Release party for my book!

Tomorrow, Wednesday 11th March 2015 it’s time: release party for my book!

Time: from 4 p.m.

Place: ”Salongen”, the KTH library (KTH Campus Valhallavägen, Stockholm)

It is really really great to now at last get to celebrate the publishing of my book – a text book in sustainable development: Hållbar utveckling – en introduktion för ingenjörer (Eng. Sustainable Development – an Introduction for Engineers). And yes, I agree… It took a lot more time to write it than I had anticipated.

It all started about two years ago. I had already been involved in the teaching for sustainable development in several degree-level Engineering programmes at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm (Sweden), and I where in the middle of developing a completely new course module aimed at the introduction of sustainable development for mechanical engineers.

I tried to find good literature to use in the course module, literature that was actually written for engineering students – who have a good understanding of mathematics, problem solving and technology, among other things. So I wanted to use literature that used equations and models that we could work with in the module, and problems that we could introduce and that I know students will see again in subsequent courses – sometimes from another perspective. I wanted to use literature that used examples from technology to show how engineering can play a positive role for sustainability. Examples from technology that presented how great technology can be. I wanted to sow the feeling among students that as engineers, they can help solving the sustainability dilemmas – as engineers they can save the world!

And I wanted to use literature that did not preach, that did not proclaim that we have a moral obligation, but that emphasised that sustainability is full of contradicting values and perspectives. Right and wrong solutions are not objective, but part of what different stake holders chose to claim. Truly understanding other people’s perspectives and a humble attitude to the reality of how people and society work are key elements to achieving anything at all.

In my opinion, teaching sustainable development involves four phases:

  • Background: basic facts about the concept of sustainability, the challenges we face, and various strategies and ideas to how to meet those.
  • Reflection: critical thinking and the understanding of sustainability as a subject of values.
  • Discussion: the ability to formulate an opinion, to listen to other peoples arguments, to debate, negotiate and compromise with others to reach a decision – and to live with the decision even when it isn’t perfect.
  • Integration into subject specific conditions.

The four phases do not have to come in order, but may preferably be trained in parallel.

In my teaching, and in my book as well, the goal is not to make the students think in a certain way but to help them find their way to think. Therefore it is absolutely essential to discuss the roles of various perspectives and how different values and opinions influence how you look on the subject of sustainability.

Since I couldn’t find all this in a book already written, I had to write this book. If you are a teacher, my hope is that you will also find it useful in your teaching. And if you are a student, I hope that you’ll find it interesting and rewarding to read.

Paper submitted for the EESD15 conference

Today, I submitted my paper contribution to the EESD15 conference (E.E.S.D. is for Engineering Education for Sustainable Development), which is organized by the University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada) this summer. In the paper, I and my co-authors reflects on what we’ve learnt from using various games in the class room (especially board games, role playing games and simulation games). Our laboratory has been class rooms at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm (Sweden) and the University of Cambridge (UK), where we conduct education in degree-level Engineering programmes.

Games in the class room have shown to be powerful learning tools for several reasons: Students consider it as a playful way to learn and games help to generate interest and curiosity. Also, games make it possible to simulate situations and processes in the class room that would otherwise be difficult or impossible. One example on that is decision making in complex situations with limited access to (partially outdated) information, where decisions both influence and are influenced by complex system dynamics – exactly as in many real situations!

The greatest learning output do games have, we experience, when combined in a well thought out way with traditional teaching such as lectures, assignments (individual and in group), literature studies – and a good briefing and discussion afterwards about what the students experienced during the game.

It will be exciting to discuss these issues with other teachers and experts of this field from around the world. I look forward to the EESD15 conference in Vancouver this summer!

Sustainable Development

The world is not black or white, but a caleidoscope of opportunities.

Development can become more sustainable by following many paths, but all people do not agree on which path is best – or even whether some paths lead to more sustainability or less. Accepting that there may be no objective right or wrong answer to sustainability issues and that several sometimes seemingly conflicting perspectives may coexist, is one of the first steps towards working for true sustainability.

Many of the sustainability issues we face are complex and a consequence of dynamic systems with internal interconnected feedback loops. Complexity is an important aspect of sustainability and the tools that I have come to use in my own teaching for sustainable development are aimed to put students in situations that simulate complexity in decision making. For example the various board games that I have found to be extremely useful in the class room, provide excellent opportunities to discuss both the complexity and perspectivity issues.

Engineering is a key for sustainability and engineers are key workers for sustainable development. Technological may not provide solutions to all problems, but it definitively has the potential to redefine the boundaries for sustainability. Engineers are the providers of new possibilities.

The challenges that our generation face are immense and definitive: how we choose to manage our society within the next few years will undoubtedly have a huge effect on the course of history for decades or even centuries ahead. I see it as my mission to contribute towards more consciousness in decision making, especially by developing and providing tools for education in engineering and natural sciences. Board games developed for the class room, literature and teacher training courses are examples of such, which you find references to on this web site. If you have any inquiries or development ideas, don’t hesitate to send me a note.

– Jon-Erik Dahlin, PhD