Student perceptions of the societal linkages of engineering innovation

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Holistic sustainability is complex and multifaceted; thus, engineering education should prepare the future engineers to understand and consider a range of sustainability dimensions in their work across different fields of engineering applications. Indeed, efforts have been made worldwide to better integrate sustainability into engineering curricula, but relatively few studies have looked into the effectiveness of such efforts. The present study examines how master’s level students, having already completed a bachelor’s degree in engineering, understand and perceive different types of impact and influences on engineering innovation. Specifically, we examine student perceptions on political, economic, social, technological, environmental, and legal (PESTEL) connections of four real-world engineering innovation cases. The 115 students that participated in the study identified 794 political, economic, societal, technological, environmental and legal interconnections relative to the four innovation cases. We saw that students more readily identified positive than negative connections (526 vs 214 connections) and influences on the case rather than by the case on these dimensions (539 vs 249 connections). New technology development and artificial intelligence were the most common factors identified as influencing the further development of the engineering opportunity, whereas environmental benefits in recycling and resource usage were the most common effects identified by the cases on their surrounding ecosystems. Noted technological and environmental connections also tended to be more specific than those related to economic, social, political, and legal considerations. None of the 102 students noting technological connections identified any potential negative effects that the engineering innovation might have in the realm of technology, and in general, noting potential or actualized negative impacts was rare in the responses.
Taken together, the results highlight the need to further support examining potential adverse effects of engineering innovation, broadening the scope of considerations from intentional design targets to possible unintentional effects. On the other hand, the results suggest that while environmental considerations are already fairly detailed, more support may be needed to develop engineering “literacy” in other societal arenas, as well as establish collaborative practices to leverage experts in other arenas already in the initial scoping of engineering innovation opportunities to ensure a diverse range of impact and influence are taken into consideration.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition
PublisherAmerican Society for Engineering Education
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 23 Aug 2022
MoE publication typeA4 Conference publication
EventASEE Annual Conference - Minneapolis, United States
Duration: 26 Jun 202229 Jun 2022

Publication series

NameASEE Annual Conference and Exposition
PublisherAmerican Society for Engineering Education
ISSN (Electronic)2153-5695


ConferenceASEE Annual Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States


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