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Introduction

The Blue Engineering-Project was created by a group of students during the winter-semester of 2008/2009, in order to encourage social and environmental responsibility of engineering. They developed a whole course-design and successfully tested the course twice without direct involvement by academic staff. Since summer-semester 2012/2013 two lecturers and three tutors continue to offer the course and develop it further.

The aim of the Blue Engineering is to provide an appropriate framework to reflect on technical achievements in general and one's own personal responsibility. However, Blue Engineering is not intended as a mere theoretical discussion, but is about discovering one's liberties in university and at work so that (prospective) engineers may act more according to their social and ecological responsibilities.

As a common basis, the founders of Blue Engineering have formulated a set of central, but not final concepts aimed at providing a common understanding of ecological and social responsibility. The ecological development and use of technology comprise the gentle and sustainable use of earth's finite resources, e.g. the reduction and prevention of toxic substances and transportation. Technologies should be developed according to the specific needs of their users and be adapted to environment and society. They need to be durable, repairable and recyclable. Socially responsible engineering means that the same rights and opportunities of all people are being respected. At work this includes good working conditions, reflecting and acting in teams, and fair and comparable wages. Accordingly, the resources of the planet we all share together must be distributed evenly.

The Blue Engineering-Building-Blocks

To raise awareness of and to facilitate discussion on the different aspects of social and ecological responsibility, the Blue Engineering-Group developed the idea of teaching units. These units - named building-blocks - are typically designed for one lesson of 60 or 90 minutes and address a complex issue, e.g. whistle-blowing, ethical codes, technology as problem-solver, social businesses and cooperatives. Through the use of a wide variety of teaching methods the learning outcome depends more on the students as individuals and as a group than on the teachers. Consequently, the people responsible for the course don't function as experts who lecture but rather as moderators of group- and learning-processes. In fact, students may even be included in teaching by letting them prepare and conduct a building-block for the rest of the class. In addition, building-blocks may easily be used by a group of engineers working together in a company for their own continued education. An initiative has been taken to make all thirty existing building-blocks available in an open access database.

A short description of two building-blocks may help to better grasp the whole idea:

In the first phase of the block "Greenwashing or Decision Aids - Labels, Certificates and the like", the participants get to know the "seven sins" of greenwashing. Based on this, they develop in small groups creative advertisement for a fictional product by excessively using methods of greenwashing. The advertisement is presented to the entire group and rounded up with a brief discussion. In the second phase of the block the small groups work through brochures of widely known labels and certificates and discuss if they are reliable.

The participants of the block "Technology as a Drama - Technology in Drama" read passages of "The Physicists" by Friedrich Dürrenmatt and "Life of Galilee" by Bertolt Brecht. In small groups they rephrase the key messages in their own words and use them to improvise small scenes. The small groups present their best scenes to the whole group and lead a discussion on their interpretation.

The Blue Engineering-Course

Based on these building-blocks a course-design was developed that should provide a substantive insight into a broad range of topics and that actively engages students over the 15 weeks of a semester. Additionally, they work on different projects to influence the further development of the course.

The Blue Engineering-Course takes three hours per week. Each session usually starts with a 90-minute building-block. Next, students work on developing their own building-blocks or do similar projects. Their work is supported for instance by giving them a variety of teaching methods at hand and holding several sessions of peer-to-peer feedback. Around the 12th Week, a whole study day is used to test all created building-blocks. The students are encouraged to invite family and friends. Academic staff and other interested persons are also present. This increases notably the motivation of the students. In the remaining three weeks the students are assisted and given peer-to-peer feedback to write down the manuals of these newly created building-blocks. Consequently, the following semester has several newly finished and tested building-blocks to choose from. The fact that the students’ building-blocks may be used in the following semester provides additional motivation to create meaningful building-blocks and to provide an easy to follow manual.

Conclusion

The course at the TUB originates entirely from students who got active themselves. This had signifcant influence on the design of the actual course as it is at no point teacher-centered. Participants of the Blue Engineering-Course regularly choose the existing building-blocks, prepare them and moderate them for the whole group. In addition they develop new building-blocks in a peer-to-peer-process for further classes. However, the basic idea of Blue Engineering involves more than merely raising the awareness of (prospective) engineers. Participants are encouraged to stay in touch and to network within companies and universities. They may even found their own Blue Engineering-Groups as it already happened at Technische Universität Hamburg.

Further Reading


Reference

This text is based heavily on the commentary Student-Driven Courses on the Social and Ecological Responsibilities of Engineers which was published in Science and Engineering Ethics, Volume 19,4 of December 2013.