torsdag 13 mars 2014

Making sustainability relevant in higher education

My previous blog post was about a paper I submitted to the upcoming (August) ICT4S conference in Stockholm. I hinted that I didn't submit just one paper to the conference and this blog post is about the second paper, "ICT4S reaching out: Making sustainability relevant in higher education". I'm the co-author (second author) and my colleague Elina Eriksson is the first author. That is only fitting and proper as this is our second spin-off paper about the course we are teaching together (Sustainability and Media Technology). I was the first author and did most of the work on our previous paper.

Our previous paper was called "'It's not fair!' - Making students engage in sustainability" and we presented it in September 2013 at the Engineering Education for Sustainable Development (EESD'13) conference. The previous paper primarily discussed three different "tensions" that teachers can encounter when planing and teaching a course about sustainability. The new paper discusses how to integrate sustainability into an engineering program and how (we have gone about) to make it possible for the students to better relate to and care about sustainability. Here is the abstract plus a bonus paragraph from the paper (two for the price of one!):


ICT4S reaching out: Making sustainability relevant in higher education

Many media technology and computer science engineering students suffer from the preconceived opinion that sustainability is at best peripheral, and at worst irrelevant to their education. In this paper we discuss our experiences of integrating sustainability and ICT4S into a media technology engineering programme. An overarching tension has been in finding a balance between teaching about sustainability in general, and teaching about ICT4S in particular. Furthermore, what aspects of the wide and interdisciplinary area of ICT4S are most relevant to teach to media technology students, and how can the connection between ICT and sustainability be "refined", clarified and expressed? We explicate how we have gone about to shape the course in such a way that it becomes both relevant and possible for these students to relate to it, and we exemplify with choices made, of which one has been the implementation and adaption of the GaSuCo board game. While the results presented here are primarily relevant to media technology and computer science educations, we also conclude with recommendations to the larger ICT4S community. We argue that the ICT4S community does not only need to develop education in the area, but also needs to conduct research on how to educate students in ICT4S.

--------------- bonus paragraph from the paper: ---------------

Most students don't have the "natural" (intuitive) understanding of energy and power (energy/time unit) as they for example have for distance and speed (distance/time unit). We have come to understand that something more is necessary to bring home a deep and personal understanding of these issues and we have chosen to use the concept of "energy slaves" to do so [1].

In short, an energy slave corresponds to the energy necessary to replace the (muscle) power of one human worker. Energy slaves play in the same league as the "horsepower" unit of power, but where a horsepower is approximately equivalent to ten (human) energy slaves. According to Avallone et. al. (2007), a well-fed labourer can produce an average output of 75 watts during an 8-hour day, i.e. 600 Wh (0.6 kWh) per day. This calculation is also very much in line with McKibben (2011) stating that one barrel of oil (159 liters) is equivalent to 25.000 hours of human labour. If, as the Greek philosopher Protagoras stated, "man is the measure of all things", then then concept of energy slaves makes sense as well as making it much easier to get a feeling for, and for engineering students to start to make calculations about the energy consumption of ICT industrial (data center) or everyday ICT and media technology activities (such as using a large flatscreen TV, a laptop or a smartphone as well the energy costs for sending an email, do a Google search, reading a webpage or playing an online game).

[1] The term "energy slave" was coined by R. Buckminister Fuller and used in the "World Energy" Fortune Magazine February 1940 cover illustration (see

Homework for you, dear reader: how many slaves do you need to power your TV?

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