Green Computing through Virtual Learning Environments

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  • 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).



    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

    defined previously.

    Cloud Computing

    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.


    Table 1.

    Comparison of Various Cloud Computing Platforms

    Name URL Benefits/Disadvantages


    Cloud Drive 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 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

    App Store.

    Google Drive 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



    Dropbox 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

    with referrals).


    OneDrive Delivers users 7GB of storage on any device

    (e.g. Windows, Mac, iOS, Windows phone,


    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.

    Cloud-Based Universities

    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

    over email.

    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: ). 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


    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.


    [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 stu...


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