SusTEACH: Sustainability Tools for the Environmental Appraisal of the Carbon impacts of HE Teaching Models using ICTs
The Open University
Sustainable, low carbon Higher Education (HE) teaching systems are part of the carbon reduction strategies needed to meet the targets set for HEFCE-funded HE institutions.

The online SusTEACH Toolkit for lecturers, senior managers and students in Higher Education is available at: http://www9.open.ac.uk/SusTeach/.

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) use is estimated by several studies to be responsible for 2% of global carbon emissions and is likely to increase in future. This has lead to studies examining the environmental impacts of ICT use in HE and other sectors. Much of this previous research and evaluation work has looked at how ICTs and associated business processes can be used or changed to effect reduction in energy consumption and hence carbon use within and across HEIs.

However while many of the functions of HEIs are being examined, little consideration has been given to the whole system impacts of different modes of delivering HE that are being transformed by ICTs with the notable exception of The Open University (OU) Factor 10 Visions study ‘Towards Sustainable Higher Education’, which assessed the environmental impacts of campus-based and distance higher education systems – Factor 10 Visions Phase 1 Report and Factor 10 Visions Final Report. This study took place before there was such widespread use of ICT in HE teaching and learning systems.

With funding under the JISC Greening ICT Programme, the SusTEACH project conducted research on sustainable higher education teaching and learning, and examined the transformative impact of ICTs on HE teaching models and assessed their carbon-based environmental and life-time impacts.

Significant changes in the use of ICT have led to new methods in teaching, blending conventional and ICT-based educational models. The environmental, pedagogical and economic impacts are not fully understood. The SusTEACH project needed to conceptualise the role of ICTs in HE teaching models and establish a typology of HE teaching models as the basis for conducting research. The SusTEACH project began in February 2011 with research on the environmental impacts of HE courses and modules, and then progressed to the development of Sustainability Tools for the Environmental Appraisal of the Carbon Impacts of Higher Education Teaching Models (SusTEACH), based on the research findings. This toolkit aimed to support education for sustainability initiatives and institutional programmes to green higher education teaching and learning, and contribute towards achieving HEI sustainability targets.

More specifically the team investigated the role of ICTs and subsequent carbon use in:

    The development of the educational resources by teachers and media support staff;
    The teaching, learning, assessment and communication channels between teachers and students and student and fellow students;
    The administrative transactions that students and teachers make with other parts of the HEI;
    The ICT infrastructure used to support the three other elements.

Key research questions we want to investigate within SusTEACH include:

    Which HE teaching models deliver the lowest carbon footprint?
    What is the relationship between the ICT-intensity of HE teaching models and their subsequent carbon footprint?
    What is the role of ICTs (in terms of providing educational resources, communication channels, processing transactions, and supporting infrastructure) in affecting the carbon impacts of different HE teaching models?
    What is the impact of staff awareness of the environmental appraisal of different HE teaching models on their plans to use ICTs into new module production and delivery?

The aim is to secure robust evidence and develop a rigorous toolkit that informs academic governance and enables, HE institutions to further reduce their carbon footprint and thereby support the increasingly important sustainability agenda in the HE sector.

PI: Professor Andy Lane (a.b.lane@open.ac.uk)
Co-Investigator: Dr Sally Caird (s.caird@open.ac.uk)
Research team: Professor Andy Lane, Dr Sally Caird, Ed Swithenby
Project Advisory Group: Professor Robin Roy, Professor Stephen Potter and Carol Morris.

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