Jeffrey Stone, Penn State University – Sustainability in Introductory Computing Courses

On Penn State University Week:  Sustainability in the future will be more important than ever.

Jeffrey Stone, assistant professor of information science and technology, shows how this way of living can solve today and tomorrow’s problems.

Dr. Stone (PhD, Penn State) is an Assistant Professor of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) at Penn State Lehigh Valley. His research focuses on social applications of computing. Dr. Stone currently researches the use of social media by public institutions, specifically municipal and state governments, as well analyses of social media data to identify pandemic-related health issues. Dr. Stone is also an active researcher in Game Studies, specifically investigating evolving perceptions of the “gamer” identity as it moves away from traditional stereotypes. Dr. Stone’s pedagogical research focuses on multidisciplinary methods for engaging students in introductory computing courses. Dr. Stone routinely teaches courses in introductory computer programming, game culture, enterprise application integration, and organizational impacts of technology.

He has been a faculty member at Penn State University since 2001.

Sustainability in Introductory Computing Courses


Many of the problems our society faces are complex and ambiguous and therefore often require unconventional problem-solving approaches. Sustainability, the concept of using resources to meet current needs without sacrificing future needs, involves a number of these complex or so-called “wicked” problems. In order to solve these problems, we must use an integrative perspective – in other words, solutions require knowledge from multiple disciplines combined with perspectives acquired from culture, life experience, and other sources. My research seeks to help students build these integrative skills by infusing sustainability-based problems into courses which, at first glance, may appear to be unrelated.

In all of the introductory Computer and Information Science courses I teach, I assign programming problems which incorporate specific sustainability topics. Topics such as wind power, solar energy, and water conservation are explored through small, custom programming exercises. These sustainability-themed computer programming assignments engage students by providing real-world applications of the material they learn in class. These problems also show students how knowledge from seemingly distinct disciplines can be combined to solve meaningful and often complex problems and therefore allow students to build integrative skills. Besides a programming exercise, each assignment provides students with basic information about the sustainability topic, and a small reflective writing exercise is also assigned to allow students to reflect on their experience and potential future applications. Our preliminary research suggests this integrative learning approach offers the possibility of increasing student engagement, increasing students’ sustainability knowledge, and enhancing students’ integrative learning skills. This approach also encourages students to integrate sustainability into their daily lives and communities.


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