Students’ ideas lead to new international development course

It all started with a group of engineering students who thought something was missing from the Technology, Society, Environment Studies (TSE) program at Carleton University–course material about the developing world. As a result, starting in January 2008, TSE will offer a new course that will allow students to examine the social and technological aspects of international development.

Developed in connection with the Carleton chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), the Technology and Society in International Development course [TSES 4010 Special Topics] will present different approaches to international development and capacity building in developing countries. It will also offer several interactive features, including guest lecturers as well as presentations and case studies from members of EWB. Planned topics for the course, which will be open to any student with third-year standing, range from key development agencies to food production to water and sanitation.

The idea for the new course came from discussions this past fall between John Buschek, the director of TSE, and several EWB members about what the students wanted to see offered in the program. The process of developing the course was very organic, Buschek explains. “It took on a life of its own. It’s the sort of thing you’d like to thin a university would do.”

Carl Widstrand, who currently teaches an ancient science and technology course for TSE, was recruited as the instructor for the course. The EWB students drafted an outline of potential topics and material, with final input from Widstrand. Then the group took their proposal before the members of the TSE committee, who approved it.

Courtney Macauley is a second-year environmental engineering student and one of the three EWB members who helped develop the course. She calls it “an important idea and initiative” and says, “We’re hoping to be able to create this generation of students who have a better awareness of and care more about global issues, and international development in particular.”

Widstrand says he was attracted to teaching the course because of his background in development–he was the resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme in Burkina Faso, in western Africa, and the director of the Scandinavian Institute of African Studies in Sweden from 1962 to 1984. “TSE has been very much concentrated in Canadian society, in industrial society. This [course] conveys the very important fact that technology doesn’t look the same way in developing countries as it does here.”

Buschek believes that the course is a great fit for the TSE program, which offers a minor or specific electives that are open to students of any discipline. The program was developed 36 years ago as a multidisciplinary, “bigger picture” academic option that included expertise from diverse areas and appealed to students across the campus.

“TSE wants to look at how technology, science and environment interact, and development issues tend to involve all of those things,” Buschek says. “Hopefully what the students will get out of it is some kind of exploration of what they could do with their lives.”

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