Between flexibility and relativism: How students deal with uncertainty in sustainability challenges

Nina L. Bohm*, R. G. Klaassen, E. M. van Bueren, P. den Brok

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedings/Edited volumeConference contributionScientificpeer-review

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Abstract

Universities open their doors to society, inviting the complexity of the world to enter engineering education through challenge-based courses. While working on complex issues, engineering students learn to deal with different kinds of uncertainty: uncertainty about the dynamics of a real-world challenge, the knowledge gaps in the problem, or the conflicting perspectives amongst the people involved. Although we know from previous research that students are likely to encounter these uncertainties in sustainability challenges, which metacognitive strategies they use to deal with them is unclear. We interviewed nine MSc students at the end of a challenge-based course at a Dutch university of technology. We asked the students how they dealt with uncertainty in collaboration with the commissioner, their student team, and the teachers. The interviews were analyzed through grounded, consensus-based coding by two researchers. Preliminary results show students use three main strategies. First, the different perspectives from peers in their team inform the position of the student. Second, students find expectation management of the commissioner essential, yet students struggle with how to do this in a professional and timely way. Third, students frame the uncertainties they encounter as part of the learning process, which allows them to accept the possibility of failure. This study provides first insights in metacognitive uncertainty strategies and suggests those strategies should become a more prominent topic in coaching students. When uncertainty becomes an explicit part of challenge-based education, students learn to deal with both the known and unknown in the transition to a sustainable society.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSEFI 2023 - 51st Annual Conference of the European Society for Engineering Education
Subtitle of host publicationEngineering Education for Sustainability, Proceedings
EditorsGer Reilly, Mike Murphy, Balazs Vince Nagy, Hannu-Matti Jarvinen
PublisherEuropean Society for Engineering Education (SEFI)
Pages212-221
Number of pages10
ISBN (Electronic)978-287352026-7
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Event51st Annual Conference of the European Society for Engineering Education, SEFI 2023 - Dublin, Ireland
Duration: 11 Sept 202314 Sept 2023

Publication series

NameSEFI 2023 - 51st Annual Conference of the European Society for Engineering Education: Engineering Education for Sustainability, Proceedings

Conference

Conference51st Annual Conference of the European Society for Engineering Education, SEFI 2023
Country/TerritoryIreland
CityDublin
Period11/09/2314/09/23

Keywords

  • challenge-based learning
  • metacognition
  • uncertainty
  • urban sustainability

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