Educating Sustainability Engineers - Redesigning Curricua
Prof. Roger Hadgraft
Deputy Dean, Learning and Teaching
School of Engineering and Technology
CQ University Australia,
108 Lonsdale St, Melbourne
There is a pressing need to graduate new kinds of engineers. These engineers must be competent across four domains – the traditional technical domain of engineering as well as the economic, the environmental and the social/political.
So, you might say, what's changed? Engineers have been dealing with the technical and the economic for the last 5,000 years. However, it wasn't until the 70s and 80s that the environmental domain became an issue. We solved that problem by educating 'environmental engineers', so most branches of engineering simply pretended that it wasn't their problem. In the 21st century, the social dimension is transforming engineering. Will we create 'social engineers' or will we wait for other professions to define the problem for us so that we can bring our technical skills to bear? Will engineering move beyond the technical/economic?
For example, water shortages in cities were once solved by building new dams. In the 70s and 80s, economists challenged this method by asking 'can we reduce usage by pricing the resource more realistically?', that is, by reducing demand. Recognising that half of urban water usage in Australia is in the garden, people have been encouraged to plant native gardens that use less water (better suited to the local climate). In this century, we have also reduced water usage by educating people to use less. So, solutions are available in all four technical domains: the technical, the economic, the environmental and the social. Engineers need to be skilled in all these areas. Perhaps this is true of other professions too.
However, when we look at modern engineering curricula, we find them dominated by learning technical skills from 'fundamentals'. Many hours are spent learning to solve mechanics problems from first principles when sophisticated software already exists to do this. We believe that this is essential to understanding. However, the research in concept tests and concept inventories shows that passing our exams does not lead to fundamental understanding. We need to do this differently. There are many more fundamentals that must now be learned, which includes economics, environmental science and social sciences. How will we manage this?
We need different kinds of curricula that allow students to integrate their understanding across the four domains. This seminar will describe a different model for engineering curricula.
After the talk some of us will have dinner at one of the local restaurants.
Prior to taking up his present position this year, Roger was Innovation Professor in Engineering Education, School of Aerospace, Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering at RMIT; Director of the Engineering Learning Unit, School of Engineering, University of Melbourne; with earlier appointments to Monash University and RMIT. In addition to his interests in learning and teaching, he has strong interests in environmental engineering and engineering knowledge management. He is a member of Kororoit Institute.