Introducing environmental concerns within an undergraduate engineering curriculum: A case study of innovation in a Mexican university
This thesis has explored the introduction of some environmental education and
sustainable development (EESD) matters related to engineering, within an
undergraduate engineering curriculum, in the setting of a Mexican university with a
positive stance regarding best practice for sustainability. This study was conceived and
developed on account of the position that the individual performing this research had in
that setting, as part of the engineering faculty.
The research design was developed considering the sparse literature available on this
topic and the challenge involved in applying general educational techniques to an
emerging field of knowledge that is subject to many contextual constraints.
Accordingly, at the outset the research strategy focused on conducting a survey based
on interviews in some Mexican and British higher education institutions, where EESD
concerns were already being pioneered. The survey aimed to collect significant
information that could be used later in a case study of action research on learning in the
milieu where it was aspired to introduce some curricular changes.
By means of a research strategy based on assumed collaboration from the different tiers
of academic staff in the setting under consideration, a case study of action research on
learning was implemented. The use of a model where the researcher performed the
function of lecturer was widely applied at some stages during the action research
process. In the course of the case study three elements of innovation were undertaken:the implementation of an innovative course for freshmen incorporating some EESD
ideas, the carrying out of a voluntary 'in-service' staff development programme, and the
attempts for conducting research on engineering-related environmental issues by some
students. Relevant information was collected from these three elements, mainly through
questionnaires and participant observation.
The following points emerged from the study:
The innovative course for freshmen bringing together EESD and engineering
issues was put into practice and enhanced through a four-cycles-process of
implementation, evaluation and change. This process enabled the involvement of a
new faculty during the last cycle. This part of the innovation was secured and only
requires regular upgrading as other curriculum courses.
The implementation of the in-service staff development programme enabled the
identification of some potential faculty-members interested in expanding EESD
within other parts of the curriculum. This task however revealed some difficulties
entailed in involving faculty in this type educational innovation.
The attempts for conducting research on engineering-related EESD issues exposed
the length of time and contextual constraints involved in implementing this
educational technique notwithstanding its recognized value. Reflection of the
outcomes suggests a steady but moderate progress in this area.
The advancement of this educational venture calls for skills relating to, interest in,
and commitment to EESD by faculty. It is suggested that the acquisition of these
features by the academic staff, is a long-term undertaking and entails the
contribution of various resources of diverse nature.
The implementation and sustaining of an innovation of this kind depends not only
on the institution's interest to initiate this type of education. Success in this venture
relies significantly upon some contextual factors such as the support provided to
the innovator, the status of the innovator within the academic community, and the
competing interests in the milieu. Therefore, the EESD tasks implemented are vulnerable to quietly fade away in the day-to-day activities if they are not secured,
and call for constant back up and upgrading.
This thesis enabled the development of an understanding of the process of change
within the setting where the innovation took place. It is suggested that prospects for
this type of innovation to pervade through considerable parts of the curriculum are
highly conditional upon the flexibility of the social structures prevailing in the
institution and the insights gained from a continuing research process.