Technology Assessment (TA) courses and training are a vital part of technical education. They improve engineering students' ability to think critically and to understand trade-offs between the benefits and risks of technical innovations. TA, just like applied ethics, is a way of integrating technical education and sustainable development.
A critical involvement with the consequences of technology shows that a number of the problems in the 21st century – e.g. greater risks to the environment and security, increased consumption of resources or the lack of equal opportunities in the use of new technologies – arise as a result of the negative side effects of some technological innovations. One of many such side effects is child allergies caused by detergents and fine dust. If we are to achieve sustainable development, engineers are expected to choose more environmentally friendly and more socially acceptable innovations in both the public and the scientific context.
TA relevant educational requirements include:
- the knowledge of the precautionary principle as a means of preventing risks, i.e. a TA assessment of the objectives and the potential impacts of technical innovations at an early stage during the development stage, and
- the knowledge of the temporal and local context in order to consider and evaluate the short and long-term impacts of technologies and to take account of local and global conditions during the technical development process.
Engineering Education in Sustainable Development
The Engineering Education in Sustainable Development (EESD) conference is a regular opportunity for scientists and researchers to discuss their findings on how sustainable development is being integrated in technical education. One recurring subject at the last few sessions was inter- and transdisciplinary learning:
Interdisciplinary learning changes group dynamics
If education and research activities are to be integrated, new educational concepts are needed to teach theory and practice in an interdisciplinary context. .The learning process improves and changes as a result of the students' different starting points in their technical, scientific and social-scientific fields.
This may lead to conflict. However, there is no doubt that the interaction between students from different disciplines and countries has a significant impact on group dynamics. Participants in interdisciplinary courses are frequently required to present a concrete result within a set timeframe. Students and teachers share the responsibility.
The EESD also discusses the criteria for this kind of group dynamic leaning and the further training of the students for new teaching methods. The ITA was deeply involved in the scientific organisation of EESD 2006, 2008 and 2010.