Learning about energy. A real-life approach challenging the present culture of science & engineering

  • Ilse Bartosch Faculty of Physics, University of Vienna, Austria


There is an increasing number of publications in various fields of research suggesting that a purely technocratic approach cannot mitigate the current environmental crisis caused by climate change. This goes hand in hand with the criticism expressed by science educators that classroom teaching on energy is mainly based on the conceptual knowledge perspective of science education, which is considered inappropriate for empowering young people to fight in the best interests of the biosphere. Based on the experiences gathered in the R&E project “SOLARbrunn – heading for a future with the sun” the paper highlights some facets of STEM education which seem to be indispensable for empowering young people to contribute to sustainable development. In an interdisciplinary research setting modelled upon Zeidler’s conceptual framework for socio-scientific issues, students at a Secondary Technical and Vocational School in a small Austrian town worked out suggestions for converting a local kindergarten into a ‘green building’. In the course of the project, the traditional view of engineering - constructing technological solutions based on the rigorous mathematical processing of data acquired by diligent measurement – was challenged. When dealing with real world cases where everyday routines are important for planning, implementing and adjusting technical systems, the limitations of the technocratic approach to sustainable development becomes evident. Sustainable development is less a question of enhanced technology; it is rather a question of improving socio-technical practices by means of interactive efforts on the part of various players.


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