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Wicked Problems in Engineering Education: Preparing Future Engineers to Work for Sustainability
Umeå University, Faculty of Science and Technology, Department of Science and Mathematics Education. (UmSER)ORCID iD: 0000-0001-9667-2044
2019 (English)In: Environmental Education Research, ISSN 1350-4622, E-ISSN 1469-5871Article in journal, Editorial material (Refereed) Epub ahead of print
Abstract [en]

An important aim of environmental and sustainability education (ESE) is to prepare students for addressing complex sustainability problems (here called “wicked problems”), such as climate change and resource management. This aim is particularly important in engineering education since technological development has profound impacts on social and environmental welfare. Unfortunately, most engineering education today does not adequately prepare students to contribute to addressing wicked problems. The thesis addressed this gap by asking: RQ1) What do engineering students need to learn to be able to address wicked problems? And RQ2) How can the ability to address wicked problems be taught and assessed in engineering education?

To answer RQ1, the author interviewed undergraduate engineering students in Sweden analyzed the interviews through qualitative content analysis and phenomenography. To answer RQ2, the author collaborated with engineering educators in Sweden and the United States through pragmatic action research and design-based research to develop teaching and assessment approaches. Research results included descriptions of engineering students’ approaches to wicked problems as well as didactic tools for engineering education practice. The results suggested that emotions play an important (but under-research) role in learning to address wicked problems, which is consistent with a growing interest in emotions in ESE research and practice. Finally, the results supported previous suggestions that the term “wicked problems” is undertheorized and motivated the author’s current work with a systematic review of how the term is used in research on ESE.

The thesis is interdisciplinary as it draws on, and contributes to, research and practice in both ESE and engineering education. The thesis has attracted genuine interest in the context of engineering education, for example in the form of requests for workshops on how to work with wicked problems in engineering education. This interest is consistent with a growing interest in engineering education research to explore how sustainability could be better integrated in engineering education. Unfortunately, in ESE research, there seems to be a relative lack of interest for engineering education, despite the importance of technological development for social and environmental welfare. The thesis thus makes an important contribution to broadening the scope of ESE research.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Routledge, 2019.
Keywords [en]
wicked problems, engineering education, sustainability, phenomenography, assessment
National Category
Didactics
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-160243DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2019.1639038OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-160243DiVA, id: diva2:1325360
Available from: 2019-06-15 Created: 2019-06-15 Last updated: 2019-08-20

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