Bioenergy Education: A Curriculum Framework and Interdisciplinary Minor Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/vd66w4993

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  • Bioenergy is a rapidly growing subsector of the emerging global bioeconomy, with the potential to create a substantial number of jobs and mitigate climate change. In order to develop bioenergy into a viable industry, capable of providing valuable energy and employment, there is an immediate need for a skilled workforce prepared for the impending challenges of this interdisciplinary field. However, programs providing training for these positions are limited, and there is currently a lack of research-based guidance for the creation of new educational programs. To meet this need, it is necessary to identify and prioritize the topics that should be included in a college-level bioenergy curriculum and determine best practices for bioenergy education. In order to gain insight into expert and academia priorities and how they can be applied in an academic program, two Delphi studies, combined with a case study of an existing minor degree program at Oregon State University, were implemented. During the first Delphi study, an iterative, mixed-methods approach used to reach group consensus, 12 bioenergy experts in both educational and employment sectors provided open-ended responses to the following question: Keeping in mind the future of a commercial bioenergy industry, what content knowledge should a student have upon completion of a college-level bioenergy curriculum? Responses were qualitatively coded into themes, and experts were asked to rate the importance of each theme using a five-point Likert-type scale during two subsequent rounds. The final round resulted in the following 13 themes, listed in order of importance: Energy Basics, Types of Bioenergy, Environmental Impacts (including Life Cycle Analysis), Current Technologies, Societal Issues, Logistics, Policy, Biomass Composition, Non-Bioenergy-Specific Fundamentals, Biomass Production, Conversions, Bioenergy Market, and Business-Related Knowledge. The second, two-round, modified Delphi study asked 47 experts to use the same scale to rate these 13 themes, and they were welcome to suggest additional items, resulting in the addition of Bioproducts. Academia and industry responses were then compared, which revealed that their priorities were well aligned. Alumni interviews and current student surveys were conducted to evaluate the bioenergy minor at OSU. Analysis of these responses provided input from the students’ perspective. Findings indicated that students value the required research experience and the interdisciplinary nature of the minor degree, among other qualities of the program. Bioenergy is an interdisciplinary, complex, and evolving field. The Delphi studies distilled numerous technologies and associated topics into a college-level curriculum framework, while the case study examined an existing minor degree program and illustrated how the program has transformed based on student feedback. Results are intended to bolster emerging bioenergy training programs to meet the needs of future employers. The combination of methods provided a curriculum framework and example of an existing program, both of which may be adapted for region-specific technologies to support a forthcoming bio-based economy.
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