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.

Authors: The Lemelson Foundation; Cynthia Anderson, Sarah Jayne Hitt and Jonathan Truslove (Eds.) 

Topic: Accreditation mapping for sustainability in engineering education. 

Tool type: Guidance. 

Engineering disciplines:  Any.

Keywords: Accreditation and standards; Learning outcomes; AHEP; Student support; Sustainability; Higher education; Students; Teaching or embedding sustainability.

Sustainability competency: Critical thinking; Systems thinking; Integrated problem-solving; Collaboration.

AHEP mapping: This resource addresses themes from the UK’s Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4). See details about mapping within the guide. 

Related SDGs: SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production). 

Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Adapt and repurpose learning outcomes; More real-world complexity; Cross-disciplinarity.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This guide, currently under review by the Engineering Council, maps the Engineering for One Planet (EOP) Framework to AHEP4. The EOP Framework is a practical tool for curricular supplementation and modification, comprising 93 sustainability focused learning outcomes in 9 topic areas. 

The Lemelson Foundation, VentureWell, and Alula Consulting stewarded the co-development of the EOP Framework with hundreds of individuals mostly situated in the United States. Now, in collaboration with the EPC and Engineers Without Borders UK, the EOP Framework’s student learning outcomes have been mapped to AHEP4 at the Chartered Engineer (CEng) level to ensure that UK educators can more easily align these outcomes and corresponding resources with learning activities, coursework, and assessments within their modules.  

 

Click here to access the guide. 

 

Supporting resources: 

EOP Comprehensive Teaching Guide 

EOP’s 13 Step-by-Step Ideas for Integrating Sustainability into Engineering Modules 

EOP Quickstart Activity Guide 

 

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: 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 

 

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: Dr Lampros Litos (Cranfield University). 

Topic: Sustainability in manufacturing. 

Tool type: Guidance. 

Engineering disciplines:  Aeronautical; Manufacturing, Mechanical. 

Keywords: Energy efficiency; Factories; Best practice; Eco-efficiency; Practice maturity model; AHEP; Student support; Sustainability. 

Sustainability competency: Critical thinking; 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 9 (Industry, innovation, and infrastructure); SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production). 

Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: More real-world complexity.

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

The following are a set of use cases for a maturity model designed to improve energy and resource efficiency in manufacturing facilities. This guide can help engineering educators integrate some of the main concepts behind this model (efficient use of energy and resources in factories in the context of continuous improvement and sustainability) into student learning by showcasing case study examples.   

Teachers could use one or all of the following use cases to put students in the shoes of a practicing engineer whose responsibility is to evaluate and improve factory fitness from a sustainability perspective.  

 

Supporting resources:  

 

Factory assessment in multiple assembly facilities for an aircraft manufacturer:

The assessment is part of the following use case on this industrial energy efficiency network (IEEN): 

The company operates in the aerospace sector and runs 11 manufacturing sites that employ approximately 50000 people across 4 European countries. Most of the sites are responsible for specific parts of the aircraft i.e. fuselage, wings. These parts once manufactured are sent to two final assembly sites. Addressing energy efficiency in manufacturing has been a major concern for the company for several years.  

 

It was not until 2006 that a corporate policy was developed that would formalize efforts towards energy efficiency and set a 20% reduction in energy by the year 2020 across all manufacturing sites. An environmental steering committee at board level was set up which also oversaw waste reduction and resource efficiency. The year 2006 became the baseline year for energy savings and performance measures. Energy saving projects were initiated then, across multiple manufacturing sites. These were carried out as project-based activities, locally guided by the heads of each division and function per site.  

 

A corporate protocol for developing the business case for each project is an initial part of the process. It is designed to assign particular resources and accountabilities to the people in charge of the improvements. Up to 2012, improvement initiatives had a local focus per site and an awareness-raising character. It was agreed that in order to replicate local improvements across the plants a process of cross-plant coordination was necessary. A study on the barriers to energy efficiency in this company revealed three important barriers which needed to be addressed: 

  • Lack of accountability: The site energy manager is responsible for reducing the site’s energy consumption but only has authority to act within a facility’s domain–that is, by improving facilities and services, such as buildings and switchgear. They are not empowered to act within a manufacturing operations parameter. Therefore, no one is responsible for reducing energy demand.  
  • No clear ownership: Many improvements are identified but then delayed due to a lack of funding to carry out the works. This is because neither facilities nor manufacturing operations agree whether the improvement is inside their parameter: typically, facilities claim that it is a manufacturing process improvement, and operations claim that any benefit would be realized by facilities. Both are correct, hence neither will commit resources to achieve the improvement and own the improvement. 
  • No sense of urgency: A corporate target exists for energy reduction–but the planned date for achieving this is 2020.  

The solution that the environmental steering committee decided to support, was the creation of an industrial energy efficiency network (IEEN). The company had previously done something similar when seeking to harmonize its manufacturing processes through  process technology groups (Lunt et al., 2015). This approach consists of each plant nominating a representative who is taking the lead and coordinating activities. It is expected that the industrial network would contribute to a significant 7% share out of the 20% energy reduction target for the year 2020 since its establishment as an operation in 2012.  

 

The network’s operations are further facilitated with corporate resources such as online tools that help practitioners report and track the progress of current projects, review past ones, and learn about best-available techniques. This practice evolved into an intranet website that is further available to the wider community of practitioners and aims to generate further interest and enhance the flow of information back to the network. Additionally, a handbook to guide new and existing members in engaging effectively with the network and its objective has been developed for wider distribution. These tools are supported by training campaigns across the sites.   

 

Most of the network members also act as boundary spanners (Gittell and Weiss, 2004) in the sense that they have established connections to process technology groups or they are members of these groups as well. This helps the network establish strong links with other informal groups within the organization and act as conductor for a better flow of ideas between these groups and the network. Potentially, network members have a chance to influence core technology groups towards energy efficiency at product level.  

 

On average, a 5-10% work-time allocation is approved for all network members to engage with the network functions. In case a member is not coping in terms of time management there is the option of sub-contracting the improvement project to an external subcontractor who is hired for that particular purpose and the subcontractor’s time allocation to the project can be up to 100%.  

 

 “….by having the network we meet and we select together a list of projects that we want to put forward to access that central pot of money. So we know roughly how much will be allocated to industrial energy efficiency and so we select projects across all of the sites that we think will get funded and we put them all together as a group…so rather than having lots of individual sites making individual requests for funding and being rejected, by going together as a group and having some kind of strategy as well…” 

 

Each dot on each of the model rows represents the relative efficiencies that a factory achieves in saving energy and resources through best practice (5 of 11 factories represented here, each delivering an aircraft part towards final assembly). The assessment allowed this network of energy efficiency engineers and managers to better understand the strengths and weaknesses in different factories and where the learning opportunities exist (and against which dimension of the model). 

 

2. The perception problem in manufacturing processes and management practice:

The following assessment is performed in a leading aerospace company where two senior engineering managers (green and orange lines) find it difficult to agree on the maturity of different practices currently used at the factory level as part of their environmental sustainability strategy.  

This assessment was part of the following use case: 

The self-assessment was completed by the head of environment and one of his associates in the same function. These two practitioners work closely together and are based in the UK headquarters. Even though the maturity profiles do not vary significantly (1 level plus or minus) it is clear that there is very little overall agreement on the maturity levels in each dimension.  

 

3. Using the maturity model as a consensus building tool in a factory:

Seven practitioners from different parts of the business (engineering, operations, marketing, health and safety etc.) were brought together to understand how they think the factory performs. The convergence between perceptions was very small and this would indicate high levels of resistance to change and continuous improvement. For example, if senior managers think they are doing really well, they will not invest time and effort in better practices and technologies. 

A timeline (today +5years) was used to understand where they think they are today and where they want to be tomorrow.  

This can be one of the ways of thinking about improvements that need to occur, starting with areas of interest that are underperforming and developing the right projects to address the gaps. 

 

References: 

Lunt, M.F. et al. (2015) ‘Reconciling reported and unreported HFC emissions with  Atmospheric Observations’, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 112(19), pp. 5927–5931.  

Gittell, Jody & Weiss, Leigh. (2004). Coordination Networks Within and Across Organizations: A Multi-level Framework. Journal of Management Studies. 41. 127-153. 

 

Appendix:

1. High resolution picture of the maturity model for printing (also available here: Litos, L. (2016). Design support for eco-efficiency improvements in manufacturing p. 218.)

 

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: Dr Gilbert Tang; Dr Rebecca Raper (Cranfield University). 

Topic: Considering the SDGs at all stages of new robot creation. 

Tool type: Guidance. 

Relevant disciplines: Computing; Robotics; Electrical; Computer science; Information technology; Software engineering; Artificial Intelligence; Mechatronics; Manufacturing engineering; Materials engineering; Mechanical engineering; Data. 

Keywords: SDGs; AHEP; Sustainability; Design; Life cycle; Local community; Environment; Circular economy; Recycling or recycled materials; Student support; Higher education; Learning outcomes. 
 
Sustainability competency: Systems thinking; Anticipatory; 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 9 (Industry, innovation, and infrastructure); SDG 12 (Responsible consumption and production). 
 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Adapt and repurpose learning outcomes; More real-world complexity.

Who is this article for? This article is for educators working at all levels of higher education who wish to integrate Sustainability into their robotics engineering and design curriculum or module design. It is also for students and professionals who want to seek practical guidance on how to integrate Sustainability considerations into their robotics engineering. 

 

Premise:  

There is an urgent global need to address the social and economic challenges relating to our world and the environment (Raper et al., 2022). The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for individuals, policy-makers and industries to work to address some of these challenges (Gutierrez-Bucheli et al., 2022). These 17 goals encompass areas such as clean energy, responsible consumption, climate action, and social equity. Engineers play a pivotal role in achieving these goals by developing innovative solutions that promote sustainability and they can use these goals to work to address broader sustainability objectives. 

Part of the strategy to ensure that engineers incorporate sustainability into their solution development is to ensure that engineering students are educated on these topics and taught how to incorporate considerations at all stages in the engineering process (Eidenskog et al., 2022). For instance, students need not only to have a broad awareness of topics such as the SDGs, but they also need lessons on how to ensure their engineering incorporates sustainable practice. Despite the increased effort that has been demonstrated in engineering generally, there are some challenges when the sustainability paradigm needs to be integrated into robotics study programs or modules (Leifler and Dahlin, 2020). This article details one approach to incorporate considerations of the SDGs at all stages of new robot creation: including considerations prior to design, during creation and manufacturing and post-deployment. 

 

1. During research and problem definition:

Sustainability considerations should start from the beginning of the engineering cycle for robotic systems. During this phase it is important to consider what the problem statement is for the new system, and whether the proposed solution satisfies this in a sustainable way, using Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) linked to the SDGs (United Nations, 2018), such as carbon emissions, energy efficiency and social equity (Hristov and Chirico, 2019). For instance, will the energy expended to create the robot solution be offset by the robot once it is in use? Are there long-term consequences of using a robot as a solution? It is important to begin engagement with stakeholders, such as end-users, local communities, and subject matter experts to gain insight into these types of questions and any initial concerns. Educators can provide students with opportunities to engage in the research and development of robotics technology that can solve locally relevant problems and benefit the local community. These types of research projects allow students to gain valuable research experience and explore robotics innovations through solving problems that are relatable to the students. There are some successful examples across the globe as discussed in Dias et al., 2005. 

 

2. At design and conceptualisation:

Once it is decided that a robot works as an appropriate solution, Sustainability should be integrated into the robot system’s concept and design. Considerations can include incorporating eco-design principles that prioritise resource efficiency, waste reduction, and using low-impact materials. The design should use materials with relatively low environmental footprints, assessing their complete life cycles, including extraction, production, transportation, and disposal. Powered systems should prioritise energy-efficient designs and technologies to reduce operational energy consumption, fostering sustainability from the outset. 

 

3. During creation and manufacturing:

The robotic system should be manufactured to prioritise methods that minimise, mitigate or offset waste, energy consumption, and emissions. Lean manufacturing practices can be used to optimise resource utilisation where possible. Engineers should be aware of the importance of considering sustainability in supply chain management to select suppliers with consideration of their sustainability practices, including ethical labour standards and environmentally responsible sourcing. Robotic systems should be designed in a way that is easy to assemble and disassemble, thus enabling robots to be easily recycled, or repurposed at the end of their life cycle, promoting circularity and resource conservation. 

 

4. Deployment:

Many robotic systems are designed to run constantly day and night in working environments such as manufacturing plants and warehouses. Thus energy-efficient operation is crucial to ensure users operate the product or system efficiently, utilising energy-saving features to reduce operational impacts. Guidance and resources should be provided to users to encourage sustainable practices during the operational phase. System designers should also implement systems for continuous monitoring of performance and data collection to identify opportunities for improvement throughout the operational life. 

 

5. Disposal:

Industrial robots have an average service life of 6-7 years. It is important to consider their end-of-life and plan for responsible disposal or recycling of product components. Designs should be prioritised that facilitate disassembly and recycling (Karastoyanov and Karastanev, 2018). Engineers should identify and safely manage hazardous materials to comply with regulations and prevent environmental harm. Designers can also explore options for product take-back and recycling as part of a circular economy strategy. There are various ways of achieving that. Designers can adopt modular design methodologies to enable upgrades and repairs, extending their useful life. Robot system manufacturers should be encouraged to develop strategies for refurbishing and reselling products, promoting reuse over disposal. 

 

Conclusion: 

Sustainability is not just an option but an imperative within the realm of engineering. Engineers must find solutions that not only meet technical and economic requirements but also align with environmental, social, and economic sustainability goals. As well as educating students on the broader topics and issues relating to Sustainability, there is a need for teaching considerations at different stages in the robot development lifecycle. Understanding the multifaceted connections between sustainability and engineering disciplines, as well as their impact across various stages of the engineering process, is essential for engineers to meet the challenges of the 21st century responsibly.  

 

References: 

Dias, M. B., Mills-Tettey, G. A., & Nanayakkara, T. (2005, April). Robotics, education, and sustainable development. In Proceedings of the 2005 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (pp. 4248-4253). IEEE. 

Eidenskog, M., Leifler, O., Sefyrin, J., Johnson, E., & Asplund, M. (2023). Changing the world one engineer at a time–unmaking the traditional engineering education when introducing sustainability subjects. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 24(9), 70-84.  

Gutierrez-Bucheli, L., Kidman, G., & Reid, A. (2022). Sustainability in engineering education: A review of learning outcomes. Journal of Cleaner Production, 330, 129734. 

Hristov, I., & Chirico, A. (2019). The role of sustainability key performance indicators (KPIs) in implementing sustainable strategies. Sustainability, 11(20), 5742. 

Karastoyanov, D., & Karastanev, S. (2018). Reuse of Industrial Robots. IFAC-PapersOnLine, 51(30), 44-47. 

Leifler, O., & Dahlin, J. E. (2020). Curriculum integration of sustainability in engineering education–a national study of programme director perspectives. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 21(5), 877-894. 

Raper, R., Boeddinghaus, J., Coeckelbergh, M., Gross, W., Campigotto, P., & Lincoln, C. N. (2022). Sustainability budgets: A practical management and governance method for achieving goal 13 of the sustainable development goals for AI development. Sustainability, 14(7), 4019. 

SDG Indicators — SDG Indicators (2018) United Nations (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.

In developing the resources for the EPC’s Sustainability Toolkit, we took into account recent scholarship and best practices and reviewed existing material available on sustainability in engineering. You can find links to these online resources in our ever-growing library of engineering education resources on sustainability below. Please note, the resources linked below are all open-source. If you want to suggest a resource that has helped you, find out how on our Get Involved page.

 

To view a page that only lists library links from a specific category type:

 

Knowledge tools

Listed below are links to resources that support educators’ awareness and understanding of sustainability topics in general as well as their connection to engineering education in particular. These have been grouped according to topic. You can also find our suite of knowledge tools, here.

Resource Topic Discipline
UN SDG website Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
UNESCO’s Education for Sustainable Development Toolbox Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
Newcastle University’s Guide to Engineering and Education for Sustainable Development Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
International Institute for Sustainable Development Knowledge Hub Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
PBL, SDGs, and Engineering Education WFEO Academy webinar (only accessible to WFEO academy members) Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals Engineering-specific
Re-setting the Benchmarks for Engineering Graduates with the Right Skills for Sustainable Development WFEO Academy webinar (only accessible to WFEO academy members) Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals Engineering-specific
AdvanceHE’s Guidance on embedding Education for Sustainable Development in HE Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
UNESCO Engineering Report  Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals Engineering-specific
AdvanceHEEducation for Sustainable Development: a review of the literature 2015-2022  (only accessible to colleagues from member institutions at AdvanceHE – this is a member benefit until October 2025) Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
Wackernagel, M., Hanscom, L. and Lin, D. (2017) Making the Sustainable Development Goals consistent with sustainability, Frontiers. (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
Vertically Integrated Projects for Sustainable Development (VIP4SD), University of Strathclyde (Video) Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
Vertically Integrated Projects for Sustainable Development, University of Strathclyde (Study with us) Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
Siemens Skills for Sustainability Network Roundtable Article – August 2022 Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals Engineering-specific
Siemens Skills for Sustainability Network Roundtable Article – October 2022 Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals Engineering-specific
Siemens Skills for Sustainability Student Survey Student Voice  Engineering-specific
Students Organising for Sustainability Learning Academy Student Voice  General
Students Organising for Sustainability – Sustainability Skills Survey Student Voice  General
Engineers Without Borders-UK Global Responsibility Competency Compass Competency Frameworksfor Sustainability  Engineering-specific
Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment Sustainability Skills Map Competency Frameworksfor Sustainability  General
Arizona State School of Sustainability Key Competencies Competency Frameworksfor Sustainability  General
EU GreenComp: the European Sustainability Competence Framework Competency Frameworksfor Sustainability  General
International Engineering Alliance Graduate Attributes & Professional Competencies Competency Frameworksfor Sustainability  General
Engineering for One Planet (EOP) – The EOP Framework Competency Frameworksfor Sustainability  Engineering-specific
Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s Circular Economy website Broader Context , Circular economy Engineering-specific
GreenBiz’s Cheat Sheet of EU Sustainability Regulations Broader Context , Regulations General
Green Software Practitioner – Principles of Green Software Broader Context , Software Engineering-specific
Microsoft’s Principles of Sustainable Software Engineering Broader Context , Software Engineering-specific
Engineering Futures – Sustainability in Engineering 2023 webinars  (You will need to create an account on the Engineering Futures website. Once you have created your account, navigate back to this link, scroll down to ”Sustainability in Engineering Webinars” and enter your account details. Click on the webinar recordings you wish to access. You will then be redirected to the Crowdcast website, where you will need to create an account to view the recordings.) Broader Context, Engineering Engineering-specific
Innes, C. (2023) AI and Sustainability: Weighing up the environmental pros and cons of Machine Intelligence Technology., Jisc – Infrastructure.  (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Broader Context, Artificial Intelligence Engineering-specific
Arnold, W. (2020a) The structural engineer’s responsibility in this climate emergency, The Institution of Structural Engineers. (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Broader Context, Structural engineering Engineering-specific
Arnold, W. (2017) Structural engineering in 2027, The Institution of Structural Engineers. (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Broader Context, Structural engineering Engineering-specific
Arnold, W. (2020b) The institution’s response to the climate emergency, The Institution of Structural Engineers. (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Broader Context, Structural engineering Engineering-specific
Litos , L. et al. (2023) An investigation between the links of sustainable manufacturing practices and Innovation, Procedia CIRP. (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Broader Context, Manufacturing Engineering-specific
UAL Fashion SEEDS: Fashion Societal, Economic and Environmental Design-led Sustainability Broader context, Design General

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: The Sustainability Resources Library was produced by Crystal Nwagboso (Engineering Professors Council).If you want to suggest a resource that has helped you, find out how on our Get Involved page.
We’ve collated a library of links to groups, networks, organisations, and initiatives that connect you with others who are working on embedding sustainability in engineering education.

 

In developing the resources for the EPC’s Sustainability Toolkit, we took into account recent scholarship and best practices and reviewed existing material available on sustainability in engineering. You can find links to these online resources in our ever-growing library of
engineering education resources on sustainability below. Please note, the resources linked
below are all open-source. If you want to suggest a resource that has helped you, find out how
on our Get Involved page.

 

To view a page that only lists library links from a specific category type:

 

Collaboration resources

Organisation Type Sustainability focus
Students Organising for Sustainability (SOS) Student groups General
European Students of Industrial Engineering and Management (ESTIEM) Student groups Engineering-specific
People & Planet Student groups General
Student Platform For Engineering Education Development (SPEED) Student groups Engineering-specific
Global Spark Student groups General
Board of European Students of Technology (BEST) Student groups General
UN regional centre for expertise Networks General
Alliance for Sustainability Leadership in Education(EAUC) Networks General
RCE Scotland – Learning for Sustainability Scotland Networks General
UN Global Compact Network Networks General
Global Engineering Deans Council (GEDC ) Networks Engineering-specific
International Federation of Engineering Education Societies (IFEES) Networks Engineering-specific
Engineering for Change Networks Engineering-specific
Higher Education Sustainability Initiative(HESI) Organisations / Initiatives General
UK Fires Organisations / Initiatives Engineering-specific
Engineering for One Planet (EOP) Organisations / Initiatives Engineering-specific
Engineers Without Borders UK (EWB-UK) Organisations / Initiatives Engineering-specific
SEFI Sustainability Special Interest Group Organisations / Initiatives Engineering-specific
Inter-University Sustainable Development Research Programme (IUSDRP) Organisations / Initiatives General

 

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 post is also available here.

Author: The Sustainability Resources Library was produced by Crystal Nwagboso (Engineering Professors Council). If you want to suggest a resource that has helped you, find out how on our Get Involved page.

In developing the resources for the EPC’s Sustainability Toolkit, we took into account recent scholarship and best practices and reviewed existing material available on sustainability in engineering. You can find links to these online resources in our ever-growing library of engineering education resources on sustainability below. Please note, the resources linked below are all open-source. If you want to suggest a resource that has helped you, find out how on our Get Involved page.

 

Jump to a section on this page:

 

To view a page that only lists library links from a specific category type:

 

Assessment tools

Listed below are links to tools that are designed to support educators’ ability to measure quality and impact of sustainability teaching and learning activities. These have been grouped according to topic. You can also find our suite of assessment tools, here.

Resource Topic Discipline
Newcastle University’s Assessing Education for Sustainable Development Assessment materials  General
Welsh Assembly Government: Education for Sustainable Development and Global Citizenship. A self-assessment toolkit for Work-Based Learning Providers. Assessment materials  General
The Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes (AHEP) – Fourth edition Accreditation materials  General
Times Higher Education – Impact Rankings 2022 Accreditation materials  General
Times Higher Education, Impact Rankings 2023 Accreditation materials  General
The UK Standard for Professional Engineering Competence and Commitment (UK-SPEC) Accreditation materials  General

 

Collaboration resources

Click to view our Collaboration resources page where you can find links to groups, networks, and organisations/initiatives that will support educators’ ability to learn with and from others. 

 

Integration tools

Listed below are links to tools designed to support educators ability to apply and embed sustainability topics within their engineering teaching. These have been grouped according to topic. You can also find our suite of learning activities and case studies, here.

Resource Topic Discipline
Engineering for One Planet Framework Learning Outcomes Curriculum Development  Engineering-specific
Education & Training Foundation’s Map the Curriculum Tool for ESD Curriculum Development  General
University College Cork’s Sustainable Development Goals Toolkit Curriculum Development  General
Strachan, S.M. et al. (2019) Using vertically integrated projects to embed research-based education for Sustainable Development in undergraduate curricula, International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education. (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Curriculum Development  General
Snowflake Education – Faculty Training: Teaching Sustainability Program Curriculum Development General
Siemens Case Studies on Sustainability Case Studies Engineering-specific
Low Energy Transition Initiative Case Studies Case Studies , Energy Engineering-specific
UK Green Building Council Case Studies Case Studies , Construction Engineering-specific
Litos, L. et al. (2017) Organizational designs for sharing environmental best practice between manufacturing sites, SpringerLink. (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Case Studies , Manufacturing Engineering-specific
Litos, L. et al. (2017) A maturity-based improvement method for eco-efficiency in manufacturing systems, Procedia Manufacturing. (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Case Studies , Manufacturing Engineering-specific
European Product Bureau – Indicative list of software tools and databases for Level(s) indicator 1.2 (version December 2020). Technical tools, Built environment Engineering-specific
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) – Whole life carbon assessment (WLCA) for the built environment Technical tools, Built environment Engineering-specific
The Institution of Structural Engineers (ISTRUCTE) – The Structural carbon tool – version 2 Technical tools, Structural engineering Engineering-specific
Green, M. (2014) What the social progress index can reveal about your country, Michael Green: What the Social Progress Index can reveal about your country | TED Talk. (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Technical tools  General

Manfred Max-Neef’s Fundamental human needs (Matrix of needs and satisfiers)

”One of the applications of the work is in the field of Strategic Sustainable Development, where the fundamental human needs (not the marketed or created desires and wants) are used in the Brundtland definition.”

Technical tools  General
Siemens – Engineering student software  Technical tools Engineering-specific
Despeisse, M. et al. (2016) A collection of tools for factory eco-efficiency, Procedia CIRP. (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Technical tools, Manufacturing Engineering-specific
Engineering for One Planet Quickstart Activity Guide Other Learning Activities  Engineering-specific
Engineering for One Planet Comprehensive Guide to Teaching Learning Outcomes Other Learning Activities  Engineering-specific
Siemens Engineering Curriculum Materials Other Learning Activities  Engineering-specific
VentureWell’s Activities for Integrating Sustainability into Technical Classes Other Learning Activities  General
VentureWell’s Tools for Design and Sustainability Other Learning Activities  Engineering-specific
AskNature’s Biomimicry Toolbox Other Learning Activities  Engineering-specific
Segalas , J. (2020) Freely available learning resources for Sustainable Design in engineering education, SEFI. (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Other Learning Activities  Engineering-specific
Siemens Xcelerator Academy Other Learning Activities  Engineering-specific

 

Knowledge tools

Listed below are links to resources that support educators’ awareness and understanding of sustainability topics in general as well as their connection to engineering education in particular. These have been grouped according to topic. You can also find our suite of knowledge tools, here.

Resource Topic Discipline
UN SDG website Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
UNESCO’s Education for Sustainable Development Toolbox Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
Newcastle University’s Guide to Engineering and Education for Sustainable Development Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
International Institute for Sustainable Development Knowledge Hub Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
PBL, SDGs, and Engineering Education WFEO Academy webinar (only accessible to WFEO academy members) Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals Engineering-specific
Re-setting the Benchmarks for Engineering Graduates with the Right Skills for Sustainable Development WFEO Academy webinar (only accessible to WFEO academy members) Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals Engineering-specific
AdvanceHE’s Guidance on embedding Education for Sustainable Development in HE Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
UNESCO Engineering Report  Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals Engineering-specific
AdvanceHEEducation for Sustainable Development: a review of the literature 2015-2022  (only accessible to colleagues from member institutions at AdvanceHE – this is a member benefit until October 2025) Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General

Wackernagel, M., Hanscom, L. and Lin, D. (2017) Making the Sustainable Development Goals consistent with sustainability, Frontiers. (Accessed: 01 February 2024).

Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
Vertically Integrated Projects for Sustainable Development (VIP4SD), University of Strathclyde (Video) Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
Vertically Integrated Projects for Sustainable Development, University of Strathclyde (Study with us) Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals General
Siemens Skills for Sustainability Network Roundtable Article – August 2022 Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals Engineering-specific
Siemens Skills for Sustainability Network Roundtable Article – October 2022 Education for Sustainable Development and UN Sustainable Development Goals Engineering-specific
Siemens Skills for Sustainability Student Survey Student Voice  Engineering-specific
Students Organising for Sustainability Learning Academy Student Voice  General
Students Organising for Sustainability – Sustainability Skills Survey Student Voice  General
Engineers Without Borders-UK Global Responsibility Competency Compass Competency Frameworksfor Sustainability  Engineering-specific
Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment Sustainability Skills Map Competency Frameworksfor Sustainability  General
Arizona State School of Sustainability Key Competencies Competency Frameworksfor Sustainability  General
EU GreenComp: the European Sustainability Competence Framework Competency Frameworksfor Sustainability  General
International Engineering Alliance Graduate Attributes & Professional Competencies Competency Frameworksfor Sustainability  General
Engineering for One Planet (EOP) – The EOP Framework Competency Frameworksfor Sustainability  Engineering-specific
Ellen Macarthur Foundation’s Circular Economy website Broader Context , Circular economy Engineering-specific
GreenBiz’s Cheat Sheet of EU Sustainability Regulations Broader Context , Regulations General
Green Software Practitioner – Principles of Green Software Broader Context , Software Engineering-specific
Microsoft’s Principles of Sustainable Software Engineering Broader Context , Software Engineering-specific
Engineering Futures – Sustainability in Engineering 2023 webinars  (You will need to create an account on the Engineering Futures website. Once you have created your account, navigate back to this link, scroll down to ”Sustainability in Engineering Webinars” and enter your account details. Click on the webinar recordings you wish to access. You will then be redirected to the Crowdcast website, where you will need to create an account to view the recordings.) Broader Context, Engineering Engineering-specific
Innes, C. (2023) AI and Sustainability: Weighing up the environmental pros and cons of Machine Intelligence Technology., Jisc – Infrastructure.  (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Broader Context, Artificial Intelligence Engineering-specific
Arnold, W. (2020a) The structural engineer’s responsibility in this climate emergency, The Institution of Structural Engineers. (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Broader Context, Structural engineering Engineering-specific
Arnold, W. (2017) Structural engineering in 2027, The Institution of Structural Engineers. (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Broader Context, Structural engineering Engineering-specific
Arnold, W. (2020b) The institution’s response to the climate emergency, The Institution of Structural Engineers. (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Broader Context, Structural engineering Engineering-specific
Litos , L. et al. (2023) An investigation between the links of sustainable manufacturing practices and Innovation, Procedia CIRP. (Accessed: 01 February 2024). Broader Context, Manufacturing Engineering-specific
UAL Fashion SEEDS: Fashion Societal, Economic and Environmental Design-led Sustainability
Broader context, Design General

 

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: The Sustainability Resources Library was produced by Crystal Nwagboso (Engineering Professors Council). If you want to suggest a resource that has helped you, find out how on our Get Involved page.

This post is also available here.

Authors: Matthew Studley (UWE Bristol); Sarah Jayne Hitt, Ph.D. SFHEA (NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University). 

Keywords: Pedagogy; Personal ethics; Risk. 

Who is this article for? This article should be read by educators at all levels in higher education who wish to integrate ethics into the engineering and design curriculum, or into module design and learning activities. It describes techniques that can help to provide students with opportunities to practise the communication and critical thinking skills that employers are looking for. 

 

Premise: 

Discussing ethical issues can be a daunting prospect, whether one-to-one or with an entire classroom. Ethics often addresses topics and decisions related to moral choices and delicate situations about which people may have firm and long-held beliefs. Additionally, these issues are often rooted in underlying values which may differ between people, cultures, or even time periods. For instance, something that was considered immoral or unethical in a rural community in 18th-century Ireland may have been viewed very differently at the same time in urban India. Because students come from different backgrounds and experiences, it is essential to be sensitive to this context (Kirk and Flammia, 2016). However, ethics also requires that we address tough topics in order to make decisions about what we should do in difficult situations, such as those encountered by engineers in their personal, professional, and civic lives. 

 

Why we need to be sensitive in discussions about ethics: 

Discussions about tough topics can be ‘triggering’. Psychologists define a psychological ‘trigger’ as a stimulus that causes a painful memory to resurface. A trigger can be any reminder of the traumatic event: a sound, sight, smell, physical sensation, words, or images. When a person is triggered, they’re being provoked by a stimulus that awakens or worsens the symptoms of a traumatic event or mental health condition (Gerdes, 2019). A person’s strong reaction to being triggered may come as a surprise to others because the response seems out of proportion to the stimulus, because the triggered individual is mentally reliving the original trauma. Some neurodivergencies can adapt these responses. For example, people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may experience stronger emotional reactions and may present this in ways which are unfamiliar or surprising to those who have not experienced the same challenges (Fuld, 2018). 

Apart from triggering memories, the topics of right and wrong may be emotive. Young people are often passionate in their beliefs and may be moved to strong responses. There is nothing wrong with that, unless one person’s strong response makes another’s participation and expression less likely.  

 

Ethics is only salient if the topics are tough: 

Ethics concerns questions of moral value, of right and wrong, and relates to our deep-held beliefs and emotions. If any experience in an engineer’s education is likely to cause unpleasant memories to surface, or to stimulate strong discussion, it’s likely to be Ethics, and some of our students may have an emotional response to the topics of discussion and their impacts. This might be enough to make many educators shy away from integrating ethics. 

However, research has shown that most engineers are moved by their personal sense of moral value, rather than by abstract external standards, and this can create very powerful and impactful learning experiences (Génova and González, 2016). To teach Ethics, we need to be willing to engage emotionally. Students also appreciate when educators can be vulnerable in the same way that we ask them to be, which means being willing to be honest about our own reactions to tough topics. 

 

Approaches to tackling tough topics:  

a. Prepare by reviewing resources 

Several resources exist to guide educators who are engaging with tough topics in the classroom. Teaching and learning specialists recognise the challenges inherent in engaging with this kind of activity, yet also want to support educators who see the value in creating a space for students to wrestle with the difficult questions that they will encounter in the future. Many centres of teaching and learning at universities provide strategies and guidance through websites or pamphlets that are easily found by searching online. We include a list of some of our preferred resources below. 

b. Prepare by finding local support 

Even though we will avoid obvious triggers, there’s always the possibility that our students may become upset. We should be prepared by promoting the contact details for local support services within the institution. It can never be a bad thing for our students to know about these. 

 c. Give warnings and ask for consent 

You might want to warn your students that discussing ethical matters is not without emotional consequence. At your discretion, seek their explicit consent to continue. There has been some criticism of this approach in the media, as some authors suggest that this infantilises the audience. Indeed, the pros and cons of trigger warnings might make an interesting topic for discussion: life can be cruel, is there value in developing a thick skin? What do we lose in this process? Being honest about your own hesitations and internal conflicts might encourage students to open up about how they wrestle with their own dilemmas. To be fully supportive, consider an advanced warning with the option to opt-out so that people aren’t stampeded into something they might prefer to avoid. 

 d. Recognise discomfort, and respond 

Be aware of the possibility that individuals in your group could become upset. Be prepared to quietly offer time out or to change the activity in response to where the students want to take the discussion. Again, being transparent with the students that some people may be uncomfortable or upset by topics can reveal another relevant ethical topic – how to be respectful of others whose response differs from your own. And being willing to change the activity demonstrates the flexibility and adaptability required of 21st century engineers!  

 e. Avoid unnecessary risk 

Some topics are best avoided due to the strength of emotion which they might trigger in students whose life story may be unknown to us. These topics include sexual abuse, self-harm, violence, eating disorders, homophobia, transphobia, racism, child abuse and paedophilia, and rape.  

 

Be kind, and be brave: 

Above all, let your students know that you care for their well-being. If we are to teach Ethics, let us be ethical. You might need to overcome some awkward moments with your students, but you will all learn and grow in the process! 

 

References: 

Fuld S. (2018) ‘Autism spectrum disorder: The Impact of stressful and traumatic life events and implications for clinical practice.’ Clinical Social Work Journal 46(3), pp. 210-219.  

Génova, G., and González, M.R. (2016) ‘Teaching ethics to engineers: A Socratic experience,’ Science and Engineering Ethics 22, pp. 567–580.  

Gerdes, K. (2019) ‘Trauma, trigger warnings, and the rhetoric of sensitivity,’ Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 49(1), pp. 3-24. 

Kirk S. A. and Flammia, M. (2016) ‘Teaching the ethics of intercultural communication,’ in Teaching and Training for Global Engineering: Perspectives on Culture and Professional Communication Practices, pp.91-124. 

 

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: Developing a school chatbot for student support services

Activity: Stakeholder mapping to elicit value assumptions and motivations.

Author: Karin Rudolph (Collective Intelligence).

 

Overview:

This enhancement is for an activity found in point 5 of the Summary section of the case study.

What is stakeholder mapping?

What is a stakeholder?

Mapping out stakeholders will help you to:

  1. Identify the stakeholders you need to collaborate with to ensure the success of the project.
  2. Understand the different perspectives and points of view people have and how these experiences can have an impact on your project or product.
  3. Map out a wide range of people, groups or individuals that can affect and be affected by the project.

 

Stakeholder mapping:

The stakeholder mapping activity is a group exercise that provides students with the opportunity to discuss ethical and societal issues related to the School Chatbot case study. We recommend doing this activity in small groups of 6-8 students per table.

 

Resources:

 

Materials:

To carry out this activity, you will need the following resources:

1. Sticky notes (or digital notes if online).

2. A big piece of paper or digital board (Jamboard, Miro if online) divided into four categories:

3. Markers and pencils.

 

The activity:

 

Board One

List of stakeholders:

Below is a list of the stakeholders involved in the Chatbot project. Put each stakeholder on a sticky note and add them to the stakeholders map, according to their level of influence and interest in the projects.

Top tip: use a different colour for each set of stakeholders.

School Chatbot – List of Stakeholders:

 

Placement:

 

Guidance:

Each quadrant represents the following:

Board One

Motivations, assumptions, ethical and societal risks:

Materials:

1. A big piece of paper or digital board (Jamboard, Miro if online) divided into four categories:

2. Sticky notes (or digital notes if online).

3. Markers and pencils.

The activity:

 

Board Two

The Board Two activity can be done in two different ways:

Option 1:

You can use some guiding questions to direct the discussion. For example:

Option 2:

We have already written some assumptions, motivations and ethical/societal risks and you can add these as notes on a table and ask students to place according to each category: stakeholders, motivations, assumptions, and ethical and societal risks.

Motivations:

Assumptions:

Potential ethical and societal risks:

Move and match: 

 

 

 

Reflection:

Ask students to choose 2- 4 sticky notes and explain why they think these are important ethical/societal risks.

 

Potential future activity:

A more advanced activity could involve a group discussion where students are asked to think about some mitigation strategies to minimise these 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.

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