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Learning about environmental issues in engineering programmes: A case study of first-year civil engineering students′ contextualisation of an ecology course.
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International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education
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Describes how first-year civil engineering students interpreted the content and structure of an ecology course. Students′ learning processes were analysed from an intentional perspective, i.e. a perspective that takes into account the students′ educational aims and conceptions of the study situation. Interviews were carried out with six civil engineering students who had taken the ecology course. Classroom observations were carried out and the dialogue between the lecturers and the students recorded. Interviews were transcribed and analysed from an intentional perspective, i.e. meaning is ascribed to the students′ actions and utterances in terms of intent. Students contextualised the content of the ecology course in different ways – within natural science, cultural, social and political, applied and professional, and existential contexts. Students found the content of the ecology course to be a question of value judgement. Also, among the students there were feelings of accusation on behalf of engineers as professionals. Learning processes among the students were analysed in terms of contextual awareness and contextual inconsistency. Students mainly enhanced their knowledge in the sense that they tended to elaborate concepts solely on an empirical level and learned more facts. Suggests that environmental issues can be seen and dealt with from natural science, social science and philosophical perspectives, and that it is important that these different perspectives are explicitly addressed on a meta-level. The tendency to enhance the amount of content matter to be taught without considering the meta-level issues can cause the students problems in their efforts to learn. Suggested that the premises for teaching certain content should be made explicit by the teacher. To know why certain content has been included in the teaching may be of considerable help for the students in formulating relevant learning projects.
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