Curio Challenge: A server
(Lecturer, Manchester Institute of Education):
My chosen curio is a server. I wanted to choose an artefact which is a little more ‘intriguing’ but I kept coming back to a server as the artefact most representative of the links between the subject I teach and sustainability.
My work involves evaluating the potential of different digital technologies with teachers, with a particular focus on the role of ‘multimedia’ -combinations of audio, static images, video and text – in enhancing learning. Through this work teachers are better able to evaluate and use multimedia and as a result include such combinations more in their teaching. I am conscious that in doing this work I am expanding the digital footprint of many teachers who are, in turn, expanding the digital footprints of their own students. This increases traffic to servers which consequently use more energy, thus contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
This poses a dilemma: I know that there are negative environmental consequences to an expanding digital footprint but potentially positive results in learning terms. I have recently come to the realization that broad principles of good multimedia design provide a potential response to this dilemma. Well-designed multimedia learning materials take into account humans’ limited capacity to process large/varied amounts of information at any one time via any one channel (the visual and auditory channels). Hence, materials that reduce that cognitive load and which directly contribute to humans’ ability to actively process the information are more beneficial in learning terms. This has led me to the notion of ‘economical’ or ‘lean’ multimedia design’ and to the maxim ‘make every byte count’. The students I work with seem to find this ‘rigour’ in thinking about multimedia design useful and appreciate the connection between good multimedia design and a lower carbon footprint. This awareness is leading to broader debates about how to reduce digitally related carbon footprints, an awareness that the teachers may well pass on to their own students.
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