Tech showcase spotlights 5 digital projects at ASU


Person wearing a virtual headset.

Students immerse themselves in virtual reality at Arizona State University's Tempe campus. Photo courtesy Mike Sanchez/ASU Enterprise Technology

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For one of the largest universities in the nation, technology plays a critical role in the advancement of student and learner success. 

Recently, over 500 team members from Arizona State University’s IT community united at Empower, celebrating the collective impact of technology-driven innovation happening within the university. From immersive learning environments to intelligent chatbots, ASU stands at the forefront of educational advancements. 

Five teams from across the university took the stage at Empower for the 5x5 Technology Showcase to share how their projects are enhancing the digital ecosystem at ASU and beyond. Below is a glimpse at those presentations.

1. Unlocking learning in virtual reality at Dreamscape Learn

Presented by Hasrah Thomas

ASU’s Dreamscape Learn offers fully immersive learning environments, providing students with engaging, interactive educational experiences. Seamlessly blending cutting-edge virtual reality technology and innovative pedagogy, Dreamscape Learn enhances and complements traditional learning methods, propelling students into the future of education. 

At Empower, Hasrah Thomas, director of Realm 4 initiatives at Dreamscape Learn and EdPlus at ASU, delved into recent research on the success rate of nearly 700 students participating in the Dreamscape Learn biology course. 

“We found that the students participating in Dreamscape Learn labs not only enjoyed the experience but also significantly outperformed their peers in the non-DSL labs, leading to greater student success and confirming the effectiveness of this innovative approach,” Thomas said.

In recent studies, students’ lab grades were 9% higher than those in the conventional courses. The median lab grade for students in Dreamscape Learn was 96%, compared with 87% for the other group. Additional findings highlighted the positive impact of the full-immersive course on collaboration and engagement, with students expressing overall enjoyment and giving it a high rating of 4.4 out of 5.

2. Exploring credit mobility to advance student and learner agency

Presented by Bobby Gray and Kate Giovacchini 

Research shows that there are 39 million learners in the U.S. who have some college but no degree. Bobby Gray, executive director of products and programs at Enterprise Technology, and Kate Giovacchini, director of the Trusted Learner Network at Enterprise Technology, took to the stage to share a suite of tools being developed by ASU’s Enterprise Technology to improve credit mobility.

First, the Trusted Learner Network (TLN) is designed as a central credential repository. Institutions and organizations that are part of the TLN can securely store evidence of an individual's credentials inside the network. Students can then access their full evidence of achievements from across their lifetimes in one, easy-to-access portal.  

Tools like the Interactive Degree Planner (IDP) and ASU Pocket — which can operate within the TLN and as stand-alone products — allow students to apply their credentials to better navigate the lifelong learner journey. 

ASU Pocket is a digital wallet for students to carry evidence of their earned credentials. The digital wallet uses a self-sovereign identity model that gives individuals full ownership and control of their digital identities and associated credentials — such as degrees, digital badges or certificates. Individuals can directly share verified credentials with institutions and organizations using their digital wallet. 

Interactive Degree Planner is the most recent development. The service, which is still in the design phase, will provide prospective and current students with a portal to map out their academic journey. The planner helps students explore up to five academic plans, track progress toward their degree, plan their courses each semester and ensure they meet the requirements for graduation. 

“These critical mobility initiatives are designed to reduce friction for all of our learners and students, recognizing that they come to us from completely different pathways, backgrounds and experiences,” Giovacchini said. 

3. Bridging educational gaps with Study Hall

Presented by Wayne Anderson and Sean Hobson

EdPlus Chief Design Officer Sean Hobson and Wayne Anderson, director of strategic design and development, took the stage next to share about one of the university’s most recent initiatives. 

Study Hall is a collaboration between ASU, Crash Course and YouTube to offer accessible educational content for millions of viewers and learners for transferable college credits. The project focuses on three main areas: a series on “how to college,” a series on fields of study and majors called Fast Guides, and a first-of-its-kind pathway from curiosity on YouTube to college credit.

“By leveraging the technology and access on YouTube, we're pushing new bounds in our learning architecture, ultimately bridging the gap between informal and formal education and making enriched and scalable experiences for our learners,” Hobson said.

ASU faculty worked closely with the Crash Course team, led by Hank and John Green, to develop the Study Hall series, which has garnered over 3.4 million views. The seven-week courses include subjects such as English composition, college math, U.S. history and human communication. This innovative method is meeting learners where they are and providing new ways to engage with the university experience, thus expanding the university's mission to democratize learning online.

4. Empowering ‘100 Million Learners’ around the world

Presented by Laura Polk

The Francis and Dionne Najafi 100 Million Learners Global Initiative, led by the Thunderbird School of Global Management, aims to offer online, global education in 40 languages at no cost to the learner. With the aim of being the boldest and most ambitious global education initiative in higher education history, this program was designed to provide world-class education to individuals who might not have access to traditional learning resources. 

The program offers three pathways to help advance the learner’s personal and professional development — a foundational entrepreneurship boot camp course (for learners at any level of education) and intermediate and advanced pathways for learners at the high school, undergraduate or graduate levels. In order to reduce language barriers, the program's content has been translated into 20 languages, prioritized based on the number of native speakers and greatest areas of educational need. 

Future plans include adding another 20 unique languages in order to reach all learners — no matter where they live — across the globe. Participants who satisfactorily complete the intermediate or advanced programs can apply for academic credit, which can be used toward degrees at ASU and universities around the world. 

“Our focus is on delivering transformative learning experiences that not only cater to the unique needs of our learners but also continually adapt and evolve in this ever-changing educational landscape,” said Laura Polk, executive director of digital initiatives and learning experience at the Thunderbird School of Global Management. “Through this commitment, we're reshaping the boundaries of global education, ensuring that every learner, regardless of their location or native language, has access to an empowering educational journey.”

5. Bridging the AI knowledge gap with Simpli-fAI

Presented by Mickey Mancenido

The Simpl-fAI project aims to make artificial intelligence more accessible and understandable to a broader audience. Mickey Mancenido, an AI researcher and assistant professor at the School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences, highlighted the need for simplifying AI education.

Mancenido, who is also a graduate of Enterprise Technology’s T4 Leadership Academy, proposes using social media as a tool for AI education, using short, engaging informational videos and leveraging social media’s popularity among younger generations to dispel misconceptions surrounding the new generative technology. At Empower, he emphasized the importance of a well-informed society in our increasingly technology-driven world, highlighting the Simpl-fAI project's commitment to bridging the gap between AI and the general public.

“One approach we can take as educators is to use social media as a platform to educate learners and the broader public on artificial intelligence technologies,” Mancenido said. “We can simplify AI concepts and counteract the fear and sensationalism that often surround them.”

Read more about the annual Empower event here.

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