On the increase: Online conferences & e-books

BDRA’s very successful annual Learning Futures Festival 2010 for a week in January was online for the first time, and I notice that the Open University’s annual Teaching and Learning Conference will also be online for the first time, June 22-23. BDRA’s was truly international. The OU one may turn out to be so too, with its title: ‘’How does openness affect learning/content/access/teaching?’

The trend to go online for conferences is likely to accelerate in the face of cost-cutting measures in many universities here and abroad. There will always be those who prefer face-to-face meetings, but there’s no doubt that online conferences offer plenty of excellent opportunities to learn and to make new contacts, besides being less costly.

E-books are on the increase too, according to the JISC national e-books observatory project. Because of research I did years ago on IT for learners with disabilities, I took a look at a new practical guide from TechDis (JISC’s agency for such matters), entitled ‘Towards accessible e-book platforms.’ It advises on matters such as magnification, colour change, keyboard access and text to speech

Research at the University of Washington has called in question the large-screen Kindle DX e-book reader. At the University of Virginia, 80% of MBA respondents said they wouldn’t recommend it.

According to Stephen Downes, that inveterate blogger, however, Sony is more optimistic.  Steve Haber, president of Sony’s digital reading business division claims:  “Within five years there will be more digital content sold than physical content”.

It’s going to be interesting to see how students taking BDRA’s new MSc in Innovative Education and Training offered through supported distance learning, make use and take advantage of e-books and e-book readers. If you haven’t already seen the details of this new programme, have a look at  http://www.le.ac.uk/beyonddistance/miet

David Hawkridge


Yesterday we started the entirely online learning Futures Festival, (www.le.ac.uk/beyonddistance/festival) (there’s still time to take part) with 218 delegates.
It led me to do a few amateur calculations about the environmental impact of academic conferences.
Here’s some brief conclusions for comment:
Suppose 200 delegates drove to Leicester for a conference. Perhaps they shared cars and there were 2 in a car = 100 journeys. Say an average 100 kms each way = 200 kms per return travel. They are all in a Ford Focus petrol engine which uses 222 grams of CO2 per km.
222 x 200 x 100 = 4.44 metric tons of CO2.
Of course instead they will be using their computers. A standard PC consumes around 32 kilograms per year (electricity) if on 8 hours per day (less for laptops).
So…15.4 grammes of CO2 per hour.
15.4 grams x 200 delegates = 3.08 kilos of CO2 per conference hour.
Say our 200 delegates stayed online for 8 hours a day for all 8 days of the conference (we hope!!) that would consume , 3.08 x 8 x 8 = 0.197 metric tonnes.
Balancing the equation : it’s 22 times CO2 less for conferencing online for 8 days compared to driving for 1 day! I know that there will be carbon involved in the manufacture of the PCs but it surely won’t be 22 times more.
• 42 of our delegates are outside the UK (from 21 countries across the globe)
• Say an average journey of 2400 kms to come to Leicester…
• If they had flown here (in a 747) the carbon cost would is around 97 kilograms of fuel per passenger, 302 kilograms of CO2 per passenger
• 302 kilograms of CO2 x 42 delegates = 12.68 metric tonnes.
Taking part online = 42 X 3.08 x 8 x 8 = .0083
Gilly Salmon

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