50.3 Integrating Sustainability in Engineering Identity

David Christensen , Planning and Development, Aalborg University, Aalborg Ø, Denmark
Jette Holgaard , Planning and Development, Aalborg University, Aalborg Ø, Denmark
Søren Løkke , Planning and Development, Aalborg University, Aalborg Ø, Denmark
Anette Kolmos , Planning and Development, Aalborg University, Aalborg Ø, Denmark
Education for sustainable development (ESD) has increasingly come to the fore since the term was highlighted and launched as a UN action point with the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. A far-reaching undertaking meant to address sustainability in education at all levels, the Decade acts as a normative framework for promoting a number of didactic objectives including interdisciplinary learning and critical thinking. In higher education, ESD has been the subject of much attention as regards experience-gathering on how to incorporate sustainability in practice, see for instance Lidgren et al. (2005) and Moore (2005). The imperative for an increasing focus on ESD is made clear by Barth et al. (2007) who point out that ESD in higher education is made all the more important because, set against a backdrop of globalisation and increasing complexity, there is a need for enabling people to not only generate and acquire knowledge, but to “… reflect on further effects and the complexity of behaviour and decisions in a future-oriented and global perspective of responsibility”.
Along the same vein, this paper relates ESD and its further implications for personal and professional identity with the concept of Bildung in the specific context of engineering education at Aalborg University - Bildung, for which there is no direct translation in English, being a concept closely tied with identity formation. Aalborg University, an institute of higher learning that has chosen to pursue an overall learning strategy of problem-based learning (PBL), holds a UNESCO chair in PBL and has an interdisciplinary basic course (first year) for engineering students. Aalborg University is also beginning to lift off on on-campus environmental management initiatives, and this paper will seek to reflect upon how Bildung for sustainability can be seen in relation to product-oriented environmental management.
This paper reports on the experiences with engineering education for sustainable development in the problem- and project-based learning environment established at Aalborg University. In this context the students work in groups approximately 50 percent of their time preparing a problem-based project. The learning outcomes are three-pronged at the first year of every engineering study programme  encompassing technical, process-oriented and contextual knowledge respectively. The students work in project groups of some 4-8 students for about 3-4 months each semester, and they document their work in a report (approximately 80-100 pages).
To support the projects, each of the three distinct learning outcome areas have courses which are evaluated at an individual oral exam based on the student’s group-based project documentation.  The 2 ECTS course Technology, Humanity and Society (THS) is provided to support the integration of contextual knowledge into the project work. In specific relation to engineering education for sustainable development in Aalborg University’s project-oriented setting, the THS course provides a framework for contextualising a specific technical solution in relation to its implementation and use through both technological, humanistic and societal perspectives and it allows the students to experience the need to address such issues as environmental regulation, eco-design, environmental impact assessment and social responsibility in relation to a specific technology. The learning philosophy is that the students thereby become more likely to consider the social and environmental aspects as an integrated part of their professional identity and thereby consider the learning meaningful.
In this paper, we draw on students reports to exemplify approaches to sustainability in their engineering projects. These examples are discussed in relation to the concept of Bildung in engineering education, which can be described as an educational and philosophical ideal that centres on the question of what constitutes an ‘educated’ or ‘cultivated’ human being (Biesta 2002). Wolfgang Klafki has contributed considerably to the conceptual development of Bildung by his concept of Kategoriale Bildung. Using this concept, Klafki emphasises the interaction between the individual and its surroundings in the constitution of Bildung, which is where the concept can be linked to sustainability, and underscores two main points. First of all, Klafki points out that the classical concept of Bildung and its principles - self-determination, freedom, humanity and general public education - are too idealistic when considering social structures and inequalities. Faced with this, he calls for a political aspect on the constitution of Bildung characterised by active, participatory democratisation. Secondly, and in line with the concept of exemplarity, he argues that Bildung has to ensure that contemporary societal problems are addressed. As examples he highlights the questions of peace, ecological sustainability and social impact of technical innovation – examples of problems that certainly haven’t lessened in importance or magnitude since Bildung was first conceptionalized.
Based on this discussion we argue that a problem-based learning environment with a curriculum emphasising societal contextualisation of science and technology is a driver, but not a guarantee for what can be called Sustainability Bildung. The studied student project reports show examples of how tools can be applied in the name of sustainability borrowing from environmental management studies e.g. students making an environmental screening of a product to consider the potential environmental impacts. The question is whether the application of such skills and tools should be the foundation for engineering education for sustainable development, or should the goal instead be to facilitate engineering students to integrate sustainability into the engineering mindset itself – reflecting the role of sustainability in relation to themselves, their engineering profession and to society. This question has important implications for setting up ‘product oriented’ environmental management at campuses where deeper ESD can take place for designing not only engineering programmes, but for others as well.
Lidgren, A., H. Rodhe and D. Huisingh. 2006. A systematic approach to incorporate sustainability into university courses and curricula. Journal of Cleaner Production 14 (9-11): 797-809
Barth, M., J. Godemann, M. Rieckmann and U. Stoltenberg. 2007. Developing key competencies for sustainable development in higher education. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education 8 (4): 416-430
Biesta, G. 2002. Bildung and modernity: The future of Bildung in a world of difference. Studies in Philosophy and Education 21 (4-5): 343-351