Thursday, April 14, 2016

Designing an Undergraduate Course on ICT Sustainability: Part 1

This is the first of a series of posts on producing an undergraduate version of an on-line masters course on green ICT which as been running at higher education institution in Australia and North America since 2009. The main issues are how to provide the undergraduate students with more scaffolding and how to ensure the course will scale for more students, without requiring excessive instructor hours. A less difficult task is to adjust the learning outcomes and assessment tasks for lower level students.

In 2008, I was commissioned by the Australian Computer Society (ACS) to design a one semester on-line course on "Green Technology Strategies", as part of a postgraduate program for ICT professionals.  The course has been revised several times (the original version is "Green Technology Strategies,  2009 and latest "ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future", 2016) and has been run at universities in Australia and North America for the last eight years. So I thought it was time to try an undergraduate version. As part of designing the original course I produced a series of posts from 23 October 2008 (about 20 in all). These then formed the basis for a conference paper.

Adapting a masters course for undergraduates may seem the reverse of normal practice, where the undergraduate version is developed first and then adapted, with more challenging assessment, for postgraduates. However, it should be simpler to start with more advanced students and with that experience see how it could be offered to undergraduates.

The first post graduate students started the course in February 2009 at the ACS Virtual College then masters students at the Australian National University (from July 2009), Open Universities Australia (from 2010) and Athabasca University (Canada).

Mary Pringle produced a draft of a self paced version for Athabasca University in 2014.  This self paced version does not appear to have been used at Athabasca, but I did adapt the on-line quizzes for my masters students. This is part of what may make an undergraduate version of the course feasible.


Weekly quizzes were used at ANU in 2015, but not for credit. The results from the quizzes correlated reasonably well with formal assessment, but many students did not do the quiz as it was not for assessment. This year the quizzes are 10% of the assessment (1% per week, with the best 10 out of 12 weeks counting). This 1% is sufficient to have the students undertake the quiz.

To make room for quizzes in the assessment scheme, in 2016 the marks for forum discussions were reduced from 20% to 10% (1% per week, with the best 10 out of 12 weeks counting). Also to aid student learning, and reduce the marking burden on instructors, the forum discussion was made peer assessed. Each student has to post between four and six short items each week. Students rate each others posts 0, 1, or 2, the learning management system (LMS) calculates an average for each student which the instructor checks. This has worked well so far.

The majority of the assessment is by two major assignments. To provide more scaffolding, these were each divided into two parts for 2016. The student has to first briefly write what they propose to do and after feedback, do it. Assignments are individual and instructor marked, which, even using a rubric, is a time consuming task. It may be feasible to have group projects, or a buddy system, where students provide each other with feedback before the final assignment is submitted. As well as reducing instructor time, this could be a useful learning experience. However, this then takes more organization and dispute settlement, by the instructor.

Learning Outcomes and Assessment Alignment

The easiest part of this exercise should be adapting learning outcomes and aligned assessment items from masters to undergraduate level. The green IT course was originally designed to align with Level 5 of the Skills Framework for the information Age (SFIA). When written in 2008, there were no green IT skills in SFIA, so it was aligned with "Strategy & planning" and "Procurement & management support". A copy of the course was sent to the SFIA Foundation with a request for green skills and the course was modified when SFIA added these green skills. The SFIA skills descriptions were used for the learning objectives and these then translated into assignment task descriptions, to ensure alignment.

The course was designed for SFIA Level 5, as that corresponds to a postgraduate masters level program (ACS, p. 14, 2016), corresponding to in the Australian Qualifications Framework AQF Level 9 (Masters Degree). For an undergraduate program, this needs to be changed to SFIA Level 3 (ACS, p. 40, 2016), corresponding to, AQF Level 7 (Bachelor Degree). The ACS accreditation requirements are used for this mapping, as ACS accredit higher education programs in the ICT field in Australia and are the Australian signatory to the 2007 Seoul Accord, which provides mutual-recognition of computing qualifications between the UK, Canada, Japan, Korea and the USA (Seoul Accord Secretariat, 2011). The SFIA Levels should therefore correspond to professional standards in other countries.

The exercise is therefore to change Learning Objectives and assessment exercises from SFIA Level 5 (AQF Level 9) to SFIA Level 3 (AQF Level 7). One difficulty is that Sustainability assessment (SUAS) is only defined at levels  4 and 5, and Sustainability strategy (Skill SUST,) at levels 4, 5 and 6 in SFIA. SUST level 4 was added last year for SFIA Version 6 (SFIA Foundation, 2015), but there are no level 3 Sustainability skills.

One approach would be to conclude that the sustainability skills are too advanced for undergraduates and not attempt to teach them. A more productive approach would be to use the terminology from the generic level 3 description and use this to make draft sustainability skills at that level, ask the SFIA Foundation to add them and use the draft in the interim.

A less complex approach is to use the generic description of each skill along with the generic description of the level. This last approach is something which the SFIA Foundation might like to consider, so as to make the framework less complex and documents about one quarter the size.


ACS. (2016). ACCREDITATION MANAGEMENT MANUAL: Application Guidelines – Professional Level and Advance Professional Level Programs. Sydney:Australian Computer Society. Retrieved from:

Seoul Accord Secretariat, (2011). Seoul Accord. Retrieved from

SFIA Foundation. (2015). SFIA 6: The complete reference guide. Retrieved from 

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