New director, new direction for ASU learning sciences institute

July 29, 2015

What lies at the interface of humans, education and technology? Ask Ian Douglas, the new executive director of the Institute for the Science of Teaching and Learning, formerly the ASU Learning Sciences Institute. 

Douglas’ expertise grows from his early training in psychology and cognition at the University of Glasgow. This was followed by experience at the University of Warwick on an innovative interdisciplinary graduate program in the U.K., which combined psychologists and computer scientists in the study of artificial intelligence and human-computer interaction. This provided an early insight into the importance of interdisciplinary teaching and research. Ian Douglas, director of the Institute for the Science of Teaching and Learning Ian Douglas, director of ASU's Institute for the Science of Teaching and Learning, brings new direction at the interface of humans, education and technology. Download Full Image

Completing his education at Glasgow Caledonian University, which was built on the European Polytechnic model, taught Douglas about the importance of connecting research to practice. This education was the cornerstone for a career that since has ranged from research with the U.S. Army, Coast Guard and Navy to the study of global perspectives in technology usability, mobile and online learning technologies, classroom design, and translating use-inspired research into practice.

“I am very excited about Dr. Douglas leading the institute. He is intent on collaboration and bringing resources together to enhance work in learning sciences,” said Mari Koerner, dean of ASU Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

In addition to his role a director with the institute, Douglas has also been appointed an Innovation Fellow in the Digital Teaching and Learning Action Lab with ASU’s EdPlus

“Dr. Douglas brings both creative thinking and solid research skills to EdPlus’ entrepreneurial, fast-paced environment,” said Phil Regier, university dean of educational initiatives and CEO for EdPlus. “We look forward to his contributions as we seek to accelerate the adoption and advancement of digital teaching and learning.”

The Learning Sciences Institute was established at ASU in 2010 with a mission to build collaborations to improve teaching and learning at ASU through discovery in student learning. It has attracted a number of creative research groups at ASU at the forefront of the science of teaching and learning, including:

• Learning and Cognition Lab, headed by professor Michelene Chi
• Science of Learning and Education Technology Lab, directed by professor Danielle McNamara
• Embodied Games for Learning Lab, founded by professor Mina Johnson-Glenberg
• Individualizing Student Instruction Lab, headed by professor Carol Connor 

The institute enters a new chapter with the arrival of Douglas, as reflected in the new name. “The Institute for the Science of Teaching and Learning,” said Douglas, “pulls teaching to the forefront.” 

“We must influence teaching practice. Not just work in a vacuum with a sole focus on the science of learning,” Douglas said. “There is a recognized problem in the diffusion of innovation, which is referred to as crossing the chasm: getting a proven innovation from research into widespread use. Basic learning science research must be accompanied by equivalent of an engineering discipline that can translate the research into practice.” 

Prior to coming to ASU, Douglas was the vice provost of innovative learning and academic support systems for Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences in New York. While there, he reviewed educational technology, teaching methods, course evaluation and learning space design and established a center for innovative learning and invested in online and interactive forms of learning. 

He was also a senior faculty member at Florida State University in Tallahassee for 12 years before that, with the Learning Systems Institute, one of the oldest university-based education research organizations in the U.S. As professor and associate program director, he worked to implement the first online distance learning programs and advance instructional design, research and technology. 

One project he piloted in Tallassee addressed a long-standing challenge to teachers, how to connect field trips common in K-12 education with standards-based teaching curricula. Funded by the National Institute of Education, Douglas and colleagues from several disciplines designed a system that included an iPad app called Habitat Tracker: Digital Journal for Science Education in Wildlife Centers. Developed to enhance and assess teaching, the project paired website support for teachers and student activities, with wildlife observations designed to teach students how to formulate hypotheses, and ask and answer questions about animal behavior at the heart of scientific inquiry. A successful technology developed for the Tallahassee Museum, Douglas hopes to replicate the system on a larger scale that translates to other field trip locations and uses, for example: the Arizona-Sonora desert museum. 

“We can take existing research, engineer it and translate into practice to create meaningful outcomes,” Douglas said. “My role as director of this institute will be to support and enhance ASU’s innovative approaches to learning and facilitate and network experts in research and instructional design. I would like to see us help redefine both instructional design and digital learning for the 21st century.”

Margaret Coulombe

Director, Executive Communications, Office of the University Provost


Just starting off, ASU alum snags job on 'The Middle'

July 30, 2015

Josh Estes is humble, hard-working, stable – and not planning to couch-surf anytime soon.

The Arizona State University graduate just moved to Hollywood last week, but he doesn’t have to wait tables until he “makes it.” Estes has already landed his first job in Tinseltown as a production assistant on “The Middle,” a family comedy starring Patricia Heaton on ABC. Chris Bradley, Josh Estes, and Kevin Sandler Josh Estes (center) took advantage of mentorship and professional development opportunities at ASU. He studied screenwriting with Christopher Bradley (left) and secured a coveted Sundance Film Festival internship with Kevin Sandler (right), both faculty in the Department of English’s film and media studies program. Download Full Image

“And,” he added, “my wife and I have already found an apartment.”

Estes received his Master of Advanced Study (MAS) in American media and popular culture from ASU’s Department of English, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences this past May. He is also a graduate of ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in 2013.

The MAS degree is offered completely online and provides a background in critical approaches to film and media studies. The program includes well-connected internships and professional development opportunities in addition to the rigorous academic curriculum.

Estes, who is an Arizona native, did an independent study with ASU lecturer Christopher Bradley. An award-winning screenwriter as well as a former Hollywood actor, Bradley was impressed with Estes’ maturity and work ethic.

“I knew from the first class that Josh was someone who had not only writing talent, but also had a great deal of drive,” Bradley said. “He wrote nearly twice what he needed to. He finished one thing and then immediately started something else. He’s the dream independent study student.”

Estes completed an entire feature screenplay and a television pilot during his sessions with Bradley. He points to the training and mentoring he received at ASU as keys to his success in rather quickly landing a post-graduation job in the competitive film world.

“The foundation that I have for understanding the television business stemmed from the MAS program here,” he said. “In addition to the networking opportunities it provided, the program gave me an understanding of how different variables affect storytelling.”

Another ASU opportunity that Estes took advantage of was the annual Sundance Film Festival Trip, led by associate professor Kevin Sandler. Each January, ASU student interns volunteer as members of the festival team, helping to usher, take tickets, manage lines and run its theatres. During their off-time, interns can attend movie screenings, meet filmmakers and hear guest speakers. Students are selected for the internship in a competitive process. Sandler said the internship has proven to be “instrumental” for past ASU interns in securing their first jobs after graduation.

Estes said the experience at Sundance was eye-opening and crucial to his current direction.

“Sundance was really my first exposure with the industry,” he said. “Going to different panels or listening to the guest speakers that professor Sandler brought in, learning from them, seeing the excitement around the films, hearing from the people who made them - just confirmed that this was what I want to do, that this was what I want to be a part of.”

The selective internship also added credibility to his experience during job interviews.

“Everyone was like, ‘you went to Sundance?’ It was a conversation starter on my resume,” he said. “It showed a level of seriousness.”

Ironically, Estes found a valuable contact not in Los Angeles or Sundance, but at an ASU event. It was a live-streamed webinar for online students that featured a Hollywood studio staffer discussing her successful career. He was the only in-person attendee. Estes later sent the woman his resume, and she alerted him to the open position at “The Middle.”

“He showed up. It’s sometimes kind of that simple,” Bradley said. “I think a lot of students miss opportunities like that. Josh had a very clear idea of what he wanted and was very good at grabbing those opportunities.”

During his resulting interview with the staff of “The Middle,” he was expecting to be asked about his work experience and internships. He was surprised by other questions.

“When I met the executive producer, he asked me what I watched and why,” Estes said.

Estes was able to answer in a way that showed he had a nuanced understanding of television: he described narrative, story arc and the business of film in general.

“I also said, ‘I can even offer feedback on screenplay formatting. For instance, I can tell you if there are extra spaces between letters,’” he joked.

Estes’s responses must have been the right ones, because he was eventually offered the production assistant job and will begin this August. The reaction from his family and friends was positive, if generationally skewed.

“When I told everyone I was working on ‘The Middle,’ my friends who were my age – mid-20s – had no idea what I was talking about. People my parents’ age and up – that was another story. My grandma, who is 84, said, ‘Oh, I watch “The Middle” every week!’”

Estes will work with the show’s producers and writers at the Warner Bros. studio in Burbank, California. No doubt, his drive to succeed will push him far toward success.

“Two years from now, I see myself working as a writers’ assistant or assistant to a showrunner. Ten years from now, if I’m working on a television show as a writer: that’s where I would love to be.”

If he keeps his current course, that’s likely where Estes will end up.

Kristen LaRue-Sandler

Manager, marketing + communications, Department of English