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From carbon footprint to carbon brainprint

Listen to Professor Wyn Morgan talking about how the use of learning technology can support sustainability.
[SIDE CONVERSATION] Welcome to session six of the course. Thom and I are now joined by our colleague Wyn Morgan. Hello, Wyn. Hi, Sarah. Hi, Thom. Hello. Wyn, people sometimes struggle to see how sustainability can relate to the ways in which we learn as opposed to the content that we learn. Are there any new technologies, new ways of learning these days that you would describe as sustainable? Yes, I think there are. I think the one thing we know is that knowledge and content changes over time. Of course it does. But I think the rapid revolution that we’ve seen in the way people learn over the last 20 to 30 years has all been driven by technological change.
And I think that was initially started by the development and use of the internet, of course, providing access to material, knowledge, and so forth in a way that we never imagined many, many years ago. That’s fine. That gives people access to material wherever they are in the world providing they can get onto the internet. However, what I concern there is whether it’s the right information. And, of course, authentication of that information is really very key. And that’s where universities come into play, and colleges and creators of knowledge, in giving it a stamp of authenticity and putting materials out onto the internet with the logo, with the names of the people who’ve created it.
And that whole movement of open educational resources, putting materials out for anybody to use wherever they are has been quite a step change in the last five to 10 years over the period that we’re seeing. And I think that’s fine, but we still need to actually access that material. And if it’s on the internet, that’s fine. But you need to be able to do it in a way that reflects your needs. And I think the other revolution we’ve seen is the way in which people engage in their learning. And that’s almost anytime, anyplace, anywhere. They engage through mobile devices, through handheld phones, through tablets, through laptops, et cetera.
And that gives them an access in a way that we couldn’t have pictured in the 1950s when learning was still about turning up at a particular place, a particular time, engaging with a book, potentially, but certainly with the person doing the lecture. That model is very, very different now. And I think that has been driven by technological change and the way in which we want to learn. So let me just question you there. So you’re arguing that a technological revolution, driven by electrical devices, you’d argue that’s a more sustainable route to learning than traditional methods. Well, I guess there’s two sides to that. I think specifically around the technology, we know that technology is very power hungry, energy hungry.
And we know the problems with that in terms of carbon neutrality, for example. We also know that technologies often have built in obsolescence. So they don’t last necessarily as long as we might imagine. And so there’s a cost there in terms of resource use. However, in providing access to resources from anywhere in the world at any time, you are getting rid of a huge cost. And that cost is geographical transportation and travel to points of knowledge and points of learning. So you no longer need to travel to a particular place to learn about things. You can get that access from your own living room. And there’s a benefit there from that.
Also, in engaging in that conversation with the learner, you’re raising awareness of, potentially, sustainability and educating people around those issues. So that might affect the way they behave in their day-to-day life as well. So there are benefits as well as, obviously, some of these costs at the moment. But as technology develops, even those costs might start to diminish. OK, interesting. So you’re arguing you’re off-setting the travel requirements there by introducing technology. Is it possible to take that authentication process to that same kind of level? Could we make that go into the cloud and on to technology? Or do we still have to have these real-life centres? Well, I think there will always be value in the real-life centres for sure.
There will always be a need to bring people together to share knowledge and share ideas. But what technology allows you to do is to do that in a virtual space as well. And their authenticity– we’re seeing in a way that universities are coming together and sharing knowledge and sharing their teaching in the whole platform around MOOCs, which allows for that authenticity, but still has that great value of not pulling everybody together physically. On the subject of MOOCs, that seems to be a good place to start. We’ll let you go now, Wyn. And we’ll see you later. Thank you very much. Thank you.

Our next Cripps House conversation focuses upon ‘Learning for and through sustainability’. Listen to Professor Wyn Morgan outlining the impact of the internet upon learning and the most recent developments in mobile technologies and Massive Open Online Courses.

Those of you in China can also view this video on our Tudou channel.

Wyn describes how, in his view, the use of learning technology can support sustainability:

  • Technology can be used to share, re-use and adapt learning resources
  • Technology can enable access to learning for those who cannot otherwise access it
  • Technology can support creativity in teaching and learning

The world wide web has changed the ways we learn and the ways in which we share information. Learning technology now provides a myriad of opportunities for us to work in different ways – in our own homes or workplaces, on the move, alongside colleagues in other time zones and geographical spaces. Online learning has been driven by the concept of ‘Knowledge without Borders’ and increasingly by the idea of a global community of learners within which knowledge and ideas are shared.

Think about: If you have experienced ‘step-changes’ in learning styles and technologies in your own life, how significant have they been? In your view, has technology increased access to learning, or has it simply provided more learning to those with access already?

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