Wicked Problems in Engineering Education: Preparing Future Engineers to Work for Sustainability
Doktorsavhandling, 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.

design-based research

assessment

wicked problems

sustainability

problem-solving

phenomenography

action research

ill-structured problems

rubric

engineering education

EB-salen, Hörsalsvägen 11, Göteborg
Opponent: Dr. Marie Paretti, Department of Engineering Education, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, USA

Författare

Johanna Lönngren

Chalmers, Tillämpad informationsteknologi, Avdelningen för ingenjörsutbildningsvetenskap (EER)

Lönngren, J., Adawi, T., & Svanström, M. (n.d). Scaffolding strategies in a rubric-based intervention to promote engineering students' ability to address wicked problems.

Future engineers will need to contribute to addressing increasingly complex and urgent sustainability problems such as climate change, resource scarcity, and global health problems. Such problems are often called “wicked” because they can never be completely solved and because different stakeholders have different opinions about what a problem really is about and how it should be addressed. For example, when discussing climate change, some stakeholders find it most important to limit global warming to a certain level, even if doing so results in lower economic growth. Others find it more important to support economic growth in the near future and trust that it will be possible to alleviate negative effects of global warming.

Unfortunately, most engineering education today does not adequately prepare students to work with wicked problems. This is partly due to a lack of research on what engineering students need to learn to be able to do so, and how that ability can be taught and assessed in engineering education. This thesis aims to address those questions.

The research described in this thesis suggests that engineering students need to learn to use an integrative approach to wicked problems rather than dividing problems into parts and trying to solve each part in isolation. It also suggests that learning to use such an integrative approach is challenging, both intellectually and emotionally, and that the current culture in engineering education may hinder rather than support students in learning to integratively address wicked problems.

To support educators in dealing with these challenges in engineering education practice, this thesis includes descriptions of practical tools that engineering educators can use for teaching their students to integratively address wicked problems. The tools have been developed on the basis of theoretical research as well as practical experience. Educators can use these tools directly in their teaching practice, or they can use them as an inspiration to develop their teaching. Thus, the research described in this thesis can contribute to addressing some of the most challenging and urgent problems of the near future.

Ämneskategorier

Didaktik

Lärande

Pedagogiskt arbete

Drivkrafter

Hållbar utveckling

ISBN

978-91-7597-602-0

Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola. Ny serie: 4283

Utgivare

Chalmers tekniska högskola

EB-salen, Hörsalsvägen 11, Göteborg

Opponent: Dr. Marie Paretti, Department of Engineering Education, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, USA

Mer information

Skapat

2017-06-27