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'Every Story Matters' theme of MLK storytelling event

January 24, 2023

ASU Fulbright Scholar hopes to inspire with story about his teaching career

When Ranjitsinh Disale heard that the theme of this year's Martin Luther King celebration at ASU was "Every Story Matters," he knew he needed to submit an entry for a virtual storybook that was being composed.

“That really resonated with me,” said Disale, a Fulbright Scholar who is attending Arizona State University.

It resonated because as a teacher in India since 2009, Disale understands that no matter the circumstance, no matter the conditions, every story matters.

His first teaching job was at Zilla Parishad Primary School, a dilapidated building sandwiched between a storeroom and cattle shed. It was difficult to get girls to come to school; most were from tribal communities where teenage marriage was common and attendance was sometimes as low as 2%.

Today, thanks to Disale’s efforts, attendance among young girls is 100% and there are no teenage marriages in the village.

That’s just part of Disale’s story, which was one of nine entries chosen for the event, which will be held from 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 26, in the Changemaker Space at the Memorial Union on ASU's Tempe campus.

Changemaker Central, which is hosting the event, is a community of like-minded students who are leading social change in the local and global community.

Other entry winners — all of whom are invited to read their entries — are students Joanne Ma, Joshua Pardhe, Bobbi Cotton, Somanath Malakari Kambale, Pallav Raval, Augusto Ariel Aguilera Ramirez and Nupur Hassan, and ASU senior utility specialist Louie Flores.

Disale, ironically, never intended to be a teacher. His life dream was to become an engineer. His father, however, pushed him to join a teacher’s training college in India. Disale thought he would attend for six months and then get back into engineering.

“But God had some different plan for me,” he said. “I started enjoying and experiencing what teachers can do for students and what change they can make in the lives of students.”

Disale has done exactly that. In addition to improving educational opportunities for young women, Disale created QR-coded textbooks for his school that allowed students to learn through audio and visual content. The idea was so successful that in 2017, India’s Ministry of Human Resource and Development announced it would introduce QR-coded textbooks across the state for grades one through 12.

That same year, Disale was reading a Global Peace Index article about the millions of dollars India, Pakistan, Israel, Palestine, Iraq and Iran spend on the military, yet “they always keep battling each other.”

“I thought, ‘Instead of spending money on the military, if these countries would have invested 50% of that money into education, they might have solved their problems,’” Disale said.

Motivated, Disale created “Let’s Cross the Borders,” a Skype-based, six-week program that connects students in those countries in conflict.

The program, which now reaches 18,000 children in eight countries, aims to ease tensions by educating young people about other cultures, countries and ways of life.

Disale calls the program Peace Education.

“It’s all about teaching strategies, how to tackle violence non-violently,” said Disale, adding his focus is on students between 14 and 23 years old because their thought patterns have not become ingrained from years of conflict. “The world has become less peaceful every year, right? So we need to teach students how Mahatma Gandi followed the principle of non-violence and that’s how India got freedom, and how Martin Luther King Jr. avoided violence and he was the voice of Black Americans.”

ASU Fulbright Scholar Ranjitsinh Disale with his Global Teacher Prize

Ranjitsinh Disale with his Global Teacher Prize. Photo courtesy Ranjitsinh Disale

For his efforts, Disale in 2020 was awarded the prestigious Global Teacher Prize, which recognizes teachers making an outstanding contribution to their profession. Upon winning the award, Disale did something that had never been done before: He announced he would share 50% of his $1 million prize with the other nine finalists.

“I always want to support teachers, the best teachers, those who are doing incredible work in the classroom and changing the lives of students,” Disale said.

In December 2021, Disale was one of 40 teachers across the world to receive the Fulbright DAI scholarship awarded by the U.S. government. The scholarship allowed Disale to continue his research on peace education at a university in the U.S. for one year and the International Exchange and Exchanges Board — an international, nonprofit organization that specializes in global education and development — placed him at ASU in August 2022.

Disale’s mission — at least for the next five years, he said — is twofold: Encourage young people to become teachers and grow respect for teachers in society. Disale said he met Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly recently and encouraged Kelly to create some sort of “Respect Teachers” bill in the Senate.

“Back in India, teachers are highly respected,” he said. “Teachers are given incentives as well. But in Arizona, I found something different. Teachers are not always respected. It’s true; teachers are leaving their jobs. So we need some sort of concrete solution. It can’t be just words. Introduce a bill that says this is how we’re going to respect you.”

If conditions and salaries for teachers improve, Disale said, he’s convinced more high school and college students will choose the profession he chose; the profession his father, fortunately, chose for him.

“The world needs teachers of the 21st century because students are of the 21st century,” he said. “I’m on a mission to inspire teachers and to inspire the young generation of this era to go into the teaching sector.”

Because, as Disale knows, every story matters.

Top photo: Memorial of Martin Luther King in Washington, D.C. Photo by Wilson Rodriguez/Pexels

Scott Bordow

Reporter , ASU News

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Partnership between ASU, YouTube, Crash Course expands to offer courses for college credit

January 24, 2023

First 4 courses will launch on March 7

In its continued effort to make college more accessible through innovative methods, Arizona State University is partnering with YouTube and Crash Course to offer college courses that begin on YouTube. 

The first four courses, which will launch on March 7, create a flexible new pathway to higher education that provides up to 12 transferable college credits. The seven-week courses, called College Foundations, are English Composition, College Math, U.S. History and Human Communication — classes typically taken in the first year of college.

Study Hall is available to any learner looking to pursue a college degree, including the 55 million college hopefuls and early college students in the United States.

It works like this: Learners can watch course content on the Study Hall YouTube channel for free. If they like what they see, they can pay $25 to sign up to take the full online course through ASU. All of the courses are led by ASU faculty and involve interaction with other students. After they complete the coursework, learners can pay $400 to receive college credit for the course. They can retake the course as many times as they need and pay for credit once they’re satisfied with their grade and level of competency. The credits are transferable to any of the hundreds of institutions that accept ASU credits.

Learners who register before March 7 will get a special scholarship pricing of $350 per course to receive credit.

This is less than one-third of the average course cost at a public four-year university for in-state students and nearly 90% lower than the average course cost of a private four-year university.

“Built around the same faculty-determined learning outcomes as our other online and on-campus courses, Study Hall courses engage learners where they are,” said Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities in The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “Offering the same ASU credit as any other ASU classes, Study Hall is the ASU access mission in action. We’re proud to be able to welcome more learners into the university community in this way.”

College Foundations is an expansion of the existing Study Hall partnership among ASU, YouTube — one of the largest educational platforms in the world — and Crash Course, one of the pioneers of creating engaging educational videos. Study Hall is slated to have 12 courses available by January 2025. This gives learners a chance to receive credit for their entire first year of college from a top public research university at a time and place that is convenient for them.

This is the first time YouTube has partnered on a college-credit initiative, according to Katie Kurtz, managing director and global head of learning for YouTube.

“We’re excited because ASU and Crash Course are two of the most compelling partners that we could have chosen to work on this,” she said.

“It speaks to the power of their mission to democratize access to educational content, and both partners have a long track of doing that.”

Kurtz said that about 2 billion people log on to YouTube every month, and nearly all of them use the platform for learning.

“The thing I think that’s so interesting about learning on YouTube is how intrinsically motivated people are,” Kurtz said. “They’re here learning because they want to.

“What we’re hoping to do is take that love of learning that’s happening in an informal setting and help channel that into a real-world outcome.”

Lowering barriers

Solutions like College Foundations are critical for increasing the number of people who have college degrees. One of the biggest barriers to higher education is wading through the complicated process of deciding to go to college and then applying.

Study Hall is working to simplify this. The channel already provides “How to College” videos, which help learners navigate the application process, and “Fast Guides,” which include information about dozens of majors and career prospects. Study Hall videos have more than 3.4 million total views.

“Study Hall is an easily accessible place for learners and families to get a jump-start on college — from planning on how and where to go, to actually earning college credits,” ASU President Michael M. Crow said.

“Through the power of partnerships and technology, we continue to find new ways to break down barriers and create new pathways to higher education.”

Making the jump to acquiring credit also is easy. Signing up for a College Foundation course is only four steps.

The Study Hall College Foundations initiative is part of ASU’s Learning Enterprise, an ecosystem of lifelong learning opportunities.

Maria Anguiano, executive vice president of ASU Learning Enterprise, said that starting an online college program on YouTube lowers the intimidation factor.

“We’re meeting learners where they are — and they’re on YouTube,” she said.

“The transition from YouTube to an online course removes a barrier for a student who is not ready to fill out all the forms for college. This is easier and lower risk.

“By doing it this way, we aim to empower learners to pursue their college aspirations.”

Hank Green is shown in a video still with the words Fast Guide: Sustainability across the bottom

The Study Hall channel already provides video series such as “Fast Guides,” which include information about dozens of majors and career prospects. Complexly co-founder Hank Green (pictured) says one of the invisible barriers to college is "the knowledge of how to interact with these institutions," a challenge Study Hall aims to dismantle.

Crash Course is part of Complexly educational production company, which was founded by brothers Hank Green, an enormously popular science communicator, and John Green, author of the young adult bestsellers “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Turtles All the Way Down.”

Hank Green said that part of lowering barriers is realizing that learning is difficult.

“If this information was easy to get into your head, it would happen when you’re 4,” he said. “But there are also two other big barriers. One is the knowledge of how to interact with these institutions.

“A lot of people have that built in, with a parent or a sibling or a friend who have gone through the process. But a lot don’t, and it’s an invisible barrier.”

The other barrier is the cost of college.

“Those two barriers interact, and you can make a mistake that ends up costing you more money and you don’t graduate,” he said.

“We want people to help people make good decisions and to lower the cost, especially in the early portion, so that people can get this info and this knowledge without taking big, dangerous risks.”

Green said he’s appalled at the number of people who started college, left before earning a degree and are now saddled with debt.

“Everything you can do to lower the barrier, even a millimeter here or a millimeter there, is so valuable because there are so many people trying to better their lives,” he said.

Bringing energy

The College Foundations content was created with input from ASU faculty every step of the way. Each course, which contains several modules over the seven-week session, will include a signature learning experience to meet outcomes specified by ASU professors.

For example, in the U.S. History course, learners will practice primary-resource analysis by determining what they can learn from historic photographs, documents and artifacts. Then, they’ll create their own virtual museum that provides a perspective on early American history.

Math 142 connects math to real-world experiences, such as the skills needed to build a house. Learners are guided through the content with adaptive learning technology in which the math changes in real time according to the level of skill they’ve achieved. The learners practice until they’ve mastered the concept.

Students who sign up for English Composition will learn to write effectively in a course that incorporates the latest artificial intelligence technology as a companion to the writing process — AI that provides feedback and practice.

Keeping the content relevant to learners is an important way to keep them engaged. Danielle Bainbridge, an assistant professor of theater at Northwestern University, is the host for the history course. (The YouTube videos feature a variety of hosts; the full coursework is taught by ASU faculty.) In the course preview video, she describes how, in the wrong hands, history can seem boring and useless.

“We’ll see history come alive by discussing not just what happened, but how history is made,” she says in the video.

Bainbridge, who was the researcher, writer and host of the PBS Digital Studios web series “The Origin of Everything,” said that it’s important to bring a lot of energy to the set when she’s making a video.

“Most people think history is a summation of facts, names and dates, and they think it’s dry or they think it’s condescending or talking down to them,” she said.

“You need to talk as if you’re telling a great story to a dear friend.”

The Study Hall course on early American history begins with the Indigenous people who lived here before Europeans settled and runs through the end of the Civil War.

“I think often, early American history is taught from 1700 onward or starts in the 1600s with the Pilgrims and moves on from there,” Bainbridge said.

“If we’re going to understand fully the history of this country, we have to understand Indigenous history, Black history, BIPOCBlack, Indigenous and people of color history, so those issues were engaging for me.”

She particularly enjoyed creating an episode about immigration in the early 19th century.

“It tells a story about a time we often don’t hear about because people think immigration is a contemporary issue in the U.S. and it’s not,” she said.

Another way that the Crash Course team keeps its videos engaging is by using empathy, Green said.

“We’ve done a good job of thinking more broadly about who our audience is. Whenever we’re making content, it’s an active empathy, and empathy requires understanding and you have to understand your audience,” Green said.

“One thing we did with ASU was create learning profiles — here are three people we made up and their situations and how do we make content that fills their needs without making it boring or bland because we’re trying to make it for everybody?”

The minimum is to convey accurate information, he said.

“But ultimately I’m a YouTuber by trade, and that’s all about capturing and holding attention and doing what you can to keep people on screen and not looking at texts and whatever is on the side of YouTube,” he said.

“Capturing attention is something that comes down to feeling as if you’re understood by the person who’s making the content.”

Anguiano said the Study Hall initiative is an important part of ASU’s charter to embrace inclusivity, she said.

“That means not just, ‘You can come to us,’ but also ‘How can we serve you?’

“It means doing things differently, and these partnerships create new opportunities to meet different types of learners.”

Learn more on the Study Hall website. 

Top image: A screenshot from the Study Hall video series on U.S. history features Danielle Bainbridge, an assistant professor of theater at Northwestern University. The YouTube videos feature a variety of hosts; the full coursework is taught by ASU faculty. Image courtesy of Study Hall

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU News