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.

The Sustainability Toolkit was unveiled as one of three major initiatives launched together at the Engineers 2030 event on 18th March 2024, hosted at the Royal Academy of Engineering. There were a number of prestigious speakers, but the keynote that made everyone sit up most and which set the tone for the discussion for the rest of the event was by Kayley Thacker, a third year Chemical Engineer at the University of Birmingham.

Kayley has kindly given us permission to reproduce her keynote in full.

 


 

Why did you decide to be an engineer? This is a question that I’m sure follows us wherever we go, from our initial steps into university to the various stages of our careers.

Perhaps this is asked so frequently because many people are uncertain about what engineers actually do. The common assumption is that we generally fix things – whilst sometimes true, there is so much more to engineering than that. Engineers have had an impact, whether good or bad, on every aspect of our lives today, and we all have varied and profound reasons for entering this field.

At school, I was one of those people who would change their dream job every week. I went from being an author, to a baker, to a marine biologist. However, I knew I wanted a career that would constantly teach me new skills, where I would be challenged and pushed out of my comfort zone, and where I would get to work with a diverse range of people of different skill sets and backgrounds – but above all I wanted to make a difference in the world.

One day, I decided to entertain the idea of studying engineering, which seemed like an absurdity. Me, an engineering student? I was the girl who was told off for reading books during lessons, and isn’t engineering supposed to be a ‘boy’ subject anyway?

Regardless, I decided to do some more research and I was hooked. Engineering seemed like a dream – it would be both academically invigorating and would equip me with the skills to change the world. And here, I began to understand that engineering wasn’t just about fixing things – it was about understanding complex systems, innovating technology and working collaboratively across disciplines to bring about positive change. I carried this sentiment with me to university, where I started my degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Birmingham.

 

University experience

My engineering degree has, for the most part, lived up to my expectations. It has certainly been a challenging journey, pushing me to the limits of my problem-solving skills. With the technical knowledge I have gained, I feel as though I am equipped with the skills to work with the current infrastructure in our society. However, there has always been something lacking – a disconnect between the theoretical concepts I am learning about and the real world.

This reflection has led me to the question: shouldn’t our education be as much about forging paths for the future as it is about understanding the constructs of the past?

Another problem that has stood out to me during my time at university is the fact that different types of engineers are taught in isolation. As a chemical engineer, I have never had the opportunity to work alongside mechanical, civil and electrical engineers for example. We aren’t even able to access the engineering building or any of its facilities! Why is it that engineers are educated separately, when we are all working alongside many other disciplines to solve the same problems? Even beyond that, the challenges we face today require a collaborative and interdisciplinary approach, one that our current system does not fully embrace.

 


 

Towards the start of my first year at university, we were told a staggering statistic rather offhandedly by our lecturer: “90% of the things we are going to learn about, we will never use in our careers.”

This is quite a bleak truth to tell to a group of wide-eyed students, eager to learn all that they can. And this has echoed throughout every module, every assignment, every new topic we are taught. Even if we don’t directly use this knowledge, why aren’t we taught the critical thinking skills that allow us to apply this learning elsewhere?

Additionally, there is a distinct lack of responsibility being taught in our courses. Why is it that ethics and responsibility are integral to the training of doctors and lawyers, but is more often than not tacked on to the end of engineering degrees?

Engineers are responsible for the construction of buildings, motorways, vehicles, the food we eat, the products and devices we use. Every day, we use things that have been desgined and created by engineers. And if we make a mistake in those designs and creations, thousands of people can be affected.

So where did the message get lost? Why does it feel as though the responsibility of an engineer is taken for granted? Shouldn’t our education be explicitly led with the responsibility we will shoulder throughout our careers?

Engineers need to be categorically trained to put people and the planet first.

 

Call for change

Ask yourselves, what does an engineer 5, 10, 30 years from now actually do? With the advent of tools such as AI and machine learning, would engineers be better off developing our skills beyond the fundamentals? The modern engineer not only needs to be equipped with mathematical and scientific knowhow, but also needs to be able to draw on a range of soft skills such as critical thinking, interdisciplinary collaboration and global awareness. It is clear that the traditional expectations of engineers are expanding. We need to prioritise skills that foster innovation, sustainability and ethical responsibility. These are the tools that will empower engineers to not only cope with future challenges, but to be at the forefront of finding their solutions.

Despite university education offering a wealth of interesting and complex material, there is something evidently wrong with the way engineers are being educated if the main takeaway from our education is a stark awareness of its deficiencies rather than the engaging content and skills we are taught.

It is clear that our education needs to be more grounded in the modern era if we are to solve 21st century challenges. In order to best develop our education, it is critical that students are kept in the loop and actively involved throughout the entire change process. We require an education system that is not only adaptive and responsive to the needs of students, but also one that anticipates and exceeds the evolving expectations of our society.

Reflecting on the way in which engineers have already shaped our world, we have to recognise that whilst engineers have achieved remarkable feats, their endeavours have also contributed to some of the most pressing challenges we face today.

Years ago, engineers wanted to vastly improve our lives, however they lacked the foresight of what their creations would do – they often overlooked the long-term environmental and societal impacts they would have. And even now, we have limited time to sort things out, with looming deadlines of the UN Sustainable Development Goals fast approaching.

The consequences of our actions, or rather our inactions, are undeniable, and there is a desparate need for change. Despite these challenges, we are all here today because we believe that our current systems can change, that through working together we can equip the engineers of tomorrow with the skills to protect our planet and our quality of life.

 

Reflections

We are so fortunate to have environments such as universities available to us, to help us hit the ground running in our careers. However, the journey of an engineer does not end with a degree. The rapidly changing world requires engineers to continually adapt, learn and apply new skills, and cultivating a mindset of continuous learning and improvement must be a priority of engineering degrees. Engineers inherently solve complex problems, and the upcoming cohort needs to be equipped to see complexity in different ways, beyond equations and traditional methods.

So I’d like to return to my initial question: why did you decide to become an engineer?

Many of my peers admit that they were attracted to the degree’s prestige, and how it can be used as a launchpad into careers such as finance or business. While these are important fields, it does make you question the purpose of an engineering degree. How can we realign our focus to attract creative problem-solvers and innovators to the field of engineering? And how can degree programmes be tailored to suit the needs of an ever-changing world?

As we gather here today to both celebrate and reflect on the progress made so far, it is clear that we must embrace the strengths of our current systems and still be open to feedback and growth, ensuring that engineering education not only meets but exceeds the demands of the future.

Universities have already shown a capacity to adapt to and navigate change. For example, the rapid development of artificial intelligence over the past few years has already caused universities to question their teaching and assessment methods. The climate crisis has been an ongoing threat for decades, so why has this urgent issue not prompted a similar response? One ‘difficult to navigate’ change to our education can positively benefit thousands of upcoming engineers. Even if system change feels difficult, remember why it is so important.

I would like to end my keynote with a reminder of why we are here this afternoon. The students of today and tomorrow are the future of engineering – we are at the starting line of our careers and we need to leave university with the ability to keep up with the pace of an ever-changing world.

I am thankful for the opportunity to share my views with you, however I am just one voice. There are tens of thousands of engineering students going through the education system right now that aren’t well represented in this room. I hope that, after today, we can continue to use student voices to best inform the direction of education so that as many new engineers as possible can feel this change.

Engineering is not just a career, but a calling to enact positive change, and it is critical that upcoming engineers feel empowered to do so with the right skills and confidence to make a difference in the world.

 


 

Visit Engineers 2030, a cross-sector initiative led by the Royal Academy of Engineering, to foster a new generation of engineers who understand that their purpose is to create change for the benefit of the planet and its inhabitants. 

The Sustainability Toolkit, created by the EPC in partnership with the Royal Academy of Engineering and Siemens, was launched at the Engineering 2030 event, alongside Engineers Without Borders UK’s Reimagined Degree Map. A webinar to celebrate the launch of the Toolkit and explore its resources will be held on 28th March 2024 – register here.

 

This post is also available here.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

Dr. Jude Bramton of the University of Bristol discusses her first-hand experience of using the Engineering Ethics Toolkit and what lessons she learnt.

 

Starting off

Let me set the scene. It’s a cold January morning after the winter break and I need to prepare some Engineering Ethics content for our third year Mechanical Engineers. The students have never been taught this topic, and I have never taught it.

I’m apprehensive – many of our students are fantastic engineering scientists/mathematicians and I’m not sure how they will engage with a subject that is more discussive and, unlike their more technical subjects, a subject with no single correct answer.

Nonetheless, my task is to design a 50-minute session for ca. 180 undergraduate Mechanical Engineers to introduce the concept of Engineering Ethics and start to build this thinking into their engineering mindset. The session will be in a flatbed teaching space, where students will be sitting in groups they have been working in for a number of weeks.

For a bit more context, the content is assessed eventually as part of a group coursework where students assess the ethical implications of a specific design concept they have come up with.

 

Designing the session with the help of the Toolkit

From doing a little bit of research online, I came across the Engineering Ethics Toolkit from the EPC – and I was so grateful.

I started off by reviewing all 8 case studies available at the time, and reading them in the context of my session. I picked one that I felt was most appropriate for the level and the subject matter and chose the Solar Panels in a Desert Oil Field case study.

I used the case study in a way that worked for me – that’s the beauty of this resource, you can make it what you want.

I put my session together using the case study as the basis, and including the Engineering Council’s principles of Engineering Ethics and some hand-picked tools from some of Toolkit’s guidance articles – for example, I used the 7-step guide to ethical decision making.

I used the text directly from the case study to make my slides. I introduced the scenario in parts, as recommended, and took questions/thoughts verbally from the students as we went. The students then had access to all of the scenario text on paper, and had 15-20 minutes to agree three decisions on the ethical dilemmas presented in the scenario. Students then had to post their group’s answers on PollEverywhere.

The overall session structure looked like this:

 

How did it go?

When I ran the session, one key component was ensuring I set my expectations for student participation and tolerance at the start of the session. I openly told students that, if they feel comfortable, they will need to be vocal and participative in the session to get the most from it. I literally asked them – “Is that something we think we can do?” – I got nods around the room (so far, so good).

Overall, the session went better than I could have expected. In fact, I think it was the most hands up I have ever had during a class. Not only did we hear from students who hadn’t openly contributed to class discussion before, but I had to actively stop taking points to keep to time. It made me wonder whether this topic, being presented as one with no wrong or right answers, enabled more students to feel comfortable contributing to a large class discussion. Students were very tolerant of each others’ ideas, and we encouraged differences of opinion.

For the small group discussions, I left a slide up with the three ethical dilemmas and the 7-step guide to ethical decision making as a prompt for those that needed it. During the small group discussions, I and supporting teaching staff wandered around the room observing, listening and helping to facilitate discussion, although this was rarely needed as engagement was fantastic. The small group sessions also allowed opportunities for contribution from those students who perhaps felt less comfortable raising points in the wider class discussion.

To my delight, the room was split on many decisions, allowing us to discuss all aspects of the dilemmas when we came to summarise as a larger class. I even observed one group being so split they were playing rock-paper-scissors to make their decision – not quite the ethical decision making tool we might advertise, but representative of the dilemma and engagement of students nonetheless!

 

Student feedback

I asked our Student Cohort Representative to gather some informal feedback from students who attended the session. Overall, the response was overwhelmingly positive, here are a few snippets:

“It was the best lecture I’ve had since I’ve been here.”

“The most interesting session, had me engaged.”

“It was the first time learning about the connections between engineering and ethics and it was really useful.”

“I enjoyed the participation and inclusion with the students during the lesson. It has favoured the growth of personal opinions and a greater clarity of the subject and its points of view.  Furthermore, the addition of real-life examples gave more depth to the topic, facilitating listening and learning.”

“The session was very engaging and I liked the use of examples… This whole unit has showed me how there are more aspects of engineering to consider apart from just designing something. Engineers must always think of ethics and I believe this session has demonstrated that well.”

And finally, when asked “What was your overall impression of the session?” a student replied Interesting and curious.” – what more could you ask for?

It was such a pleasant surprise to me that not only did students engage in the session, but they actively enjoyed the topic.

 

I’ve run it once, how would I improve it?

One thing I would do differently next time would be to allow even more time for discussion if at all possible. As discussed, I had to stop and move on, despite the engagement in the room at certain points.

I also reflect how it might have gone if the students weren’t as engaged at the start. If you have other teaching staff in the room, you can use them to demonstrate that it’s ok to have differences of opinion. A colleague and I openly disagreed with each other on a topic, and demonstrated that this was ok. Additionally, if larger class engagement doesn’t work for you, you could also go straight to the small group discussion.

 

In summary (and top tips!)

I now feel very comfortable, and excited, to be teaching engineering ethics. It has now also catalysed more content to be created to embed this theme further in our programme – so it doesn’t just become that “one off” lecture. However, I think providing specific time on this subject was very beneficial for the students, it gave them time and space to reflect on such a complex topic.

My takeaways and recommendations from this experience have been:

All in all, I would recommend the resources on the Engineering Ethics Toolkit to anyone. They can be easily adapted to your own contexts and there is a plethora of resources and knowledge that are proven to engage students and get them thinking ethically.

You can find out more about getting involved or contributing to the Engineering Ethics Toolkit here.

 

This blog is also available here.

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.

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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