Wicked Problems in Engineering Education: Preparing Future Engineers to Work for Sustainability
Doctoral thesis, 2017
Most engineering education today does not adequately prepare students to contribute to sustainability. For example, engineering students often do not learn how to address complex and ill-structured sustainability problems that involve different stakeholders, value conflicts, and uncertainty; such problems are also called wicked problems. Efforts to improve engineering education in this regard are hampered by a lack of research on how engineering education can prepare students to address wicked problems.
This thesis aims to address this gap in two parts. The research described in Part 1 aimed to explore what engineering students need to learn to be able to address wicked problems. For this purpose, a pre-study literature review and two empirical studies were conducted. For the empirical studies, engineering students were interviewed and the interviews were analyzed using qualitative content analysis (Study 1) and a phenomenographic approach (Study 2). The research in Part 2 aimed to link the theoretical results from Part 1 to engineering education practice by focusing on teaching and assessment. The research in Part 2 comprises two empirical studies in which pragmatic action research (Study 3) and design-based research (Study 4) was used.
The results of the research include (a) a description of engineering education-specific challenges in addressing wicked problems; (b) 3 descriptions of wicked problems and design principles for wicked problem descriptions; (c) description of four different approaches that engineering students have used in addressing a wicked problem; (d) 22 intended learning outcomes, 3 assessment approaches, an analytic assessment rubric, and a rubric-based intervention for students’ ability to integratively address wicked problems; (e) validity, reliability, and utility evaluations of the assessment rubric; and (f) insights about students’ performance, their approaches to wicked problems, and affordances for learning in differently scaffolded activities during the rubric-based intervention.
Conclusions from the research include that an integrative approach to wicked problems is most appropriate, that students are able to use such an approach, but that they may need instructional support to do so. Conclusions further include that strong cognitive scaffolding with a highly detailed assessment rubric can support students’ understanding of the nature of wicked problems and students’ performance in written responses to wicked problems, but possibly also limit affordances for deep and transferable learning.
EB-salen, Hörsalsvägen 11, Göteborg
Opponent: Dr. Marie Paretti, Department of Engineering Education, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, USA