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Teaching decision-making for sustainable infrastructure: a wind energy case study module

Nathan Daniel McWhirter (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA)
Tripp Shealy (Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, Virginia, USA)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 28 June 2018

Issue publication date: 15 August 2018

456

Abstract

Purpose

This paper aims to introduce a case-based module teaching sustainable engineering, linking the Envision rating system with behavioral decision science. Three complete modules are publicly available in a repository for any instructor to adapt, use and review.

Design/methodology/approach

A case study was written about the Tucannon River Wind Farm, a project-certified Gold by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure’s Envision™ rating system. The case was used as the basis for an in-class PowerPoint module to achieve student learning outcomes related to sustainability.

Findings

Before and after surveys showed significant (p < 0.05) learning increases. Word clouds show changes in student perceptions of sustainable design. Rubric scoring of writing assignments and concept maps yielded valuable insights and improvements and demonstrated the overall validity of the module approach.

Research limitations/implications

Modules lasting only one or two class days must be well-integrated into courses and curricula to promote greater learning value. Concept mapping may be a useful addition but involves a learning curve for both instructors and students.

Practical implications

By offering instructors access to a set of case-based modules, it becomes more practical for them to teach about sustainable infrastructure and decision-making.

Social implications

The module exemplifies a project owner and an engineering firm strongly committed to social and environmental sustainability. Envision’s Quality of Life and Leadership categories emphasize community well-being, involvement and collaboration.

Originality/value

This module offers a unique transdisciplinary focus meeting several needs in engineering education on sustainability, complex problems and decision-making.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This material is based in part on work supported by The National Science Foundation, through Grant 1531041. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. For the Tucannon River Wind Farm case study, the authors thank Robert Healy from the project’s engineering firm Burns & McDonnell, and Franco Albi from the project owner, Portland General Electric, who gave their time and insight through phone interviews, provided project resources to develop the case and gave comments on the case study draft.

Citation

McWhirter, N.D. and Shealy, T. (2018), "Teaching decision-making for sustainable infrastructure: a wind energy case study module", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 19 No. 5, pp. 893-911. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-10-2017-0183

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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