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The Challenge of Introducing "Environmental Issues" into the Teaching of Engineering Materials: A Story of Reflective Teaching and Inquiry-Based Learning

Dr Plato Kapranos | University of Sheffield

The Challenge of Introducing "Environmental Issues" into the Teaching of Engineering Materials: A Story of Reflective Teaching and Inquiry-Based Learning

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The introduction of modules that deal with Sustainability and other Environmental issues was flagged-up as a must-have in the last Research Assessment Exercise. Three academics collaborated in the development of a module, aptly named ?Cradle to? - Materials and the Environment' that was delivered to a class of 1st Year students through 24 lectures and 3 tutorial/problem classes in the course of a semester. The three sections of the module were as follows: Energy balances and Energy cycles: Energy & Materials, Energy usage in a modern economy, Energy and the environment, The Greenhouse Effect, Materials and energy conservation, Materials and energy production: the case of solar power, Materials and the Environment- mining and extraction, Measuring the impact, Materials and sustainability; Energy and Materials: two case studies: Producing goods, Production of Aluminium, Production of Steel, Transport, Market size, PET production, Natural Gas; Life Cycle Assessment: Setting the scene, Materials and the Environment, Prerequisites to Life Cycle Assessment, The Materials Life Cycle, Eco-attributes of Materials, Eco-informed Materials Selection, Examples, and Materials for a Sustainable Future. The module content, as perceived by the academics who devised it, appeared to be well structured, very pertinent to current issues, prominent in the public arena and media; the module was sure to be a hit with the students. Nothing could be further from the truth! The course received unexpectedly mixed reviews having run for the first time in 2009. Against the expectations of the members of staff that put it together, the module somehow failed to capture the imagination of the young undergraduates. Through the use of questionnaires and classroom feedback, the sequence of delivery of the module was re-structured together with slight changes of lecture and tutorial content to great effect in the response of the students.