Monday, March 12, 2018

Decreasing Campus Energy Use With Flexible Classrooms and e-Learning

The Australian National University is preparing an Energy Master Plan. The aim is "... to create an Australian world class energy efficient, low-carbon, least-cost campus ...". One target in the existing ANU Environmental Management Plan 2017-2021 is to "Reduce energy use per person by 20 per cent by 2021". New forms of education can help, by using the buildings more efficiently and moving some education online. I suggest these techniques can be used to reduce energy use per person. In particular, teaching staff can be trained to teach in flexible and online mods. Also, a system can be used for students to book a seat.

Use Classrooms More Intensively

One way to reduce energy use per person is by increasing the intensity of use of the buildings. Empty rooms use almost as much energy as full ones, so the more use of each room in each building, the lower per person energy use.

ANU Union Court Redevelopment
New ANU Buildings
(artists' impression).
One way to increase the use of classrooms is to make them more flexible. The ANU Union Court redevelopment is a prime example of this. Two new buildings will allow forms of education beyond conventional lectures and tutorials.

ANU Culture and Events Building
The ANU Culture and Events Building will have rooms with retractable seating. At the press of a button, the room can be changed from a flat floor for a conference, to theater format, with tiered seating for a lecture.

ANU Collaborative Learning Building
The ANU Collaborative Learning Building will have flat floor rooms with movable furniture and walls. This enables the same space to be used for different size and format classes. Walls can be folded back for a large class or moved in form more smaller ones. Desks can be in straight rows for a more conventional eyes-front classroom, or in circles for a more collaborative approach.

Flat floor classrooms are conventionally used for small groups of up to a few dozen students. However, with technology and new teaching techniques, such rooms can accommodate hundreds of students. 

Training to help make use of classrooms

A flat floor large classroom at ANU, with large mobile LCD screens used to relay presentation to the back of the room.Training can help make flexible classrooms more efficient, in terms of teaching and energy use. Academics familiar only with conventional lectures and tutorials will tend to use the new flexible teaching spaces only for old fixed teaching formats. To use the rooms flexibly requires the staff to be training in flexible formats.

As an example, an instructor used to conventional lecture driven teaching will find the idea of hundreds of students in a room working in teams a recipe for chaos. The instructor needs to be taken through the theory and practice of how this works, and ideally act as an assistant in such a class before being required to be the lead instructor.

 The ANU TechLauncher events for Team Formation and Bootcamp run in the ANU's large flat floor teaching rooms, at 7-11 Barry Drive, have demonstrated that group exercises with 300 students can work. By introducing academics to these techniques, they will be more confident to use them in courses.

Use e-Learning to Supplement Campus

E-learning can also be used to increase the intensity of campus use. Most courses at Australian universities are now, to some extent, "blended", with part of the tuition on-line. However, to make the best use of the technology course designers and instructors need to be trained in on-line techniques.

Academics who have only training and experience in face-to-face lectures and tutorials will tend to continue to rely on those techniques and be reluctant to try e-learning. There will be concern the students will not do the work, or will cheat, which can be the case if materials are not well designed and trained staff are not available to run on-line courses.

As an example, the ANU course COMP7310 "ICT Sustainability" is run entirely on-line, with no lectures and no examinations. This course runs alongside ANU's face-to-face courses, with the same status and meeting the same quality standards. However, design of this award winning course required the assistance of specialist e-leaning professionals. It also helped to have undertaken graduate education training at ANU and other institutions, focused on in e-learning.

With the appropriate level of training it is feasible to aim for the typical university program to be a 20/80 blend: 20% in a formal classroom setting and 80% on-line outside the classroom. An example of this approach is the ANU Techlauncher program, where students undertake a group project building software for a real client, in government or industry. Students are expected to undertake 10 hours of study per week, but are only required to attend a 2 hour formal session in a typical week.

Ideally students should be on campus no more than the equivalent of one day a week. Students should be out in the real world learning and practicing their skills.

Double University Per Person Intensity of Use

Less than half of students attend a typical university class. A survey at ANU found "... attendance declines over semester to around 30% of original signup ...". This is not confined to ANU and is not a new feature of universities. However, universities still tend to allocate teaching space based on the number of students enrolled in the class at the beginning of semester. As a result the classrooms tend to be less than half full after the first few weeks. This is a waste of space and also a waste of energy needed to maintain these spaces.

One way to engage students, and thus attract them to class, is with group activities, as is done with ANU Techlauncher. This ensures almost full attendance at interactive group activities. Blends of on-line and face to face activities (so called flipped classrooms) can keep students coming to class. However, not all students need to attend every class and many classes will have one third to one half attendance. This can be incorporated into space use planning.

Students can be given the opportunity to book a seat in class a few days in advance. Classrooms can then be allocated, making use of different size rooms and flexible walls and formats, to suit. A reasonable aim would be to double the intensity of use of classrooms, thus halving the per person energy use.

Reduce Staff Campus Use

Persons use of the campus includes staff as well as students. Most teaching undertaken at a university is not by full time, permanent academics, but by graduate students and part time staff from industry. E-learning is a particularly useful way to make use of part time staff skills. Industry professionals can teach students without having to leave their workplace. Researchers in the field can teach students. However, this will require the staff to be trained in techniques for e-learning. The ideal way to conduct this training is on-line.

More on:
  1. Classroom design 
  2. Digital Teaching 

No comments:

Post a Comment