Tuesday, July 19, 2011

e-Learning Course on Green ICT Strategies: Part 16 - Sustainability

This is to request comments and suggestions for the revision of "Green Technology Strategies", used in courses run by the Australian National University (COMP7310), Australian Computer Society (GTS), and Open Universities Australia (ACS25). The course has been run successfully twice in the last year. However, changes are needed due to progress with sustainability skills standards and the Australian Government Carbon Emissions Strategy.

Sustainability Skills Standards

In Part 15 of this series I mentioned how the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) had introduced sustainability job skills, which I need to align the course with. Version 4 of the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) introduced four sustainability skills for IT professionals. SFIA Version 5 is now in preparation, but there are no differences proposed for the sustainability skills:
  1. SUST: Sustainability strategy
  2. SUMI: Sustainability management for IT
  3. SUAS: Sustainability assessment
  4. SUEN: Sustainability engineering
Of these, SUST: Sustainability strategy and SUAS: Sustainability assessment fit most closely with the course's intent. The course splits naturally into two parts, with two assignments in the summative assessment:
  1. Write a report on the carbon footprint of the ICT operations of your organization.
  2. Write a report identify ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your organization.
It would therefore seem reasonable to align these with the corresponding skills:
  1. Sustainability assessment: Write a report on the carbon footprint of the ICT operations of your organization (SUAS).
  2. Sustainability strategy: Write a report identify ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your organization (SUST).
At the same time the weekly course modules could be rearranged to fit these headings. The current modules are designed to fit with the SFIA categories previously used. However, this results in audit being in the second half of the course, whereas the assignment on assessment (which covers audit) is in the first half, before the students have reached this material.

Here is a proposed restructure, linked to the current chapters:
  1. Politics, Science and Business of Sustainability
  2. Sustainability assessment
  3. Sustainability strategy
Australian Government Carbon Emissions Strategy

On 10 July 2011, the Australian Government released its "Clean Energy Future" strategy, including an initial carbon price of $23 per Tonne. The carbon price will only be levied on very large carbon emitters, with numerous exemptions and compensation for industry sectors and individuals. It is unlikely that any IT companies will be large enough emitters to be included in the scheme, but IT systems will be needed to assess and audit emissions and implement strategies for reductions.

The course currently uses a 2008 draft of the National Carbon Offset Standard. This was finalized and released in 1 July 2010. The Australian Government strategy says under "Accounting and audit issues":
"The accounting treatment of permits and auditing of carbon pollution will be determined in accordance with international standards, as adopted in Australia, to ensure that the cost of capital is minimised."

The National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Act 2007 provides for greenhouse and energy audits and appointment of Registered Greenhouse and Energy Auditors. , with requriements in the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting (Audit) Determination 2009. There is a National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Audit Determination Handbook (Word 1MB) and Auditor requirements. I have asked the Australian Government if the carbon offset standard is to be used for this. The standard refers to "suitably qualified auditors" and I have asked the government to include any of the postgraduate qualifications which include the green IT course. In any case it would be appropriate to use the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Audit Determination Handbook as a guide for the student's work.


The appendix on assessment will need to be generalized as the assessment procedures of ACS, ANU and OU have diverged since the material was drafted (as an example, ACS and ANU use different grading schemes) . However, the questions and overall scheme can be retained.

The format of having weekly discussion questions for formative assessment, plus a mid and end of course assignments for summative assessment worked well. Asking the students what is happening in their organization has worked well. Those students without an organization adopt one. In particular a scheme run with ANU Green, where students are assigned to work with an IT manager from part of the university has worked well.

The two assignment questions could be of value more generally in professional skills courses:
  1. How is what is covered in this course done currently in your organization?
  2. How do you suggest improving it in your organization?
Formatting and Reference Changes

While revising the content it would be worth also making some changes to the format of the material. The primary way the students use the material is as a Moodle Learning Management System "Book Module", essentially a web based e-Book.

The e-book within the Learning Management System has worked well and should be retained. However, one change would be to include the URLs (web addresses) of works referenced explicitly in the text. This assists where the student reads the material on paper (and thus cannot click on a link to see what it is). It also helps to show students how formal references should be done.

Other versions of the material were derived from the Moodle Book, including electronic editions as web pages, IMS content package, PDF, Kindle and iPad e-books and print editions: hardback, paperback and large print.

The printed versions of the book have not proved popular. It may be worth retaining the paperback edition, but drop the other print editions. Few are wiling to pay the extra cost for a hardback book and the electronic version is likely to be preferred to large print for those with limited eyesight.

Of the electronic editions, the PDF version can be created as a byproduct of the print edition (which uses PDF for typesetting). The web pages, IMS content package, Kindle and iPad e-books are all easily created from the Moodle book module.

An improvement would be to provide the web version as one web page, rather than splitting the document into a web page per chapter. This would reduce the effort required to produce the material as Moodle can export the entire book as one web page. This would also allow the reader to easily save a copy of the whole document. At less than 1 Mbyte, the file will not be excessively large.

Course Title

Both the SFIA skills and the Australian government policy refer to "sustainability", so it may be worth replacing "green" in the course title with a title such as: "Sustainable Technology Assessment Strategies".

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