Olympic Computing Power

Radio 4’s Costing the Earth: Virtual Warming programme (thanks Simon for downloading the podcast for me) investigated the issue of ‘data centres‘ that enable every twitter, Facebook posting and YouTube video to be viewed, but which all have a carbon cost that is becoming increasingly dear, as our use of computers grow exponentionally.

The programme covered the expanding digital cloud which is contributing 2 per cent of global emissions of carbon dioxide, about the same as aviation, and it’s rising. The high energy demands of the massive data centres needed to store all our information are of growing concern to both the government and industry. Part of the programme was dedicated to the concern that London’s data centre capacity is on the brink of bursting at the seams for various reasons – one of which is the amount of electricity that is required to power such ventures – the reason – this infrastructure may be being held back in reserve for London 2012.

Which got me thinking..? How much computing power is going to be required for the Olympics and therefore what is the carbon cost?

The organising committee for London 2012 have plans in place for the environment and sustainability but has anyone considered the environmental impact of broadcasting and journalism at major sporting events? In Beijing there were more than 20,000 journalists each with their essential equipment (laptops, satellite phones, cameras etc…) then the thousands of kilometres of cabling and networking for all the billions of viewers around the world – that is before we even think about the equipment used for timing and measuring events for the Olympics or even in the lead up to qualifying for the games.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not being a doom-monger, I’m just interested. I love everything about the Olympics and what it stands for; I love the competition, the colour and the energy that surrounds the games. I’m sure that London 2012 will be the best games yet under very difficult economic circumstances. Maybe I should send this link to my friend Seb and see if he has an answer?

Matthew Wheeler

Keeper of the Media Zoo

Social Notworking

Before you all jump in with comments about my spelling, don’t worry I have not misspelt the title of this posting, it is simply a play on words, for today trusted readers, I’m talking about a new phenomena known as ‘Social Notworking’ which is a term I suspect will be included in the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary!

It appears that students at Bournemouth University have been complaining that access to computers has been reduced because fellow students are hogging the machines to check their Facebook and Twitter accounts. There is a call for certain computers at Bournemouth to be specifically marked for academic use only. Interestingly the debate has rumbled on with some university sources defending social networks as they are also being used for legitimate academic reasons.

I find this scenario particularly interesting with the growing support for Personal Learning Environments (PLEs) and Cloud Computing – is this another ‘greying’ of the boundaries which technologies always appear to cause? Or is it that the growth of technology adoption is out-pacing our understanding of it potential and therefore is easily frowned upon?

I personally find Facebook and LinkedIn excellent ways of keeping in touch with large numbers and various cohorts of people from all aspects of my live; I also enjoy reading people’s statuses and the kind of things that are happening in others lives, where they are in the world and the issues they are reflecting on.

Perhaps you can share your experience of social networking and we can discuss the positive and negative aspects to help us clarify the situation for the future?

Matthew Wheeler
Keeper of the Media Zoo

Uninstitutionalising Institutions

The numbers of years undergraduates spend in Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) are relatively short compared to their entire careers throughout which they will carry-out lifelong learning. This leads to the question: ‘do institutions need to change the way they deliver learning and manage their learners?’

To explore this question further, it means, in these times of Cloud Computing and large amounts personal data being stored in the Web Cloud, should institutions continue locking learning and personal development processes behind institutional passwords which expire when students leave the institution. Do HEIs need to adapt their delivery to enable students to continue using their learning (materials) after graduation?

This question isn’t just related to post HEI learning, but also learning and online activities students are involve in before and during University. When students arrive at an institution it is likely they have an email account on Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo (other services are available), that are attached to online services such as social networks. Therefore this provokes the question: ‘should students be asked about a preferred email address?’ This will not only make it easier for their course tutors and alike to make contact, but also ensure students are receiving their learning where they want it to be delivered.

This approach will also enable learners to organise their learning in a way that suits them. Instead of delivering learning via institutionally structured, formal Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs), student can organise their learning within Personalised Learning Environment (PLEs). These environments can then be integrated with other online activities outside of the institution structures and systems.

Furthermore, if institutions were encouraging students to carryout Personal Development Planning (PDP) in non-institutional environments are students are more likely to continue the process post-university?

This became more evident to me whilst at the Centre for Recording Achievement Residential 2008. During the Residential there was a question and answer session with a recent graduate, she described how she carried PDP activities in an institutional VLE. When I asked the question “what has happened to all that information now?” she answered “I don’t know” and went on to say how she can no longer access the materials because her account had expired. I found this shocking – valuable developmental material was lost due to institutional processes. This could be easily resolved by allowing her to manage the process herself by using tools that are familiar.

To come back to the original question, I can only conclude, for students to get the most value out of their learning, institutions are going have to become more flexible in the use of Cloud Computing to accommodate the way which learners manage their online materials.

Matthew Mobbs

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