A Green Computing Professional Education Course Online

Tom Worthington

Research School of Computer Science

Australian National University, Canberra, Australia

For 7th International Conference on Computer Science & Education (ICCSE 2012), 10:45am, 16 July 2012, Melbourne, Australia.
As "Adapting traditional course structure to the online environment", repeated for the Innovation in Education Showcase, 12:30pm, 19 September 2012, Ethel Tory Centre, Australian National University, Canberra. Also for "UWA Computer Science & Software Engineering Seminar", 11:00am, 18 October 2013, University of Western Australia, Perth.
Slides and notes: http://www.tomw.net.au/technology/it/green_computing_professional

Description: Sustainable ICT Courses are being introduced at the vocational training level and more rarely at undergraduate and graduate levels. This paper reports on a graduate level Sustainable ICT Course run for the first time in 2009, as part of a global professional training program. The same course has been run at an Australian university and later adapted for North America by a Canadian university. The course had enrolments from industry based participants from both private and public sector organisation, as well as full time university students, with corporate Green ICT strategies being produced as course assignments. This paper discusses the student population and presents the course structure and assessment. An empirical evaluation of student responses, conducted at the end of the course, has yet to be completed, but some impressions of the differences in responses from graduate students and external participants is presented.

Keywords: sustainable ICT education, postgraduate studies, climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, e-learning, work integrated learning.

Please cite as:

Worthington, T., "A Green computing professional education course online: Designing and delivering a course in ICT sustainability using Internet and eBooks," Computer Science & Education (ICCSE), 2012 7th International Conference on , vol., no., pp.263,266, 14-17 July 2012 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1109/ICCSE.2012.6295070

Preprint available at: http://hdl.handle.net/1885/9013


  1. Introduction
  2. Rationale and Format
  3. Use of Open Access Material
  4. Published Course Notes
  5. Assessment
  6. Making Students Pay Attention to Feedback with Assessment
  7. Authentic Assessment Tasks
  8. BCS Certificate in Green IT Examination
  9. Localisation of Content
  10. Problems with Writing and Referencing
  11. Conclusion

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Computers > electricity > fossil fuel > CO2 > global warming.

1.52% of Australian carbon emissions in 2007 due to ICT

Australian Computer Society (ACS) commissioned a course in 2008 on how to measure and reduce ICT CO2:

  1. First run by ACS, February 2009: Green ICT Strategies
  2. Graduate program of Australian National University (ANU) from July 2009 as Green Information Technology Strategies (COMP7310)
  3. Adapted by Athabasca University, Canada in 2011: Green ICT Strategies

Computers and telecommunications (ICT) equipment is powered by electricity. If the electricity is generated by burning fossil fuel, this releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. The CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which traps sunlight, causing global warming.

A carbon emissions audit for the the Australian Computer Society (ACS), reported in 2007 that 1.52% of Australian carbon emissions were attributable to computers and telecommunications equipment. In response, the ACS, commissioned Tom Worthington to design an e-learning course in “Green ICT Strategies”, to train professionals in how to measure and reduce CO2 emissions. It was first run as part of the postgraduate masters level program in February 2009.

The course was first run by ACS, in February 2009 as "Green ICT Strategies" (later renamed "Green Technology Strategies"), with students who are working in the ICT industry. The course was then modified slightly are run by Tom Worthington in the graduate program of Australian National University (ANU) from July 2009 as Green Information Technology Strategies, COMP7310 (later renamed ICT Sustainability). A North American version of the course was developed by Brian Stewart for Athabasca University (Canada) in 2011 as "Green ICT Strategies".

Rationale and Format

Designed for the ACS Computer Professional Education Program

ICT Sustainability Elective

The course was designed as part of the ACS Computer Professional Education Program, which uses a Constructivist e-Learning approach, derived from that of the UK Open University.

The which consists of three core, compulsory courses and one elective. Green ICT was added to the electives, using the same format as other courses. On-line content is provided for 12 weeks of student work, with weekly text based discussion forums and assignments.

The course covers how to assess, and develop a strategies to reduce, the carbon footprint and materials use of the ICT operations of an organisation. This is in the context where computers and telecommunications are threat to the environment through increased electricity consumption (leading to carbon emissions and global warming) and increased toxic waste from rapidly obsolete equipment. Students are expected to have a degree in ICT. Those completing the course are expected to be preparing carbon accounting reports for organisations, including those required under carbon accounting legislation.

The course objectives and assessment items are based on the skills definitions for “Sustainability Assessment” and “Sustainability Strategy” at level 5 of the Skills Framework for the information Age (SFIA).

Use of Open Access Material

See: “Ideal Characteristics of an Assessment Tool”, National Quality Council

The course notes used by ACS students were released under a Creative Commons open access license. This allowed the material to be revised for use at the Australian National University in July 2009. This version was then further revised and used for ACS students in the next semester. This approach allowed the more rapid revision of material than would be possible with a a conventional textbook, and with more resources available than if the notes were just used by one institution.

As the notes evolved, it became clear that some of the administrative procedures would need to be separated from the subject content. As an example, different educational institutions use different assessment procedures, such as grading scales and proportion of marks for weekly work and assignments. The use of the Learning Management System (LMS) made it possible to remove the administrative detail from the course notes and rely on them being available from other documents in the system. This also removes some burden from the student to have to read through the same standard material for each course they are undertaking: if the student can see it is the same link from the LMS for all courses, then they need read it only once.

While it may seem useful to have requirements for an assessment to be as detailed and specific as possible, this may not be the case. Courses which are part of an overall program should have consistent requirements. Thus it should not be necessary to restate the details common to all assessment in every assessment item or in every course. This is particularly the case where a LMS is used. The National Quality Council's “Ideal Characteristics of an Assessment Tool” include the details of how assessment is to be recorded, which can be dealt standardised by the institution by using an LMS.

Published Course Notes

Course notes prepared in web format using Moodle:

The course was originally prepared using the web based course authoring tools in the Moodle Learning Management System (MLS). The ACS, ANU and Athabasca University all use the same LMS, allowing simple transfer of the course-ware between systems, via the Moodle backup and restore function.

The first version of the course used a separate web document for each of the twelve weekly topics in the course. However, this created a maintenance burden and was confusing for the student. The materials were therefore all consolidated into one web based eBook, using the Moodle “book module” function, with one chapter per topic in the book.

The course content was exported from Moodle in HTML format and converted to Amazon Kindle and Apple and ePub eBook formats, as well as PDF, a standalone web site and a print-on-demand paperback book. However, provision of the notes within the LMS has proved more popular with students and simpler to maintain.


Assessment is by contribution to weekly forums and two written assignments: mid semester and at the end of the course. The weekly forum questions are at the end of each week in the course book. The assessment scheme, assignment questions and rubrics are in the assessment appendix of the book.

The tutor is key to this form of e-learning. In the introductory posting for the course, the tutor is required to point out where the assessment items are and explain that the rubric are based on the generic one of the institution: weekly forum assessment is a limited fail, pass, credit scale and the assignments the full scale. Each week the tutor should post each question for that week as a forum topic, so the students can post their answers in that thread of discussion.

In the weekly forum posting for the course, the tutor should provide an example of a good posting, suggest areas for general improvement. The tutor should also remind students how many weeks there are to the next assignment being due and that the weekly forum questions are designed to be used in the assignments.

In the weekly individual feedback to students (via the Dialogue tool of the LMS, not email), the tutor must provide a mark for that week and at least one example of a good posting by the student and one suggestion for an improvement to a posting. If there are no postings from a student for a week, they should be reminded by the tutor that participation is compulsory and after two weeks, the program supervisor should be advised.

The assignments are marked with reference to a rubric, first determining what grade is warranted and then the mark within the grade. Marks are not allocated to individual aspects of the work and no summation is carried out. The examiner can use a copy of the rubric as feedback to the student, with relevant comments indicated by highlighting phases in the rubric (this can be done with an electronic document returned via the LMS).

Making Students Pay Attention to Feedback with Assessment

Students pay attention to weekly tutor feedback, as it is accompanied by marks.

A weekly mark of 2% is sufficient to have the students pay attention.

Conventional educational theory suggests that formative feedback should be provided to students to help them improve. This should be in addition to summative assessment for the final grading for a course. However, students pay far closer attention to marks than they do to tutor feedback. The practice experience of this course is that a weekly mark of 2% accompanying the feedback is sufficient to have the students pay attention to what they are being told by the tutor.

Authentic Assessment Tasks

Gulikers, Bastians and Kirschner define an authentic assessment as:

"... one which appropriately reflects the competency that needs to be assessed and that it represents real-life problems of the knowledge domain being assessed and that the thinking processes that experts use to solve the problem in real life are also required by the assessment task."

The course requires students to prepare reports typical or a workplace setting. This contrasts with the multiple choice test used by the British Computer Society for their “Foundation Certificate in Green IT. An IT practitioner is unlikely to be asked multiple choice questions as part of their daily job.

Students are encouraged to answer all assessment items from the point of view of their workplace (or one they are familiar with), making them more authentic to the student. The assessment items are based on official international skills definitions from the professional body, and so are similar to real tasks. The student as are required to make real calculations based on a real world situation, requiring the students to demonstrate mastery. As both the course content and assignments are based closely on skills definitions and practice standards, there is a clear alignment between learning outcomes, course content, assessment and professional knowledge. Workplace skills are integrated by the student being encouraged to submit a real report from their workplace, in consultation with their supervisor. The weekly questions and feedback are intended to show how the assessment helps with learning.

BCS Certificate in Green IT Examination

Shortly after the ACS Green ICT course commenced, the British Computer Society (BCS) introduced the BCS Certificate in Green IT. The syllabus for the BCS certificate is largely consistent with that of the ACS course. However, the assessment and education methods for the BCS are very different.

The BCS certificate is designed to be delivered by accredited training providers in intensive mode, as 18 hours of lectures and practical work, over three days. This is followed by a one hour, closed book examination with 40 multiple choice questions. There are optional modules for region specific legislative requirements (European, UK or Australian), but this material is not assessed by the examination.

Localisation of Content

Tailor course to each country's requirements?

But ICT and climate science are global.

An issue for the course is if it should be tailored to each country's requirements, or can be one international syllabus. The BCS include supplementary material for different countries in their green ICT program, but do not test this in the examination. Athabasca University have included North American content in their version of the ACS course. The views of industry and the students need to be sought on the level of customisation required, but ICT and climate science are global.

Problems with Writing and Referencing

Written reports are difficult for science and international students:

The assessment methods are not without problems. The emphasis on written reports can be difficult for computer science students, particularly international students with English as a second language. Students may be used to only writing computer code and mathematical equations and be assessed by multiple choice questions. This may be the first time the student has to have write a 2,000 word assignment. This may be considered biased against international students. However, these students will be required to undertake such tasks in the workplace. The amount of assessment proposed is consistent with the 5000 words of assignments typically set (University of Melbourne). The use of short weekly tasks and two major assignments provides a balance of tasks. The weekly feedback provides timely advice to students to help them before the assignments.

An English Language Competency score [13]] of at least IELTS 7 for Academic Reading and Academic Writing is required. This is higher than is typical for university courses. Also ACS require students to have work experience. This lessens the difficulty students have with writing.

It was found useful, for at least the first two weeks of the course, to require formal referencing of sources for forum postings from students. This enables the tutor to identify students who need assistance with writing and referencing and avoid plagiarism.


Sustainable ICT course can be provided :

However, further work is needed to provide an empirical evaluation of student responses.

A sustainable ICT course can be provided on-line at the graduate level. Such a course can be provided internationally both to industry participants and full time university students. Work integrated learning can be used, with students producing , green ICT strategies for their workplace as part of a course. However, further work is needed to provide an empirical evaluation of student responses to such courses.

More Information

  1. The presentation notes are at: http://www.tomw.net.au/technology/it/green_computing_professional and machine translated into Chinese: 绿色计算专业教育课程在线
  2. Slides for these notes are also available
  3. Full conference paper: WORTHINGTON, T. 2012. A green computing professional education course online: designing and delivering a course in ICT Sustainability using Internet and eBooks. 7th International Conference on Computer Science & Education. Melbourne, Australia: IEEE. URL: http://hdl.handle.net/1885/9013
  4. Book: "ICT Sustainability", Tom Worthington, 2011: Kindle, iPad, ePub, PDF eBooks, Paperback and web
  5. Work-Integrated-Learning: With E-books and E-Learning, for the Australian eLearning Congress, Sydney, 8 February 2012
  6. Green ICT Strategies COMP7310, Masters program, The Australian National University, from July 2009
  7. ACS Green ICT Course
  8. North American version adapted by Brian Stewart, Athabasca University (Canada): Green ICT Strategies (COMP 635)
  9. Tom Worthington

Version 2.0, 5 July 2012, Tom Worthington

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