Review of the Environmental impacts of digital technologies training

In my quest to learn sustainable IT, software engineering and design, I followed the MOOC1 Environmental impacts of digital technologies co-produced by Inria (a renowned French research institute in computer science and applied mathematics) and Class'code association (a non-profit organization for the education of citizens in digital technologies). They issue a certification as an Open Badge (which I've earned ๐ŸŽ‰). The training is published on its own website or on FUN in English or French. If you want to get the certification, you have to take it on FUN.

Let's first look at who is behind the MOOC. It is a collective work, resulting from the contributions of several researchers, teachers and professionals. Some have solid academic backgrounds in the field. Most have participated in French working groups on sustainable digital technologies, either at CNRS EcoInfo (a unity of the National French Center of Scientific Research), GreenIT (a profesional collective about Green IT) or INR (the French institute of sustainable digital). Beyond their respective backgrounds, their style and approach are different from those of the Green Software Practitioners training. First, they do not only address software engineers. The MOOC introduces as many concepts as possible so that everyone can catch up with all the aspects presented. The materials, especially the videos, are able to convey their message with simplicity and accuracy. Second, they place digital technologies in the context of the whole human and environmental system. It's about the hardware, the software, the services, what they can offer, what they can harm, what they can benefit, what resources they require, what pollution they cause, and so on. In the last chapter, for example, they show how difficult it is to conclude how positive the balance is for a given digital technology. They introduce us to the subject and teach us how to approach these questions with care and method. Finally, it's the training that [Digital Collage recommends] (, especially if you want to become a professional presenter.

Let's go back to the MOOC itself, its content, format and structure. It is divided into 4 chapters: an introduction, non-renewable resources, very tangible services, and economic and societal impacts. It took me about 6 hours to read the text, watch the videos, do the activities, read the additional resources, do some personal research, and take the final quizzes. Note that they provide the transcript of the videos, a great alternative to speed watching ๐Ÿ˜‰. Everything is supported by references. A lot of topics are discussed, and sometimes you can end up in a rabbit hole if you don't take the easy way out. In fact, the extra material is not necessary to pass the course. If you focus on the main parts, it should take 4 hours or less, depending on your background. There are some activities to make you actively discover some concepts or to reinforce the lessons. At the end of each chapter you will have a final quiz to test your learning.

Because they approach every aspect with caution, I don't have much to criticize. They are very transparent about the sources that support the statements they share. If it's not very strong, if there's some uncertainty, if it's still under research, if there's not strong scientific agreement, if the source itself is not very transparent, they say so. One text that I appreciate is "Digital Ecology" , a supplementary material. They discuss how important it is to state the purpose and place the technology in the system. Perhaps a small flaw is the heterogeneous style. You can feel that the texts have been written by several people and each one could be the starting point of a whole course in itself ๐Ÿ˜.

In conclusion, I think this is a very good introduction to the topic. It gives a very good overview of it and how to approach it. It does not pretend to teach you the methods and approaches for assessing environmental impact or designing equipment, software, or services to reduce it. It's worth noting that it doesn't reduce the environment to the issue of climate (as important as that is, it's not the only critical challenge we face). However, you'll end up with the terminology, a bibliography, and a good overview of almost all of its aspects to pursue further study or learning if you wish. Also, I think you'll be better equipped to discuss and examine other materials and explanations. Finally, for all these reasons, I think it's a better introduction than the Green Software Practitioners training. If you have to choose just one, I'd go with this MOOC for now.


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