SusTEACH Toolkit Background
Sustainable, low carbon Higher Education (HE) teaching systems are part of the carbon reduction strategies needed to meet the targets set for Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE)funded institutions, which refer to reductions of 43% by 2020 and 83% by 2050 compared with 1990 baseline levels (see Higher Education Funding Council for England www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2010/10_01/10_01a.pdf/). The current paradigms, structures and practices in Higher Education have not fully addressed sustainability challenges, according to a United Nations report which calls for systemic transformation towards a sustainable future. (Tilbury, 2011).
Based on well-known definitions of sustainability (see sustainability), it could be argued that sustainable education needs to meet the triple bottom line of: maintaining pedagogic effectiveness, achieving economic success outcomes, as well as the reduction of environmental impacts, including greenhouse gas emissions, consumption of natural resources, waste generation and the protection of biodiversity. Within this wider context, the present focus on sustainability in HE has been mainly on the following :
Addressing the challenges of sustainability needs to take account of the ongoing transformation of HE teaching systems in recent years as a result of widespread deployment of Virtual Learning Environments, Local Area Networks, wireless networks and cloud computing services in institutions. Significant changes in the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs1) have led to new methods in teaching, blending conventional and ICT-based educational models. There has been greater experimentation in the use of ICTs to support pedagogical innovation to enhance or replace traditional teaching methods, with most universities now having a Virtual Learning Environment to support qualification programmes. The concept of blended learning provision (See Collis and Moonen 2005) is expected to become a dominant scenario in HE (Bates, 2001).
Few studies have considered the whole system environmental impacts of different systems of delivering Higher Education. One notable exception was the Factor 10 Visions study 'Towards Sustainable Higher Education', which assessed the environmental impacts of campus-based and distance teaching-based Higher Education systems (Roy et al, 2005).The Factor 10 Visions study found that on average the production and delivery of distance teaching consumed nearly 90% less energy and produced 85% fewer CO2 emissions than campus-based HE courses and modules (Roy et al, 2005).
The Factor 10 Visions study took place at a time when there was limited ICT-based pedagogical innovation in UK higher education, and therefore the study needed to be updated and extended. Not only have more campus-based institutions moved towards using more technology-enhanced teaching and learning support, providing a greater range of digital educational resources, but advances in ICT has enabled distance teaching institutions to integrate more technologies, to offer, or replace learning experiences which had been only previously available in the classroom or at residential schools. This suggests some blurring of boundaries between distance-based and campus-based HE systems in the UK.
The SusTEACH project aimed to examine the transformative impact of ICTs on HE teaching models and to assess their environmental impacts. This study builds on the Factor 10 Visions project which offered an exemplar environmental impact assessment methodology as the basis for the SusTEACH project (Roy et al, 2005). The methodology included an assessment of travel; the consumption of energy for computing, residential heating and for powering campus sites; and the use of paper and printed matter for the preparation, delivery and study of courses or modules2.
The SusTEACH project aimed to assess the environmental impacts associated with the planned teaching and learning methods of different Teaching Models. This approach assumes that teaching delivery methods are an important direct influence on the environmental impacts associated with HE courses or modules. The SusTEACH project developed a methodology to conceptualise and classify HE Teaching Models using ICTs that allows for an investigation of the main sources of environmental impacts associated with different teaching delivery methods, the supportive infrastructure and wider aspects of the Higher Education system.
Classifying HE Teaching Models using ICTs
The utilization of ICT in HE teaching and learning provision potentially creates many diverse, blended Teaching Models. We aimed to conceptualise and classify HE Teaching Models in terms of the different methods of delivering the teaching and learning provision, and the role of ICTs in enhancing or replacing traditional teaching practices. Blended HE teaching delivery practices can include face-to-face teaching, the use of printed teaching materials, the enhancement of teaching methods using ICTs, and online teaching. We developed a methodology for differentiating HE Teaching Models which was needed to conduct a carbon assessment of courses or modules and compare their environmental impacts.
A key contribution to conceptualising different HE Teaching Models using ICTs comes from research on learning design and some e-learning models which developed technical standards for describing the way a 'unit of learning' and its component parts is designed. Building on this body of work, ideas on learning design were integrated with learning theories, activities and outcomes (Conole and Fill, 2005, p8) and this identified Teaching Models as having the following characteristics:
The SusTEACH project builds on key educational initiatives at The Open University (OU), such as the Curriculum Business Models initiative which aims to provide a framework for fostering efficient and innovative module planning and design, and the Learning Design Initiative which aims to develop and implement a learning design methodology and suite of practical tools, resources, and innovation in HE to combine good pedagogic practice and the effective use of new technologies (see www.open.ac.uk/blogs/OULDI/). The teaching, learning and assessment provision is understood to have the following main characteristics (The OU, 2010, p17);
There has been interest in evaluating the online intensity of modules as the OU moves towards a greater online teaching, learning and assessment provision (The OU, 2010). Building on this approach, we developed qualitative measures to assess the ICT intensiveness of teaching delivery methods. To ensure applicability to different HE Teaching Models, we considered the methods that could be utilised to deliver the teaching and learning provision and developed qualitative measures of the main teaching delivery methods, including:
This approach allowed the investigation of HE teaching delivery methods to include face-to-face teaching, the use of printed teaching materials, and the use of ICTs to enhance or replace teaching methods, as well as blended methods. We considered that by identifying the main teaching delivery methods, we could proceed to classify the various traditional and blended delivery methods used in HE. This led to the classification of courses or modules within a Teaching Models’ framework using lecturers’ assessments, as follows:
The Face-to-Face and ICT-enhanced Face-to-Face Teaching Models are both campus-based systems whereas the Distance, ICT-enhanced Distance and Online Teaching models are all usually offered within distance teaching systems. Following the Factor 10 Visions study we expected to find significant differences between the environmental impacts of campus-based and distance teaching systems. The lower impacts of distance-teaching compared with campus-based teaching were mainly due to: a reduction in the amount of student travel; economies of scale in the utilization of campus site facilities; and the elimination of almost all of the student residential energy (Roy et al. 2005). This finding is consistent with evidence that campus site and residential energy consumption is a key source of HE carbon impacts (HESA, 2011).
We hypothesised that specific teaching delivery methods would have different environmental impacts, associated with: staff and student travel; the purchase and use of ICTs; the use of paper and printed material; residential accommodation and energy use; and campus site energy consumption. Specifically we expected that:
The SusTEACH research methods were designed to identify the environmental impacts of HE courses or modules and the data was analysed using the Teaching Models’ framework. As SusTEACH aimed to develop an Environmental Appraisal Toolkit, this analytical approach was useful for the design and development of the SusTEACH Planning and Modelling Tools. These tools were developed as a result of modelling the energy impacts associated with specific teaching delivery methods and Teaching Models.
For further information on the methodology for conceptualising HE Teaching Models using ICTs, (see Caird and Lane, 2012).
Conducting the carbon-based Environmental Impact Assessment
The SusTEACH project re-analysed the data gathered in the Factor 10 Visions project (Roy et al. 2005), which conducted a large study of the environmental impacts of twenty courses or modules in fourteen HE institutions representing mainly traditional face-to face and distance print-based teaching models in UK institutions in England, Scotland and Wales. In addition, the SusTEACH project gathered new data on ten courses or modules in four HE institutions, which were selected to represent diverse Teaching Models utilising ICTs for the teaching delivery. Both datasets are combined for analysis within a Teaching Models’ framework. Using the findings, the project aimed to develop Sustainable Tools for the Environmental Appraisal of the Carbon Impacts of Higher Education (HE) Teaching Models using ICTs (SusTEACH).
Undertaking the environmental impact assessment involved a series of steps:
Step 1: Classifying HE Teaching Models using ICTs
We developed a methodology that allowed for an investigation of the environmental impacts associated with HE Teaching Models using ICTs. This methodology conceptualised and classified HE Teaching Models in terms of different methods of delivering teaching and learning provision, and identified the role of ICTs in enhancing or replacing traditional teaching practices. The HE course and module data from both the SusTEACH and Factor 10 Visions projects were classified within the Teaching Models’ framework, for inclusion in the project analysis.
Step 2: Gathering primary data and accessing databases to estimate and model the environmental impacts of HE courses and modules
We identified and gathered data on the main sources of environmental impacts associated with Higher Education teaching, building on the approach of the Factor 10 Visions study (Roy et al. 2005). The SusTEACH project gathered course and module-related activity data from students and staff via questionnaire surveys, and accessed existing data sources to support the modelling and estimation of energy impacts. This provided most of the data required to calculate course or module-related impacts associated with:
We estimated residential accommodation and campus energy consumption impacts by combining data obtained from questionnaires with existing databases. In addition, the data collection process needed to represent different HE teaching systems, including specific characteristics of the distance teaching system, such as the module production and presentation process, and transportation of teaching materials, as this is expected to have different environmental impacts (Roy et al. 2005).
Box 1: Main characteristics of two broad HE teaching and learning delivery systems: Campus-based or distance HE teaching systems
(updated from Roy et al. 2005. p.12).
Campus-based HE teaching systems are characterised by a single or multi-site campus sites offering face-to-face teaching to students living either in temporary accommodation or at home, from where students commute to and from the campus to attend lectures, use libraries, laboratories, etc. For many students in temporary accommodation there is also travel between their main or usual ‘home’ and term-time/semester residences. In the campus-based system, teaching staff plan the course or module and present lectures and tutorials to relatively small numbers of students (usually <100), with some degree of face-to-face teaching, and travelling from home to the campus and to other sites as required.
Distance teaching systems are designed to offer greater flexibility in education and reach significantly larger numbers of students. Specially developed educational material is prepared by an academic production team and delivered online or by post to students for part-time study at home. Some distance teaching systems, such as The Open University, offer tutorials or day schools supported by tutors called Associate Lecturers which may be held online, using software such as Elluminate, or face-to-face in regional study centres. Further support is offered via email, computer conferencing, mail and telephone. Modules are also supported by academic presentation teams who work on minor revisions to teaching materials, planning tutorials or day schools and student assessment. Some modules may offer week-long residential elements. Specific characteristics of the distance teaching system include the infrastructure for printing, storing and transporting materials between warehouses, student and tutors’ homes, and campus and study sites.
The Distance-system also includes a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) infrastructure although most UK HE systems now have a VLE to support their qualification programmes. A typical VLE provides students with online access to materials in electronic format, such as lecture or tutorial documents, assignments, timetables, and discussions forums. VLEs have specific server architectures, although there may be different physical and virtual server technologies in different HE institutions.
Step 3: Normalising the data collected for comparative analysis
There needed to be a mechanism for normalising the data collected to enable the comparison of the courses and modules under investigation and their differential environmental impacts. We adopted the standard UK Credit Accumulation and Transfer Scheme(CATS) system as a time-based measure for comparing the environmental impacts of courses or modules. The CATS system identifies 1 CATS credit as equivalent to 10 hours total study including writing assignments, field work, etc. and calculates that 360 CATS credits are required for an UK Undergraduate degree and 180 credits for a Master’s degree. Normalising the data in this way allowed for inter-institutional and intra-institutional comparisons, as well as comparisons of both part-time and full-time delivery methods and impacts. The standard UK CATS system partly matches the European Credit Transfer Scheme (ECTS) which runs as part of the Bologna process within the European Higher Education area, (see www.ec.europa.eu/education/lifelong-learning-policy/doc/ects/guide_en.pdf/).
Teaching plans may not turn out as expected and students may spend more or less time learning than planned by lecturers and academic designers. As there may be discrepancies between planned and actual learning time, this may lead to an overestimation or underestimation of the environmental impacts of teaching. In particular, time spent learning using ICTs, depends on a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors (e.g. digital literacy skills and familiarity with new software tools, and disability, other personal matters) (Mayes, 2004). We aimed to examine the relationship between planned study hours (as indicated by CAT credits) and actual study hours in the data collected from students and VLE activity data.
Step 4: Establishing measures of energy consumption and carbon conversions for assessing environmental impacts
Fossil fuel energy consumption and CO2 emissions were utilised as measures of environmental impacts as these are widely accepted indicators of environmental impact.(Chambers et. al., 2000).
The data gathered and modelled provided information on the sources of environmental impacts associated with course or module-related activities. The collected data was then converted into energy consumption, and associated CO2 data using the latest carbon conversion factors. Data obtained from the Factor 10 Visions project were also recalculated to determine their energy consumption and CO2 emissions using up-dated conversion factors, for inclusion in the SusTEACH project analysis.
The primary source for converting activity data to energy use and CO2 emissions were the widely used Conversion Factors for Company Reporting issued by the UK Departments for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Energy and Climate Change, which provides conversion factors for all fuel sources based on units of consumption and for transport modes (AEA, 2011). The Defra/DECC conversion factors are calculated in HE to support carbon management plans to achieve carbon reduction targets against a 2005 carbon emissions baseline, (see www.hefce.ac.uk/pubs/hefce/2010/10_01/10_01a.pdf/).
The report (AEA, 2011) calculates the emission factors differently for direct and indirect greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions based on the following:
The SusTEACH assessment focused mainly on measures of delivered energy and direct emissions of fossil fuels at the point of use, as this was a consistent measure provided by most data sources on CO2 emissions. Delivered energy refers to the amount of energy delivered with no adjustment made for the fuels consumed and their indirect emissions during the production prior to the point of use or fuel combustion. Measures of delivered energy were used for calculating the impacts of transport vehicles, heating systems or printers used for study.
By contrast, embodied energy refers to primary energy consumed over the life-cycle of a product or system associated with extraction, production, distribution, use and eventual disposal giving rise to indirect emissions which need to be established with reference to life-cycle environmental impact assessments. It was appropriate to refer to embodied energy figures for paper, printed materials, and ICT equipment, identified by life-cycle environmental impact assessment studies. The most reputable, well-researched and most up-to-date carbon conversions factors were applied.
Step 5: Compiling data into consistent forms for calculating course or module environmental and lifetime impacts
Data for each environmental impact was organised into consistent forms and normalised using CATS credits (equivalent to hours of study) to provide the average energy consumption, and CO2 emissions of a course or module per student per 10 CATS credits (which is equivalent to 100 hours of study). This allowed the energy impacts of different courses or modules to be directly compared and classified within the Teaching Models’ framework.
The analysis of impacts was widened to estimate the lifetime impacts of specific HE Teaching Models. The concept of the standard lifetime of a course or module will vary to some extent between institutions. The module lifetime is of particular interest to distance education providers, such as The Open University (OU) where there is a significant investment in the module production process. It is important to consider because savings on CO2 emissions and economic payback is partially determined by the expected number of students participating over the module lifetime, the ratio of staff to students, as well as other characteristics of the teaching system and campus site facilities.
Establishing the standard lifetime impacts of a course or module allows the implications of the carbon-based assessments to be considered at the qualification and institutional level. Following the Factor 10 Visions project, SusTEACH aimed to identify the changes to existing educational product-service systems that might deliver significant carbon reductions in HE. Building on the findings, we developed an environmental appraisal toolkit which supports the modelling of HE teaching impacts.
The SusTEACH environmental impact assessment methodology provides a detailed guide, see (Caird, Swithenby and Lane,2012).
The SusTEACH Toolkit
The SusTEACH project aimed to develop Sustainable Tools for the Environmental Appraisal of the Carbon Impacts of Higher Education (HE) Teaching Models using ICTs. The Toolkit includes several tools designed to support: the modelling of HE teaching carbon impacts; the planning of more sustainable courses, modules and programmes; the collection of data on the teaching, learning and assessment activities in HE; and support carbon-based assessments and carbon reduction policies and contribute towards achieving more sustainable teaching practices in HE.
The SusTEACH toolkit provides a number of interactive tools and resources to support the design and planning of more sustainable teaching practices in Higher Education.
The SusTEACH Planning Tool presented here online aims to help lecturers and academic designers design and rate their teaching delivery plan when new modules/courses are being developed and produces personalised feedback on the likely environmental impacts associated with this plan. The tool uses qualitative measures to assess a proposed design or plan for teaching and learning in terms of whether it is delivered using face-to-face, online ICTs (including digital resources and learning technologies), and/or specially developed printed teaching materials within a HE teaching system. This tool was developed by modelling the energy impacts associated with specific teaching delivery methods and Teaching Models. This educational tool produces a detailed report based on a comparative analysis of the environmental impacts of different teaching delivery models.
The SusTEACH Modelling Tool is an operational desktop tool for the lecturer and academic designer which permits the modelling of one or several courses or modules within a qualification programme to estimate the energy impacts associated with different HE Teaching Models. This tool is designed to follow from the SusTEACH Planning Tool and allows more sensitive modelling of the likely carbon impacts of the teaching methods being used and the particular impacts associated with expected student travel and purchases of books and ICT devices for the course or module. As the Modelling Tool may be used to model the impacts of several courses or modules, the results may be extrapolated to the level of qualification programme, which allows estimations of the impacts created by the balance of Teaching Models used in HE institutions.
SusTEACH Modelling Tool (Zipped Excel File) This tool is available for download as an MS Excel file (unzip to use). Open in Excel versions 2003 or later.
The SusTEACH Environmental Impact Assessment Methodology - The SusTEACH methodology is a guide to support senior management with conducting a carbon-based environmental impact assessment of courses and modules in Higher Education and the use of the Toolkit. This builds on the SusTEACH team experience with conducting an environmental assessment and provides advice on gathering environmental impact data, measuring energy consumption and calculating carbon impacts associated with courses/models. This includes staff and student exemplar questionnaires which may be adapted and used for conducting an environmental impact assessment in HE institutions.
The SusTEACH Carbon Calculators aim to help lecturers to calculate their teaching-related carbon impacts, and students to calculate their study-related carbon impacts. The carbon calculator includes carbon conversion factors to assess the impact of course or module travel, and the materials, equipment or resources used by staff, or provided to students or that students are expected to purchase or use during their studies, including the following:
The Calculators utilise updated carbon conversion factors for energy fuel sources for calculating energy consumption and carbon impacts, which are measured using information based on the CATS credits (equivalent to hours of study) applicable to a course/module and the duration of the course/module. The impacts of teaching, learning and assessment on energy consumption and CO2 emissions are presented using the measure 'per student per 10 CATS' (equivalent to 100 study hours) for both staff and students. These calculators offer useful education, research and assessment tools for supporting further data collection.
SusTEACH Student Calculator (Zipped Excel File) This tool is available for download as an MS Excel file (unzip to use). Open in Excel versions 2003 or later.
SusTEACH Calculator for Lecturers (Zipped Excel File) A tool for academic staff use is available here for download as an MS Excel file (unzip to use). Open in Excel versions 2003 or later.
Further online resources are available to support Sustainable Futures in Higher Education.
1 Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) refer to digital resources and teaching and learning technologies utilised for preparation, administration, teaching and learning on courses and modules which are supported by ICT devices, including personal computers, laptops, tablet devices, smart phones and software etc.
2 The SusTEACH project focuses on the course or module level in the context of undergraduate or post-graduate educational qualification programmes. The terms course and module are both used within and across HEIs, to refer to a set of modular, standardised, independent, or interrelated teaching units that when appropriately combined, construct a degree qualification. The term course may have a second meaning when used to refer to a course of study on a qualification programme which may consist of several modules or courses. To avoid confusion the term course is used in the first sense, and we refer throughout to course/module.
Whilst the SusTEACH methodology represents a valid approach to conducting a carbon-based environmental assessment of diverse and complex HE courses and modules, it is not claimed that Teaching Models and specific delivery methods will consistently generate the associated energy impacts and carbon emissions that we found in SusTEACH. Energy impacts are not solely related to teaching delivery methods and systems, nor are they within the control of lecturers and academic designers. The energy impacts associated with Teaching Models will also vary in response to student lifestyle, choice of residence and transport behaviours. A large study to represent the variation and complexity of HE teaching courses and modules is therefore needed to confirm SusTEACH findings.
Further changes in UK Higher Education will affect the environmental impacts of HE Teaching Models, such as the ICT-based transformation of HE Teaching Models, the further greening of university buildings as well as changes to fuel carbon factors due to the decarbonisation of the electricity grid in the UK. The SusTEACH findings should therefore be treated as indications of the carbon impacts associated with Higher Education Teaching Models.
Building on the findings, we developed an environmental appraisal toolkit which included tools designed to support: the modelling of HE teaching carbon impacts; the planning of more sustainable courses, modules and programmes; the collection of data on the teaching, learning and assessment activities in HE; and support for carbon-based assessments and carbon reduction policies in HE.
We hope that the SusTEACH Environmental Appraisal Toolkit will promote greater awareness of sustainability issues in Higher Education.
The SusTEACH project at The Open University is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) under the Greening ICT Programme JISC online.
Further details on SusTEACH research and development are available at SusTEACH website and blog.
The SusTEACH project has built on the environmental assessment methodology and findings of the Factor 10 Visions Project led by Roy, Potter et al. (2005) and reanalysed the findings of this work for inclusion in the SusTEACH toolkit.
The SusTEACH project has built on the work of the Learning Innovation Office, The Open University, 2010 to identify criteria for assessing online learning provision which contributed to the development of the questions for the SusTEACH Planning tool.
Author and main contact for the Susteach Planning Tool: Dr Sally Caird.
We would like to thank Dr Stephen Hallett, of Cranfield University, for his considerable support with the web-tool development.
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