Green Computing through Virtual Learning Environments
Post on 15-Jul-2015
Note: This is the last authors copy prior to publishing. The final, definitive version of this book chapter has been published in F. Nafukho & B. Irby
(Eds.), Innovative Technology Integration in Higher Education. Hershey,
PA: IGI Global. 2015
Green Computing through Virtual Learning Environments
Rochell R. McWhorter
The University of Texas at Tyler, USA
Julie A. Delello
The University of Texas at Tyler, USA
ABSTRACT As technology has quickly evolved into more sophisticated forms, it is opening the options for
educators and business professionals to expand learning opportunities into virtual learning
spaces. This book chapter discusses a number of technology trends and practices that can
promote green computing, that is, as a way for organizations and individuals to be efficient in
time, currency and resources. Three technology trends that are disrupting the status quo are cloud
computing, 3D printing, and the analytics associated with Big Data. In addition, trends that
appear to be taking hold include digital badges, the internet of things, and how we are handling
recycling and e-waste of our devices. A discussion around issues of energy required for data
servers to power the technology is also presented.
Key words: big data, cloud computing, digital badges, e-waste, green technology, recycling,
virtual learning, internet of things, internet of everything, metadata, green computing, 3D
printing, information age
Virtual learning is evident in many initiatives in both higher education and also in the
modern workplace. For instance, virtual teams are often used as a teaching tool in online college
courses to enhance students engagement with course material, self-awareness, teamwork, self-discovery, or empathy (Grinnell, Sauers, Appunn & Mack, 2012; Loh & Smyth, 2010; Palloff &
Pratt, 2013; Ubell, 2011). Likewise, organizations are also utilizing virtual teams for learning
and for the completion of work tasks (Nafukho, Graham, & Muyia, 2010). Virtual teams have
become even more critical in organizations due to rising fuel costs and costly commercial office
spaces (Bullock & Klein, 2011). Virtual learning has increased in direct proportion to the
growing sophistication of information and communication technology (ICT) and is permeating
and blurring our personal and professional lives (McWhorter, 2010; Thomas, 2014).
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 2
As virtual learning has come of age, green computing has been posited as a way for
organizations and individuals to be efficient in time, currency and resources. Childs (2008)
defined green computing as the study and practice of using computing resources efficiently (p. 1) that includes the lifecycle of technology: the design, manufacture, use, and disposal of
computer hardware and software (Lo & Qian, 2010). In this chapter, the authors will focus on
how existing technologies can be utilized efficiently in higher education and within industry to
shrink travel time and cost, improve efficiency, and lessen environmental impact.
The following sections of this chapter will highlight various examples of green computing
initiatives in higher education and the workplace that are making a real difference in lowering
costs and increasing efficiency. Discussions include the use of cloud computing, mobile devices,
digital badge technologies, real-time group meetings (RTGMs), and virtual and blended
professional conferences. Each will be examined both for their potential for green computing as
Across both education and industry, one emergent application changing the computer
industry is the use of cloud technology. In a recent issue of Forbes, Satell (2014) remarked:
The cloud is now disrupting every industry it touches. The worlds most advanced technologies are not only available to large enterprises who can afford to maintain an
expensive IT staff, but can be accessed by anybody with an internet connection. Thats a real game changer (para. 19).
Cloud computing is defined by the National Institute of Standards and Technology as a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable
computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be
rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider
interaction (Brown, 2011, para. 3). Essentially, cloud computing is the storage and access of data (i.e. documents, presentations, photos) over the Internet (see Figure 1).
[Insert Figure 1 about Here] See p. 28
Licensed under Creative Commons Zero, Public Domain Dedication via Wikimedia Commons at
There are numerous examples of cloud applications available on the Web, each offering different
storage volumes at variable costs. See Table 1 for a comparison of five of the most popular and
inexpensive cloud applications.
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 3
Comparison of Various Cloud Computing Platforms
Name URL Benefits/Disadvantages
www.amazon.com 5GB of free Web storage space. Using a
Kindle fire, phone, or tablet, users may
upload photos, personal videos, and
documents. Also, the Amazon Cloud provides
the user with the ability to play a wide-range
of music. However, one benefit that is
missing is that Amazon built the cloud
primarily as a storage device and it lacks the
added benefit of sharing or collaborating on
Apple iCloud http://www.apple.com/icloud/ 5GB of storage; works with the iPhone, iPad,
iPod touch, Mac, or personal computer (PC).
A more sophisticated cloud than the Amazon
cloud, the iCloud can not only store
documents but also allow the user to access
the same file across multiple devices and
applications. For example, up to six family
members can share photos or purchases from
iTunes, iBooks, and applications from the
Google Drive www.drive.google.com Allows the user up to 15GB of storage to
create new documents, spreadsheets, and
presentations. In addition, the documents can
be shared and collaborated in real time with
others. All changes are saved automatically in
Drive and documents are stored instantly as
PDFs. One unique feature of Drive is that
files can also be made available for viewing
www.dropbox.com Has become a prevalent storage application
across the world. According to Microsoft, as
of November 2013, there were 300 million
individual users and 4 million businesses
using Dropbox. In addition, the service is
available in 19 languages across 200 countries
(Hong, 2014). Dropbox allows users to share
files with anyone through a URL link.
Dropbox gives users 2GB free (up to 16GB
http://onedrive.live.com Delivers users 7GB of storage on any device
(e.g. Windows, Mac, iOS, Windows phone,
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 4
Android, Xbox). OneDrive also allows for the
joint creation, collaboration, and editing
across documents and folders. For businesses,
Office Online or Office client apps enable
real-time collaboration and secure file
sharing. Up to 25 GB in storage is minimal at
$2.50 per user per month.
Across universities, cloud computing is being introduced to faculty, students, and staff as
a means to supplement or even replace traditional resources. In 2012, over 6.7 million students
were enrolled in at least one online course (Allen & Seaman, 2013). In fact, the Babson Survey
Group reported that online enrollments have increased more rapidly than overall higher
education enrollments (Allen & Seaman, 2010). Part of the reason for this progression is the
growing diversity of the U.S. population and greater demand for courses that provide greater
flexibility, affordability, and the added convenience to students. Also, with fluctuations in the
economy and an uncertain job market, a considerable number of students are pursuing online
degrees for reasons of employment (Clinefelter & Aslanian, 2014).
The low cost, flexibility in use, and global accessibility makes cloud technology a suitable
contender to level the playing field in education. For example, in December 2013, as part of a
social experiment, Sugata Mitra created the first School in the Cloud lab allowing children, no matter how rich or poor the opportunity to engage and connect with information and mentoring online (Mitra, 2014, para. 1). Also, the Cloud is being utilized as a means to provide online curriculum and educational resources across the world at no cost. For instance, through the
Google Cloud Platform, the Kahn Academy has the ability to host over 2000 online videos,
support 3.8 million unique visits each month, and answer 1.5 million practice questions each
school day (Google, 2011).
Across the world, students and faculty utilize the cloud to upload and share videos and images,
which would normally be too large to send through a learning management system (LMS) or
In addition, digital games are being harnessed for game-based learning into teaching and learning
over the Cloud. One example includes the World of Warcraft (WoW), a massively multiplayer
online role-playing game (MMORPG) that is being used in middle and high schools to promote
learning (Shane, 2012). One advocate for the use of WoW in school settings is Peggy Sheehy
who has been adapting the game for use with middle school humanities students (See:
http://goo.gl/b3rxFW ). According to Gerber (2012), the future of gaming may soon be
embedded into massively open online courses (MOOCs) where over 100,000 students are now
enrolled in an online community of learning.
In addition, cloud platforms are also enabling faculty members and students the ability to share
research with other researchers globally. According to Farnam Jahanian, Assistant Director of
the National Science Foundation (NSF) Directorate for Computer and Information Science and
Engineering, "Cloud computing represents a new generation of technology in this new era of
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 5
science, one of data-driven exploration It creates precedent-setting opportunities for discovery (NSF, 2011, para. 5). One such example is an innovative Global Factory program, which continues to bring together students from different universities and time zones to rethink
sustainable innovations such as automobile factories and digital farming. According to Pierre
Chevrier, Director of Ecole Nationale d'Ingnieurs de Metz, "Social, cloud-based collaboration
was a key reason the Global Factory program over-achieved its goalIn a dispersed environment, like ones real life engineers experience every day, social networking technologies
are mandatory for successful innovation (Green Technology World, 2014, para. 5).
A Greener Education with Cloud Technology
According to Newton (2010), cloud computing is the most energy-efficient method we
have to address the ever-accelerating demand for computation and data storage. The proliferation
of cloud computing promises cost savings in technology infrastructure and faster software
upgrades (Liu, Tong, Mao, Bohn, Messina, Badger, & Leaf, 2011). Amazon (2014) proposed
that cloud technology will reduce overall information technology (IT) costs in that both
infrastructure and labor costs are reduced.
Schools are seeking opportunities to reduce their carbon footprint as they seek greener technologies (iLink, 2007). Ng (2010) reported that clouds could help universities reduce costs
by 74%. For instance, The University of Nebraskas Chief Information Officer Walter Weir found that moving email to the cloud resulted in a faster and less expensive system (Goulart,
2012). There are additional environmental benefits to utilizing cloud technologies. Utilizing the
cloud is a factor in greener computing, as it has been found to reduce energy, lower carbon
emissions, and decrease IT. Working in collaboration, researchers at Microsoft, Accenture, and
WSP Environment & Energy estimated that for U.S. companies, cloud technologies can reduce
carbon emissions from 30 to 90% (Accenture, 2010).
A virtual education through cloud platforms reduces costs to both students and the environment
including the added expense of travel (e.g. wear on vehicles, fuel), room and board fees, and the
costs of food. According Western Governors University (WGU, 2014), dorm and food costs add at least $10,000 to $15,000 of expenditures per academic year. Also, based upon a 2008 survey,
researchers at the University of Florida found that virtual courses saved public schools money in
teaching, administrative, and technical expenses. The average traditional public K-12 school
costs an average $9,100 per pupil where an online, virtual course averages just at $4,300
(University of Florida, 2009). Also, many older adults with children do not have the added costs
of childcare to factor in (WGU, 2014).
For those living in rural communities who have to often drive long distances to attend school, the
reduced driving will also reduce carbon dioxide emissions. The National Wildlife Federation
(NWF, 2009) reported that researchers from The Stockholm Environmental Institute and the
United Kingdoms Open University Design Innovation Group (DIG) found that distance-learning courses resulted in an 89 percent reduction in travel-related emissions compared to traditional
face-to-face courses. Furthermore, the production and provision of the distance learning courses
consumed nearly 90% less energy than the conventional campus-based university courses.
Similarly, in a study by Campbell and Campbell (2011), distance education courses helped
reduced CO2 emissions by 5-10 tons per semester.
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 6
[Insert Figure 2 about Here] See p. 28
Big Data for Education
In the Age of Information, ubiquitous connectivity and the rise of cloud technology is
producing vast amounts of big data (see Figure 2). Big data is defined as datasets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, store, manage, and analyze (Manyika, Chui, Brown, Bughin, Dobbs, Roxburgh, & Byers, 2011, p. 1).
According to Ferreira (2013), education yields a tremendous volume of data, perhaps more than
other industry. As education moves online, new methods for data mining are occurring in order
to better understand the ways students learn. From tutoring systems to simulations and games,
opportunities to collect and analyze student data, to discover patterns and trends in those data, and to make new discoveries and test hypotheses about how students learn are now obtainable (USDE, 2012, p. 9).
Big Data in K-12 Classrooms
The U.S. Department of Education (2010) acknowledged that in order to help students
succeed and improve education, student data would need to be collected, analyzed, and used to
improve student outcomes. The USDOE also noted that data would play a more integral role in
decision making at all levels including classroom teachers. Currently, almost all school districts
have electronic student information systems which provide real-time access to student data.
According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA, 2013), Texas has implemented the Texas
Education Data Standards (TEDS) system to provide real-time access to student data such as
attendance, demographics, test scores, grades and schedules. TEDS is composed of three primary
big data storage agents:
1. The Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) which incorporates
student demographic and academic performance, personnel, financial, and organizational
2. The Texas Records Exchange (TREx) system that facilitates electronic transfers of
student records and transcripts to other districts or institutions of higher education.
3. The Student GPS Dashboard which identifies problems in attendance, class work, and
Additionally, West (2012) reported that the use of data mining techniques allows schools to
identify students who are at risk of dropping out of school. Manyika et. al (2011) suggested that
by making data available on educational outcomes at primary and secondary schools, parents are
able to make better decisions about where to live or in which schools to place their children.
TEA (2013) noted that this system will not only save schools time and money but also provide
educators with the data needed to prepare students for the future.
Big Data in Higher Education Classrooms
According to Zimpher (2014), the big data movement can build universities that are more
intelligent in the way they refine their management and operations to facilitate ingenuity and
innovation in higher education. By looking at patterns of information, called predictive analysis,
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 7
universities can work on many of their internal processes such as improving their graduation
rates by identifying those students that are at the largest risk for failure. As an example,
according to Nelson (2014), The University of Texas at Austin (UT) enters every incoming
students information such as demographics, financial need, family income, high school courses, first generation college student status, and their test scores into Dashboard (a very large dataset
aggregated from UT student data from the past decade). In doing so, the university is able to
identify those in the bottom quartile of their class and invite them into a unique program that
gives the identified students the extra help and support to graduate. According to the UT website,
the University Leadership Network performs extensive holistic reviews of students who would benefit most from a small network of peers, have unmet financial need and a desire to have
involvement in the community (UT, 2014, para. 20).
In the New York Times and Chronicle of Higher Education article, Big Data on Campus, Parry
(2012) reported that students are leaving behind a trail of digital breadcrumbs (stored digital
data) such as the websites they visit, how often they visit their universitys online learning management system (LMS) and for how long. The power of analyzing these clicks of data is that
they show the students patterns of behavior such as turning in papers late online; missing tests, etc. which are now being harnessed on academic campuses to provide students with course
suggestions based upon their academic records and social connections.
Also, as the sheer amount of data proliferates across the world, the need for data analytic
specialists is predicted to grow. To prepare students for the exponential increase in big data,
universities are now providing specialized coursework. For example, The University of
Washington (2014) offers a Big Data track specialization within their computer science and
engineering PhD programs.
Big Data for Industry
When harnessed, Big Data has been found to be highly effective in business and industry. For
example, Forbes Insights (2013) noted that in a recent survey of business marketers,
organizations that utilized Big Data to make business marketing decisions exceeded their goals
60% of the time. They did so by utilizing unique tools that ultimately engage audiences by first
identifying consumer behavior in new ways and with better accuracy. Indeed, big data shines with its numerous ways of looking at consumerswhen and where they are likely to access an impression and by what means. And that leads to efficiency that bolsters financial performance (p. 6). Savvy business leaders have always utilized data, but now at a time when data is
voluminous, those leaders who are able to analyze it into a usable form can make the most
accurate business predictions and decisions (IHS, 2014).
Marwick (2014) brought to light the issue of deep data mining of customer and user information.
For example, Netflix, Comcast, and Amazon have capitalized on cloud technology to allow users
to watch on demand television movies across a plethora of mobile devices. For companies like
these, there is an added incentive of big data such as profiling services (e.g. demographics, viewing behavior) that would have been difficult, at best, to capture in the past (Moulding,
2014). Retailers can use personal location data to track shoppers, link data to product purchases,
customer demographics, and buying patterns over time (Manyika et. al, 2011). Database
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 8
marketing is the industry of collecting, aggregating, and brokering personal data (Marwick, 2014, para. 3) and records our actions including mobile profiles, browser cookies, and public
records to get a picture of our buying habits to target our preferences.
[Insert Figure 3 about Here] See p. 29
The Internet of Things
Our electronic devices are getting much smarter (Frog, 2014). Cisco reported in 2011 that there
were more than 12 billion electronic devices connected to the Internet and predicted that there
would be more than 50 billion by the year 2050 and referred to this phenomenon as the Internet of Things (IoT, Cisco, 2011, p. 2). IoT was later defined by Hess (2014) as a system where the Internet is connected to the physical world via ubiquitous sensors (para. 1). Microsoft (2014) remarked that the IoT is seen in devices, sensors, cloud infrastructure, and data and business intelligence tools (para.2). One industry example of IoT is the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital in Valencia, California that created a secure single sign on for medical personnel to subsequently
access medical records all day with one tap of their badge. See their video at:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=buhhKdRnE6E#t=15 that shows how anytime, anywhere
access in the hospital leaving more time for working with patients.
The Internet of Everything
Recognizing IoT has numerous advantages (McWhorter, 2014b). Beyond the convenience of the
interconnectedness of digital devices is the fact that IoT is about reducing waste and improving
efficiency such as time and energy consumption (Morgan 2014). More specifically, IoT can
create enormous benefits for systems and processes such as transportation networks, waste
management, product shipments, vehicle auto-diagnosis, and detection of: traffic congestion,
forest fires, air pollution levels, radiation levels, and noise levels. Most recently, IoT is evolving
to have an even larger impact as it includes not only sensors and devices, but now it brings together people (humans), process (manages the way people, data and things work together), data
(rich information) and things (inanimate objects and devices) to make networked connections
more relevant and valuable than ever before (Cisco, 2013a, para. 4) and the new term is the Internet of Everything (IoE) to describe this integration (See Figure 3).
Big Data and the Smart Grid
Big data also impacts energy and sustainability. Big data is an enabler for utilities to better
manage outage problems and find improved ways to renew energy (McMahon, 2013). As more
technologies are created, more energy is utilized across the world. In the United States, most of
this energy is delivered through an electric grid combining 5,000 power plants and 200,000 miles
of transmission lines (Nova, 2011). According to Nova, the current grid is a century old marvel
that is ill equipped to power all the new devices. Electric companies are in the process of moving
to smart meters which will managed by an intelligent power grid or smart grid which will
monitor energy use in real time. Smart Grid technologies are based on information from
consumer habits. In the long run, the smart grid will save energy, reduce costs, and increase
reliability from electrical suppliers to the consumer.
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 9
Jamieson (2013) noted that data can be mined to perform diagnostics, make intelligent recommendations and detect anomalies and inefficiencies to reduce or optimize energy
consumption (para. 4). For example, IBM and Oncor are using big data technology to monitor at least 3.2 million smart electrical meters (Bertolucci, 2012). The idea of a Smart Grid,
according to Coughlin (2014), is that through technology, energy can be efficiently produced and
delivered over a collection of networks. Smart grids also support renewable energy sources like
solar and wind. Also, through smart chargers, the grid may be able to power batteries on electric
vehicles during off-peak hours that would transfer energy back to the energy grid (Cobb, 2011;
IBM, 2012). IBM (2012) suggested that the utilities using big data in conjunction with smart
grids may not only increase profitability, but also reduce the carbon footprint, improve customer
satisfaction, and increase safety.
Transforming the current energy system into a smart system is a challenge but universities across the country are working to make this a reality. For example, Texas A&M University
(2014) has developed a Smart Grid Center, as shown in Figure 4, in an effort that is pulling together teams of faculty and student researchers, as well as industry professionals, to deliver
innovative energy solutions to meet the needs of future generations (para. 1).
[Insert Figure 4 about Here] See p. 29
Real-Time Group Meetings in Online Educational Courses
Online courses provide convenience for both adult learners and instructors for anytime,
anywhere access to learning opportunities. However, the convenience of online courses often
comes with a pricethe proliferation of content delivered in higher education courses through online platforms is staggering and often leaves faculty overwhelmed as they seek to move
courses online (Delello, McWhorter, Marmion, Camp, & Everling, 2014). Students, too, often
have difficulties in courses that are purely independent learning opportunities (Arbaugh, Dearmond, & Rau, 2013, p. 643) where instructors post course content online and then grade the
learning output. This asynchronous mode of learning often lacks to engage students in online
learning (Lederman, 2013; Petty & Ferinde, 2013; Xu & Jaggars, 2011) frequently leading to a
higher rate of attrition (Reigle, 2010).
To combat the lack of student engagement in online courses, instructors have been designing-in
synchronous activities for online students (Palloff & Pratt, 2013). One such activity held is real-
time group meetings (RTGMs) whereby small groups of online students (3-5 students) hold
regularly scheduled online meetups used for discussion around course topics and working on a
class project (McWhorter, Roberts & Mancuso, 2011). These RTGMs can be held through
various platforms such as video conferencing (i.e. Skype.com; Zoom.us; GoToMeeting.com),
social media (i.e. Facebook chat, Twitter Group Chats) or virtual worlds (i.e. SecondLife.com).
Greening Business Meetings through Video Conferencing
Evolution of the Internet for collaboration has seen users connecting to technology, through
technology, and then most recently within technology (Fazarro & McWhorter, 2011; Kapp &
ODriscoll, 2010; McWhorter, 2010, 2011, 2014). Although in geographically dispersed
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 10
locations, business colleagues can collaborate through video conferencing technology that allows
high definition (HD) video and even HD audio that help to establish social presence. Fazarro and
McWhorter (2011) demonstrated how video conferencing used in lieu of face-to-face business
meetings produced both a savings in terms of monetary cost as well as protecting the
environment due to lack of travel time and fossil fuels. Video conferencing platforms such as
WebEx.com can support up to 100 per meeting with try it for free 30 day trials for businesspeople to try before they buy. However, there are a number of disadvantages to video
conferencing that need to be addressed. These include overcoming technical difficulties,
removing distractors from the environment, establishing rapport through social presence (Oztock
& Brett, 2011) and interaction, and have a clear agenda for the virtual meeting time.
Greening Professional Conferences
Professional conferences are necessary for professional development, disseminating new ideas,
and networking with other professionals. However, they are quite expensive in terms of travel
costs, travel time, and the carbon footprint for travel, energy for on-site spaces, and disposable of
Virtual professional conferences have been defined as any part of a live conference that is made available via the Web for attendees around the world to view live or on-demand (ASTD, 2010).
According to Merriam, Caffarella, and Baumgartner (2007), technology has greatly increased the
flexibility of learning for adults including interactive teleconferences from a home or workplace
computer. As technology affords the adult learner with many new and media-rich learning
experiences through self-directed learning (SDL), online professional conferences have emerged
(McWhorter, Mancuso, Chlup & Demps, 2009; McWhorter, Mancuso & Roberts, 2013). The
next section highlights the features of traditional professional conferences and then presents
online professional conferences enabled through sophisticated software as an emerging practice
and discusses these spaces for their potential for building and sustaining adult learners.
Traditional Professional Conferences
Many organizations such as the Academy of Human Resource Development (AHRD) hold an
annual professional conference. Such conferences are typically scheduled over multiple days
having numerous tracks of interest for attendees (Budd, 2011). Advantages of attending face-to-
face (F2F) conferences include the full immersion experience (on-site venue with depth and
breadth of learning opportunities without the distractions of the workplace), professional
networking (seeing old friends and making new ones), presenting scholarly work (sharing
research or listening to others share theirs; See Bell, 2011; Shepherd, 2010) and vendor resources (usually an exhibit hall for a large conference or several tables with products for
smaller venues; See Woodie, 2009). The primary advantages for an organization to host a
professional conference is the opportunity to retain and gain members, and for knowledge
sharing (De Vries & Pieters, 2007).
Disadvantages of traditional professional conferences include the cost of resources for the
attendee (i.e. time away from the workplace plus travel and registration costs), and added costs
for the hosting organization (i.e. multiple resources for planning the conference; see Kovaleski,
2010). Traditional professional conferences are also certainly not green as many participants travel long distances to attend the various conferences venues; also, these sites consist of a
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 11
physical space [that] is a finite and expensive asset, [that] must be cleared and made available for
subsequent events (Welch, Ray, Melendez, Fare & Leach, 2010, p. 151).
It has been estimated that companies spend approximately $32 billion on traditional professional
conferences annually; of that amount, 58% goes toward the costs for hotels, food, and beverages.
As the economy has slowed and fuel costs risen, some conference planners are looking for ways
to reduce travel expenses, even as they find ways to encourage participation among an
increasingly global workforce (King, 2008). One innovative way suggested as an alternative to
traditional professional conferences is that of online professional conferences and will be
Emergence of Online Professional Conferences
Professional organizations such as the American Library Association (ALA; who holds an
entirely online midwinter conference), the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL;
who has online conferences in addition to a F2F conference), the Public Library Association
(PLA; who holds an online conference component to their annual conference plus totally online
Spring Symposiums), the American Association of School Librarians (AASL; who held a virtual
conference as a parallel experience to their annual conference) as well as the Handheld Librarian
conference (a fully online semi-annual conference) focusing on mobile devices, are all examples
of early adopters, and organizations which embraced the virtual conference (See Bell, 2011;
McWhorter, Roberts, &Mancuso, 2013). It is the evolution of the sophisticated technology itself
that allowed for such digital collaboration to be possible (See Figure 5 that shows the features of
online group chat, scheduled group chats, online message board, networking, and messages).
[Insert Figure 5 about Here] See p. 30
When considering a co-located (face-to-face) conference or an online conference, it can be useful
to examine the positives and negatives of each type, depending on the circumstances. Table 2 is
useful to compare these two types of professional conferences.
Comparison of Co-Located Professional Conference to Online Professional Conference
Aspect Co-Located Conference Online Conference
Cost to Attend Conference Registration and
Free or reduced conference
registration; no travel fees required,
but must have connectivity to access
Typical time required for
travel and conference
Can connect to virtual conference via
desktop, laptop, or mobile device
(contingent on chosen platform)
To participate in an
attendees must spend greater
travel costs and time
Although time zones are an issue,
technology allows global synchronous
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 12
Connecting with colleagues
and networking typically
easier in co-located
Synchronous collaboration is available
through integrated technologies such
as virtual chatting, social media
Weather or other disaster
could cause travel problems,
delays or even the
cancellation of the
Technology problems could result in
the cancellation of the conference, but
easier to reschedule then co-located
WiFi often unavailable to
attendees in conference
Participation relatively easy with a
reliable internet connection and
sophisticated vendor technology
Easier to remove distractions
and focus on the conference
More likely to be distracted by other
tasks and daily routines
Archiving conference in
written format such as
newsletter and website
Online conference can be fully
archived through multimedia for on-
demand access at attendee
Source: Adapted from Fazarro and McWhorter, 2011
Digital Badges in Education
In the 21st century, students want to be engaged, motivated, and connected. To enhance their
learning experience, innovative educators are turning to digital badges and certificates
(HASTAC, 2013). According to The Alliance for Excellent Education (2013), badges are digital
credentials that represent an individuals skills, interests, and achievements. Badges can also be displayed across Websites, cloud servers, social media applications and to potential employers.
Education Secretary, Arne Duncan stated, As we recognize multiple ways for students to learn, we need multiple ways to assess and document their performance. Badges can help speed the
shift from credentials that simply measure seat time, to ones that more accurately measure
competency (USDE, 2011, para. 13-16).
Colleges, universities, massively open online courses (MOOCs), and K-12 campuses are
experimenting with digital badges to encourage engagement with coursework and improve
student retention. In fact, former U.S. President Clinton established the Clinton Global Initiative
America (CGI America) to massively expand access to a new method of academic and technical
skills assessment known as Open Badges (MacArthur Foundation, 2013). The MacArthur
Foundation reported that over 14,000 independent organizations are using digital badge systems
to document informal learning experiences. In K-12 schools, Waters (2013) noted that educators
are currently using badges for in two ways: as motivational tools like gold stars and as evidence
of proficiency much like merit badges. However, unlike traditional merit badges, digital badges
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 13
link the user information to validated information based upon standards (Foster, 2013). See
Figure 6 for examples of digital badges that can be added to digital ePortfolios and social media.
[Insert Figure 6 about Here] See p. 30
One example of use of digital badges in higher education is at the University of California at
Davis that is documenting the experiential learning occurring outside of the classroom where
badges are capturing learning such as fieldwork and internships. Students earn digital badges that
are designed and created by faculty who have described the learning outcomes that each badge
represents and they noted that badges are graphical representations of an accomplishmentgiving new ways beyond college credentials to prove what they know and can do (Fain, 2014, para. 6, 10).
The future of greener technologies may mean using digital badges as a way to transform
instruction and disrupt the diploma (Hoffman, 2013). By removing traditional paper based certificates and diplomas in favor of badges, students may be better able to show off their
credentials over a life-time of learning and provide schools with cost saving options. By 2016,
The MacArthur Foundation (2013) suggested that 10 million workers and students would create
learning pathways with the help of an open badge system.
However, it is too early to say what the cost savings will be or whether digital acclimations will
lead to greener footprints. Currently, research on using digital badges is limited but time, costs,
and global benefits will certainly be topics of future inquiry.
Digital Badges for Lifelong Learning
The use of digital badges is as a nascent way to capture and communicate the skills and
knowledge of adult learners. According to the American Institutes for Research (2013), digital
badges can be particularly useful for the certification of skills of adult learners enrolled in the
basic education programs who have few, if any, formal credentials (such as diplomas), but who are obtaining functional skills that would be valued in a workplace setting if a mechanism for
certifying those skills and that knowledge was available (p. 3). And, a digital badge is a way to represent a skill that is earned (Mozilla, 2014).
At Yale University, digital badges are used to depict credentialing for adults enrolled in its online
community that trains K-12 teachers in emotional literacy (BadgeOs, 2013). The badges
recognize individual learning and community involvementthat empowers and encourages [adult] learners to master new skills and knowledge as they earn badges they take with them for
life, demonstrating to the world what they know (para. 5). Even Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have gotten onboard with utilizing badges. Even though there is no grade in the class
students can learn at their own pace and can earn open badges that will be permanently stored in your Mozilla backpack (Indiana University, 2014, para. 3) once they successfully finish the course.
As technology has changed the landscape of visits to nonprofits such as libraries and museums,
digital badges can also be useful for engaging patrons during such visits. For instance, the Dallas
Museum of Art (DMA) found that many exhibits only received a cursory view rather than the
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 14
deep-learning that had been designed for patrons (Stein & Wyman, 2013) including badges that
are both explicit and discoveredvisitors are incentivized to undertake particular activities in the museum through a series of obviously earnable badgesearned around a fairly broad range of activities ranging from simple gallery visitation to identifying favorite artworks to creative
activities (para. 43). See Figure 7 used for DMA Friends to engage them in museum visits and activities. The new All-American badge requires more participation at the museum than the
original DMA Friend badge including asking visitors to brush up on their geography by visiting
the DMA Ancient American, American, and Contemporary galleries to receive the new badge.
[Insert Figure 7 about Here] See p. 31
To be successful with adult learners, digital badges must communicate the skills, knowledge, or
experiences that they purport to convey. They must also be visible for others to recognize.
Developers note that earned badges can be displayed on social media such as Facebook,
LinkedIn, Twitter, and WordPress and digital badges can be issued to those attending learning
events (Credly.com; Eventbrite.com). Finally, instructors, curators and event organizers can give
credit, share and display earned digital badges individually or a group as simple by using the
application app on their mobile device (credly.com/news/ios-app).
Three-Dimensional Printing (3D) printing is a technology which makes it possible to build real
objects from virtual 3D objects. A 3D printer builds a tangible model or prototype from the electronic file, one layer at a time, using an inkjet-like process to spray a bonding agent onto a
very thin layer of fixable powder, or an extrusion-like process using plastics and other flexible
materials (Johnson, Adams Becker, Cummins, Estrada, Freeman, & Ludgate, 2013, p. 28). 3D objects can be printed from a variety of materials including plastics, metals, glass, concrete, and
even chocolate (3D Printer, 2014).
The NMC Horizon Report 2013 Higher Education Edition reported that in the next 4-5 years, 3D
printing will reach widespread adoption (Johnson, et. al, 2013). The implementation of this
emerging technology will create new possibilities to prepare students for the twenty-first century.
For instance, students at Chico High School in California are using 3D printing to create
prototypes for local businesses. In another example, students from Cypress Woods High School
in Texas joined with NASA to develop and build a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that
maneuvers around the International Space Station (ISS) while carrying a camera (Stratasys,
2014). Also, MakerBot (2014a) has incorporated 3D printable curriculum available for schools
including jump ropes, dinosaurs, frog dissections, and the great pyramids. MakerBots motto is to put a MakerBot Desktop 3D Printer in every school in America (para. 1). The MakerBot initiative has enabled teachers in more than 1,000 public schools obtain 3D Printers and in turn
reached approximately 300,000 students (MakerBot, 2014b). Universities are also embracing 3D
printing. For example, scientists at Harvard University (2012) are developing 3D action figures
from computer animation files. Also, students from Purdue University are working with Adobes Advantage Technology Labs to create software applications that allow 3D printers to create more
structurally sound products (Venere, 2012).
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 15
Researchers at Michigan Technological University conducted a study to find out how much a
family might save by printing common objects at home with 3D printers, such as simple
replacement parts or toys, instead of buying them in stores or online (Kelly, 2013). The savings
according to the findings ranged from several hundred dollars to thousands of dollars depending
upon the types of products that were generated. Not only did 3D printers save money, the
potential according to Kelly (2013) is that 3D printing could cut down on packaging and
pollution from transportation which, in turn, helps save the environment. Not only will 3D
printing reduce waste, it will also offer a high end of customization to both education and
3D Printing for Industry
The process of creating a physical object from a 3D model has been called the Third Industrial Revolution (The Economist, 2012, para. 1). Traditionally, supply chains move goods from where they are manufactured to where they are sold, and oftentimes these are great distances.
Thus, mass produced goods require a long lead time, with high transport costs and need for large
warehouse networks. In contrast, a 3D printing (additive manufacturing) supply chain provides a
much lower carbon footprint because items can be printed locally and distributed in a close
proximity and allows for customized production rather than a good that is mass produced thus
requiring only a short lead time and results in low transport costs. In this new disruptive model,
the customer demand pulls on the printing of the customized product for the consumer (3D Printing; joneslanglasalle.edu, 2013) See Figure 8 for a depiction of this disruption of the
traditional supply chain due to 3D printing alternatives for manufacturing in more local
[Insert Figure 8 about here] See p. 31
The Move to Mobile Devices
Wagner (2005) remarked, From toddlers to seniors, people are increasingly connected and are digitally communicating with each other in ways that would have been impossible only a few
years ago (p. 42). A recent study by Common Sense Media (2011) reported that 52% of all children now have access to newer mobile devices at home including smartphones (41%), video
iPods (21%), or tablet devices such the iPad (8%). Experian (2013) reported that Millennials
spend 14% more time connected to mobile devices per week than their generational peers and
ninety-six percent of undergraduate students had cell phones with 63% reporting using them to
access the Web (Pew Research Center, 2010).
With the proliferation of mobile devices, the notion of anytime, anywhere learning has become
part of our culture. In fact, according to Mark Prensky (2012), in an era of such rapid
technological growth, the digital natives are disconnecting the cords to their personal computers
in favor of mobile tools such as cell phones, iPods, iPads, and other tablet devices. Also, college
students, according to Friedrich, Peterson, and Koster (2011), are more technologically linked
and socially connected than ever before.
This digital revolution is the beginning of the next generation of wireless technology presenting a
unique opportunity to create learning experiences, which create personal meaning and engage the
learner. Students who have been using digital technology will embrace and use these mobile
tools in various unexpected ways, if given the opportunity (Prensky, 2005).
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 16
Mobile and Digital for Greener Savings
For schools moving to 1:1 computing, there may be a significant cost savings as students have
access to course work and digital applications through cloud technologies. And, as textbook
prices continue to increase; more schools are turning towards the use of eBooks. According to
Green Press Initiative (2007), book and newspaper industries across the United States harvest
125 million trees each year and release 40 million metric tons of CO2 annually, equivalent to 7.3
million cars. Martin (2011) reported that worldwide, the growing paper consumption has resulted
in an average reduction of four billion trees. Printing also accounts for as much as 10% of all
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (Green Press Initiative, 2007). Because there are no printing fees
associated with e-books and storage is located on the mobile device or in the cloud,
transportation and printing costs are reduced. For example, in an initial pilot study, Indiana
University moved print books to e-texts through a university initiative (Wheeler & Osborne,
2012). Preliminary numbers revealed an average student saving of $25 per book, collectively
saving the University $100,000. According to Wheeler and Osborne (2012), other universities
are replicating the pilot study including The University of California, Berkeley; Cornell
University; The University of Minnesota; The University of Virginia; and The University of
According to AT&T (2014), results from a recent study found that U.S. Small Businesses are
also saving in excess of $65 billion each year by switching to tablets, smartphones, and mobile
apps for their day-to-day normal business activities. It was reported that these businesses equate
the increase in mobile devised to an improvement in operational efficiencies, time savings and an increase in employee productivity (para. 9). By allowing employees to access information away from the office, a savings in fuel costs and the carbon footprint of the small businesses is
reduced. And, for small businesses that cannot afford to provide mobile devices to all of their
employees, allowing them to bring their own device (BYOD) is an alternative that reduces small
business budgets for smartphones, while allowing employees to use a device they have chosen
on their own; further, a recent study reported that 88% of employees with BYOD at work also
use their mobile phones for work reasons while on their personal time such beyond the work day
or vacation time. To help alleviate security concerns of BYOD, it is recommended that cloud
services that offer integration with mobile apps to manage all users, across multiple locations, while securing company dataenabling BYOD without the downside (Gigaom, 2014, para. 7) be considered.
In a new advertisement (http://youtu.be/EdeVaT-zZt4), Apple (2014) recently announced its
commitment to environmental responsibly plan to use greener materials in its computers while
conserving resources. In fact, Apples mobile products such as the iPad, MacBook Pro, and iMac are becoming thinner and using less material with each product redesign. For example, the latest
Mac Pro uses 74 percent less aluminum and steel than in previous designs (Apple, 2014). Also,
by using mobile technologies, such as an iPad, less electricity is used. According to the Electric
Power Research Institute, an iPad or Smartphone uses less electricity than a standard 60W
compact, fluorescent light bulb (TapScape, 2013). The annual estimated electricity cost for an
iPad has been estimated to cost $1.36 and the same amount of use for an iPhone 4 averages
around .38 (Fahey, 2012; TapScape, 2013).
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 17
Recycling E-waste and Green Purchasing
By 2016, there will be more mobile devices than people on earth (Cisco, 2013b). According to
Cisco, there will be more than 10 billion mobile Internet-connected devices in 2016, more than
estimated world population of 7.3 billion. Gartner (2014) proposes that in 2015, over 2,364
million new devices (tablets, ultra mobiles and mobile phones) will be shipped worldwide. Yet,
according to Tom Foremski (2007), Americans throw 426,000 mobile phones away each day.
In a recent United Nations (UN, 2010) report, the production of e-waste over the next decade
could rise as much as 500%. E-Waste is considered to be any electronic device (e.g. computers,
televisions, phones) that has reached the end of their suitable for use. Additionally, the increased
use of electronic devices on college and university campuses is raising concerns about the proper
use and disposal of e-waste (Smith, 2009). One reason for the surge in wastes is that companies
continue to roll out newer devices with more sophisticated technology and innovative
One solution is through better waste management strategies such as product stewardship,
pollution prevention, and green consumerism. For example, the EPA (2014) has established a
number of initiatives to promote renewable energy strategies across universities. One such
initiative is the College and University Green Power Challenge, in which, universities are
challenged to create more green energy than other competing higher education institutions. A
green campus is defined as a higher education community that is improving energy efficiency, conserving resources and enhancing environmental quality by educating for sustainability and
creating healthy living and learning environments (The Center for Green Schools, 2014, para. 1).
Educational institutions have always had challenges in acquiring enough funding to purchase the
technology needed. And, as mobile devices become more ubiquitous across all age spans, most
students will have devices readily available for use in the classroom. However, schools that
cannot afford a new device for students may turn towards a growing trend of purchasing
refurbished desktops or mobile devices as a means to connect students to a VLE. Also, both
education and industry are findings new ways to reduce e-waste by collecting and recycling. For
example, The University of Cincinnati (2014) has partnered with the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanic
Gardens to provide cell phone collection boxes across campus (see Figure 8). Proceeds from the
cell phone recycling program Project Saving Species are used by the Zoo to support field
conservation efforts. The Zoos motto: Recycle a cell phone. Save a gorilla. It's that simple! (Cincinnati Zoo & Botanic Gardens, 2014, para. 1).
Also, corporations such as Apple (2014) have committed to minimizing the impact of products
such as the iPhone, IPad, or computer on the environment. For example, the Apple Recycling
Program allows users to recycle old or worn-out products free of charge. Also, Apple will trade
computers or devices with monetary value for an Apple Gift Card. In 2008, Apple recycled 30.5
million pounds of electronic waste.
How Higher Education is Creating Greener Global Technology
As universities continually seek ways to conserve energy, they are also challenged to help with
global sustainability efforts. Even with reports of technology expanding across the world, one
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 18
billion people world-wide continue to live without electricity (Walsh, 2013). At Harvard
University, four undergraduate students set out to change these statistics by creating the Soccket,
a soccer ball (see Figure 9), that when played with for 30 minutes, would generate enough
electricity to provide three hours of electric power (greenTech, 2012). In addition, the newly
founded company Uncharted Play (2014) has developed social curriculum to enable students
around the world to use the resources around them to invent solutions to their problems.
In another example, hoping to change millions of lives globally, two design students the Art
Center College of Design created the first-ever eco-friendly, pedal-powered washing machine
and dryer (greenTech, 2012). Also, Song and Oh (2014) designed the solar-powered battery
charger. It uses the suns rays to power multiple devices without the need for electricity. The solar-powered electrical socket can be connected to almost any glass window; it is expected to be
on the market in 2015.
FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTIONS
Fazarro and McWhorter (2011) presented green computing as a way to increase both
organization viability and environmental sustainability. Viability is the concept of an
organization remaining solvent in difficult economic times while environmental sustainability
has been defined as making decisions and taking action that are in the interests of protecting the natural world, with particular emphasis on preserving the capability of the environment to
support human life (Smallbizconnect, 2014, para. 3). Both viability and environmental sustainability are important topics at the present time, because organizations are working to
reduce costs while expanding their impact. Those that have been able to leverage technology to
reduce their overall costs of doing business are reaping the benefits of successful online courses
and meetings, big data analytics, and other green computing initiatives that reduce their negative
impact on the environment and boost their chances of remaining viable.
However, utilizing computer technology as green technology is not without its critics. For
instance, the environmental group Greenpeace (2012) activists scaled an Amazon office building
in Seattle to hang a banner reading How clean is your cloud? (Sverdilk, 2012, para. 1) to bring attention to the carbon footprint of large data centers such as Amazon and Facebook. Facebook
responded that there is no such thing as a coal-powered data centerthere is no such thing as a hydroelectric-powered data center. Every data center plugs into the grid offered by their utility or
power provider (Miller, 2010, para. 4).
CONCLUSION It is true that it is a battle to reduce carbon footprints as data centers are expanding is ongoing. In
rebuttal, though, we would add that it is our opinion that the positive outcomes of datacenters
outweigh the negatives of the need for generating more energy to run the servers in the
datacenters. For instance, some of the positives of green computing practices include reduced
travel to: work, to join with a workgroup in a central location, and to present or attend a
professional meeting or conference. It is not difficult to understand, for instance, that travelling
by air from the United States to Europe to attend a professional conference creates a large carbon
footprint as jet fuel is a fossil fuel. That footprint compared to the cost of running one computer
for a 3-day conference is not even close. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (2007), a
2-hour video conference created one-fifth the kilos of CO2 emissions of the air travel even taking
into account the rebound effect of associated activities. Therefore, we conclude that green
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 19
computing is a viable concept and more research is needed to determine the actual savings over
time in monetary and environmental impact that these initiatives are having in our educational
institutions, our organizations, and on our world.
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KEY TERMS AND DEFINITIONS
3D Printing: The creation of a physical object from a digital model including bioprinting for the
creation of organs, limbs, prosthetics, and human tissue
Big Data: Large or complex datasets that too difficult to easily analyze with traditional processes
including the utilization of predictive analysis for decision making
Cloud computing: Distributed computing where applications and files can be utilized over the
Digital badges: Graphic representation of an individuals accomplishments, interests, or demonstrated skills
Internet of Everything: Connectedness of digital devices to people and processes for improving
Internet of Things: Connectedness of digital devices into systems where they can communicate
Real-time group meeting (RTGM): Planned synchronous online meeting of a virtual team for
the purpose of reflecting on new content, engage in problem solving, or completing a project or
Sociomaterial: Having characteristics of both social (represent a shared understanding) and
material (document or technical infrastructure) practices
Online professional conference: Portions or complete schedule of audio or video of
professional presentations, keynote address, and business meetings of a professional conference
accessed in real-timethrough Web conferencing technology or archived for on-demand viewing.
Virtual Human Resource Development the utilization of technologically integrative environments to increase learning capacity and optimization of individual, group, community,
work process, and organizational system performance
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 28
Figure 1. "Cloud applications" by Benajmin P. Griner and Philip J. Butler.
Figure 2. Big Data. Copyright 2014 Canva.com. Used with permission
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 29
Figure 3. The Internet of Everything. 2013, S. Long, stephanieportfolio.wordpress.com Used
Figure 4. Copyright 2013 Texas A&M Smart Grid Center. Used with Permission.
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 30
Figure 5. Virtual learning environment for professional conferences. Copyright 2014 ON24,
Inc. Used with permission.
Figure 6: Digital Badges within LMS Blackboard
GREEN COMPUTING THROUGH VIRTUAL LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS 31
Figure 7: Digital badges for engaging visitors to explore art exhibits. Copyright Dallas
Museum of Art. Used with permission.
Figure 8. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanic Gardens Cell Phone Recycle Bin. Used with permission.
Contact the authors at: email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org