Walking the walk; meaningfully engaging people with engineering challenges

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McGookin, Connor
Ó Gallachóir, Brian P.
Byrne, Edmond P.
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University College Cork
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Barriers to the development of renewable energy generally involve non-technical as well as technical challenges, that are dynamic and context dependent. In the case of opposition to large-scale wind energy and overhead transmission lines for example, existing research reveals a complex and diverse range of conditions that shape public perception. However, conventional engineering practices tend to focus on least cost techno-economic evaluation methods such as cost benefit analysis. Here we use the case study example of Ireland’s North-South interconnector project to demonstrate how a narrow focus on techno- economic analysis resulted in failure to adequately incorporate broader socio-political considerations. It demonstrates that the primarily technocentric worldview, which largely pervades engineering teaching and practices, can cause tensions and inertia, slowing the rate of progress along the low carbon transition. This, we argue, points to the need for a cultural / ethos change in engineering education and practice. Engineers should be encouraged and educated to broaden their perspectives and take a more reflective / pragmatic approach to engineering challenges that embraces the diversity of worldviews within our society. We hypothesise that the clear (and necessary) emphasis within engineering curricula on solving purely technical / mathematical problems may foster a reductionist hubris in engineering practice. To address this, contemporary fit-for-purpose curricula necessitate the inclusion of coursework that considers broader societal complexities, including so-called ‘wicked problems’ such as infrastructure projects, which involve placing engineering solutions in broader societal contexts.
Engineering education , Sustainability , Renewable energy , Engineering curricula
McGookin, C., Ó Gallachóir, B. P. and Byrne, E. P. (2021) ‘Walking the walk; meaningfully engaging people with engineering challenges’, EESD2021: Proceedings of the 10th Engineering Education for Sustainable Development Conference, 'Building Flourishing Communities', University College Cork, Ireland, 14-16 June.