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Design of higher education teaching models and carbon impacts

Sally Caird (Department of Engineering and Innovation, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)
Andy Lane (Department of Engineering and Innovation, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)
Ed Swithenby (Department of Engineering and Innovation, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)
Robin Roy (Department of Engineering and Innovation, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)
Stephen Potter (Department of Engineering and Innovation, The Open University, Milton Keynes, UK)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 5 January 2015

Abstract

Purpose

This research aims to examine the main findings of the SusTEACH study of the carbon-based environmental impacts of 30 higher education (HE) courses in 15 UK institutions, based on an analysis of the likely energy consumption and carbon emissions of a range of face-to-face, distance, online and information and communication technology (ICT)-enhanced blended teaching models.

Design/methodology/approach

An environmental assessment of 19 campus-based and 11 distance-based HE courses was conducted using questionnaire surveys to gather data from students and lecturers on course-related travel: the purchase and use of ICTs and paper materials, residential energy consumption and campus site operations. Results were converted into average energy and CO2 emissions, normalised per student per 100 study hours, and then classified by the primary teaching model used by lecturers.

Findings

The main sources of HE course carbon emissions were travel, residential energy consumption and campus site operations. Distance-based HE models (distance, online and ICT-enhanced teaching models) reduced energy consumption by 88 per cent and achieved significant carbon reductions of 83 per cent when compared with campus-based HE models (face-to-face and ICT-enhanced teaching models). The online teaching model achieved the lowest energy consumption and carbon emissions, although there were potential rebound effects associated with increased ICT-related energy consumption and paper used for printing.

Practical implications

New pedagogical designs using online and distance-based teaching methods can achieve carbon reductions by reducing student travel via residential and campus accommodation.

Originality/value

Few studies have examined the environmental performance of HE teaching models. A new classification of HE traditional, online and blended teaching models is used to examine the role of ICTs and the likely carbon impacts.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The SusTEACH project is funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC) under the Greening ICT Programme. The project was supported by academic staff and students at Cranfield University, Loughborough University, Oxford University and The Open University. For further project information see www.open.ac.uk/blogs/susteach/.

Citation

Caird, S., Lane, A., Swithenby, E., Roy, R. and Potter, S. (2015), "Design of higher education teaching models and carbon impacts", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 96-111. https://doi.org/10.1108/IJSHE-06-2013-0065

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited