International Conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD) (7th : 2015)

Developing systems thinking for sustainable development in engineering education Claesson, A. Nyström; Svanström, M.


Present and future generations of engineering students are facing very different challenges than what engineering students did some 20-30 years back. The ability to appreciate the whole and assess complexity are abilities that become more and more urgent, in order to manage climate change, increased levels of chemicals in society, conversion of the energy system, food and water supply and many other challenges. To be able to act in a relevant way, students need to develop skills such as systems thinking to be able to assess complex systems. Systems thinking has been described as the ability to identify parts, causalities, flows and feedback loops. Systems thinking is likely a skill that engineering students develop to a varying degree during their university education, especially with regard to complex sustainability systems. In order to be able to improve engineering education in relation to systems thinking, it is important to understand what systems thinking is about and how systems thinking may be developed during the education. The overall aim of the study is to report on the first part of a study investigating how engineering students from two different programs develop systems thinking for sustainable development during their Bachelor education. In this part of the study, freshmen students (year 1) have been interviewed. The particular aim of this paper is to describe freshmen systems thinking before engaging in a university course on sustainable development. Group interviews were recorded and analysed for the students understanding and use of systems thinking. Students in both groups show evidence of systems thinking but it is intuitive rather that conscious and they lack a language to communicate about it. However, in one group the students together manage to describe complex systems.

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