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1,500 Students Jam Through IBM on Tackling Global Problems

IBM has released findings from a weeklong student "jam," in which the company invited students, faculty, business people, and experts to participate in online conversations about sustainability and other topics. The April Smarter Planet University Jam attracted about 2,000 people from 40 countries to "jam" or brainstorm on several major themes, including how to build smarter electricity grids, how to build sustainable urban environments, how to improve healthcare, how to manage limited water supplies, and how to develop interdisciplinary skill sets. About three-quarters of participants were students.

Jammers were asked to address specific questions:

  • What interdisciplinary skills are required for students to compete in an increasingly interconnected, intelligent, and instrumented smarter planet?
  • What technical, organizational, and business process innovations are needed to protect our environment?
  • What technical, business process, and policy innovations are required to transform today's electricity grids into smart grids?
  • What technical, organizationa,l and business process innovations are needed to improve healthcare and at the same time make it affordable for the average consumer?
  • How do we apply information technology to enable existing cities to deal with the many challenges they face with their infrastructures--and to create sustainable new cities that attract and develop new economic bases?

According to IBM, eight of 10 students said they want universities to revamp traditional learning environments. Ninety percent want to join or start a green advocacy group at their campus. Sixty-four percent believe that the world has a chance to reverse carbon emissions by 2025. Sixty percent believe that education and efficient transportation offer the best hope for sustainability of our cities.

"The Smarter Planet University Jam was the first time that so many university-aged students came together in an online forum to brainstorm ideas to better our world," said Jai Menon, VP of technical strategy and university programs for IBM. "Students are confident that their future will be a smarter place–-a world where they will drive cars that get 100 miles per gallon, learn in virtual classrooms connected with students across the globe, and where they can run their businesses on a secure, energy-efficient, and interconnected grid. They are boldly challenging the industry to transform that vision into their reality, and IBM is committed to meeting that challenge."

Some universities held jam sessions during class or hosted special events on campus. Pace University, for example, combined computer science and environmental studies classes to take part from its campus in Pleasantville, NY. "The Smarter Planet University Jam was one of the most exciting and innovative experiences I have ever been a part of. IBM is setting the standard for the corporate world to start learning from the people that depend on them," said Taylor Vogt, a student majoring in political science at Pace. "This kind of free-flowing forum is extremely vital to the sustainability movement, where far too often good ideas are never shared or worse, never listened to. I was proud to be a part of this experience."

"Jammers were vocal about the need for an integrated solution to the disparate and sometimes questionable content of online learning resources, such as Wikipedia, and other sources of user-generated content. And that this solution should be open source, available to all at no charge, and flexible, while maintaining integrity as a trusted learning source," stated an IBM report on the jam session. "Jammers questioned the traditional role and model of university systems, as Internet-based applications begin to provide more course content and we shift to a system of global and service-based economies."

Participants offered a description of this new model of learning:

  • It needs to adopt learning methods that are student-led versus instructor-led, with professors playing a mentor role in the learning process;
  • It needs to adopt videoconferencing as a means to accomplish distance learning without sacrificing interaction;
  • It needs to apply a broader use of virtual environments to enhance learning, interaction, networking, and communication; and
  • It needs to implement team-based projects across geographical, disciplinary, and institutional boundaries.

Faculty and student jammers also contributed examples and ideas of how their universities are, or could be, "going green," including using deterrents such as expensive campus parking to encourage walking, extra charges for plastic bags in all campus shops, and setting weekly printing limits; the construction of solar powered and LEED-certified campus buildings; and the use of electric campus vehicles.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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