Dematerializing School: Green Learning
Thanks to technology and the internet, many products and services can be 'dematerialized'. For example, just think of how many songs and movies have been downloaded (with and without copyright infringement). Just the iTunes store has sold over 4 billion songs. That's a lot of plastic CDs and trips to the store...
Another area where dematerialization is starting to happen is education: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has been getting 1.5 million hits a month on its OpenCourseWare site, and that includes about half a million hits for non-English translations. Gilbert Strang's linear algebra course is downloaded about 200,000 times a month! Hard to fit that many people in one class, but educating the equivalent of 4 large stadiums isn't really more work for him. Win-win.The digital flow of information helps in two ways: It reduces material and energy use, but it also increases curiosity and awareness. The more you learn, the more you want to learn, and the more you know, the better your chances of being aware of problems and taking action. That's the indirect green benefit here. If people aren't curious about the world they live in and aren't used to think critically, they have a lot less chances of caring about it. Formal schooling isn't the only way to achieve that, but it generally helps.
There's also a strong anti-poverty argument. Not everybody can afford expensive education, or lives in a country with good universities. Having access to Berkley, Stanford and MIT classes for free can lead to a better life, if not financially at first, at least intellectually. And who knows? Maybe tomorrow's scientists and engineers that will save the planet are currently teenagers spending their evenings learning on the net.
You can see a list of colleges and universities that offer free courses online here. There's also MITWorld's Videos.
We don't think online education will soon replace traditional brick schools, but it's a nice addition.