Assessing “Wicked Sustainability Problem” – Literacy in Engineering Education
Paper in proceedings, 2015
Environmental and sustainability problems are commonly called “wicked sustainability problems” (WSPs). They are called “wicked” because they are highly complex, contested, and lack single right solutions. Students in environmental engineering need to learn how to deal with WSPs in accordance with the principles of sustainability, i.e. they need WSP-literacy. Scholars in the field of environmental and sustainability education (ESE) stress that traditional approaches to assessing ESE competences, such as WSP-literacy, are inadequate. However, the literature does not yet provide a rigorous, empirically based discussion about what could be more adequate approaches. In this paper, we address this gap by providing an instrument for assessing WSP-literacy in engineering education. The instrument is developed through an action research approach that involves three iterations with different groups of engineering educators. The first two iterations consist of two workshops held with ESE practitioners. In these workshops, literature on WSPs and WSP-literacy is introduced as a theoretical basis for discussions. Participates are then engaged in 1. Discussing the purpose of assessment in ESE in general; 2. Formulating concrete learning outcomes that can be used to operationalize WSP-literacy in the context of engineering education; and 3.Discussing possible ways of assessing these learning outcomes. The role of the researchers in the workshops is to guide the discussions with a focus on constructive alignment between desired learning outcomes and assessment approaches. The workshops are held in November 2013 and January 2014. The second workshop is expected to build on the results of the first workshop, but it involves a different group of participants. Both workshops are audio-recorded and provide a basis for the researchers to develop a pilot version of a comprehensive assessment instrument. The third iteration involves practical testing of the pilot instrument in several ESE courses and further refining it in collaboration with the teachers in those courses. We expect the resulting assessment instrument, which will be presented at the ASEE 2015 conference, to be rigorously grounded in previous research, practical experience, and direct testing in a real educational context. We further expect the instrument to be directly applicable by engineering educators who need to assess WSP-literacy.