Creating Enduring Engineering – Applying Project Based Service-Learning to Foster Community Engagement in Engineering Education

Posted by : Jeremy Smith May 5, 2022

Contact : jeremy.smith at Maps

This chapter will explore approaches to projects with community organisations within engineering and related technology higher education. The goal is not to provide new guidelines, approaches, or principles, there are many excellent ones documented. Rather the aim is to explore what the application of these looks like in practice. Three case studies are used, drawn from domestic and international community collaborations, all located in unfamiliar cultural contexts for the majority of students involved. These case studies are embedded in the Humanitarian Engineering (HumEng) program at my institution and all involve ongoing partnerships with socially focused engineering and technology organisations. HumEng in Australia, and some other countries, is understood as the broadest possible use of engineering and technology to support improvements in quality of life and human well-being for groups or individuals considered disadvantaged, marginalised or vulnerable (Smith, Turner and Compston 2019). This can range from short-term humanitarian disaster response to long-term community development, with a focus on domestic (Australian) and international efforts (Smith, Mazzurco and Compston 2018).

While community engagement in higher education can take multiple forms, from guest lectures and content from community organisations through to internships and work experience, the focus for this chapter is project based opportunities. This is not to suggest other forms are not as equally relevant but simply comes from where our journey began. This engagement can be with not-for-profit and non-government organisations (NGOs) as well as a range of formal and informal community groups and networks and social enterprises. For this chapter these are grouped and termed community organisations. Within these individuals and groups come together around a common purpose, situation or aspiration with a social or direct human impact.

Our starting point for engagement has always been focusing on the aims, needs, and resources of the community organisation. From that, opportunities and engagement can be embedded into a range of courses, initiatives and programs, in other words the education flows from the engagement. To support this, three elements must be considered. All three are present in HumEng education and must complement each other to lead to successful outcomes:

  1. engagement approach including communication and relationships with organisations, for us grounded in ongoing partnerships.
  2. curriculum approach, using Project-Based Service-Learning (PBSL) here, a combination of project-based learning and service-learning achieved through projects scoped, supported by, or targeting communities or community groups (Johnson and Ulseth 2014).
  3. engineering and design approaches which meet the aims and resources of projects.

The focus of this chapter is to explore how PBSL can be implemented within engineering education via partnerships to support community engagement for the benefit of all those involved. The next section highlights community engagement as partnerships, which drove our work. This is followed by an outline of the PBSL curriculum approach used to embed community engagement in engineering education. Three case studies across Australian and international engagement from my institution highlight how approaches play out in practice. Finally a discussion based on the case studies and existing approaches will emphasise critical elements to consider before commencing projects, how these are adapted for a given context, the benefits that can arise, and broader considerations to support enduring positive outcomes for all those involved.

Extract from Chapter 8, Indigenous Engineering for an Enduring Culture, edited by Cat Kutay, Elyssebeth Leigh, Juliana Kaya Prpic and Lyndon Ormond-Parker. Published by Cambridge Scholars Publishing

Author: Jeremy Smith

Location: Canberra Ngunnawal and Ngambri country