Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

Engineering Education for Sustainable Development: Using Online Learning to Support the New Paradigms

Academic journal article Australasian Journal of Engineering Education

Engineering Education for Sustainable Development: Using Online Learning to Support the New Paradigms

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The engineering profession continuously evolves as it responds to environmental, social and economic demands (Carew & Mitchell 2001). While built upon possession of 'a broad spectrum of artistic knowledge, craftsmanship and management skills' (Kastenhofer et al. 2010, 44), in recent times the profession has shifted towards a more specialised and technically focused vocation. The dawn of the industrial engineering era is said to be the root of this shifting perspective, which has also signalled a requirement for engineers to conform to industrial legislation and responsible practices towards the environment and society (Kastenhofer et al. 2010). These 'responsible practices' require engineers to develop their sustainability literacy (knowledge, competences, values and attitudes related to sustainable development) and competency as the profession faces up to the environmental, economic and societal concerns of the twenty-first century. That the profession is trying to do this can be attributed to its adaptability in 'adjusting its accustomed approach' (Carew and Mitchell 2001, 1). The adjustments being made are resulting in a paradigm shift from development engineering to sustainable development engineering (Thom 1996; Clift 1998; Mitchell 1999).

To play their part in the creation of sustainable engineering technology and to become change agents for sustainability, today's engineers need to be equipped with the knowledge, skills and values necessary to contribute positive solutions in mediation of the impact of climate change and global warming. There is recognition that 'the need to educate the engineer of the 21st century differently-or more precisely, more strategically-is essential to the endurance of the profession' (Galloway 2008, 5) within a higher education context that is shifting towards Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD).

Leal (2009) notes that universities have a responsibility towards their students, faculty and staff to develop not only skills for success in a globalised world, but also positive attitudes towards environmental issues which can be added to these skills for the longer term benefit of society. This responsibility cannot be over-exaggerated considering the evidence for the negative influences of university graduates on the ecosystem (Corcoran and Wals 2004). Higher education must prepare its graduates to embrace sustainable development, as observed by Cortese (2003) and Leal (2009). The sector's commitment to sustainable development is evidenced by the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative (HESI) which emerged from the Rio 2012 summit. The HESI action plan addresses five areas which are seen to encompass both the contribution and the responsibility of higher education. The articulation of the five indicates a holistic approach that connects sustainability to all disciplines and positions it as a core competency for graduate-level employment:

* Teach sustainable development concepts as part of the core curriculum for all, developing employable graduates with sustainability literacy;

* Encourage research, knowledge exchange and innovation;

* Model sustainability throughout all operations and campuses;

* Work in partnership to support sustainable local community-building;

* Share learning through international frameworks and report regularly on progress and challenges (http://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/index. php?menu=1073)

While HESI and other initiatives are positive, it is important to scrutinise the learning environments in which EESD operates. If learning occurs in an educational system based on educational views that 'sustain unsustainability', then this learning can itself contribute towards the continuing production of graduates with unsustainable behaviours and attitudes, state Davis and Cooke (2007) and Jucker (2011). Also fundamental is the vision and culture of the institution, and its readiness to embrace change that is transformational (Sterling 2004). …

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