negative impacts. Social media algorithms bring us cute cat photos but they also spread misinformation. Ethics in engineering invites us to question how we should respond to the development and deployment of new technologies like these.   

Ethics can especially be seen through engineering innovations that mean life or death. For example, pacemakers are medical devices developed in the late 1950s that can regulate a person’s heart rate when their natural cells are damaged or misfunctioning. This diagnosis used to be a death sentence, but now millions of patients have pacemakers, completely changing their life expectancy and standard of living. At the time, however, there were ethical questions to answer about how they should be tested and implemented.  

Technology and engineering do not just affect society; society also influences engineering. This can be seen through the discovery of Viagra, which was originally developed as a treatment for heart disease but in clinical trials it was found to have little effect on heart disease but a much more interesting – and lucrative – side effect. The market for Viagra and similar drugs is worth billions of dollars, directing research and funds towards treating a condition that is not necessarily a life or death situation just because we are willing to pay for it. What engineering focuses on, or doesn’t, is determined by what society wants, thinks is important, or will pay for. Ethics invites us to identify and consider our values and how those influence what problems engineers identify and which ones they choose to work on. 

Clearly our decisions as engineers have an impact on society, so how might we approach making these decisions? Luckily there are people who have been thinking about how to make society-impacting decisions for thousands of years – ethicists! Ethics gives us a framework for balancing different opinions, needs, and values when making decisions, big or small. There are three lenses that we can use when thinking about ethics within Engineering: Professional, Theoretical, and Practical. 

 

Professional ethics: 

Professional engineering ethics is the question of how an engineer should behave in a professional setting or situation. Typically, professional engineering bodies, such as the Institute of Chemical Engineers, produce codes of conduct which outline how members are expected to behave in professional contexts. Members agree to follow these codes when they join the professional body. Many professional bodies’ codes of conduct are based on the joint statement on ethics from the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Engineering Council (2017). 

This is similar to an ethical theory, Virtue Ethics. The key question in virtue ethics is what makes a good person? A good person is one who fulfils their purpose. By following behaviours called virtues that fulfil that purpose, and avoiding ones that don’t, called vices, a person can always make the right ethical decision (Blackburn, 2003; Johnson, 2020).  

Coming from another angle we can look at what the responsibilities of an engineer are, and ask who they are responsible to. Typically, an engineer has a client that they are working for but they are also responsible to the wider community and the public. Buildings must fulfil the clients’ needs but must also comply with regulations. Where these responsibilities are in opposition, law and codes of conduct can help an engineer decide a path forward.  

 

Theoretical ethics: 

Besides Virtue Ethics, first propounded by Aristotle, there are several other ethical theories that influence engineering ethics. Utilitarianism is a theory developed by Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill. A basic description of Utilitarianism is that the best ethical action is the one that produces the most happiness for the largest number of people. Here the approach centres not on an action itself but on the consequences of it. Utilitarianism is very context dependent, with all potential actions on the table, and it requires a collective or community-based approach. However, there appears to be a big flaw which is that it could justify harm to a few if it brought happiness to the many. Bentham and Mill both emphasised a key caveat: that we should select the action which produces the most happiness for as many as possible without causing harm to individuals (Blackburn, 2003; Johnson, 2020). 

Also writing in the late 18th and early 19th centuries but coming at ethical decision making from a very different angle is Immanuel Kant and his duty-based theory of ethics, also called deontology. Kant argued that sentient beings are ends in themselves and not means to achieve something else. The ethics of an action therefore should not be decided by its outcomes but is inherent in the action itself. When making an ethical decision, you should choose the course of action that you would be willing to follow under all circumstances, otherwise known as the categorical imperative. While this approach aligns with many legal systems, we can all think of circumstances when typically unacceptable actions become acceptable (Blackburn, 2003; Johnson, 2020). 

While no individual person follows Aristotle, Bentham, or Kant all the time, they do give us some insight into how people make ethical decisions. In general people will want the most happiness for the most people but they also have personal, legal or societal red lines that they won’t cross; or, that they will cross depending on the situation.  

 

Practical ethics: 

Practical Ethics is focused on the reality of making decisions when faced with an ethical issue. One useful approach for engineers outlined by Caroline Whitbeck (1998) is the analogy to solving design problems, something engineers are very familiar with! In design problems, we have a series of constraints and requirements that any successful solution needs to fulfil. We come up with a range of potential solutions, some that don’t fulfil the criteria, and some that do. We then select a successful solution based on our own experience, priorities, or interpretation of the brief. Other people will select different successful solutions. The same is true for ethical problems: there are criteria that must be achieved for a successful solution and each individual might choose a different successful solution.  

Engineers are very familiar with what constraints and requirements look like in design problem solving but what about ethical problem solving? This is where Aristotle, Bentham, and Kant pop back up again. Some criteria will involve harms that we want to avoid or ways to produce the most happiness, while others will be values that we hold to under any circumstances.  

 

Conclusion: 

While it may not always be clear how much impact a single engineer’s actions can have on the ethical decisions of a whole project or company, one area where we can have a significant impact is in design. Who can and can’t use our creations? Who are we excluding or favouring in our design decisions? Until recently crash test dummies were modelled on the 50th percentile man (Criado Perez, 2020). Car safety systems were designed around this dummy ensuring they survived the safety tests. Female drivers tend to be shorter, so they move their seat further forward and higher up, meaning that they are more likely to be an ‘out of position’ driver. Additionally, car seats are too firm for female drivers, throwing them forward faster on impact and not deforming as much, dispersing less of the energy of the crash. The effects of this engineering design decision is that in car crashes, women are 17% more likely to die, 47% more likely to be seriously injured and 71% more likely to be moderately injured because of the design choices made (Criado Perez, 2020). Who engineers do, or don’t, design for is an ethical question that has real world impact. 

Given the impact that engineering and technology has already had and will continue to have on society, we need to include ethical thinking in our day-to-day practise to ensure that we understand the consequences of our actions and decisions, and that our work makes positive impacts and minimises negative ones.   

 

References: 

Blackburn, S. (2003) Ethics: A very short introduction. Oxford: OUP. 

Criado Perez, C. (2020) Invisible women. Vintage. 

Johnson, D.G. (2020) Engineering ethics. Yale University Press. 

RAEng and Engineering Council joint Statement of Ethical Principles. 

Whitbeck, C. (1998) Ethics in engineering practice and research. Cambridge University Press. 

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

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