An Agenda for Computing Education for Sustainability

Posted on July 5, 2007


Pulling things together: here is a draft agenda for developing effective Computing Education for Sustainability (CEfS).

1.          Work with the wider computing community to envisage and articulate a role for computing and computing professionals in a sustainable future.

2.          Work with the wider computing community to articulate a discipline response to sustainability. This may take the form of mission statements (etc) from professional societies.

3.          Work with the wider computing community to describe sustainable behaviours of computing professionals in sustainability challenges.

4.          Develop an understanding of the current status of sustainability (values, awareness, knowledge, skills & behaviours) of all our stakeholders (students, intake, stakeholders, staff, graduates, professional/trade connections etc).

5.          Identify sustainable practitioner graduate outcome and core competency statements for computing.  This should be both incremental and transformative.

6.          Develop learning outcomes integrated into every course looking simultaneously at course specific issues and whole holistic approaches.

7.          Identify and promote exemplar resources and teaching strategies.  As a priority identify areas missing from current curriculum.  

8.          Assess lecturer expertise and skill requirements in computing for sustainability and establish a development plan for the sector.

9.          Integrate sustainability into quality assurance processes (curriculum documents, moderation and monitoring checklists etc).

10.       Frame “for sustainability” as a core driver for research. This means  research aimed at increasing the sustainability of computing and enabling sustainable outcomes.   Both of these will require much wider and interdisciplinary approach to computing research, and, a move into areas of complex problems.

11.       Establish a network of sustainability champions to promote  CEfS as a legitimate and mainstream area of computing.

12.       Scope CEfS as a Grand Challenge in Computing.


The next action is to refine this agenda, identify barriers achieving these steps, and to flesh out the agenda items.

Background to agenda:

This agenda is from a conference paper by Samuel Mann and Lesley Smith, written as a discussion document for first NZ Computing Sustainability Workshop, in  conjunction with the National Advisory Committee on Comuting Qualifications (NACCQ).

Notes to add to agenda:

Cortese (1999, 2001) stressed the importance of articulating the future.    At present, despite clear calls for all professionals to take a role in sustainable development, computing education is not adequately preparing graduates to meet this need.

McGettrick et al. (2005) gives characteristics for a grand challenge.

·         Lead to substantial improvement in some significant aspect of the educational processes in computing.

·         Arouse curiosity and generate enthusiasm within the computing community.

·         Be international in scope and so have wide and significant relevance.

·         Have the capacity to bring about changes in attitude, changes in expectation and even change at the social level.

Nicolaides (2006) identifies a number of obstacles but maintains “education for sustainable development is, nonetheless, despite many obstacles, non negotiable”.   Thomas (2004) similarly identifies barriers in Australian universities with a view to developing strategies to overcome them.  Thomas’ barriers include: staff training; a fundamental lack of interest; a lack of tradition; and a lack of priority.

Wright (2007) undertook an exercise aimed at identifying research priorities for higher education sustainability.  She found that highly important areas of research included:  Impacts of teaching and learning methods:  evaluating educational approaches, investigating the role of transformative learning in achieving sustainability, and legitimising sustainability within the discipline:

while motherhood statements regarding sustainable development are rarely challenged, integrating sustainability into a higher education institution can be very difficult. Examining the perceived barriers and opportunities to incorporating sustainability into curriculum, policy, and operations was considered an interesting and helpful research endeavour. Another research project suggested was the comparison of faculty perceptions, approaches and integration of sustainability within their specific disciplines”