Paper or plastic?

Professor Robert Bremmer has been teaching a multimedia capstone course at Portland State for 10 years.

Professor Robert Bremmer has been teaching a multimedia capstone course at Portland State for 10 years. Every term, a new group of seniors contributes to an ongoing blog in the Ecomerge class, which intends to shed light on local ecological issues. The focus for this quarter is disposable grocery bags, and is especially timely as earlier this month Oregon legislators reviewed a bill to ban plastic bags.

The blog does not promote a particular stance on hot-button items, but rather seeks to present a wide variety of perspectives on the issue in a public forum, according to Bremmer.

“The idea is to always have a topic that makes students grapple with the economic and environmental impact of decisions made by individuals and through policy,” Bremmer said of the course. “It is never black-and-white, but always important.”

Houyamon Louie, a third-year social sciences major and student in the class, said that the blog and accompanying website are meant to offer information for anyone that is interested in learning about the “pros and cons of using paper and plastic bags.”

Louie enrolled in the course to pursue an in terest in web design, and said that the class has been “very interesting and challenging at times.”

Scrolling through the blog, readers will see circumspect statements written by the students in the class as they make predictions as to what this quarter’s research will reveal about the plastic bag debate. Many students have posted and responded to articles on both sides of the issue.

Some topics in the blog debate discussed thus far are San Francisco, Calif.’s ban on plastic bags in 2008 and Washington D. C’s five-cent tax on plastic bags implemented just this month. The blog also highlights the less notorious sides of this issue: Whether paper or plastic is more environmentally sustainable, and the potential presence of lead in reusable shopping bags.

However, the optimal route for shoppers to take is unclear, Bremmer said.

“[The students] are looking at all of this to understand all the facts possible,” he said. “Then they report on their findings and make their recommendation to those reading the blog and site.”

The course is conducted online, therefore allowing students living in other countries to take part.

“The advantage of this is students can apply lessons learned in their local communities around the world,” Bremmer said.

Bremmer referred to students in the Middle East that took a previous course and reported back to their agricultural community about the damage caused by soil erosion.

The course aims to help students learn about web literacy and the collaborative process, though they also often learn about valuable information regarding the topic they are researching, according to Bremmer.

The collaborative nature of the class is both a benefit and a drawback because the students are communicating with one another entirely online.

“It is always interesting to work with people from other cultures and to learn about their perception of the world and their responses to our concern about [the] environment,” Louie said.

Each student in the class is responsible for posting written statements on the blog, as well as contributing in some aspect to the creation of the website linked to the blog.

Past topics include the near extinction of the bluefin tuna and the energy use of the electric car. Because the blog is maintained year after year, the findings on these topics are accessible at any time.

The students track their readership via a web analytics program, and one of the class’ goals is “to increase readership on the overall theme of economy and environment, and also on the specific topic of that term,” Bremmer said.

The blog has been visited nearly 30,000 times since it launched in 2007. According to the analytics data, the blog has viewers in countries such as the Philippines, Portugal, India and Canada. ?