söndag 29 september 2013

Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD13)


I attended the 6th international conference on Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD13) this past week (Sept 22-25). It's the first time ever that I've been in Cambridge. The timing was unfortunately not the best as this is also the very busiest period of the year with lots of teaching - I had to bring work with me and I didn't have any time to go see the city. Instead I just hang around Robinson College where they took great care of me and the other attendees. I lived in a student room and all meals were included in the conference fee.

I attended the same conference three years ago at Chalmers in Gothenburg and it in fact resulted in one of my very first blog posts. At that time I was very much an observer, this time around I was instead the first author of a paper and the co-author of a second paper. Beyond that I also suggested/inspired two other persons to contribute to the conference with a paper, so I guess I have been instrumental in making three papers come about as well as "bringing" four persons (plus me) to the conference.

The conference theme was "Re-thinking the engineer". My (and my co-author Elina's) background differ from most others attendees since we come from a school of computer science. I do in fact believer we were the only people (out of 150) with that particular background. Most everyone else came from engineering programmes where sustainability and sustainable development in one way or another is (or can be) a "more natural" part of the education (construction, energy, transportation etc.). That's not really the case in computer science and media technology as it doesn't come naturally to our students to think about and to study sustainability. So how do we put together a course that makes an impact and that touches our students? That is our challenge and that is what our paper was about.

As to the conference, I have a hard time determining if it primarily wants to be a prestigious academic conference where people go to present research results or a conference for the mutual exchange of experiences among teachers who care about sustainable development and "happens" to work at an engineering university. I asked and someone said "both", but that's just the problem because it's hard to be two things at the same time. If the purpose is to exchange experiences and go back home with five or ten new ideas to implement in your course, in your program or at your university, then perhaps one-way delivery of yet another paper should be bracketed and more interactive ways of clustering and disseminating ideas should be emphasized.

It does as a matter of fact feel to me like that ought to be the future of the conference, since most attendees don't really do rigorous pedagogical or psychological research, but rather are more happy-go-lucky authors of papers that in one way or another allow people to take a step back and reflect upon their own practices and their own experiences. I would say that quite a few papers do not really live up to very high academic standards in the discipline of, well "teaching sustainable development to engineering students". Quite a few papers deal with "what we are doing [or have done] at university X". That really does sound like an invitation to a conversation rather than a great starting point for an academic paper.

As to networking, around 10% of the attendants (15 persons) came from Sweden, but only from two different universities - KTH and Chalmers. Despite the fact that the previous conference was organized by Chalmers, people from KTH outnumbered Chalmers by a factor of two to one. Although it's a bit absurd to go away in order to meet people who work next door, it was still a nice opportunity to network with some interesting persons from KTH that I didn't know before.

I did read a dozen or so papers from the previous conference and have a new list of papers that I would like read based on the presentations I heard. One paper in particular ("Beyond the fear of catastrophe! Motivating students and lecturers for education in sustainable development") sounded like it perhaps was a riposte to my own paper and our papers probably should have been in the same session instead of two days apart!

When I presented our paper I flew through no less than 26 powerpoint pictures in 15 minutes. The presentation was appreciated (long applause, many questions) and people also stepped up and grabbed the 10 complimentary printed paper copies I had brought with me. Since I presented on the first day of the conference, several persons also referred to the presentation when I talked to them later at the conference (it is otherwise of course impossible for me to keep track of who listened and who didn't. Josefin also did a fine job of presenting "my other paper" (the paper she for the most part wrote).

Since I had to work, I skipped a few keynotes and invited speakers. As BP (!) was a sponsor to the conference, there were two speakers from BP there. I did hear Chief Scientist Ellen Williams talk about what BP looked for in engineering students and I also learned that BP cares a lot about the environment and does a huge amount of work in trying to create a better, more sustainable world. Right. I did however miss the plenary speaker Lord Browne. He was born 1948, stated to work for BP in 1966 (at the tender age of 18) and he did, as far as I can see from his bio, work for BP (in a variety of countries and positions) until he retired. Apparently he sounded very very close to a climate change denier, but he was also very slick and very well prepared for difficult questions about BP and fossil fuels. Several conference attendees wondered why he had been invited and/or why BP chose to send him to the conference. There was a pretty huge mismatch between what the 150 conference attendants believed in their heart of hearts and the talk that Lord Brown delivered ("No worries, mate. Coal is pretty bad, but clean natural gas will save us.")

The next EESD conference will be held in Canada in 2015. That's a long trip. I think there is a high chance I will save some carbon emissions by not going there.

PS. I now (Dec 26, 2013) read that a former BP geologist warns that the age of cheap oil is long gone, that global oil production is declining at 4% per year and that this brings the danger of "continuos recession" that will "break economies". "A shortage of oil will affect everything in the economy. I expect more famine, more drought, more resource wars and a steady inflation in the energy cost of all commodities". It's funny how it's always "retired geologists" or some such who write about these things as it would sound the death knell of inflated oil company stock prices if an oil executive said the same. Anyway, it sounds plausible to me.

lördag 21 september 2013

My podcast portrait - Sustainable lens

At the CHI conference in Paris, back in the end of April, I was interviewed by Samuel Mann for his podcast "Sustainable lens: Resilience on radio". Sustainable lens is a pretty narrow podcast, it only features researchers who in one way or another are involved in sustainability as well as oftentimes also computing. It's possible to download the Sustainable lens podcasts from the homepage or to subscribe to them through Itunes. Each podcast is 60 minutes long.

There is now a 60-minute podcast with me that can be downloaded from the homepage. The podcast that features me was published before the summer, but it had an inexplicable period of 12 minutes that was silent, so I delayed publishing this blog post. That has now been fixed and if you (for some reason) can't get enough of me, I recommend that you download and listen to "my" podcast.

I do however have some critique against Samuel's podcasts in general, and this critique applies also to the podcast with me. My number one problem is that the podcasts seem not to be very focused. I'm a university teacher and a researcher. Part of my profession is to talk, and I can talk about many different topics as well as a long time about each. The things I talk about in this podcast however feels a bit, well, random. I can't really see a strong direction behind the questions. Also and related is the fact that Samuel asks too few questions. It becomes less of a dialogue/conversation, and more of a monologue. After each question, the interviewee can easily talk for five or more minutes. The result is that these interviews can veer between different topics and feel a bit directionless. When I listen to my podcast, I notice that I talk a lot about virtual communities, about games and about teaching. This is not however necessarily the topics I would have liked to talk the most about in a show about computers and sustainability, but we never came around to those other topics before we ran out of time. Perhaps I need to prepare and think through things better before I'm interviewed next time...

On the positive side is the fact that this a podcast that is very narrow but happens to be right up my alley because of my interest in both sustainability and ICT. Samuel has managed to snag a lot of interesting researchers for his podcast and I commend him for that!

söndag 15 september 2013

Carbonopoly in the classroom

Back in April, I wrote a blog post about the game Carbonopoly. More specifically, I wrote that we would use the game in my course on Sustainability and Media Technology. That course started two weeks ago and we have played Carbonopoly three times during the two preceding weeks.

The game isn't called Carbonopoly and longer after the toy and game manufacturer Parker Brothers (who own the trademark for the game Monopoly) sent a cease and desist letter to the game designer (Patrik). The game is instead officially called GaSuCo now. But as you still can read about the game on the Swedish-language web site carbonopoly.se, I'll continue to refer to it as Carbonopoly for now.

The game has been updated and translated over the summer and it is now a better game than when I played it over Christmas. Our students agree. We divided the class into groups of four so that you always got to play with (and got to know) new people every time you played. To me as a teacher, the most interesting part of the game is the discussion cards. There are different decks and we change them between gaming sessions so that there are new topics to discuss every time you play. The whole purpose of the game is to get people talking. The questions are nifty, there is seldom a clear-cut answer that is right, so there are ample opportunities to discuss and compare your opinions with others. It's also a great way to get students to think about a wide range of sustainability issues (that we might or might not touch upon in the course). The rules are easy, you learn them by spending just five minutes reading one single sheet.

What I found particularly interesting was that the students quickly went from discussing a question in the abstract to "in my family, we usually...", or, "last autumn, during Earth hour, me and my boyfriend...". That is great and it proves to me that the students quickly engage in the questions and in the game. We have also had the chance to influence and customize the discussion cards and we thus have a number of questions specifically concerning ICT and media technologies, for example "Is it sustainable to have free internet services (mail, twitter, facebook)?" and "What would the implications be if all carbon emissions data would be publicly available through ICT/media for everyone to see? Would people's behavior change if the real environmental costs would be visible?". The student who led a particular discussion had to keep it going for three minutes, but we often saw discussions continue long after the 3-minute hourglass was empty. Hardly any students tried to rush through the game so as to be able to leave the seminar early. Quite the opposite was in fact true.

Beyond all the beneficial effects that I have written about, the game was also supposed to tie back to contents from the previous lecture and point forward towards the next lecture. All in all, we are very happy with the game. We printed 20 copies and it for sure did cost some. But we can use the games again next year. The idea is that it is possible to update the discussion cards but to hang on to all the other parts of the game. Perhaps this year's course will raise some questions we like a lot. These questions can then be "promoted" to be printed on discussion cards for next year's game! The introductory part of the course (gaming sessions + lectures) was outsourced this year and we would as a matter of principle like to insource as much as possible of the course. We'll see where we land next year.

Me and my course assistant, Elina, also hope to write an academic paper about our use of Carbonopoly for the upcoming ICT4S conference that KTH will organize next year (Aug 2014). We thus prepared a short survey that we have asked students to fill out after the first part of the course was just finished. Around 60 students take the course and about a third of them did answer the survey immediately. We'll remind the students again in the beginning of the coming week - our goal is to get at least two-thirds of the class to answer it. There is already great material in the 23 answers we have received this far. One of the questions is formulated as follows: "What is your opinion about the GaSuCo gaming sessions?". Some of the answers we got are:

- Pretty fun and an easy way to get into the subject of sustainability.
- I think it is a brilliant way of getting students to think about the various aspects of sustainability (and forcing them to take some kind of stand), as well as giving a review of the facts while answering the questions cards.
- Smart. The nerd in me feels compelled to point out is isn't very clever in terms of game theory or balance, but as a way to start an actual conversation it works way better than just telling four people to discuss something.
- Very intense - which is good. However the game is so intense (with the discussions and the expressing opinions and thoughts and debating etc.) that playing it for more then 1.5 hours straight is very exhausting.

I admit that I have cherry-picked these answers, but the majority of the students were positive or very positive towards the game. There are of course exceptions:

- It felt quite boring and useless. I think it would have been better if we just had been given some questions to discuss. 

I disagree and so does the majority of the students. People are of course different but the game was on the whole a resounding success and we will for sure use it again in next year's course (especially since we have already invested in printing 20 copies of the game...). I hope and believe that we will also have written an academic paper about Carbonopoly/GaSuCo by then.

söndag 8 september 2013

Articles I've read lately (Feb)

I'm waay behind on summing up the articles I read during the spring. Despite February in no way being "lately", I cling on to the hope that I will be able to catch up. Despite being half a year late, I still find it useful to sum up and publish blog posts about the articles I've read "lately". Here is the previous blog post (about the articles I read back in January).

Batch/week 1 - Texts I read in preparation for the (then) upcoming ICT for Sustainability (ICT4S) conference
Comment: I have to admit that the general quality of these short (4-6 pages) papers were pretty low. I have a hard time imagining that I will ever refer to these papers (with few exceptions).

- Hankel, A. (2013). National Collaboration on Green ICT in the Dutch Higher Education: Lessons Learned. ICT4S 2013: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Sustainability, ETH Zurich, February 14-16, 2013 (p. 203). */ Written by an acquaintance of mine, the paper describes how Dutch higher education institutions work to lower the CO2 footprint of ICT activities (data centers, PC power management, sustainable procurement, e-waste, sustainable ICT-curricula etc. /*
- Kern, E., Dick, M., Naumann, S., Guldner, A., & Johann, T. (2013). Green Software and Green Software Engineering–Definitions, Measurements, and Quality Aspects. ICT4S 2013: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Sustainability, ETH Zurich, February 14-16, 2013 (p. 87). */ Paper about green software and green software engineering and the development of a "reference model" for green and sustainable software. /*
- Koçak, S. A., Miranskyy, A., Alptekin, G. I., Bener, A. B., & Cialini, E. (2013). The Impact of Improving Software Functionality on Environmental Sustainability. ICT4S 2013: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Sustainability, ETH Zurich, February 14-16, 2013 (p. 95). */ An analysis of "legacy system modernization" and the effects on CO2 emissions /*
- Lukács, G. (2013). Small community media for sustainable consumption. ICT4S 2013: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Sustainability, ETH Zurich, February 14-16, 2013 (p. 237). */ Strange, unfocused paper with random use of references by someone dabbling in an area that is obviously brand new to him /*
- Sissa, G. (2013). An Awareness Based Approach to Avoid Rebound Effects in ICTs. ICT4S 2013: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Sustainability, ETH Zurich, February 14-16, 2013 (p. 248). */ Very forgettable, I don't even know if I understood the article in the first place. "An Agent Based Model approach is proposed to study individual and collective behavioral changes toward sustainability" /*
- Van Bokhoven, F., & Bloem, J. (2013). Pilot result Monitoring Energy usage by Software. ICT4S 2013: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Sustainability, ETH Zurich, February 14-16, 2013 (p. 108). */ Very strange paper (only two pages long). It's an experiment, sure, but is it research, science? Hardly. /*
- Viktorsson, C. C. (2013). From Fixed, Mobile to Complex: The Social Shaping of ICT for Sustainable Travel. ICT4S 2013: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Sustainability, ETH Zurich, February 14-16, 2013 (p. 197). */ Written by an acquaintance of mine, "The paper looks at two historical examples of ICT based traffic and travel information services in Stockholm" /*
- Wangel, J., Løbner, K., & Sølgaard Bang, M. (2013). ICT as motor for transition: Towards a low energy, low carbon society. ICT4S 2013: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Sustainability, ETH Zurich, February 14-16, 2013. */ Written by an acquaintance of mine, the paper reports the results of a scenario study about ICT in residential buildings /*
- Williams, D. R., Thomond, P., & Mackenzie, I. (2013). The Greenhouse Gas Abatement Potential of Enterprise Cloud Computing. ICT4S 2013: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Sustainability, ETH Zurich, February 14-16, 2013 (Vol. 2, p. 21). */ Written by an acquaintance of mine, the paper is an attempt to understand the CO2 abatement potential of data centers - and it's based on data from Microsoft. This was pretty interesting and Dan knows what he is talking about. /*
- Wäger, P., & Widmer, R. (2013). Scarce metals as raw materials for ICTs: Do we care enough?. ICT4S 2013: Proceedings of the First International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies for Sustainability, ETH Zurich, February 14-16, 2013. */ Actually a quite interesting text, but it's not really research. The authors haven't done anything - it's rather a resource for learning about scarce metals and the connection to ICT. Conclusion: "A more sustainable use of scarce metals requires interventions both on the supply and on the demand side". Not really rocket science. /*

Batch/week 2 - A grab bag of texts, including several written by colleagues of mine

- Bradley, K. (2012). Urban sharing: The rise of collaborative consumption and co-use of spaces. Research grant application to Formas. */ This application is based on the two "Cities of sharingapplications that Karin and I wrote together last year. Our applications were unsuccessful but hers (qualifying in the "young researchers" category) was successful. Since the money is strictly earmarked for her and her alone, that unfortunately means she will do the research by herself rather than together with me :-( /*
- Gunnarsson-Östling, U., Svenfelt, Å., & Höjer, M. (2012). Participatory methods for creating feminist futures. Futures. */ Written by acquaintances of mine, I read the article hoping to learn more about future studies. The articles did not however help me reach a better general understanding, but rather only concentrated on describing the results of a study and of "methods for articulating feminist futures" /*
- Hedin, B. (2012). Teaching Procrastination-A Way of Helping Students to Improve their Study Habits. */ Written by a colleague of mine, this short paper is crammed with information about the results from teaching a module about procrastination (and studying habits) to our students during the academic year 2011/2012. "The course module has helped many students to reduce their procrastination. However, many more want to change their habits but find it hard." */
- Ilstedt, S., Wangel, J., Höjer, M., & Bendt, O. (2013). Prototyping futures. Position paper at the CHI 2013 "Post-Sustainability" workshop. */ Written by acquaintances of mine, this position paper presents the project Prototyping the Future - "a way of normalizing the sustainable life styles of the future". /*
- Rossitto, C., & Cerratto-Pargman, T. (2013). Sustainability in education: Challenges and open issuesPosition paper at the CHI 2013 "Post-Sustainability" workshop. */ Written by my wife, this position paper discusses "intergenerational learning of sustainable everyday practices"./*
- Tomlinson, B., & Silberman, M. S. (2012). The cognitive surplus is made of fossil fuels. First Monday, 17(11) . */ A riposte to Clay Shirky's term (and book) "Cognitive surplus". "the cognitive surplus came to exist largely as a result of labor-saving devices that run on fossil fuels [...] We suggest that an excellent use of the present cognitive surplus is to help society prepare for an energy-scarce future - that is, a future that may not be able to support the existence o cognitive surplus at the current level." /*
- Walldius, Å. (2013). Influencing the usability of workplace IT systems: The interplay between HCI and policymaking in a Swedish R&D program. Position paper at the CHI 2013 "workshop on engaging the human-computer interaction community with public policymaking internationally". */ Written by a colleague of mine, this position paper describes the labor union TCO's work on environmental certification of computer screens that began back in the 1980's /*

Batch/week 3 - Texts about competitive computer gaming
Comment: The articles below were part of reading up and gearing up to write about sports, sportification and competitions together with Daniel Svensson.

- Crawford, G. (2005). Sensible soccer: Sport fandom and the rise of digital gaming. The bountiful game, 249–266. */ The paper focuses on "the consumption of sport-related digital games". "Digital games allow gamers at least the fantasy that they too can play sport at its highest level, and for some who have been excluded from sport participation [...] digital gaming provides a chance to participate in this culture". /*
- Hutchins, B. (2008). Signs of meta-change in second modernity: the growth of e-sport and the World Cyber Games. New Media & Society, 10(6), 851–869. */ The article focuses on "the intricate relationship between digital gaming, sport and media" and more specifically looks at the World Cyber Games which in many ways are modeled on/liberally borrows from the Olympic games. /*
- Su, N., & Shih, P. (2011). Virtual spectating: Hearing beyond the video arcade. Proceedings of the 25th BCS Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, pp.269-278. British Computer Society. */ I don't remember how I got hold of this obscure paper about computer games as "hybrid spectator sports in which the boundaries between actor and audience are blurred". The authors have more specifically looked at the game Super Street Fighter IV. /*.
- Szablewicz, M. (2012). From Addicts to Athletes: participation in the discursive construction of digital games in urban China. Selected Papers of Internet Research, (12.0). */ On the Chinese discourse around computer games; "addiction" is bad, but e-sports and being a cyber-athlete (a professional computer games) is admirable. On how "social and cultural forces [are] at work in shaping our relationship to and our understanding of technology". "The distinction between addict and athlete masks an age-old issue concerning the relation between leisure culture and responsible citizenship"/*

Batch/week 4 - Texts about sustainability
Comment: These articles below are all "respectable" - published in various academic journals.

- Berkhout, F., & Hertin, J. (2004)De-materialising and re-materialising: digital technologies and the environmentFutures36(8), 903–920. */ "The current debate about digital technologies and the environment is characterised by a stark contrast between optimistic and pessimistic assessments. [...] This paper seeks to move beyond this dichotomy, arguing that there is a complex and uncertain relationship between information technologies and environmental sustainability. [...] This paper identifies three main types of effects: direct impacts, [...] indirect impacts [...] and structural/behavioral impacts." /*
- Heinonen, S., Jokinen, P., & Kaivo-oja, J. (2001). The ecological transparency of the information societyFutures33(3), 319–337. */ "This paper focuses on the relationship between the information society and environmental issues. [It] aims at developing scenarios, and a set of criteria, plus indicators as tools for identifying the various environmental impacts inherent in an information society." /*
- Robinson, J. (2004). Squaring the circle? Some thoughts on the idea of sustainable development. Ecological economics, 48(4), 369–384. */ Excellent article on the different origins of, and the difference between the terms "sustainability" and "sustainable development". The article asks and answers many important questions and also constitutes a pretty scathing critique of the 1987 Brundtland report and its assumption. /*
- Tainter, J. A. (2011). Energy, complexity, and sustainability: A historical perspective. Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions, 1(1), 89–95. */ Short but (as usual) thought-provoking article by Joseph Tainter. Our societies solve problems that are thrown at them. This leads to increased complexity and requires increased resources. Sustainability is a problem that is being thrown at our society. How can we solve that problem while at the same time decreasing our use of resources? /*