Beginning a dialogue to generate a vision (3)

Posted on August 8, 2007


What might be computing’s equivalent of the cradle to cradle approach?

What is missing from current graduates that can be expressed as learning outcomes?


Schaller (1993) argued that sustainability both benefits from and is hampered by imprecision:

“as a destination, sustainability is like truth and justice — concepts not readily captured in concise definitions”.

We believe, however, it vital that sustainability be expressed at learning outcome level in courses. Copernicus (2005) argues that learning outcomes will be central in the adoption of sustainable development as they underpin the qualifications system. They also guide academics as to content of their courses.

At one level it would be an easy step to add a statement to the effect of “…and do this in a sustainable manner” to each course. At another, one could examine each course for sustainability. Specific learning outcomes could arise from this: for example a hardware course could have “Apply an assessment of Energy Star for a given product”, a networking course could have “Develop a communication system that can operate as a sustainability enabler in a developing country”.

An underlying systems approach or even attitudinal change is harder to specify in this manner. Second Nature (nd) presents a sustainability curriculum framework. It would be a useful first step in identifying a suite of learning outcomes, for research to assess computing against each of these “critical sustainability themes”.

In design education, Cao et al. (2006) take a different approach. They described a course based on a “cradle to cradle (C2C) design model” (McDonough et al. 2003) . This course, they argue fills “an apparel and interior education and curriculum void related to the environmental impact of design and merchandising decisions”. The cradle to cradle approach assumes “that products can be designed to have another cycle or nutrient function after their useful lives”. Cao et al. used a problem based learning approach to “bring the science and industrial application together”.

Cao’s course is explicitly science based but within a design context “The topics of this course will include the environmental impact of raw material, manufacturing, dyeing, finishing, product lifecycle, and other issues related to apparel and interior design’s influence on the environment”, the C2C model is explicitly used in the curriculum document and the learning outcomes are clearly stated;

“After taking this course, interior and apparel design and merchandising students have a better understanding of the relationships among their design and buying decisions and environmental issues”.

Ridener (1999) undertook a pretest/post test study of students completing a course in sustainability. Business students responded less to inclusion of environmental components than other students of other discipline majors (eg non environmental science students). He suggests that the poor response was due to a lack of critical-constructivist teaching in business and concludes that changes need to go beyond an “environmentalising” of the business curriculum.

…previous dialogue 1, 2