Studying digital education in times of climate crisis: what can we do?
From Claire Sowton
Professor Neil Selwyn, Monash University, Australia
Professor Sian Bayne, Centre for Research in Digital Education (Chair)
The climate crisis is clearly the elephant in the room when it comes to any discussion of digital education and education technology ... so, how can we begin to get to grips with the complex issues at play here without descending into complete despair?
Neil Selwyn is a Distinguished Professor in the Faculty of Education, Monash University, Melbourne – having previously worked in the Institute of Education, London and the Cardiff School of Social Sciences. He has spent the past 25 years researching the integration of digital technology into schools, universities and adult learning.
Neil is recognised as a leading international researcher in the area of digital education – with particular expertise in the ‘real-life’ constraints and problems faced when technology-based education is implemented. He is currently working on nationally-funded projects examining the roll-out of educational data and learning analytics, AI technologies, and the changing nature of teachers’ digital work.
Neil has carried out funded research on digital technology, society and education for national research agencies and funders in the UK, Australia, US, Sweden and Uruguay, alongside projects for the BBC, Gates Foundation, Microsoft Partners in Learning, Save The Children, National Assembly of Wales and UNESCO.
Neil is a regular keynote speaker at international conferences and he also produces the ‘Meet The Education Researcher‘ podcast – exploring the latest ideas from across the world of education research.Discussion
Indicative questions and comments from the event chat included:
How much energy do educational technologies actually use?
Pushing universities towards net zero needs to include externalities of increased power use by students/staff in the home, or it's like rich countries doing "well" in carbon terms by moving manufacturing offshore.
One of our biggest challenges to make the change to mitigate climate change, and support communities to adapt and build resilience, is a lack of climate information dissemination. There is still so much maladaptation and misinformation going on that is causing even the best intended people from making the wrong choices. I appreciate I may be biased as a digital educator myself, but as a climate scientist, I really think that creating free online education allows us to get this information out to many of the most vulnerable who do not have access to more traditional forms of education. It is not perfect to be sure, but it is still a very important tool.
While you touched on climate-justice in your talk, I really think this needs to be more central to the discussion. Having said all that, I really appreciate you coming in to “stir the pot” a bit and not just preach to the choir.
Can the return to f2f events be justified? I hoped the pandemic would lead to a significant shift away from resource intensive travel in higher education but we seem to rapidly be returning to the norm of in person events.
Do you see a place for DE supporting a more locally focussed university system, where students and staff aren't as internationally mobile as we have been in recent decades?Traditional forms of teaching have typically encouraged excessive use of paper and commuting using combustion engines, as well as lighting and heating huge buildings. I think the answer probably lies in a happy medium, where we're more conscious of how we use the physical and digital education resources at our disposal.
It feels like many educators would advocate a snapback to face to face education, whereas BigTech companies would benefit from solely digital solutions. Can we find a responsible and sustainable half-way house?
Do you see a link between your ideas and Schumacher's idea of 'appropriate' technology (currently demonstrated by the charity Practical Action).
Some of what you say is setting up a bit of a straw man. The big cloud firms are very focused on renewable energy and reducing carbon impacts. The ewaste and mining issues are a different story.
What existing edtech do you see as convivial and inline with the care-based/eco-justice approach?
I am interested in the seemingly in-built anthropocentrism at the heart of ed-tech. How might we employ ed-tech to directly (re)connect us to nature in a manner that fosters care, awareness, and action?
There used to be an idea of cradle to grave analysis of environmental impact. Do we do this with our systems in universities and if not, should this be an early campaign?
We can decouple economic growth and energy use, but - crucially - not completely, as Kate Raworth points out. A less strongly coupled exponential growth is still exponential.