Published: Jan. 29, 2024

Teaching Assistant Professor Joan Tisdale and Angela Bielefeldt recently published a paper in Sustainability on increasing the integration of sustainability topics in mechanical engineering courses. 

Study Abstract 

The process through which higher education instructors choose to integrate sustainability topics into their courses was conceptualized using diffusion of innovation theory. The research explored two questions: 

  1. What factors were influential to front runners (innovators or early adopters) for sustainability integration in undergraduate courses taken by ME students? 

  2. What factors could spur non-adopters to integrate sustainability into their courses? 

The study included a survey (with 53 respondents who taught sustainability and 14 respondents who did not teach sustainability), 10 interviews with innovators and early adopters, and a focus group of 5 participants. 

The results were explored primarily from the perspective of meeting the needs of instructors (the target users). 

Peer-to-peer interactions were found to be important across all user groups. Practices that would help motivate later adopters include prepared curriculum- and university- or department-based support in the form of mission statements, training, mandatory sustainability inclusion, and a sustainability office to provide support. 

Diffusion of innovation theory provides insights into which strategies are likely to be most effective in expanding the number of faculty members who integrate sustainability topics into their courses.

Cover image by Qingbao Meng on Unsplash.