A “PBL effect”? A longitudinal qualitative study of sustainability awareness and interest in PBL engineering students

Virginie Servant-Miklos, Jette Egelund Holgaard, Anette Kolmos

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The global sustainability crisis is growing by the year, and students are asking universities to increase sustainability contents in their curricula in response. The Education for Sustainability literature suggests that problem-based, interdisciplinary learning methods are well suited to imparting sustainability education. A recent quantitative study on engineering education supported this claim, showing that engineering students graduating from a systemic PBL university had increased sustainability awareness compared with graduates
from other universities. But how does this awareness develop and manifest during the students’ education, and what is the role of PBL therein? Answering this question requires a qualitative approach and therefore, we followed 16 PBL students across four engineering disciplines (mechanical engineering, electronic
engineering, environmental planning and medialogy) during three semesters using semi-structured interviews and an interpretivist framework. We asked students to reflect on their awareness and interest in sustainability issues, in their first month of study, the end of their first year, and the middle of their second year. We were able to gauge the changes in their sustainability awareness and interest during the process of acclimatisation within their engineeringstudies.

We found that in the first round of interviews, the majority of students, with the expected exception of environmental planning students, were marginally aware of sustainability issues and not very interested in the subject. By the end of the study, a notable shift towards overall increased awareness and interest was
observed. In this paper we use the interview data to explain and categorize the changes. The results underpin and qualify a discussion of the role of PBL in fostering changes in awareness and interest in sustainability.
TitelEducate for the future: PBL, Sustainability and Digitalisation 2020
RedaktørerAida Guerra, Anette Kolmos, Maiken Winther, Juebei Chen
Antal sider11
ForlagAalborg Universitetsforlag
ISBN (Elektronisk)978-87-7210-313-6
StatusUdgivet - 2020


Servant-Miklos, V., Holgaard, J. E., & Kolmos, A. (2020). A “PBL effect”? A longitudinal qualitative study of sustainability awareness and interest in PBL engineering students. I A. Guerra, A. Kolmos, M. Winther, & J. Chen (red.), Educate for the future: PBL, Sustainability and Digitalisation 2020 (1 udg., s. 45-55). Aalborg Universitetsforlag.