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 student data, to discover patterns and trends in those data, and to make new discoveries and test hypotheses about how students learn are now obtainable (USDE, 2012, p. 9).

    Big Data in K-12 Classrooms

    The U.S. Department of Education (2010) acknowledged that in order to help students

    succeed and improve education, student data would need to be collected, analyzed, and used to

    improve student outcomes. The USDOE also noted that data would play a more integral role in

    decision making at all levels including classroom teachers. Currently, almost all school districts

    have electronic student information systems which provide real-time access to student data.

    According to the Texas Education Agency (TEA, 2013), Texas has implemented the Texas

    Education Data Standards (TEDS) system to provide real-time access to student data such as

    attendance, demographics, test scores, grades and schedules. TEDS is composed of three primary

    big data storage agents:

    1. The Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) which incorporates

    student demographic and academic performance, personnel, financial, and organizational


    2. The Texas Records Exchange (TREx) system that facilitates electronic transfers of

    student records and transcripts to other districts or institutions of higher education.

    3. The Student GPS Dashboard which identifies problems in attendance, class work, and

    test performance.

    Additionally, West (2012) reported that the use of data mining techniques allows schools to

    identify students who are at risk of dropping out of school. Manyika et. al (2011) suggested that

    by making data available on educational outcomes at primary and secondary schools, parents are

    able to make better decisions about where to live or in which schools to place their children.

    TEA (2013) noted that this system will not only save schools time and money but also provide

    educators with the data needed to prepare students for the future.

    Big Data in Higher Education Classrooms

    According to Zimpher (2014), the big data movement can build universities that are more

    intelligent in the way they refine their management and operations to facilitate ingenuity and

    innovation in higher education. By looking at patterns of information, called predictive analysis,


    universities can work on many of their internal processes such as improving their graduation

    rates by identifying those students that are at the largest risk for failure. As an example,

    according to Nelson (2014), The University of Texas at Austin (UT) enters every incoming

    students information such as demographics, financial need, family income, high school courses, first generation college student status, and their test scores into Dashboard (a very large dataset

    aggregated from UT student data from the past decade). In doing so, the university is able to

    identify those in the bottom quartile of their class and invite them into a unique program that

    gives the identified students the extra help and support to graduate. According to the UT website,

    the University Leadership Network performs extensive holistic reviews of students who would benefit most from a small network of peers, have unmet financial need and a desire to have

    involvement in the community (UT, 2014, para. 20).

    In the New York Times and Chronicle of Higher Education article, Big Data on Campus, Parry

    (2012) reported that students are leaving behind a trail of digital breadcrumbs (stored digital

    data) such as the websites they visit, how often they visit their universitys online learning management system (LMS) and for how long. The power of analyzing these clicks of data is that

    they show the students patterns of behavior such as turning in papers late online; missing tests, etc. which are now being harnessed on academic campuses to provide students with course

    suggestions based upon their academic records and social connections.

    Also, as the sheer amount of data proliferates across the world, the need for data analytic

    specialists is predicted to grow. To prepare students for the exponential increase in big data,

    universities are now providing specialized coursework. For example, The University of

    Washington (2014) offers a Big Data track specialization within their computer science and

    engineering PhD programs.

    Big Data for Industry

    When harnessed, Big Data has been found to be highly effective in business and industry. For

    example, Forbes Insights (2013) noted that in a recent survey of business marketers,

    organizations that utilized Big Data to make business marketing decisions exceeded their goals

    60% of the time. They did so by utilizing unique tools that ultimately engage audiences by first

    identifying consumer behavior in new ways and with better accuracy. Indeed, big data shines with its numerous ways of looking at consumerswhen and where they are likely to access an impression and by what means. And that leads to efficiency that bolsters financial performance (p. 6). Savvy business leaders have always utilized data, but now at a time when data is

    voluminous, those leaders who are able to analyze it into a usable form can make the most

    accurate business predictions and decisions (IHS, 2014).

    Marwick (2014) brought to light the issue of deep data mining of customer and user information.

    For example, Netflix, Comcast, and Amazon have capitalized on cloud technology to allow users

    to watch on demand television movies across a plethora of mobile devices. For companies like

    these, there is an added incentive of big data such as profiling services (e.g. demographics, viewing behavior) that would have been difficult, at best, to capture in the past (Moulding,

    2014). Retailers can use personal location data to track shoppers, link data to product purchases,

    customer demographics, and buying patterns over time (Manyika et. al, 2011). Database


    marketing is the industry of collecting, aggregating, and brokering personal data (Marwick, 2014, para. 3) and records our actions including mobile profiles, browser cookies, and public

    records to get a picture of our buying habits to target our preferences.

    [Insert Figure 3 about Here] See p. 29

    The Internet of Things

    Our electronic devices are getting much smarter (Frog, 2014). Cisco reported in 2011 that there

    were more than 12 billion electronic devices connected to the Internet and predicted that there

    would be more than 50 billion by the year 2050 and referred to this phenomenon as the Internet of Things (IoT, Cisco, 2011, p. 2). IoT was later defined by Hess (2014) as a system where the Internet is connected to the physical world via ubiquitous sensors (para. 1). Microsoft (2014) remarked that the IoT is seen in devices, sensors, cloud infrastructure, and data and business intelligence tools (para.2). One industry example of IoT is the Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital in Valencia, California that created a secure single sign on for medical personnel to subsequently

    access medical records all day with one tap of their badge. See their video at: that shows how anytime, anywhere

    access in the hospital leaving more time for working with patients.

    The Internet of Everything

    Recognizing IoT has numerous advantages (McWhorter, 2014b). Beyond the convenience of the

    interconnectedness of digital devices is the fact that IoT is about reducing waste and improving

    efficiency such as time and energy consumption (Morgan 2014). More specifically, IoT can

    create enormous benefits for systems and processes such as transportation networks, waste

    management, product shipments, vehicle auto-diagnosis, and detection of: traffic congestion,

    forest fires, air pollution levels, radiation levels, and noise levels. Most recently, IoT is evolving

    to have an even larger impact as it includes not only sensors and devices, but now it brings together people (humans), process (manages the way people, data and things work together), data

    (rich information) and things (inanimate objects and devices) to make networked connections

    more relevant and valuable than ever before (Cisco, 2013a, para. 4) and the new term is the Internet of Everything (IoE) to describe this integration (See Figure 3).

    Big Data and the Smart Grid

    Big data also impacts energy and sustainability. Big data is an enabler for utilities to better

    manage outage problems and find improved ways to renew energy (McMahon, 2013). As more

    technologies are created, more energy is utilized across the world. In the United States, most of

    this energy is delivered through an electric grid combining 5,000 power plants and 200,000 miles

    of transmission lines (Nova, 2011). According to Nova, the current grid is a century old marvel

    that is ill equipped to power all the new devices. Electric companies are in the process of moving

    to smart meters which will managed by an intelligent power grid or smart grid which will

    monitor energy use in real time. Smart Grid technologies are based on information from

    consumer habits. In the long run, the smart grid will save energy, reduce costs, and increase

    reliability from electrical suppliers to the consumer.


    Jamieson (2013) noted that data can be mined to perform diagnostics, make intelligent recommendations and detect anomalies and inefficiencies to reduce or optimize energy

    consumption (para. 4). For example, IBM and Oncor are using big data technology to monitor at least 3.2 million smart electrical meters (Bertolucci, 2012). The idea of a Smart Grid,

    according to Coughlin (2014), is that through technology, energy can be efficiently produced and

    delivered over a collection of networks. Smart grids also support renewable energy sources like

    solar and wind. Also, through smart chargers, the grid may be able to power batteries on electric

    vehicles during off-peak hours that would transfer energy back to the energy grid (Cobb, 2011;

    IBM, 2012). IBM (2012) suggested that the utilities using big data in conjunction with smart

    grids may not only increase profitability, but also reduce the carbon footprint, improve customer

    satisfaction, and increase safety.

    Transforming the current energy system into a smart system is a challenge but universities across the country are working to make this a reality. For example, Texas A&M University

    (2014) has developed a Smart Grid Center, as shown in Figure 4, in an effort that is pulling together teams of faculty and student researchers, as well as industry professionals, to deliver

    innovative energy solutions to meet the needs of future generations (para. 1).

    [Insert Figure 4 about Here] See p. 29

    Real-Time Group Meetings in Online Educational Courses

    Online courses provide convenience for both adult learners and instructors for anytime,

    anywhere access to learning opportunities. However, the convenience of online courses often

    comes with a pricethe proliferation of content delivered in higher education courses through online platforms is staggering and often leaves faculty overwhelmed as they seek to move

    courses online (Delello, McWhorter, Marmion, Camp, & Everling, 2014). Students, too, often

    have difficulties in courses that are purely independent learning opportunities (Arbaugh, Dearmond, & Rau, 2013, p. 643) where instructors post course content online and then grade the

    learning output. This asynchronous mode of learning often lacks to engage students in online

    learning (Lederman, 2013; Petty & Ferinde, 2013; Xu & Jaggars, 2011) frequently leading to a

    higher rate of attrition (Reigle, 2010).

    To combat the lack of student engagement in online courses, instructors have been designing-in

    synchronous activities for online students (Palloff & Pratt, 2013). One such activity held is real-

    time group meetings (RTGMs) whereby small groups of online students (3-5 students) hold

    regularly scheduled online meetups used for discussion around course topics and working on a

    class project (McWhorter, Roberts & Mancuso, 2011). These RTGMs can be held through

    various platforms such as video conferencing (i.e.;;,

    social media (i.e. Facebook chat, Twitter Group Chats) or virtual worlds (i.e.

    Greening Business Meetings through Video Conferencing

    Evolution of the Internet for collaboration has seen users connecting to technology, through

    technology, and then most recently within technology (Fazarro & McWhorter, 2011; Kapp &

    ODriscoll, 2010; McWhorter, 2010, 2011, 2014). Although in geographically dispersed


    locations, business colleagues can collaborate through video conferencing technology that allows

    high definition (HD) video and even HD audio that help to establish social presence. Fazarro and

    McWhorter (2011) demonstrated how video conferencing used in lieu of face-to-face business

    meetings produced both a savings in terms of monetary cost as well as protecting the

    environment due to lack of travel time and fossil fuels. Video conferencing platforms such as can support up to 100 per meeting with try it for free 30 day trials for businesspeople to try before they buy. However, there are a number of disadvantages to video

    conferencing that need to be addressed. These include overcoming technical difficulties,

    removing distractors from the environment, establishing rapport through social presence (Oztock

    & Brett, 2011) and interaction, and have a clear agenda for the virtual meeting time.

    Greening Professional Conferences

    Professional conferences are necessary for professional development, disseminating new ideas,

    and networking with other professionals. However, they are quite expensive in terms of travel

    costs, travel time, and the carbon footprint for travel, energy for on-site spaces, and disposable of

    food containers.

    Virtual professional conferences have been defined as any part of a live conference that is made available via the Web for attendees around the world to view live or on-demand (ASTD, 2010).

    According to Merriam, Caffarella, and Baumgartner (2007), technology has greatly increased the

    flexibility of learning for adults including interactive teleconferences from a home or workplace

    computer. As technology affords the adult learner with many new and media-rich learning

    experiences through self-directed learning (SDL), online professional conferences have emerged

    (McWhorter, Mancuso, Chlup & Demps, 2009; McWhorter, Mancuso & Roberts, 2013). The

    next section highlights the features of traditional professional conferences and then presents

    online professional conferences enabled through sophisticated software as an emerging practice

    and discusses these spaces for their potential for building and sustaining adult learners.

    Traditional Professional Conferences

    Many organizations such as the Academy of Human Resource Development (AHRD) hold an

    annual professional conference. Such conferences are typically scheduled over multiple days

    having numerous tracks of interest for attendees (Budd, 2011). Advantages of attending face-to-

    face (F2F) conferences include the full immersion experience (on-site venue with depth and

    breadth of learning opportunities without the distractions of the workplace), professional

    networking (seeing old friends and making new ones), presenting scholarly work (sharing

    research or listening to others share theirs; See Bell, 2011; Shepherd, 2010) and vendor resources (usually an exhibit hall for a large conference or several tables with products for

    smaller venues; See Woodie, 2009). The primary advantages for an organization to host a

    professional conference is the opportunity to retain and gain members, and for knowledge

    sharing (De Vries & Pieters, 2007).

    Disadvantages of traditional professional conferences include the cost of resources for the

    attendee (i.e. time away from the workplace plus travel and registration costs), and added costs

    for the hosting organization (i.e. multiple resources for planning the conference; see Kovaleski,

    2010). Traditional professional conferences are also certainly not green as many participants travel long distances to attend the various conferences venues; also, these sites consist of a


    physical space [that] is a finite and expensive asset, [that] must be cleared and made available for

    subsequent events (Welch, Ray, Melendez, Fare & Leach, 2010, p. 151).

    It has been estimated that companies spend approximately $32 billion on traditional professional

    conferences annually; of that amount, 58% goes toward the costs for hotels, food, and beverages.

    As the economy has slowed and fuel costs risen, some conference planners are looking for ways

    to reduce travel expenses, even as they find ways to encourage participation among an

    increasingly global workforce (King, 2008). One innovative way suggested as an alternative to

    traditional professional conferences is that of online professional conferences and will be

    explored next.

    Emergence of Online Professional Conferences

    Professional organizations such as the American Library Association (ALA; who holds an

    entirely online midwinter conference), the Association of College & Research Libraries (ACRL;

    who has online conferences in addition to a F2F conference), the Public Library Association

    (PLA; who holds an online conference component to their annual conference plus totally online

    Spring Symposiums), the American Association of School Librarians (AASL; who held a virtual

    conference as a parallel experience to their annual conference) as well as the Handheld Librarian

    conference (a fully online semi-annual conference) focusing on mobile devices, are all examples

    of early adopters, and organizations which embraced the virtual conference (See Bell, 2011;

    McWhorter, Roberts, &Mancuso, 2013). It is the evolution of the sophisticated technology itself

    that allowed for such digital collaboration to be possible (See Figure 5 that shows the features of

    online group chat, scheduled group chats, online message board, networking, and messages).

    [Insert Figure 5 about Here] See p. 30

    When considering a co-located (face-to-face) conference or an online conference, it can be useful

    to examine the positives and negatives of each type, depending on the circumstances. Table 2 is

    useful to compare these two types of professional conferences.

    Table 2.

    Comparison of Co-Located Professional Conference to Online Professional Conference

    Aspect Co-Located Conference Online Conference

    Cost to Attend Conference Registration and

    Travel Expenses

    Free or reduced conference

    registration; no travel fees required,

    but must have connectivity to access


    Typical time required for

    travel and conference


    Can connect to virtual conference via

    desktop, laptop, or mobile device

    (contingent on chosen platform)



    To participate in an

    international conference,

    attendees must spend greater

    travel costs and time


    Although time zones are an issue,

    technology allows global synchronous

    participation online



    Connecting with colleagues

    and networking typically

    easier in co-located


    Synchronous collaboration is available

    through integrated technologies such

    as virtual chatting, social media


    Risks to



    Weather or other disaster

    could cause travel problems,

    delays or even the

    cancellation of the


    Technology problems could result in

    the cancellation of the conference, but

    easier to reschedule then co-located




    WiFi often unavailable to

    attendees in conference

    meeting rooms

    Participation relatively easy with a

    reliable internet connection and

    sophisticated vendor technology


    Depth of


    Easier to remove distractions

    and focus on the conference


    More likely to be distracted by other

    tasks and daily routines




    Archiving conference in

    written format such as

    conference proceedings,

    newsletter and website


    Online conference can be fully

    archived through multimedia for on-

    demand access at attendee


    Source: Adapted from Fazarro and McWhorter, 2011

    Digital Badges in Education

    In the 21st century, students want to be engaged, motivated, and connected. To enhance their

    learning experience, innovative educators are turning to digital badges and certificates

    (HASTAC, 2013). According to The Alliance for Excellent Education (2013), badges are digital

    credentials that represent an individuals skills, interests, and achievements. Badges can also be displayed across Websites, cloud servers, social media applications and to potential employers.

    Education Secretary, Arne Duncan stated, As we recognize multiple ways for students to learn, we need multiple ways to assess and document their performance. Badges can help speed the

    shift from credentials that simply measure seat time, to ones that more accurately measure

    competency (USDE, 2011, para. 13-16).

    Colleges, universities, massively open online courses (MOOCs), and K-12 campuses are

    experimenting with digital badges to encourage engagement with coursework and improve

    student retention. In fact, former U.S. President Clinton established the Clinton Global Initiative

    America (CGI America) to massively expand access to a new method of academic and technical

    skills assessment known as Open Badges (MacArthur Foundation, 2013). The MacArthur

    Foundation reported that over 14,000 independent organizations are using digital badge systems

    to document informal learning experiences. In K-12 schools, Waters (2013) noted that educators

    are currently using badges for in two ways: as motivational tools like gold stars and as evidence

    of proficiency much like merit badges. However, unlike traditional merit badges, digital badges


    link the user information to validated information based upon standards (Foster, 2013). See

    Figure 6 for examples of digital badges that can be added to digital ePortfolios and social media.

    [Insert Figure 6 about Here] See p. 30

    One example of use of digital badges in higher education is at the University of California at

    Davis that is documenting the experiential learning occurring outside of the classroom where

    badges are capturing learning such as fieldwork and internships. Students earn digital badges that

    are designed and created by faculty who have described the learning outcomes that each badge

    represents and they noted that badges are graphical representations of an accomplishmentgiving new ways beyond college credentials to prove what they know and can do (Fain, 2014, para. 6, 10).

    The future of greener technologies may mean using digital badges as a way to transform

    instruction and disrupt the diploma (Hoffman, 2013). By removing traditional paper based certificates and diplomas in favor of badges, students may be better able to show off their

    credentials over a life-time of learning and provide schools with cost saving options. By 2016,

    The MacArthur Foundation (2013) suggested that 10 million workers and students would create

    learning pathways with the help of an open badge system.

    However, it is too early to say what the cost savings will be or whether digital acclimations will

    lead to greener footprints. Currently, research on using digital badges is limited but time, costs,

    and global benefits will certainly be topics of future inquiry.

    Digital Badges for Lifelong Learning

    The use of digital badges is as a nascent way to capture and communicate the skills and

    knowledge of adult learners. According to the American Institutes for Research (2013), digital

    badges can be particularly useful for the certification of skills of adult learners enrolled in the

    basic education programs who have few, if any, formal credentials (such as diplomas), but who are obtaining functional skills that would be valued in a workplace setting if a mechanism for

    certifying those skills and that knowledge was available (p. 3). And, a digital badge is a way to represent a skill that is earned (Mozilla, 2014).

    At Yale University, digital badges are used to depict credentialing for adults enrolled in its online

    community that trains K-12 teachers in emotional literacy (BadgeOs, 2013). The badges

    recognize individual learning and community involvementthat empowers and encourages [adult] learners to master new skills and knowledge as they earn badges they take with them for

    life, demonstrating to the world what they know (para. 5). Even Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have gotten onboard with utilizing badges. Even though there is no grade in the class

    students can learn at their own pace and can earn open badges that will be permanently stored in your Mozilla backpack (Indiana University, 2014, para. 3) once they successfully finish the course.

    As technology has changed the landscape of visits to nonprofits such as libraries and museums,

    digital badges can also be useful for engaging patrons during such visits. For instance, the Dallas

    Museum of Art (DMA) found that many exhibits only received a cursory view rather than the


    deep-learning that had been designed for patrons (Stein & Wyman, 2013) including badges that

    are both explicit and discoveredvisitors are incentivized to undertake particular activities in the museum through a series of obviously earnable badgesearned around a fairly broad range of activities ranging from simple gallery visitation to identifying favorite artworks to creative

    activities (para. 43). See Figure 7 used for DMA Friends to engage them in museum visits and activities. The new All-American badge requires more participation at the museum than the

    original DMA Friend badge including asking visitors to brush up on their geography by visiting

    the DMA Ancient American, American, and Contemporary galleries to receive the new badge.

    [Insert Figure 7 about Here] See p. 31

    To be successful with adult learners, digital badges must communicate the skills, knowledge, or

    experiences that they purport to convey. They must also be visible for others to recognize.

    Developers note that earned badges can be displayed on social media such as Facebook,

    LinkedIn, Twitter, and WordPress and digital badges can be issued to those attending learning

    events (; Finally, instructors, curators and event organizers can give

    credit, share and display earned digital badges individually or a group as simple by using the

    application app on their mobile device (

    Three-Dimensional Printing

    Three-Dimensional Printing (3D) printing is a technology which makes it possible to build real

    objects from virtual 3D objects. A 3D printer builds a tangible model or prototype from the electronic file, one layer at a time, using an inkjet-like process to spray a bonding agent onto a

    very thin layer of fixable powder, or an extrusion-like process using plastics and other flexible

    materials (Johnson, Adams Becker, Cummins, Estrada, Freeman, & Ludgate, 2013, p. 28). 3D objects can be printed from a variety of materials including plastics, metals, glass, concrete, and

    even chocolate (3D Printer, 2014).

    The NMC Horizon Report 2013 Higher Education Edition reported that in the next 4-5 years, 3D

    printing will reach widespread adoption (Johnson, et. al, 2013). The implementation of this

    emerging technology will create new possibilities to prepare students for the twenty-first century.

    For instance, students at Chico High School in California are using 3D printing to create

    prototypes for local businesses. In another example, students from Cypress Woods High School

    in Texas joined with NASA to develop and build a remotely operated vehicle (ROV) that

    maneuvers around the International Space Station (ISS) while carrying a camera (Stratasys,

    2014). Also, MakerBot (2014a) has incorporated 3D printable curriculum available for schools

    including jump ropes, dinosaurs, frog dissections, and the great pyramids. MakerBots motto is to put a MakerBot Desktop 3D Printer in every school in America (para. 1). The MakerBot initiative has enabled teachers in more than 1,000 public schools obtain 3D Printers and in turn

    reached approximately 300,000 students (MakerBot, 2014b). Universities are also embracing 3D

    printing. For example, scientists at Harvard University (2012) are developing 3D action figures

    from computer animation files. Also, students from Purdue University are working with Adobes Advantage Technology Labs to create software applications that allow 3D printers to create more

    structurally sound products (Venere, 2012).


    Researchers at Michigan Technological University conducted a study to find out how much a

    family might save by printing common objects at home with 3D printers, such as simple

    replacement parts or toys, instead of buying them in stores or online (Kelly, 2013). The savings

    according to the findings ranged from several hundred dollars to thousands of dollars depending

    upon the types of products that were generated. Not only did 3D printers save money, the

    potential according to Kelly (2013) is that 3D printing could cut down on packaging and

    pollution from transportation which, in turn, helps save the environment. Not only will 3D

    printing reduce waste, it will also offer a high end of customization to both education and


    3D Printing for Industry

    The process of creating a physical object from a 3D model has been called the Third Industrial Revolution (The Economist, 2012, para. 1). Traditionally, supply chains move goods from where they are manufactured to where they are sold, and oftentimes these are great distances.

    Thus, mass produced goods require a long lead time, with high transport costs and need for large

    warehouse networks. In contrast, a 3D printing (additive manufacturing) supply chain provides a

    much lower carbon footprint because items can be printed locally and distributed in a close

    proximity and allows for customized production rather than a good that is mass produced thus

    requiring only a short lead time and results in low transport costs. In this new disruptive model,

    the customer demand pulls on the printing of the customized product for the consumer (3D Printing;, 2013) See Figure 8 for a depiction of this disruption of the

    traditional supply chain due to 3D printing alternatives for manufacturing in more local


    [Insert Figure 8 about here] See p. 31

    The Move to Mobile Devices

    Wagner (2005) remarked, From toddlers to seniors, people are increasingly connected and are digitally communicating with each other in ways that would have been impossible only a few

    years ago (p. 42). A recent study by Common Sense Media (2011) reported that 52% of all children now have access to newer mobile devices at home including smartphones (41%), video

    iPods (21%), or tablet devices such the iPad (8%). Experian (2013) reported that Millennials

    spend 14% more time connected to mobile devices per week than their generational peers and

    ninety-six percent of undergraduate students had cell phones with 63% reporting using them to

    access the Web (Pew Research Center, 2010).

    With the proliferation of mobile devices, the notion of anytime, anywhere learning has become

    part of our culture. In fact, according to Mark Prensky (2012), in an era of such rapid

    technological growth, the digital natives are disconnecting the cords to their personal computers

    in favor of mobile tools such as cell phones, iPods, iPads, and other tablet devices. Also, college

    students, according to Friedrich, Peterson, and Koster (2011), are more technologically linked

    and socially connected than ever before.

    This digital revolution is the beginning of the next generation of wireless technology presenting a

    unique opportunity to create learning experiences, which create personal meaning and engage the

    learner. Students who have been using digital technology will embrace and use these mobile

    tools in various unexpected ways, if given the opportunity (Prensky, 2005).


    Mobile and Digital for Greener Savings

    For schools moving to 1:1 computing, there may be a significant cost savings as students have

    access to course work and digital applications through cloud technologies. And, as textbook

    prices continue to increase; more schools are turning towards the use of eBooks. According to

    Green Press Initiative (2007), book and newspaper industries across the United States harvest

    125 million trees each year and release 40 million metric tons of CO2 annually, equivalent to 7.3

    million cars. Martin (2011) reported that worldwide, the growing paper consumption has resulted

    in an average reduction of four billion trees. Printing also accounts for as much as 10% of all

    U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (Green Press Initiative, 2007). Because there are no printing fees

    associated with e-books and storage is located on the mobile device or in the cloud,

    transportation and printing costs are reduced. For example, in an initial pilot study, Indiana

    University moved print books to e-texts through a university initiative (Wheeler & Osborne,

    2012). Preliminary numbers revealed an average student saving of $25 per book, collectively

    saving the University $100,000. According to Wheeler and Osborne (2012), other universities

    are replicating the pilot study including The University of California, Berkeley; Cornell

    University; The University of Minnesota; The University of Virginia; and The University of


    According to AT&T (2014), results from a recent study found that U.S. Small Businesses are

    also saving in excess of $65 billion each year by switching to tablets, smartphones, and mobile

    apps for their day-to-day normal business activities. It was reported that these businesses equate

    the increase in mobile devised to an improvement in operational efficiencies, time savings and an increase in employee productivity (para. 9). By allowing employees to access information away from the office, a savings in fuel costs and the carbon footprint of the small businesses is

    reduced. And, for small businesses that cannot afford to provide mobile devices to all of their

    employees, allowing them to bring their own device (BYOD) is an alternative that reduces small

    business budgets for smartphones, while allowing employees to use a device they have chosen

    on their own; further, a recent study reported that 88% of employees with BYOD at work also

    use their mobile phones for work reasons while on their personal time such beyond the work day

    or vacation time. To help alleviate security concerns of BYOD, it is recommended that cloud

    services that offer integration with mobile apps to manage all users, across multiple locations, while securing company dataenabling BYOD without the downside (Gigaom, 2014, para. 7) be considered.

    In a new advertisement (, Apple (2014) recently announced its

    commitment to environmental responsibly plan to use greener materials in its computers while

    conserving resources. In fact, Apples mobile products such as the iPad, MacBook Pro, and iMac are becoming thinner and using less material with each product redesign. For example, the latest

    Mac Pro uses 74 percent less aluminum and steel than in previous designs (Apple, 2014). Also,

    by using mobile technologies, such as an iPad, less electricity is used. According to the Electric

    Power Research Institute, an iPad or Smartphone uses less electricity than a standard 60W

    compact, fluorescent light bulb (TapScape, 2013). The annual estimated electricity cost for an

    iPad has been estimated to cost $1.36 and the same amount of use for an iPhone 4 averages

    around .38 (Fahey, 2012; TapScape, 2013).


    Recycling E-waste and Green Purchasing

    By 2016, there will be more mobile devices than people on earth (Cisco, 2013b). According to

    Cisco, there will be more than 10 billion mobile Internet-connected devices in 2016, more than

    estimated world population of 7.3 billion. Gartner (2014) proposes that in 2015, over 2,364

    million new devices (tablets, ultra mobiles and mobile phones) will be shipped worldwide. Yet,

    according to Tom Foremski (2007), Americans throw 426,000 mobile phones away each day.

    In a recent United Nations (UN, 2010) report, the production of e-waste over the next decade

    could rise as much as 500%. E-Waste is considered to be any electronic device (e.g. computers,

    televisions, phones) that has reached the end of their suitable for use. Additionally, the increased

    use of electronic devices on college and university campuses is raising concerns about the proper

    use and disposal of e-waste (Smith, 2009). One reason for the surge in wastes is that companies

    continue to roll out newer devices with more sophisticated technology and innovative


    One solution is through better waste management strategies such as product stewardship,

    pollution prevention, and green consumerism. For example, the EPA (2014) has established a

    number of initiatives to promote renewable energy strategies across universities. One such

    initiative is the College and University Green Power Challenge, in which, universities are

    challenged to create more green energy than other competing higher education institutions. A

    green campus is defined as a higher education community that is improving energy efficiency, conserving resources and enhancing environmental quality by educating for sustainability and

    creating healthy living and learning environments (The Center for Green Schools, 2014, para. 1).

    Educational institutions have always had challenges in acquiring enough funding to purchase the

    technology needed. And, as mobile devices become more ubiquitous across all age spans, most

    students will have devices readily available for use in the classroom. However, schools that

    cannot afford a new device for students may turn towards a growing trend of purchasing

    refurbished desktops or mobile devices as a means to connect students to a VLE. Also, both

    education and industry are findings new ways to reduce e-waste by collecting and recycling. For

    example, The University of Cincinnati (2014) has partnered with the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanic

    Gardens to provide cell phone collection boxes across campus (see Figure 8). Proceeds from the

    cell phone recycling program Project Saving Species are used by the Zoo to support field

    conservation efforts. The Zoos motto: Recycle a cell phone. Save a gorilla. It's that simple! (Cincinnati Zoo & Botanic Gardens, 2014, para. 1).

    Also, corporations such as Apple (2014) have committed to minimizing the impact of products

    such as the iPhone, IPad, or computer on the environment. For example, the Apple Recycling

    Program allows users to recycle old or worn-out products free of charge. Also, Apple will trade

    computers or devices with monetary value for an Apple Gift Card. In 2008, Apple recycled 30.5

    million pounds of electronic waste.

    How Higher Education is Creating Greener Global Technology

    As universities continually seek ways to conserve energy, they are also challenged to help with

    global sustainability efforts. Even with reports of technology expanding across the world, one


    billion people world-wide continue to live without electricity (Walsh, 2013). At Harvard

    University, four undergraduate students set out to change these statistics by creating the Soccket,

    a soccer ball (see Figure 9), that when played with for 30 minutes, would generate enough

    electricity to provide three hours of electric power (greenTech, 2012). In addition, the newly

    founded company Uncharted Play (2014) has developed social curriculum to enable students

    around the world to use the resources around them to invent solutions to their problems.

    In another example, hoping to change millions of lives globally, two design students the Art

    Center College of Design created the first-ever eco-friendly, pedal-powered washing machine

    and dryer (greenTech, 2012). Also, Song and Oh (2014) designed the solar-powered battery

    charger. It uses the suns rays to power multiple devices without the need for electricity. The solar-powered electrical socket can be connected to almost any glass window; it is expected to be

    on the market in 2015.


    Fazarro and McWhorter (2011) presented green computing as a way to increase both

    organization viability and environmental sustainability. Viability is the concept of an

    organization remaining solvent in difficult economic times while environmental sustainability

    has been defined as making decisions and taking action that are in the interests of protecting the natural world, with particular emphasis on preserving the capability of the environment to

    support human life (Smallbizconnect, 2014, para. 3). Both viability and environmental sustainability are important topics at the present time, because organizations are working to

    reduce costs while expanding their impact. Those that have been able to leverage technology to

    reduce their overall costs of doing business are reaping the benefits of successful online courses

    and meetings, big data analytics, and other green computing initiatives that reduce their negative

    impact on the environment and boost their chances of remaining viable.

    However, utilizing computer technology as green technology is not without its critics. For

    instance, the environmental group Greenpeace (2012) activists scaled an Amazon office building

    in Seattle to hang a banner reading How clean is your cloud? (Sverdilk, 2012, para. 1) to bring attention to the carbon footprint of large data centers such as Amazon and Facebook. Facebook

    responded that there is no such thing as a coal-powered data centerthere is no such thing as a hydroelectric-powered data center. Every data center plugs into the grid offered by their utility or

    power provider (Miller, 2010, para. 4).

    CONCLUSION It is true that it is a battle to reduce carbon footprints as data centers are expanding is ongoing. In

    rebuttal, though, we would add that it is our opinion that the positive outcomes of datacenters

    outweigh the negatives of the need for generating more energy to run the servers in the

    datacenters. For instance, some of the positives of green computing practices include reduced

    travel to: work, to join with a workgroup in a central location, and to present or attend a

    professional meeting or conference. It is not difficult to understand, for instance, that travelling

    by air from the United States to Europe to attend a professional conference creates a large carbon

    footprint as jet fuel is a fossil fuel. That footprint compared to the cost of running one computer

    for a 3-day conference is not even close. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature (2007), a

    2-hour video conference created one-fifth the kilos of CO2 emissions of the air travel even taking

    into account the rebound effect of associated activities. Therefore, we conclude that green


    computing is a viable concept and more research is needed to determine the actual savings over

    time in monetary and environmental impact that these initiatives are having in our educational

    institutions, our organizations, and on our world.


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    3D Printing: The creation of a physical object from a digital model including bioprinting for the

    creation of organs, limbs, prosthetics, and human tissue

    Big Data: Large or complex datasets that too difficult to easily analyze with traditional processes

    including the utilization of predictive analysis for decision making

    Cloud computing: Distributed computing where applications and files can be utilized over the


    Digital badges: Graphic representation of an individuals accomplishments, interests, or demonstrated skills

    Internet of Everything: Connectedness of digital devices to people and processes for improving


    Internet of Things: Connectedness of digital devices into systems where they can communicate

    Real-time group meeting (RTGM): Planned synchronous online meeting of a virtual team for

    the purpose of reflecting on new content, engage in problem solving, or completing a project or


    Sociomaterial: Having characteristics of both social (represent a shared understanding) and

    material (document or technical infrastructure) practices

    Online professional conference: Portions or complete schedule of audio or video of

    professional presentations, keynote address, and business meetings of a professional conference

    accessed in real-timethrough Web conferencing technology or archived for on-demand viewing.

    Virtual Human Resource Development the utilization of technologically integrative environments to increase learning capacity and optimization of individual, group, community,

    work process, and organizational system performance



    Figure 1. "Cloud applications" by Benajmin P. Griner and Philip J. Butler.

    Figure 2. Big Data. Copyright 2014 Used with permission


    Figure 3. The Internet of Everything. 2013, S. Long, Used

    with permission.

    Figure 4. Copyright 2013 Texas A&M Smart Grid Center. Used with Permission.


    Figure 5. Virtual learning environment for professional conferences. Copyright 2014 ON24,

    Inc. Used with permission.

    Figure 6: Digital Badges within LMS Blackboard


    Figure 7: Digital badges for engaging visitors to explore art exhibits. Copyright Dallas

    Museum of Art. Used with permission.

    Figure 8. Cincinnati Zoo & Botanic Gardens Cell Phone Recycle Bin. Used with permission.

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