Elsevier’s James Harper has just written a valuable new guidance article for the Engineering Ethics Toolkit on Why information literacy is an ethical issue in engineering. We got together with him to discuss this further.

 

James, where did your passion for this issue originate and how can the resources available for information literacy be put to use both by faculty and students?  

We live in a time marked by an unprecedented deluge of information, where distinguishing reliable and valuable content has become increasingly difficult. My concern was to help engineering educators meet the critical challenge of fostering ethical behaviour in their students in this complex world. Students are in real need of an ethical compass to navigate this information overload, and the digital landscape in particular. They need to acquire what we call ‘information and digital literacy’, specifically, learning how to research, select and critically assess reliable data. This is both a skill and a practice.  

For students, how does this skill relate to the engineering workplace? 

From observing professional engineers, it’s clear they require comprehensive insights and data to resolve problems, complete projects, and foster innovation. This necessitates extensive research, encompassing case studies, standards, best practices, and examples to validate or refute their strategies. Engineering is a profession deeply rooted in the analysis of failures in order to prevent avoidable mistakes. As a result, critical and unbiased thinking is essential and all the more so in the current state of the information landscape. This is something Knovel specifically strives to improve for the communities we serve. 

Knovel – a reference platform I’ve significantly contributed to – was initially built for practising engineers. Our early realisation was that the biggest obstacle for engineers in accessing the best available information wasn’t a lack of resources, but barriers such as insufficient digitalisation, technological hurdles, and ambiguous usage rights. Nowadays, the challenge has evolved: there’s an overload of online information, emerging yet unreliable sources like certain chatbots, and a persistently fragmented information landscape.  

How is Knovel used in engineering education? Can you share some insights on how to make the most of it? 

Knovel is distinguished by its extensive network of over 165 content partners worldwide, offering a breadth of trusted perspectives to meet the needs of a range of engineering information challenges. It’s an invaluable tool for students, especially those in project-based learning programs during their Undergraduate and Master’s studies. These students are on the cusp of facing real-world engineering challenges, and Knovel exposes them to the information practices of professional engineers. 

The platform is adept at introducing students to the research methodologies and information sources that a practising engineer would utilise. It helps them understand how professionals in their field gather insights, evaluate information, and engage in the creative process of problem-solving. While Knovel includes accessible introductory content, it progressively delves into more advanced topics, helping students grasp the complexities of decision-making in engineering. This approach makes Knovel an ideal companion for students transitioning from academic study to professional engineering practice. 

How is the tool used by educators? 

For educators, the tool offers support starting in the foundational years of teaching, covering all aspects of project-based learning and beyond. It is also an efficient way for faculty to remain up-to-date with the latest information and data on key issues. Ultimately, it is educators who have the challenge of guiding students towards reputable, suitable, traceable information. In doing so, educators are helping students to understand that where they gather information, and how they use it, is in itself an ethical issue. 

To learn more about the competence of information literacy check out our guidance article, Why information literacy is an ethical issue in engineering.

Knovel for Higher Education is an Elsevier product. As a publisher-neutral platform, Knovel helps engineering students explore foundational literature with interactive tools and data. 

46% of EPC members already have access to Knovel. To brainstorm how you can make the best use of Knovel in your classroom, please contact: Susan Watson, susan.watson@elsevier.com.  

Faculty and students can check their access to Knovel using their university email address at the following link: Account Verification – Knovel

Get Knovel to accelerate R&D, validate designs and prepare technical professionals. Innovate in record time with multidisciplinary knowledge you can trust: Knovel: Engineering innovation in record time

 

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: James E. Harper, Senior Product Manager (Knovel /Elsevier).

Keywords: Information literacy; digital literacy; misleading information; source and data reliability; ethical behaviour; sustainability. 

Who is this article for?: This article should be read by educators at all levels in higher education who wish to integrate technical information literacy into the engineering and design curriculum or module design. It will also help to provide students, particularly those embarking on Bachelor’s or Master’s research projects, with the integrated skill sets that employers are looking for, in particular, the ability to critically evaluate information. 

 

Introduction:

In an era dominated by digital information, engineering educators face the critical challenge of preparing students not just in technical skills, but in navigating the complex digital landscape with an ethical compass. This article explores how integrating information and digital literacy into engineering education is not only essential for fostering ethical behaviour but also crucial for ensuring sustainability in engineering practices. 

The intertwined nature of information and digital literacy in engineering is undeniable. Engineering practitioners need to be able to select and critically assess the reliability of the information sources they use to ensure they comply with ethical practice.  The Engineering Council and Royal Academy of Engineering’s Joint Statement of Ethical Principles underscores the need for accuracy and rigour, a core component of these literacies. Faculty members play a pivotal role in cultivating these skills, empowering students and practitioners to responsibly source and utilise information. 

 

The challenge of information overload:

One of the challenges facing trained engineers, engineering faculty and students alike is that of accessing, critically evaluating, and using accurate and reliable information.  

A professional engineer needs to gather insights and information to solve problems, deliver projects, and drive innovation. This involves undertaking as much research as possible: looking at case-studies, standards, best practices, and examples that will support or disprove what they think is the best approach. In a profession where the analysis of failures is a core competence, critical, dispassionate thinking is vital.  In fact, to be digitally literate, an ethically responsible engineer must know how to access, evaluate, utilise, manage, analyse, create, and interact using digital resources (Martin, 2008). 

Students, while adept at online searching, often struggle with assessing the credibility of sources, particularly information gleaned on social media, especially in their early academic years. This scenario necessitates faculty guidance in discerning reputable and ethical information sources, thereby embedding an ethical approach to information use early in their professional development. 

 

Accuracy and rigour:

Acquisition of ‘information literacy’ contributes to compliance with the Statement of Ethical Principles in several ways. It promotes the ‘accuracy and rigour’ essential to engineering. It guarantees the basis and scope of engineering expertise and reliability so that engineers effectively contribute to the well-being of society and its safety and understand the limits of their expertise. It also contributes to promoting ‘respect for the environment and public good’, not just by ensuring safety in design, drawing up safety standards and complying with them, but also by integrating the concept of social responsibility and sustainability into all projects and work practices. In addition, developing students’ capacity to analyse and assess the accuracy and reliability of environmental data enables them to recognise and avoid ‘green-washing’, a growing concern for many of them. 

 

Employability:

In the workplace, the ability to efficiently seek out relevant information is invaluable. In a project-based, problem-solving learning environment students are often confronted with the dilemma of how to refine their search to look for the right level of information from the very beginning of an experiment or research project. By acquiring this ‘information literacy’ competence early on in their studies they find themselves equipped with skills that are ‘workplace-ready’. For employers this represents a valuable competence and for students it constitutes an asset for their future employability. 

 

Tapping into specialised platforms:

In 2006 the then-CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt famously said “Google is not a truth machine”, and the recent wave of AI-powered chatbots all come with a stark disclaimer that they “may display incorrect or harmful information”, and “can make mistakes. Consider checking important information.”  Confronted with information overload and the difficulty of sifting through non-specialised and potentially unreliable material provided by major search engines, students and educators need to be aware of the wealth of reliable resources available on specialised platforms. For example, Elsevier’s engineering-focused, purpose-built platform, Knovel, offers trustworthy, curated engineering content from a large variety of providers. By giving students access to the same engineering resources and tools as professionals in the field it enables them to incorporate technical information into their work and provides them with early exposure to the industry standard. For educators, it offers support for the foundational years of teaching, covering all aspects of problem-based learning and beyond. It is also an efficient way of remaining up-to-date with the latest information and data on key issues. The extensive range of information and data available equips students and engineers with the ability to form well-rounded, critical perspectives on the various interests and power dynamics that play a role in the technical engineering challenges they endeavour to address. 

 

Conclusion:

By embedding information and digital literacy into the fabric of engineering education (such as by using this case study), we not only promote ethical behaviour but also prepare students for the challenges of modern engineering practice. These skills are fundamental to the ethical and sustainable advancement of the engineering profession. 

 

Knovel for Higher Education is an Elsevier product. As a publisher-neutral platform, Knovel helps engineering students explore foundational literature with interactive tools and data.  

46% of EPC members already have access to Knovel.  If you don’t currently have access but would like to try Knovel in your teaching or to brainstorm how you can make the best use of Knovel in your classroom, please contact: Susan Watson,  susan.watson@elsevier.com. Check out this useful blog post from James Harper on exactly that topic here.

Faculty and students can check their access to Knovel using their university email address at the following link: Account Verification – Knovel

 

References:

 

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.

Mike Murray, [Senior Teaching Fellow in Construction Management], discusses how he developed and implemented a teaching resource in the Sustainability Toolkit, and what he’s learned from integrating it into his modules over the years.

It has been said that ‘pedagogical innovation stems from very personal origins within the university teacher, who appears to seek to move towards their pedagogical ideal’ (Walder, 2014). So, please bear with me as I travel back along the path to where the story begins. 

I introduced the coursework on Developing Intercultural Competence in my Engineering and Society module in 2015, and nine years on I am unable to recall why! It may have been an epiphany. I now carry a notepad in case I forget. I travel to university by train, and this affords an opportunity to gaze through the picture frame windows at the Perthshire countryside, and to daydream. Some of my best pedagogical interventions have been developed on train journeys, and more often than not they are informed by my readings of books and papers (and highlighting, see my penchant for stationery later!) on pedagogy in higher education. So, the intervention was not a macro-level programme intervention, it was not a meso-level case of Action Research, rather it was bottom-up micro-level, a do-it-yourself, intuitive pedagogy. No permission requested, no questions asked. Indeed, many of the teaching resources in the Sustainability Toolkit fall into this category. I rather like the idea of punk, guerilla, and pirate pedagogy (Murray,2023).  However, on reflecting on the matter, I can see that my fascination with internationalising the curriculum has been a slow burner.  

 

“We’re all Jock Tamson’s Bairns” 

This is a colloquial conversational term used in Scotland to denote that we are all the same; we are all equal. On a global scale it suggests we are all world citizens. It has resonance with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and it sits comfortably in my outlook on life. It reflects my own maxim for academics in higher education- to treat each student as if they were your son, daughter, niece or nephew. That is, I have sought to reduce the power that I am granted as an expert and to see my students as co-learners travelling the same path. This is not a case of ‘sparing the rod to spoil the child’, it is not about ‘killing my students by kindness’, it is not about encouraging student to satisfice. Rather, it is a belief that universities should not be a sort of exam factory schooling that depends on many sages on the stages. I seek to introduce my students to the spirit and soul of learning, to ‘learn along the way’, to focus on the journey and not solely the destination. In these learning spaces, students can develop habits of mind consistent with lifelong learners such as curiosity about the world and other cultures and people.  

This then is an apt moment to explain the title of this blog. The quote is taken from the Scottish novelist and travel writer Robert Louis Stevenson, grandson of lighthouse builder Robert Stevenson.  For me, it says something about how we should look upon our planet and its people. Whilst it would be naively optimistic to suggest that our planet has no travel boundaries (i.e. North Korea) we all have something in common given we share space on our planets surface. This is everyone’s link to humanity. Whilst our cultures and customers may be different, we are global citizens on planet earth. 

 

My Internationalisation at home 

My journey to intercultural competence started long before I reached university. As a sixteen-year-old apprentice plumber attending Perth Technical College (1980-1984), I witnessed students from Uganda, Iran, and Iraq, who were enrolled on an air training course. Whilst I recall being somewhat envious of these students, thinking that they were cool and quite exotic, I know now they must have had their own issues settling into studies in a foreign country. My next exposure to international students came when I was a lecturer at North East Surrey College of Technology (1988-1992). In addition to my teaching role, I was a live in warden in a small student hostel, accommodating twelve male students each year. With students from Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Lesotho, my knowledge of the African continent was enhanced.  

In my current role at Strathclyde I was involved in a European Union (EU) Tempus project (2004-2006) to establish a MSc Construction Management programme for the Department of Civil Engineering, University of Aleppo, Syria. Visting Syria, and hosting academics and students from Syria in Scotland, was a lesson in the generous hospitality extended to guests in Muslim societies. The project also involved partner academics from universities in France and Germany and all meetings were undertaken with a great sense of collegiality and conviviality. This project conveyed a sense of ‘brotherhood’ in learning, and a mission to improve industry practice and society in Syria.  It was a great sense of personal disappointment to me when the war in Syria began in 2011, and thereafter when the UK populace voted to leave the EU in 2016. Of late, my students who hail from Syria, and the Ukraine (with refugee status) have helped my first-year students to see past the media coverage of their countries as only war-torn.  

These episodes, and others, have shaped my professional interest in internationalisation. I have a healthy disrespect for treating our international guests as “cash cows” for UK Higher Education. In 2014 I established an International Society for students in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, with associated annual events (Robert Burns lunch) and a social calendar with visits to engineering projects. And in 2015 I introduced the internationalisation at home coursework for my first-year students. 

 

Flags, Flags, Flags 

Since 2015 the coursework has involved 147 international mentors, representing sixty nationalities*. Reading the list, I imagine the flags of these countries on poles, fluttering proudly in the wind above my university campus, a symbolic image that conveys a sense of a ‘United Nations’. Given the revised coursework brief places added importance on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) it is important to recognise the disparity that is evident in this list vis-à-vis the SDGs. There are significant complexities and contradictions in hosting internation students from countries who are at war with each other, who have opposing religious and / or political views, who hail from countries damaged by climate change because of another country’s pollution. I have to confess that to date I have avoided this arena. I have not courted conflict and sought out divergent views on global issues. I have assumed (wrongly!) that all students are somewhat neutral.  

When I heard that the Sustainability Toolkit was seeking examples of coursework that integrates ESD and the SDGs in engineering, I was eager to share this resource. Now, I hope others can learn from my experience as well as from the challenges I faced in implementing it and the lessons I’ve learned in doing so. 

*Afghanistan, Angola, Australia, Austria  Bulgaria, Brazil, Canada, China, Croatia, Democratic Republic Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia Eritrea, Estonia, Ghana, Hungary, Finland, France, Germany, Guyana, Greece, India, Indonesia, Iran, Italy, Ireland, Jordan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lithuanian, Luxembourg, Malawi, Malta, Malaysia Netherlands, Nepal, Nigeria, Norway, Oman, Panama, Pakistan, Poland, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovakia, South Africa, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Syria, Turks and Caicos Islands, , USA, Ukraine, Venezuela, Yemen, Zimbabwe. 

 

Time for Reflection 

Academic writing for publication is typically peer reviewed by critical friends. The process for submitting resources to the Toolkit was no different and has been subject to a ‘review-revise-resubmit’ process. This afforded an opportunity for self-reflection and to improve the coursework brief. The revised brief bolsters the link between Intercultural Competence (IC) and ESD through more explicit cognizance of SDGs. Moreover, given the original purpose of the coursework was to improve students IC, the revised coursework has a symbiotic link to engaging students in a decolonisation of the engineering curriculum, and for them to consider social justice and climate justice in engineering practice. 

 

Challenges 

Post-Brexit, there are fewer EU students across our undergraduate programmes. Over the past nine years I have sought assistance from students studying on our MSc & PhD programmes. However, a sizeable number of these students do not have an undergraduate civil engineering qualification. With a little persuasion, I explain to these students that they only require a general tourist guidebook knowledge of their home countries buildings and infrastructure.  With the revised coursework brief putting more emphasis on the SDGs, it is to be expected that the conversations between students will become more exploratory. 

The international mentors include students from across our programmes. It is not possible to coordinate the various timetables for them to meet the first-year students in the Engineering and Society class in which the coursework is assigned. I request that each first-year group nominates a point of contact with the international mentor. As I have circa twenty-two groups each year, I adopt a hands-off approach and resolve problems as they arise. Micromanaging this process through a sign-up system may be appropriate, but it will also make a ‘rod for your own back’ and there are many other daily tasks competing for our time! 

Communication between student peers, and between the groups and their international mentors can be troublesome. Despite emphasising the need for students to read their emails daily, and for prompt responses, not all students appreciate the need for professional and collegiate behaviour. This is a perennial issue, despite emphasising to students how employers value professional behaviours. Helping students to accept their agency and become independent learners is problematic if they are treated as passive learners, abused by a banking model of learning! 

Some students may consider the task to be ‘edutainment’ and that such playful learning lacks the rigour they expected in a civil engineering degree. Feedback (reflective writing) suggests that on completion of the poster, these students tend to re-evaluate their views, signifying a shift in their personal conceptions of learning. There is much work still to be done in engineering education on finding time to consider student’s epistemic beliefs, and for them to build these into their Personal Development Plans!  

 

Lessons Learnt 

One key development was to introduce a session on sketching to help raise students’ self-confidence in preparing the final deliverables. Some students have graphical communications skills from school. However, there appears to be a general fear of sketching and embarrassment amongst the first-year cohorts. As an essential skill for engineers (and an important way to communicate), sketching should be more dominant throughout our programmes. 

 

Scalability 

In this example there are circa 80-100 students (20-25 groups) each year. Increasing the cohort size would not present a significant burden on the time to assess the submissions. However, a major challenge would be securing additional international mentors. The mentors receive a thank you letter for their support, and this is evidence of their own Initial Professional Development (IPD) during their studies. It is conceivable that that this may be a sufficient attraction to invite international students from other engineering disciplines (interdisciplinary) or from other faculties (transdisciplinary) such as humanities. The latter would provide an early opportunity to introduce students to the ‘liberal engineer’ with the associated knowledge of Government policy, politics, finance, and human behaviour issues.  

 

Suggestions for Transferability 

Whilst the poster deliverable for my module focuses on buildings and structures, this coursework could be easily replicated by other engineering disciplines.  With modification on the subjects to be sketched, there is potential to consider engineering components / artifacts / structures, such as naval vessels / aeroplanes / cars, and wide number of products and components that have particular significance to a country (i.e., Swiss Army Knife). 

No matter what adaptations you make to this or any other resource in the Sustainability Toolkit, it’s essential that we emphasise how intercultural competence informs a globally responsible approach to the role of an engineer. Using the Sustainability Toolkit to help our students develop these mindsets is a very good way to do that, and I recommend it to all educators – the wealth of the resource cannot be understated in its support to a teacher’s session design and, most importantly, to a student’s learning. 

 

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

 

References 

Murray, M (2023). An autoethnography of becoming an innovative engineering academic- punk, pirate and guerilla pedagogy, 51st Annual Conference of the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI), 11-14th September, TU Dublin, Ireland.  

United Nations. (2023). The Sustainable Development Goals Report: Towards a Rescue Plan for People and Planet. 

Walder. A.M (2014). The Concept of Pedagogical Innovation in Higher Education. Education Journal, 3(3):195-202.  

 

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 blog 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: Dr Homeira Shayesteh (Senior Lecturer/Programme Leader for Architectural Technology, Design Engineering & Mathematics Department, Faculty of Science & Technology, Middlesex University), Professor Jarka Glassey (Director of Education, School of Engineering, Newcastle University). 

Topic: How to integrate the SDGs using a practical framework.   

Type: Guidance.  

Relevant disciplines: Any.  

Keywords: Accreditation and standards; Assessment; Global responsibility; Learning outcomes; Sustainability; AHEP; SDGs; Curriculum design; Course design; Higher education; Pedagogy. 
 
Sustainability competency: Anticipatory; Integrated problem-solving; Strategic.

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) andEngineering 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 4hereand navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

Related SDGs: SDG 4 (Quality education); SDG 13 (Climate action).  
 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Adapt and repurpose learning outcomes; Authentic assessment; Active pedagogies and mindset development.

Who is this article for?  This article should be read by educators at all levels of higher education looking to embed and integrate sustainability into curriculum, module, and / or programme design.  

 

Premise: 

The critical role of engineers in developing sustainable solutions to grand societal challenges is undisputable. A wealth of literature and a range of initiatives supporting the embedding of sustainability into engineering curricula already exists. However, a practicing engineering educator responsible for achieving this embedding would be best supported by a practical framework providing a step-by-step guide with example resources for either programme or module/course-level embedding of sustainability into their practice. This practical framework illustrates a tested approach to programme wide as well as module alignment with SDGs, including further resources as well as examples of implementation for each step. This workflow diagram provides a visual illustration of the steps outlined below. The constructive alignment tool found in the Ethics Toolkit may also be adapted to a Sustainability context. 

 

For programme-wide alignment: 

 1. Look around. The outcome of this phase is a framework that identifies current and future requirements for programme graduates. 

a. Review guidelines and subject/discipline benchmark documents on sustainability. 

b. Review government targets and discipline-specific guidance. 

c. Review accreditation body requirements such as found in AHEP4 and guidance from professional bodies. For example, IChemE highlights the creation of a culture of sustainability, not just a process of embedding the topic. 

d. Review your university strategy relating to sustainability and education. For example, Middlesex University signed up to the UN Accord. 

e. Consider convening focus groups with employers in general and some employers of course alumni in particular. Carefully select attendees to represent a broad range of employers with a range of roles (recruiters, managers, strategy leaders, etc.). Conduct semi-structured focus groups, opening with broad themes identified from steps a through d. Identify any missing knowledge, skills, and competencies specific to particular employers, and prioritize those needed to be delivered by the programme together with the level of competency required (aware, competent, or expert). 

 

2. Look back. The outcome of this phase is a programme map (see appendix) of the SDGs that are currently delivered and highlighting gaps in provision.  

a. Engage in critical reflective analysis of the current programme as a whole and of individual modules.   

b. Conduct a SWOT analysis as a team, considering the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the programme from the perspective of sustainability and relevance/competitiveness. 

c. Convene an alumni focus group to identify gaps in current and previous provision, carefully selecting attendees to represent a broad range of possible employment sectors with a range of experiences (fresh graduates to mid-career). Conduct semi-structured discussions opening with broad themes identified from steps 1a-e. Identify any missing knowledge, skills, and competencies specific to particular sectors, and those missing or insufficiently delivered by the programme together with the level of competency required (aware, competent, or expert). 

d. Convene a focus group of current students from various stages of the programme. Conduct semi-structured discussions opening with broad themes identified from steps 1a-e and 2a-c. Identify student perceptions of knowledge, skills, and competencies missing from the course in light of the themes identified. 

e. Review external examiner feedback, considering any feedback specific to the sustainability content of the programme.  

 

 3. Look ahead. The goal of this phase is programme delivery that is aligned with the SDGs and can be evidenced as such. 

a. Create revised programme aims and graduate outcomes that reflect the SDGs. The Reimagined Degree Map and Global Responsibility Competency Compass can support this activity. 

b. Revise module descriptors so that there are clear linkages to sustainability competencies or the SDGs generally within the aims of the modules.  

c. Revise learning outcomes according to which SDGs relate to the module content, projects or activities. The Reimagined Degree Map and the Constructive Alignment Tool for Ethics provides guidance on revising module outcomes. An example that also references AHEP4 ILOS is: 

  1. “Apply comprehensive knowledge of mathematics, biology, and engineering principles to solve a complex bioprocess engineering challenge based on critical awareness of new developments in this area. This will be demonstrated by designing solutions appropriate within the health and safety, diversity, inclusion, cultural, societal, environmental, and commercial requirements and codes of practice to minimise adverse impacts (M1, M5, M7).” 

d. Align assessment criteria and rubrics to the revised ILOs.  

e. Create an implementation plan with clear timelines for module descriptor approvals and modification of delivery materials.  

 

For module-wide alignment: 

1. Look around. The outcome of this phase is a confirmed approach to embedding sustainability within a particular module or theme. 

a. Seek resources available on the SDGs and sustainability teaching in this discipline/theme. For instance, review these examples for Computing, Chemical Engineering and Robotics.  

b. Determine any specific guidelines, standards, and regulations for this theme within the discipline. 

 

2. Look back. The outcome of this phase is a module-level map of SDGs currently delivered, highlighting any gaps.  

a. Engage in critical reflective analysis of current modules, as both individual module instructors and leaders, and as a team.  

b. Conduct a SWOT analysis as a module team that considers the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats of the module from the perspective of sustainability and relevance of the module to contribute to programme-level delivery on sustainability and/or the SDGs. 

c. Review feedback from current students on the clarity of the modules links to the SDGs. 

d. Review feedback from external examiners on the sustainability content of the module. 

 

3. Look ahead.  

a. Create introduction slides for the modules that explicitly reference how sustainability topics will be integrated.  

b. Embed specific activities involving the SDGs in a given theme, and include students in identifying these. See below for suggestions, and visit the Teaching resources in this toolkit for more options.  

 

Appendix:

A. Outcome I.2 (programme level mapping)  

 

B. Outcome II.5 (module level mapping) – same as above, but instead of the modules in individual lines, themes delivered within the module can be used to make sure the themes are mapped directly to SDGs. 

 

 C. II.6.b – Specific activities 

 

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

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters. 
 
 
To view a plain text version of this resource, click here to download the PDF.

Author: 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.

Authors: Dr Jonathan Truslove MEng PhD and Emma Crichton CEng MICE (Engineers Without Borders UK). 

Topic: Assessing sustainability competencies in engineering education. 

Type: Knowledge. 

Relevant disciplines: Any. 

Keywords: Assessment; Design challenges; Global responsibility; Learning outcomes; Sustainability; AHEP; Higher education; Pedagogy. 
 
Sustainability competency: Integrated problem-solving, 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 13 (Climate action). 
 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Authentic assessment; Active pedagogies and mindset development.

Who is this article for? This article should be read by educators at all levels of higher education looking to embed and integrate sustainability into curriculum design. It may also be of interest for students practising lifelong learning to articulate and explore how their learning translates into competency development as they embark on their careers. 

 

Premise: 

Today we know that how we engineer is changing – and this change is happening at a quicker pace than in previous decades. The decisions engineers make throughout their careers shape the world we all inhabit. Consequently, the education of engineers has a profound impact on society. Ensuring our degrees are up to date is of pressing importance to prepare all future practitioners and professionals. Arguably, it is especially important for engineers to act sustainably, ethically and equitably. 

How do engineers understand their roles when sustainability becomes a key driver in the context of their work? What does sustainability look like in learning journeys, and how can it be incorporated into assessments? This article does not advocate for simply adding ‘sustainability’ to degrees; rather, it encourages the connection between sustainability competencies and engineering assessments. 

 

Developing 21st-century engineers 

Choosing to become an engineer is a great way to be useful to society. Studying an engineering degree can develop what people can do (skills), what they know (knowledge) and how they think (mindset), as well as open up a diverse range of career opportunities. 

The path to becoming an engineer can start at university (though there are other routes in). Weaving in a focus on globally responsible engineering throughout a degree course is about embracing the need to develop a broader set of competencies in engineers and expand the types of projects they practise on during their degree to reflect the problems they may encounter during their career. 

This doesn’t mean that engineering degrees as they are aren’t valuable or useful. It’s about strengthening the building blocks of degrees to ensure that 21st-century engineers have space to play their role in addressing 21st-century societal challenges. These building blocks are what learning outcomes are prioritised, what pedagogies are used, the types of projects students work on, who they work with and the way we assess learning. All of these elements can be aggregated to develop competence in sustainable engineering practice. 

 

What are sustainability competency frameworks saying? 

There are many frameworks exploring what are the competencies most needed today (such as UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development competencies, EU GreenComp, Inner Development Goals). Many frameworks are calling for similar things that allow us to shift focus, attention and energy onto how to truly develop a person over the three to five plus years of experience they might gain at university.  

By designing education to meet learning outcomes, you build and evidence a range of competencies, including developing the mindsets of learners. Practically, it is the use of different competency frameworks, and the associated updates to learning outcomes, and how we deliver education and assessment that really matters. The table below, in the second column, synthesises various competency frameworks to clearly articulate what it means a learner can then do. Rather than argue different frameworks, focusing on what a student can do as a result is really key.  

Figure 1. Competencies for sustainable development in Advance HE and QAA (2021) and UNESCO Education for Sustainable Development (2017). 

 

By reading through this table, you can see that this is more than just about ‘sustainability’ – these are useful things for a person to be able to do. Ask yourself, what if we don’t develop these in our graduates? Will they be better or worse off? 

Graduates can then build on this learning they have had at university to continue to develop as engineers working in practice. The Global Responsibility Competency Compass for example points practitioners to the capabilities needed to stay relevant and provides practical ways to develop themselves. It is made up of 12 competencies and is organised around the four guiding principles of global responsibility – Responsible, Purposeful, Inclusive and Regenerative.  

 

What needs to shift in engineering education? 

The shifts required to the building blocks of an engineering degree are:  

  1. To adapt and repurpose learning outcomes. 
  2. To integrate more real-world complexity within project briefs. 
  3. To be excellent at active pedagogies and mindset development. 
  4. To ensure authentic assessment. 
  5. To maximise cross-disciplinary experience and expertise.  

All of the above need to be designed with mechanisms that work at scale. Let’s spotlight two of these shifts, ‘to adapt and repurpose learning outcomes’ and ‘to integrate authentic assessment’ so we can see how sustainability competence relates. 

 

Adapt and repurpose learning outcomes. 

We can build on what is already working well within a degree to bring about positive changes. Many degrees exhibit strengths in their learning outcomes such as, developing the ability to understand a concept or a problem and apply that understanding through a disciplinary lens focused on simple/complicated problems. However, it is crucial to maintain a balance between addressing straightforward problems and tackling more complex ones that encourage learners to be curious and inquisitive.  

For example, a simple problem (where the problem and solution are known) may involve ‘calculating the output of a solar panel in a community’. A complex problem (where the problem and solution are unknown) may involve ‘how to improve a community’s livelihood and environmental systems, which may involve exploring the interconnectedness, challenges and opportunities that may exist in the system. 

Enhancing the learning experience by allowing students to investigate and examine a context for ideas to emerge is more reflective of real-world practice. Success is not solely measured by learners accurately completing a set of problem sets; rather, it lies in their ability to apply concepts in a way that creates a better, more sustainable system. 

See how this rebalancing is represented in the visual below: 

Figure 2. ​​​​Rebalancing learning within degrees to be relevant to the future we face. Source: Engineers Without Borders UK. 

 

Keeping up to date and meeting accreditation standards is another important consideration. Relating the intended learning outcomes to the latest language associated with accreditation requirements, such as AHEP4 (UK), ABET (US) or ECSA (SA), doesn’t mean you have to just add more in. You can adapt what you’ve already got for a new purpose and context. For instance, the Engineering for One Planet framework’s 93 (46 Core and 46 Advanced) essential sustainability-focused learning outcomes that hundreds of academics, engineering professionals, and other key stakeholders have identified as necessary for preparing all graduating engineers — regardless of subdiscipline — with the skills, knowledge, and understanding to protect and improve our planet and our lives. These outcomes have also been mapped to AHEP4. 

 

Integrate authentic assessment: 

It is important that intended learning outcomes and assessment methods are aligned so that they reinforce each other and lead to the desired competency development. An important distinction exists between assessment of learning and assessment as or for learning: 

  1. Assessment OF learning e.g. traditional methods of assessment of student learning against learning outcomes and standards that typically measure students’ knowledge-based learning.
  2. Assessment AS/FOR learning e.g. reflective and performance-based (e.g. self-assessments, peer assessments and feedback from educators using reflective journals or portfolios) where the learning journey is part of the assessment process that captures learners’ insights and critical thinking, and empowers learners to identify possibilities for improvement.  

Assessment should incorporate a mix of methods when evaluating aspects like sustainability, to bring in authenticity which strengthens the integrity of the assessment process and mirrors how engineers work in practice. For example, University College London and Kings College London both recognise that critical evaluation, interpretation, analysis, and judgement are all key skills which will become more and more important, and making assessment rubrics more accessible for students and educators. Authentic assessment can mirror professional practices, such as having learners assessed within design reviews, or asking students to develop a portfolio across modules.  

 

Engineers Without Borders UK | Assessing competencies through design challenges: 

Below is an example of what Engineers Without Borders UK has done to translate competencies into assessment through our educational offerings. The Engineering for People Design Challenge (embedded in-curriculum focuses on placing the community context at the heart of working through real-world project-based learning experiences) and Reshaping Engineering (a co-curricular voluntary design month to explore how to make the engineering sector more globally responsible). The competencies in the Global Responsibility Competency Compass are aligned and evidenced through the learning outcomes and assessment process in both challenges.  

Please note – the Global Responsibility Competency Compass points practitioners to the capabilities needed to stay relevant and provides practical ways to develop themselves. 

See below an example of the logic behind translating competencies acquired by participants to assessment during the design challenges.  

Figure 3. Example of the logic behind translating the Global Responsibility Competency Compass to assessment during the design challenges. Source: Engineers Without Borders UK.  

 

    1. The Competencies developed through the educational offering are orientated around the Global Responsibility Competency Compass to align with the learning journey from undergraduate to practising globally responsible individuals in learners’ future careers.
    2. We then align learning outcomes to the competency and purpose of the design challenge using simple and concise language.

  a. Useful resources that were used to help frame, align and iterate the learning outcomes and marking criteria are shared at the end of this article.

    1. The Marking Criteria draws on the assessment methods previously mentioned under ‘Assessment OF’ and ‘Assessment AS/FOR’ while aligning to the context of intended learning i.e. design focussed, individual journals reflecting on the learning journey, and collaborating in teams.
    2. We frame and align key action words from Competency to learning outcome to marking criteria using Bloom’s taxonomy (in Figure 2) to scale appropriately, the context of learning and what the intended outcome of learning/area of assessment would be.  

 

Conclusions: 

How your students think matters. How they engage in critical conversations matters. What they value matters. How we educate engineers matters.  

These may feel like daunting shifts to make but developing people to navigate our future is important for them, and us. Sustainability competencies are actually about competencies that are useful – the label ‘sustainability’ may or may not help but it’s the underlying concepts that matters most. The interventions that we make to instil these competencies in the learning journeys of future engineers are required – so degrees can be continuously improved and will be valuable over the long term. Making assessment mirror real practice helps with life-long learning. That’s useful in general, not just about sustainability. This is a major opportunity to attract more people into engineering, keep them and enable them to be part of addressing urgent 21st century challenges. 

  

Sustainability is more than a word or concept, it is actually a culture, and if we aim to see it mirrored in the near future, what better way exists than that of planting it in the young hearts of today knowing they are the leaders of the tomorrow we are not guaranteed of? It is possible.” 

2021 South African university student (after participating in the Engineering for People Design Challenge during their degree course) 

 

Useful resources: 

There are some excellent resources out there that help us understand and articulate what sustainability competencies and learning outcomes look like, and how to embed them into teaching, learning and assessment. Some of them were used in the example above. Here are some resources that we have found useful in translating the competencies in the Compass into learning outcomes in our educational offerings: 

 

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 Gill Lacey, SFEA, MIEEE (Teesside University). 

Topic: Calculating effects of implementing energy-saving standards. 

Tool type: Teaching. 

Relevant disciplines: Energy; Civil engineering; Construction; Mechanical engineering. 

Keywords: Built environment; Housing; Energy efficiency; Decarbonisation; AHEP; Sustainability; Higher education; Pedagogy. 

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

AHEP mapping: This resource addresses several 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 the following specific themes from 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 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities); SDG 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production); SDG 13 (Climate Action). 

Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Active pedagogies and mindsets; More real-world complexity.

Educational level: Beginner / intermediate. Learners are required to have basic (level 2) science knowledge, and ability to populate a mathematical formula and use units correctly. 

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

This activity allows students to consider the dilemmas around providing housing that is cheap to heat as well as cheap to buy or rent. It starts with researching these issues using contemporary news and policy, continues with an in-depth study of insulation, together with calculations of U values, heat energy and indicative costs.

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 

 

Supporting resources:  

To prepare for these activities, teachers may want to explain, or assign students to pre-read articles relating to heating a house with respect to: 

 

Introduction to the activity (teacher): 

Provide the stimulus to motivate the students by considering the dilemma: How do we provide affordable housing whilst minimising heating requirement? There are not enough homes in the UK for everyone who needs one. Some of the houses we do have are expensive to run, poorly maintained and cost a fortune in rent. How do we get the housing builders to provide enough affordable, cheap to run housing for the population? 

One possible solution is adopting Passivhaus standards. The Passivhaus is a building that conforms to a standard around heating requirements that ensures the insulation (U value) of the building material, including doors, windows and floors, prevents heat leaving the building so that a minimum heating requirement is needed. If all houses conformed to Passivhaus standards, the running costs for the householder would be reduced. 

 

Teaching schedule: 

Provide stimulus by highlighting the housing crisis in the UK:  

Students can then research and find the answers to the following questions using the following links, or other websites: 

 

Housing crisis in the UK: 

 

Students can work in groups to work on the extent of the problem from the bullet points provided. This activity can be used to develop design skills (Define the problem) 

 

1. Get the engineering knowledge about preventing heat leaving a house:

If you can prevent heat leaving, you won’t need to add any more, it will stay at the same temperature. Related engineering concepts are:   

 

2. Task:

a. Start with a standard footprint of a three-bed semi, from local estate agents. Make some assumptions about inside and outside temperatures, height of ceilings and any other values that may be needed.

b. Use the U value table to calculate the heat loss for this house (in Watts). The excel table has been pre-populated or you can do this as a group

  1. With uninsulated materials (single glazing, empty cavity wall, no loft insulation. 
  2. With standard insulation (double glazing, loft insulation, cavity wall insulation. 
  3. If Passivhaus standards were used to build the house. 

 c. Costs

  1. Find the typical cost for heating per kWh
  2. Compare the costs for replacing the heat lost.

 d. Final synoptic activity

  1. Passivhaus costs a lot more than standard new build. How do housebuilders afford it?
  2. Provide examples of the cost of building a Passivhaus standard building materials and reduced heating bills.
  3. Suggest some ‘carrots’ and ‘sticks’ that could be used to make sure housing in the UK is affordable to rent/buy and run.

 

3. Assessment:

The spreadsheet can be assessed, and the students could write a report giving facts and figures comparing different levels of insulation and the effects on running costs. 

 

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: Ramiro Jordan (University of New Mexico). 

Topic: Communicating river system sustainability.  

Tool type: Teaching. 

Relevant Disciplines: Civil; Mechanical. 

Keywords: Water and sanitation; Infrastructure; Community sustainability; Health; Government policy; Social responsibility; AHEP; Higher education; Sustainability; Project brief; Water quality control.
 
Sustainability competency: Systems thinking; Anticipatory; Collaboration; Integrated problem-solving; Strategic.

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 hereand navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.  

Related SDGs: SDG 3 (Good health and well-being); SDG 4 (Quality education); SDG 6 (Clean water and sanitation); SDG 8 (Decent work and economic growth). 
 
Reimagined Degree Map Intervention: Active pedagogies and mindsets; More real-world complexity.

Educational level: Intermediate. 

 

Learning and teaching notes:  

This is an example project that could be adapted for use in a variety of contexts. It asks students to devise a “sustainability dashboard” that can not only track indicators of river system sustainability through technical means, but also communicate the resulting data to the public for the purpose of policy decisions. Teachers should ideally select a local river system to focus on for this project, and assign background reading accordingly. 

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 

 

Supporting resources: 

 

Introduction: 

Two vital and unique resources for the planet are water and air. Any alterations in their composition can have detrimental effects on humans and living organisms. Water uses across New Mexico are unsustainable. Reduced precipitation and streamflows cause increased groundwater use and recharge.  Serious omissions in state water policy provide no protection against complete depletion of groundwater reserves.   

The water governance status quo in New Mexico will result in many areas of New Mexico running out of water, some sooner, some later, and some already have. Because Water is Life, water insecurity will cause economic insecurity and eventual collapse.   

Water resources, both surface and groundwater, and total water use, determine the amount of water use that can be sustained, and then reduce total water use if New Mexico is to have water security.  The public must therefore recognise that action is required. Availability of compiled, accessible data will lead to and promote our critical need to work toward equitable adaptation and attain sustainable resiliency of the Middle Rio Grande’s common water supply and air quality. 

A data dashboard is needed to provide on-line access to historical, modern, and current perspectives on water, air quality, health, and economic information.  A dashboard is needed to help inform the public about why everyone and all concerned citizens, institutions and levels of government must do their part! 

 

Project brief:  

The Middle Rio Grande region of New Mexico has particular sustainability and resilience requirements and enforceable legal obligations (Rio Grande Compact) to reduce water depletions of the Rio Grande and tributary groundwater to sustainable levels.  However, there is a lack of accessible depictions of the Middle Rio Grande’s water supply and demand mismatch. Nothing publicly accessible illustrates the surface water and groundwater resources, water uses, and current water depletions that cannot be sustained even if water supplies were not declining.  Therefore, there is a corresponding lack of public visibility of New Mexico’s water crisis, both in the Middle Valley and across New Mexico. Local water institutions and governments are siloed and have self-serving missions and do not recognise the limits of the Middle Valley’s water resources.   

A water data dashboard is needed to provide online open access to historical, modern, and current perspectives on water inflows, outflows, and the change in stored surface and groundwater.  This dashboard should inform the public about why everyone and all water institutions and levels of government must do their part! 

 

Given:  

 

Objectives:   

 

Acknowledgements: The 2023 Peace Engineering summer cohort of Argentine Fulbright Scholars who analysed the Middle Rio Grande Case Study concluded that water in the Middle Rio Grande is a community problem that requires a community driven solution.   

 

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.

Let us know what you think of our website