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What is the State of Eduction for Energy Efficiency in Australian Engineering Education?

DOWNLOAD: Summary of Survey Results Report


In 2007 the National Framework for Energy Efficiency provided funding for the first survey of energy efficiency education across all Australian universities teaching engineering education. The survey asked the question, ‘What is the state of education for energy efficiency in Australian engineering education?’. There was an excellent response to the survey, with 48 course responses from lecturers across 27 universities from every state and territory in Australia, and 260 student responses from 18 courses
across 8 universities from all 6 states.

It is concluded from the survey findings that the state of education for energy efficiency in Australian engineering education is currently highly variable and ad hoc across universities and engineering disciplines.

The key findings of the survey are as follows:

1) Location of Content in Engineering Programs

a) The data suggests that energy efficiency education is not embedded across all engineering disciplines. Mechanical and electrical engineering students appear more likely to be taught energy efficiency content in their degree programs, followed by environmental, civil and chemical engineering students. Energy efficiency education across other discipline areas appears to be based on the individual interests and research pursuits of the lecturers involved rather than strategic integration across universities that is based on the needs of each discipline.

b) The inclusion of energy efficiency content in any course containing energy efficiency content appears to be driven by formal program requirements and the personal and research motivations of the individual lecturers.

c) Energy efficiency appears to be taught largely within well established courses (also called units or subjects depending on the university) that have been run by experienced lecturers for more than five years. Energy efficiency content appears to be mostly taught as part of a broader content area to second and third year undergraduate students. In addition there are a number of courses on more targeted energy efficiency topics in fourth year undergraduate, and postgraduate studies.

d) It appears that most students are not aware of how energy efficiency education is different at different universities, indicating that this is not a strong motivator for choosing to study at a certain university. Students do not appear to be clear on where in their degree program energy efficiency is taught. Students also appear unsure about what amount of such content should be in their degree.

2) Level of Integration of Topical Issues in Energy Efficiency

a) The level of integration of topical energy efficiency issues into courses appears to be very low. Even mainstream topics like ‘the link between greenhouse gas emissions and global temperature change’ and ‘carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions from energy generation’ were covered in detail by less than a third of those courses surveyed, and mentioned by less than half.

b) The survey suggests that students across undergraduate and postgraduate levels think they understand the terms ‘sustainable development’ and ‘energy efficiency’ very well, and are making some connection to issues in the media. However students appear to have a low to moderate appreciation of how ‘energy efficiency’ might be directly related to their future careers.

3) Level of Student Exposure to Content: Theory, Knowledge and Application

‘Energy efficiency content’ is a broad term that covers many aspects of curriculum. Hence, this survey separated energy efficiency content into energy efficiency ‘fundamental principles and base theory’, ‘knowledge/ information’ (for example demonstrating how principles and theory behave and why this knowledge is useful to engineer energy efficiency solutions and systems), and ‘application’ of the principles, theory, and knowledge/ information (for example through case studies and worked

Within ‘fundamental principles and base theory’, the survey further distinguished between ‘general design theory’ (for example addressing concepts such as embedded energy, resource productivity, life cycle assessment, and demand side management); and ‘technical design theory’ (for example addressing concepts such as the whole system design methodology for calculations).

a) Despite the students’ perception of how well they understand the term ‘energy efficiency’ and the extent of energy efficiency education, the data suggests that most did not have an in-depth understanding of the surveyed principles and theory.

b) While lecturers appear to be engaging with energy efficiency knowledge/information, there appears to be a low level of student exposure to energy efficiency theory. In particular, the extent to which energy efficiency concepts and principles are included in courses appears to be low to very low. Three areas of content that are highlighted by the survey as not being taught in detail and not understood by students include: 1) Product Stewardship & Responsibility; 2) Decoupling energy utility profits from kilowatt-hours sold; and 3) Incremental Efficiency versus Whole System Design.

c) Student exposure to energy efficiency information and knowledge appears to be moderate. However, the extent to which energy efficiency and productivity content is taught in engineering programs appears to be low. The extent to which courses address roles and responsibilities in energy efficiency is very low. This also aligns with the observed low level of course content about product stewardship and responsibilities.

d) Student exposure to applying energy efficiency principles and theory and information/knowledge to worked examples appears to be generally low to moderate. The data suggests that quite a number of courses may not be using case studies. Case studies appear to be less likely to go beyond the traditional sectors of industry and energy utilities. Popular case studies include motor systems, boilers, air-conditioning systems, lighting, and energy efficiency gains in appliances and equipment.

e) Many courses that include some energy efficiency content in their courses do not appear to include energy efficiency related reading resources for students. Together with results regarding content coverage, the survey indicates a general shortfall in the inclusion of energy efficiency theory, knowledge and application in Australian engineering education.

4) Energy Efficiency Education: Curriculum Renewal

a) Although lecturers are uncertain as to whether they are meeting expectations with regard to the type of energy efficiency content in their courses, they clearly value: 1) the inclusion of good content within their course; 2) the inclusion of team project work and practical and industry relevant material; and 3) a problem-based learning approach to learning. This list is important in suggesting that curriculum renewal strategies should aim to benefit courses in these areas.

b) For more than half of the surveyed courses, lecturers report that their course could include more (indepth) energy efficiency content, particularly in: 1) applying energy efficiency theory and knowledge; and 2) including knowledge and information on the topic. There appears to be more hesitancy with regard to energy efficiency theory and principles, perhaps due to lecturers not being aware of content, or because of competing content areas.

c) Of those courses where lecturers said more could be done, lecturers are keen to receive assistance, particularly through accessing case studies on energy efficiency examples in engineering (i.e. worked real-life examples that show how the theory and knowledge is applied). They are also keen to access lists of good material (for example audio-visual materials, text books and other references), and are keen to have access to a customised set of readings on energy efficiency for engineers generally. Lecturers do not appear keen to receive professional development (i.e. additional training) on energy efficiency.

d) Almost all of the lecturers wanting assistance with accessing content about energy efficiency prefer the resources to be available through open access, online learning modules, rather than restricted access online modules, or intensive short courses .
e) Key perceived challenges for lecturers in improving their course content, are: 1) the potential for course content overload; and 2) having insufficient time to prepare new materials. In addition some lecturers do not appear to be aware of content that is beyond ‘introductory’.

f) Some lecturers indicated preference for third party endorsement of materials, but comments indicated that the reason and messaging of the endorsement needs to be clear. These lecturers preferred Engineers Australia and the (former) Department of Environment and Water Resources as endorsers to stimulate the curriculum renewal process in energy efficiency education. Some lecturers also indicated they would look to other universities to lead through developing and/or using materials and endorsing them.