Introducing complexity and uncertainty of environmental models in the education of future engineers




Environmental models are affected by significant sources of uncertainties com-pared to other engineering fields. However, traditional courses tend to provide a deterministic perspective, where the various sources of uncertainty (e.g. model structure, input data, implementation) are often neglected. This issue was high-lighted during a university teachers’ training programme, where the trainee proposed a solution that aimed to improve student understanding of uncer-tainty sources. The proposed solution was implemented in an existing MSc course (with 90 students). The course, originally based on problem-solving group work, was revised by introducing an assignment inspired by Problem-Based Learning, which can be used to introduce engineering students to com-plex issues. The new assignment introduced the students to new uncertainty sources (model structural and technical uncertainty) that are essential in the development and application of environmental models. The effects of the new approach on the students’ learning were monitored by using course evaluation questionnaires and written feedback from the students. The open-ended as-signment challenged the common habits of the students, highlighting the sub-jectivity in model applications and result interpretation. The students’ response was mixed, with major concerns linked to the high workload, which limited the time for deep reflection. Nevertheless, the learning objectives were successfully achieved, providing future environmental engineers with better understanding of the complexity of environmental modelling.


Luca Vezzaro, Danmarks Tekniske Universitet, Institut for Vand og Miljøteknologi (DTU Miljø)

Associate Professor at DTU Environment

My research deals with modelling of both water quality and quantity in integrated urban water systems, with special focus on tools for identification and quantification of uncertainty. This includes integrated control of urban water systems under uncertainty, on-line monitoring and data validation of water quality in sewers.

My teaching portfolio includes small, specialized courses as well as big, basic knowledge, classes, all focusing on model applications, ensuring that students are able to address future societal needs through a robust application of these tools. I have a long experience in the usage of e-learning teaching methods, and I supervised more than 20 MSc thesis projects, and 3 PhD projects.





Vezzaro, L. (2018). Introducing complexity and uncertainty of environmental models in the education of future engineers. Dansk Universitetspædagogisk Tidsskrift, 13(25), 194–210.