Shape of Education for Computing Sustainability: 1

Posted on June 1, 2007


The ACM is asking for contributions to their review of the computing curricula. What might be the shape of sustainable computing curricula?

Institutions committed to sustainability often prominently feature certain topics in their course offerings, e.g. Globalization and Sustainable Development; Environmental Philosophy; Nature Writing; Land Ethics and Sustainable Agriculture; Urban Ecology and Social Justice; Population, Women and Development; Sustainable Production and Consumption; and many others.

These courses are perhaps not helpful examples. In crowded curricula (McGettrick), it is unlikely many computing programmes could make room for such topics.

There are some courses in computing programmes that are explicitly sustainability but the success is not great.

Kurkovsky (2006), for example, described a course on “computational aspects of sustainable development: Sustainable development analysis” as part of an applied computing degree aimed to prepare students for skills needed by the pharmaceutical and health science industries. The course aimed to

a) To increase the students’ knowledge and understanding of the often complex relationship between sustainable development and the social, economic, and environmental conditions in the world, country or a region of the country

b) To encourage students conducting small research projects within the proposed case studies related to some elements of sustainable development; and

c) To improve the students’ ability to understand and apply contemporary software for environmental analysis, to decision making, and to problem solving.

The content of the course is examination of existing simulation models: three systems dynamics regional planning simulations, and four air pollution simulations

The BeyondGreyPinstripe initiative of the World Resources Institute includes a large resource of exemplar syllabi across the full range of MBA courses. This includes computing, mostly sustainability included (or as the basis of) courses in IT management. Most seem to be a standard course in MIS with the addition of a statement to the effect of “…electronic economy…constitutes a new way of conducting business…understanding impact on organisations and industries”.

Hufnagel, however, goes further and describes a course that

examines a variety of legal, ethical, and social issues involving information systems and knowledge management techniques, as well as managers’ responsibility for ensuring that computing resources are adequately protected and appropriately used. Cases, films, and articles from the business press will be used to highlight contemporary concerns. Class discussion focuses on both the issues involved and possible administrative and technical solutions.

The objectives of the course are to

1. To introduce students to alternative ethical frameworks and develop their skills in applying ethical analysis to problems involving information resource management

2. To develop students’ ability to critically evaluate the many legal, ethical, and social issues associated with new and emerging information technologies

3. To increase students’ awareness of multicultural perspectives on the appropriate uses of IT and the role technology can/should play in our lives.

Morato (2005), while describing a standard course “to create awareness on the role of Information on Strategic Planning and implementation” goes further than Hufnagel and explicitly aims to “to instil values and attitudes that would refocus students’ awareness not so much on technology mastery but technology understanding vis a vis communities of practices, social networks, and organizational cultures”.

While significant in their inclusion of ethical approaches (and a wider application of these ethics than the usual data security, privacy etc), none of these exemplar programmes, however, come close to considering a full application of sustainability.

Benn and Bubna-Litic (2003) discussed the changing context of the MBA. They argue that the format of the traditional MBA is one which “celebrates instrumental knowledge which contributes to the maximisation of production”, but that this “set of values, however, reflects on a time where the social and environmental consequences of corporate activity were largely ignored…(this is)…reminiscent of 1960s thinking”. They argue that the solution is not to incrementally bolt-on extra papers in environmental management, “shifts that have occurred in the foundation disciplines, however, suggest the need for second-order changes which affect the very way of knowing and understanding of the discipline”.

Clearly not going to be solved in one post. I’ll get back to this.



Bubna-Litic, D. and Benn, S., (2003). “The MBA at The Crossroads: Design Issues for the Future.” Journal of the Australian and New Zealand Academy of Management 9(3): 25. (2005). “Beyond Grey Pin Stripes.” Retrieved 15/2/07, 2007.


Kurkovsky, A. (2006). “Educational aspects of sustainable development analysis: computational models and software.” J. Comput. Small Coll. 21(4): 24-31.

McGettrick, A., R. Boyle, et al. (2004). Grand Challenges in Computing: Education. Newcastle, UK, British Computer Society: 26.

Morato, E. A., G. D. Ortigas, et al. (2005). “Strategic IT Management & Technology (SIM TECH).” Retrieved 15/2/07, 2007, from