Research Projects

Examining the Carbon Impact of Streaming Media in University Teaching and Learning

Last March, university teaching shifted abruptly to remote methods, but this increased reliance on information and communications technologies (ICT) comes at an environmental cost that is rarely acknowledged.

Yani Kong and her team of researchers intend to make tangible the otherwise invisible impact of streaming by measuring university outputs and developing education and policy shifts for SFU.

Project Summary:

  • Driven by data servers, networks and consumer devices, information and communication technologies (ICT) currently emits 2.7-3.3% of global greenhouse gases and is projected to increase to 7% by 2030 and by 15% by 2040. Streaming media contributes more than any other sector to this increase.
  • This project responds to the need to reduce ICT’s contributions to the greenhouse gas emission by measuring the university’s outputs and developing education and policy shifts for SFU.
  • The project seeks to determine the specific technology needs, to calculate the resulting CO2 emissions using the measurement model under development by SFU Engineering, and finally to develop best practices for video conferencing and online media streaming. The project will build awareness and help incorporate its findings into the mindful media consumption practices at the university.

Research Team

  • Yani Kong, PhD student, School for the Contemporary Arts
  • Laura Marks, Professor, School for the Contemporary Arts
  • Stefan Smulovitz, Manager, Technology & Resources, School for the Contemporary Arts, and SFU IT Services
Yani Kong

Project updates

June 2021

Yani has conducted qualitative research surveys of SFU students, faculty, and staff on their streaming habits in relation to remote learning, as well as interviewed staff members in SFU Copyright who are responsible for digitizing the library catalogue.

She has learned that 80-100% percent of courses are reliant on streaming media and that 90% of instructors use Zoom as a virtual classroom, supplementing with prerecorded lecture material and other embedded content. Across her research, instructors and students have indicated issues they encounter with remote learning, such as lag, connection, and VPN access for students studying internationally, tissues that can be addressed if educational streaming media were made available to download.

Yani’s next step is to work with SFU IT to measure classroom energy consumption in relation to streaming platforms used for remote learning, and to consult with IT practitioners to develop a best practice guideline for streaming media consumption in remote learning environments. In the meantime, she is planning workshops and panel discussions to raise awareness on the carbon footprint of streaming in remote teaching and learning in the arts and humanities.

Figure 1. Yani Kong teaching a remote lecture via Zoom