Thoughts on the Green Computing Summit

thompson80By John Thompson
Editor, Green Computing

The conference, held in Washington, DC, on December 2-3, 2008, presented “incremental approaches to the greening of agency operations, within the bounds of government procurement, budget and regulatory requirements.” There were two tracks for participants – Track 1: Greening Federal Operations and Track 2: Virtualization – For the Data Center and Beyond. (Click here for the presentations.)

green_computing_summitMy panel presentation – “How Green Are Your Operations?” – was the first offering in track one. The other panelists included Juan Lopez from the Office of the Federal Environmental Executive, Dr. Ed Piñero from Rochester Institute of Technology, and Rob Pinkerton from Adobe Systems. A copy of my prepared remarks should be available at the conference presentations site shortly. The ensuing keynote was done by Dr. Daniel Esty, who is the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy at Yale University and the author of “Green to Gold.”

Day two started with another keynote, “Environmental Design and Energy Efficiency for Federal Facilities: An Executive Perspective,” by Kevin Kampschroer, Acting Director, Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, Public Buildings Service, General Services Administration. He offered his insights into how to build green, energy efficient buildings. I spoke with him afterwards (and got his business card) as my college, Buffalo State College, is constructing a new science building and after that a new technology building. My department will be moved into the latter. I hope that these two pending structures will incorporate energy efficient designs. As pointed out by Kampschroer, energy saving design does not have to increase building cost. When asked how you can push for green design without being obnoxious about it, Kampschroer quickly advocated being obnoxious, if that’s what it takes. Unfortunately, I could not stay for day two’s concluding luncheon keynote as I had to go to the airport for my flight back to Buffalo.

Here are some selected notes from the keynotes, presentations, and table conversations:

  • The federal government prefers using “electronic stewardship” over “green computing.”
  • The federal government spends $60B (as in Billion) annually on electronics, making it the biggest IT user in the world.
  • There is an increased pressure for e-cycling at “end of life” for electronic equipment. Just discarding old tech stuff does not cut it any longer. One federal government program – Computers for Learning – directs excessed computers and related peripheral equipment (e.g., printers) from federal agencies be made available free to schools. All the necessary information is available at its Web site.
  • PC users can save $75-100 per PC per year using power management techniques on their desktop computers.
  • The green wave is not cresting. It’s more like a tsunami.
  • There is an underlying logic to eco-computing: save energy, reduce costs.
  • A lot of acronyms (a lot of federal employee presenters and participants in the audience) and green phrases like “carbon constrained future” were bandied around.
  • There is a price for inaction on green computing. Doing nothing can cost more than action.
  • There is a need for more efficient servers for IT.
  • Cool equipment, not rooms, in your IT operations.
  • Prioritize – what’s strategic, ROI (return on investment).
  • Kaizen – in chaos lies opportunities.
  • Government’s role is to incentivize, not control.
  • thompson28dec08Telework (aka telecommuting) agreement does not necessarily mean employees never go into the office. Barriers to telework include perceived loss of control (cannot manage who you cannot see), security, and negative impressions of past efforts.
  • Videoconferencing reduces pollution, speeds up decision making through increased communications, aids in recruiting and retaining employees, reduces travel costs and increases productivity, and enables real time face-to-face communication with remote employees.
  • Measure, measure, measure (e.g., energy costs, carbon emissions). What gets measured gets done. Conduct baseline of energy use with an energy audit. Implement your green initiatives. Measure again. Repeat.
  • Environmental Protection Agency has an energy savings calculator.
  • Green buildings:
    • Placing lights as close as possible to work sites reduces the amount of light needed.
    • Install waterless urinals.
    • Wireless sensors provide more local user control.
    • Install a green roof.
    • Challenge assumptions and “business as usual.” As the old saying goes, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.”
    • Possible to put up buildings that achieve 50% reduction in energy needs with no additional capital expense.
    • Giving users control for lighting leads to less light used.
    • Use LED lights (less energy, less maintenance).
  • US government has approximately 445,000 buildings with three billion square feet (and leases another 57,000 building with 374 million square feet).
  • Paper represents 37% of trash that is thrown out. One ton of recycled paper equals one acre of trees.
  • Successful program needs supportive leadership.
  • The Business of Green.
  • Greenbuild International Conference and Expo.

When I got back home, I put all this in a report to those who subsidized my travel to DC. I explained that the Green Computing Summit was a very worthwhile experience. We’ll have to see what changes on my campus as a result. But I’m going to talk with my department to start making some changes (e.g., use less paper, PC power management). Every journey of a thousand miles . . .

Quality in Distance Education: Stakeholders’ Perspectives – Part I

greenberg80By Gary Greenberg
Staff Writer
22 November 2008


The large number of students in the U.S. taking one or more courses online in 2006—nearly 3.5 million—reflects another trend: more faculty members are teaching online than ever before (Allen & Seaman, 2007). As they gear up for their first course taught at a distance, faculty must balance their drive to be innovative teachers with their institution’s demands for online course quality.

At the 2008 University of Wisconsin Distance Teaching and Learning Conference, I conducted a discussion with seven conference-goers on the topic of innovation and quality.


Gary Greenberg: Some observers of distance education, including Curtis Bonk, who was here at the conference, and Kurt Squire, who is here at the greenberg04University of Wisconsin, have charged that innovation in the creation of online courses has stalled out. I wonder if any of you share this concern about lack of innovation going on in distance courses.

Robert Bulik: I think it’s not necessarily innovation, but I think it’s getting away from the basic theory of education. If we think that online learning should be as good as, better, or equivalent to face-to-face classroom learning then we need to consider what goes on in the classroom, which includes interactivity and learner control. And if we give that background away when we go into an online environment then we’ll just have page turning virtually on the screen versus in the book. That gets away from the basic tenets—theory —of education, and I think that’s a different issue than innovation. (Bulik, MD, is an associate professor for the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston and is currently developing case-based instruction and software for the education of medical students.)

Kay Shattuck: I think what’s happening with the comment that distance education or e-learning has stalled because the innovators aren’t there—I think some of that comes from the sheer numbers of . . . people who are told, in many cases, they have to put something online from their institution.

My other perspective on innovation is: Who’s the innovation for? Is it because an instructor wants to use a new toy? Or has the instructor really been looking for a way to improve a piece of the course and has, through her investigation, shattuck11discovered a really nice toy? I think we’re sometimes led by toys. (Shattuck is director of research for Quality Matters™ [MarylandOnline, 2006], an organization offering a faculty-centered, peer review process for distance learning courses.)

Katie McDonald: I love going to conferences and [taking notes] about all the tools, looking them up online, and playing or trying them. But I always have to keep myself grounded at the level that faculty don’t want this just because I think it’s cool and because I think it would help their course. The designer really has to build a relationship with the faculty and have the trust that when I say this is technology that will really help you, it’s because it will really help you in this way. Not just to use it because it’s fun and it’s new and it’s innovative. (McDonald represented the views of working instructional designers in the discussion. She is an instructional technologist for RIT Online.)

Joeann Humbert: I think that’s where the instructional designer is key in the process of putting a course online because it is different teaching online. And a person in that role can translate—help to translate—effective pedagogy. So I think if you go back to the core [issue] of helping people teach good courses online, the instructional designer can be a key person for the faculty member. I think having their skill in the balance is critical.

I still meet faculty—and many are in engineering and areas that have more traditional lecture-based courses—who don’t know about all the research in the field. They have no clue about distance education and are thinking about delivering a distance course but wouldn’t even consider [consulting] an instructional designer. It’s only after building credibility with those faculty, and building trust, that they’ll begin to reconsider how they develop their course. (Humbert is the director of RIT Online, the distance learning support organization for the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY.)

Shattuck: I think that is what we’re talking about, the masses, the mass of instructors, that have now moved into distance education, and I think that people who are the innovators are frustrated at seeing this. But I think that’s the natural process. Eventually, because students will not take the courses, people will find an instructional designer. They will, for their survival.


The discussion concluded with remarks on the importance of conversations—between faculty members and more experienced colleagues; between faculty members and instructional designers—in the design of a quality distance education course. There was general agreement that these conversations play a crucial part in the creative process and are deserving of further attention in the ongoing debate about quality. I’ll post that part of the discussion next time.

(Author’s Note: This work was supported in part by a travel grant from the School of Educational Policy and Leadership at The Ohio State University.)

[Editor’s Note: Part II to follow in a coming article.]