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Teaching life cycle assessment in higher education

Partners' Institution
Limerick Institute of Technology
Teaching life cycle assessment in higher education
Thematic Area
Systems thinking-Theoretical framework and assessment
Purpose: Scientific Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) literature provides some examples of LCA teaching in higher education, but not a structured overview of LCA teaching contents and related competencies. Hence this paper aims at assessing and highlighting trends in LCA learning outcomes, teaching approaches and developed content used to equip graduates for their future professional practices in sustainability.
Methods: Based on a literature review on teaching LCA in higher education and a collaborative consensus building approach through expert group panel discussions, an overview of LCA learning and competency levels with related teaching contents and corresponding workload is developed. The levels are built on the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System (ECTS) and Bloom’s taxonomy of learning.
Results and discussion: The paper frames five LCA learning and competency levels that differ in terms of study program integration, workload, cognitive domain categories, learning outcomes, and envisioned professional skills. It furthermore provides insights into teaching approaches and content, including software use, related to these levels.
Conclusions and recommendations: This paper encourages and supports higher educational bodies to implement a minimum of ‘life cycle literacy’ into students’ curriculum across various domains by increasing the availability, visibility and quality of their teaching on life cycle thinking and LCA.
Relevance for Complex Systems Knowledge
Expert multi-disciplinary panels were conducted to build step wise consensus on the learning outcomes and achievable competencies in higher education on LCA (40 internationally recognized universities and academic institutions and announced open expert panel work shops). 28 studies and the roles of LCA were highlighted within the literary research and different regional and educational differences were highlighted within. The spread of which is directly in line with the development of LCA courses, therefore the direct spread is not of a global scope so emerging countries are not seen as overtly active in this area.
It noted that lecturing (one to class) is the most common and oldest style of teaching, more student-centred learning activities are gaining importance in LCA teaching (flipped classroom style). Pre-recorded lectures (before class) and then utilising the classroom space for more active learning scenarios (exercises and discussions) are growing more in utilisation. Utilisation of case-studies within LCA teaching help support better understanding of procedures.
The utilisation of IT services is important but need to be ensured that they are employing the correct methodological approach to the teach of LCA with the incorporation of Spreadsheet, software and database use.
The framework developed within this research highlight five LCA learning and competency levels in higher education institutions and correlates the areas that need to be addressed with the total workload needed in order to achieve the different competency levels.
Overall, the paper does contribute to a better understanding of teaching LCA in higher education by providing structured guidance and a framework on LCA learning and competency levels with related teaching approaches and content.
Point of Strength
The incorporation of working groups , stakeholders and literary research to create a comprehensive overview of LCA teaching within Europe and North America that can be transferred to other academic institutes.
Furthermore, the researchers highlight recommendations for LCA frameworks that look at curriculum development, software providers and employment opportunities that give a complete 360 look at the overall LCA opportunities.