Professor partners with Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics to bring ASU Worldbuilding Initiative to life

February 2, 2023

In her 2014 National Book Award acceptance speech, acclaimed science fiction and fantasy writer Ursula K. Le Guin said, “Hard times are coming, when we’ll be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine real grounds for hope. We’ll need writers who can remember freedom — poets, visionaries — realists of a larger reality.”

Le Guin’s charge that we become “realists of a larger reality” — and the similar charges of other science fiction writers and futurists who dream of better futures for our planet and the life it supports — lies at the heart of the new ASU Worldbuilding Initiative. Portrait of ASU Associate Professor Matt Bell smiling for the camera in an outdoor setting. Matt Bell is a professor for ASU's Department of English and a published author. Download Full Image

Masterminded by Matt Bell, a professor of creative writing in Arizona State University's English department and author of "Appleseed" (a New York Times notable book), the ASU Worldbuilding Initiative invites all members of our community — at ASU and beyond it — to come together in mutual inspiration, communal thinking and imaginative play. As the latest initiative incubated by the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, this narrative experience will kick off in the spring. 

“My goal for the Worldbuilding Initiative,” Bell says, “is to make it a home for like-minded thinkers, artists and other people to inspire each other to think about our place in our world, our relationship to others and how the choices we make in the present inevitably affect the choices we leave to the those who follow us. The stories we tell each other are part of what sets the bounds of the future; the more varied positive, inclusive possibilities we imagine, the easier it might be to realize those futures in the real world.” 

Bell describes the initiative as an endeavor to multiply the possibilities we have available to us by giving students and faculty a chance to participate in a narrative experience built around wonder, collaboration, curiosity and problem-solving, putting into practice the modes of inquiry, thought and imagination that will be essential to the envisioning of our future ways of life. 

The project partnered with the Lincoln Center in the fall of 2022 as part of its investigation into ways we can reimagine our futures and relationships with technology. 

“We are excited to be the home at ASU for Matt Bell’s Worldbuilding Initiative, and to be able to contribute in some small way to his remarkable work,” said Gaymon Bennett, associate director of the Lincoln Center. “The question of worldbuilding and the vital work of the imagination in creating more ethical futures go to the heart of our mission at Lincoln. With Professor Bell, we’re convinced that while our lives today can be riddled with uncertainty, there is enough collective wisdom and good will around to realize a more positive and inclusive future — if we’re willing to multiply the accounts of the future that get to count.” 

The Worldbuilding Initiative will consist of multiple hybrid and virtual workshops, bringing together speakers from a broad range of disciplines and exploring topics from artificial intelligence to constructed languages. 

The series will culminate in a special keynote speaker event and reception at the end of the semester, then return next fall with a full year of programming. 

“The Worldbuilding Initiative invites every humanities discipline, from philosophy and creative writing to media studies, history, religious studies, linguistics and languages, to imagine more humane arrangements of the world we have inherited and inhabit,” said Jeffrey Cohen, dean of humanities for The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. “(It) is a community effort inspired by the ASU Charter and our mission of access and inclusion. We are fortunate to have the celebrated author and extraordinary thinker Matt Bell at its helm.”

Students and community members are invited to register for the first workshop, “Constructed Languages, Box-Words, and Neologisms: Ways of Naming (and Making) the World,” on Monday, Feb. 13, which will take place at ASU’s Tempe campus and also available to livestream via Zoom.

For more information on the initiative and to sign up for future events, check out the Lincoln Center website.

Karina Fitzgerald

Communications program coordinator , Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics


ASU startup receives funding to advance fire-safe battery research

January 30, 2023

An Arizona State University startup that licensed breakthrough fire-safe lithium-ion and lithium-metal battery technology received a funding boost to further validate its research.

Safe-Li, the startup that holds the exclusive license to commercialize the technology from Skysong Innovations, ASU’s technology transfer partner that facilitated the commercialization and patent process, was accepted into Shell’s GameChanger Program and awarded $300,000 in seed funding. Graphic illustration of an electric car battery in a car. Photo courtesy Just_Super via iStock.

The program helps startups with unproven early-stage ideas that have the potential to impact the future of energy. Safe-Li will receive support and expertise from the GameChanger team but will maintain independence to make its own decisions.

“GameChanger saw the uniqueness in the technology. We’re honored to represent the science and ASU. We have the right product and plan to bring it forward to the world,” said Chris Dee, chief operating officer and co-founder of Safe-Li.

The grant will be used to further research with ASU Regents Professor Jerry Lin’s technology and validate it as a coin cell battery, similar to what is used in key fobs. Once the science is validated on a coin cell battery, Safe-Li can begin validation on a multilayer pouch battery and seek out co-innovation partners from battery manufacturers. The initial validation is expected to be wrapped up within 12 months.

“The market is solving the symptoms of the fire issue, not the science. Dr. Lin has uniquely solved the science. He’s found a scientific approach to create a fire-safe lithium-ion battery,” Dee said, adding that this technology will improve the safety of electric vehicles, energy storage stations and further enable the transition of renewable energy into society.

Lin, inventor of the technologies and chief scientist at Safe-Li, developed the patent-pending technology that is expected to revolutionize the battery industry and make them safer. He created a unique coating method that will add a step to current battery manufacturing to make the batteries fire safe. The technologies also improve battery performance and longevity at higher charge-discharge rates by as much as three to five times.

“Lithium-ion batteries have become the energy storage media of choice in modern consumer electronic devices, electric drivetrain vehicles, commercial power tools and grid storage,” said Lin, who is also a professor of chemical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at ASU. “However, multiple incidents of fire hazards and explosions have raised concerns related to the safety of the current and next-generation lithium-ion battery systems. Our technology, once scaled up, will enable fabrication of fire-safe, high-performance lithium-ion batteries for various energy storage applications. Furthermore, the platform technology we are developing can be extended to make lithium-metal batteries with higher energy density, which will have a big impact on developing long-range batteries for electrical vehicles.”

When Safe-Li exits the GameChanger program, it expects to have a commercial-ready design for a multi-layer pouch cell battery. At that stage, the technology can be accelerated and scaled up for broader applications in the marketplace.

Michelle Stermole

Senior Director, Public Relations and Strategic Communications , ASU Enterprise Partners


Can a journalist be trustworthy without being 'objective'?

New report from ASU Cronkite School analyzes accuracy, reliability in the modern newsroom

January 30, 2023

At a time when trustworthy news is more important than ever, and when most people say they want news that is unbiased, the traditional notion of journalistic objectivity is under attack from journalists and news consumers alike.

A new report by two veteran journalists charts a path forward for newsrooms to produce fair, accurate and reliable news in the evolving culture of the modern newsroom. Four broadcast  journalists stand around a news desk talking Photo by gorodenkoff/iStock

Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post, and Andrew Heyward, former president of CBS News, now faculty members at Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, have co-authored a report called “Beyond Objectivity: Producing Trustworthy News in Today’s Newsrooms.” Cronkite School doctoral students Rian Bosse, Stephen Kilar and Kristina Vera-Phillips and undergraduate student Autriya Maneshni also contributed to the report.

The report examines some of the factors that have eroded trust in the news media, including newsroom downsizing, cable news blurring news and opinion, politicians accusing mainstream media of producing fake news, and an increase in misinformation and disinformation exacerbated by social media. It also explains why many journalists today reject the traditional notion of “objective” news reporting. Heyward and Downie argue that, while the term may have lost its relevance, newsrooms can restore trust in their reporting by following a “playbook” of recommendations in the report.

“For the general public, this is a critical time in terms of what kind of information you get, and where you’re getting it from and how it’s being produced. It’s hard for people to know what to believe,” said Downie, Weil Family Professor of Journalism at the Cronkite School. “We have concluded that it’s very important for mainstream news media to evolve in the ways we recommend to produce the best possible trustworthy news for the public.”

Downie and Heyward and their team interviewed more than 75 news leaders, journalists and other experts before developing a set of six guidelines for producing trustworthy news.

Beyond Objectivity” offers the following guiding principles: move beyond accuracy to truth; unlock the real power of diversity, inclusion and identity; create a credible policy for journalists’ social media and political activities; focus on essential original reporting; show your work as an integral part of the journalism process; and develop a set of core values for the newsroom to live by.

“If we’ve done our job, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. If a newsroom does all of these things, it’s transformative,” said Heyward, senior research professor at the Cronkite School. “Even if it’s not a revolution, it’s a significant evolution. It’s going to require a new generation of leadership that embraces these principles.”

Some newsrooms are already focusing on diversifying their staffs and the communities they cover, but Heyward says more can be done.

“There’s a focus on diversity. We’re recommending a greater, sharper, more intense focus, which actually treats diversity not just as a statistical or moral imperative, even though it’s both of those things, but as a way to unlock new riches from your own team,” Heyward said. “The idea is not to bring a bunch of people in and sand them down, so they all fit a preconceived mold, but rather bring them in and use their diverse talents and perspectives to enrich your journalism and service to a more diverse public.”

The report will be distributed to journalism schools, news organizations and journalism associations, and it will be available on the Knight-Cronkite News Lab website as a resource.

The Cronkite School will also create a series of workshops that will apply the report’s findings to the work and culture of individual newsrooms — part of what the authors hope becomes a continuing conversation about journalism’s core values that helps preserve and strengthen the public’s trust in reliable reporting.

The report may become a living document that is updated periodically to address issues that arise in the media, Heyward said, citing as an example the debate that sprang up in newsrooms over how to cover the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade.

The Stanton Foundation awarded the Cronkite School a $150,000 grant to research the concept of journalistic objectivity in today’s newsrooms. Frank Stanton is widely regarded as one of the television industry’s founding fathers and served as president of CBS for nearly 30 years. The Stanton Foundation played no role in the development or dissemination of the report, and the contents are entirely an independent product of ASU.

Michelle Stermole

Senior Director, Public Relations and Strategic Communications , ASU Enterprise Partners


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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


Researchers meet at the intersection of public management and scientific enterprise

Center for Organization Research and Design creates Experimental Lab to better connect with other scholars, larger community

January 20, 2023

Scholars at Arizona State University’s Center for Organization Research and Design (CORD) are working at the intersection of public management and the scientific enterprise while “refreshing and reimagining” the center’s nationally and internationally respected role as a leader in public organization design, its new director said.

Julia Melkers, a Foundation Professor in the School of Public Affairs (SPA), arrived from the Georgia Institute of Technology to lead CORD in August 2022. The center was founded in 2013 as a leading research engine for public management in the science environment. Abstract graphic of an organizational chart represented by differently colored squares and rectangles. Image by Gerd Altmann/Pixabay Download Full Image

“CORD is at a place where we're building on a strong foundation of global and national recognition of its work,” Melkers said. “We are also refreshing and reimagining it as we come out of COVID. We are in the midst of some strategic thinking and engagement with affiliates at ASU and around the globe.”

One important addition to the center was the appointment of SPA Associate Professor Ulrich Jensen as CORD’s associate director, Melkers said. Jensen’s background as an experimentalist has led to the recent creation of the CORD Experimental Lab.

“SPA is one of the few public management schools where we have a strong cohort of experimentalists, something new for CORD to develop a broader identity,” Jensen said.

“We want to connect more with the Watts College and across campus with scholars interested in creating public value through research at the nexus of public policy and human behavior, studying the many ways they intersect. This research can advance public value by informing organizational design in public institutions, from science-based to other policy domains.”

For example, in the scientific realm, CORD is collaborating with ASU’s Center for Science, Technology and Environmental Policy Studies and colleagues in Europe to examine how international collaborative teams have adopted social innovations in response to how challenges and restrictions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath have affected scientific inquiry.

“It’s a fascinating study of how scientific teams interact, how organizations are structured, form their policies and rules, and who leads in times of disruption,” she said.

Another illustration from the local setting is that CORD’s Experimental Lab is also working with local governments and community organizations. One partnership with Scottsdale city leaders involves creating a continuous collaboration with experiments designed to understand public service delivery and strengthen their organization capacity. For example, a challenge many local governments face is recruiting and retaining talented and diverse young professionals. This project has also helped to bring other SPA faculty into the center to create a greater collaborative community of scholars and students, Melkers said.

CORD is also expanding its reach across ASU to expand transdisciplinary research opportunities. Melkers and other CORD faculty have begun a collaboration with another new ASU faculty member in philosophy on a project that looks at intellectual humility in science, bringing both philosophy and psychology into the discussion of organization design.

“We are expanding the CORD scholarly community on campus to allow us to do new and interesting important work that brings people together from different perspectives,” she said. “This brings new ways of looking at problems, at research questions, methods and even new types of data. It’s an exciting future.”

CORD is also a global player, having been a catalyst to bring together scholars from countries such as Denmark, Spain, Finland, Belgium, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

“We will continue to be a visible player in the international public management and science policy communities. CORD is engaged with international conferences as members of scientific committees and research panels. CORD has hosted and will continue to host international scholars, who visit us and bring fresh ideas and exposure,” said Melkers, who noted the center’s scholars will be attending two conferences in Europe soon.

“We are looking to build stronger and more recognizable networks with other centers around the country and the world,” she said. CORD scholars sit on several committees on the international, national, state and local levels.

“As part of ASU, an institution that is a dynamic leader in innovation, we have some really great opportunities here to do great work,” she said. “Our research can help lead social innovation in finding solutions to local as well as global programs, including here at ASU. We also give students opportunities to be meaningfully involved in exciting and important work.”

Melkers came to ASU in 2022 from the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. Jensen came to ASU in 2016 after receiving his PhD degree at Aarhus University in Denmark.

CORD and SPA are based at the Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

Mark J. Scarp

Media Relations Officer, Watts College of Public Service and Community Solutions


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Top edtech trends in 2023 and the ASU example

January 19, 2023

In spite of our tendency to break things down into tidy time frames, like a new year or academic semester, change constantly turns over the status quo. Especially in the world of technology, where disruptive innovation may evolve rapidly from the fringe to the mainstream.

“At ASU’s Enterprise Technology, we work in spaces where technology is not just revolutionizing higher education, but the world at large,” said Lev Gonick, chief information officer at Arizona State University. “We strive to be proactive, not reactive, to new paradigms changing the ways in which we work, learn and thrive.”

The following technology trends — as illuminated by Fierce Education (plus one unique to Enterprise Technology) — are what leading technologists, university leadership, the ASU community and beyond are facing today. And not so coincidentally, ASU is on the cutting edge of these educational spaces.

“The world, and by extension ASU learners, are shaped by technologies like those represented here by examples of our work,” Gonick shared.

Trend No. 1 — Artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) is having its moment in higher education with the introduction of ChatGPT in the past few weeks. The AI program is gaining attention worldwide with the capacity to produce highly sophisticated writing. With the capability of linear storytelling, identification of fallacies, and grammar and syntax skills, ChatGPT far outclasses the writing AI that has come before it. 

Beyond this example, AI is at play in numerous facets of university learning, working and living. In an entrepreneurial and community impact example, students working at ASU’s Learning Futures are using AI technology to provide real-time support to visually impaired students in the classroom. (Learn more about how this group of students is exploring the use of 5G, classroom cameras and artificial intelligence to power the Braille board.)

While higher education leaders are still understanding the impact and implications of such a disruptive technology, ASU is embracing the opportunity to explore this cutting-edge application of AI through the lens of responsible innovation for meaningful impact.

Last year, ASU Enterprise Technology announced a new partnership to become a Verizon 5G Innovation Hubthe partnership brings Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband speed to the Creativity Commons at ASU’s Tempe campus.  

Trend No. 2 — Chatbots

As an extension of AI principles, digital chatbots simulate human-like conversations with users via text or chat messages. 

With one of the most advanced chatbot strategies, ASU is working to find smarter, more meaningful ways to communicate with learners. And one area for impact focuses on financial aid services. 

The ASU Experience Center, which provides 24/7 support across various ASU services, now utilizes chatbots to streamline the self-serving student experience and answer financial aid questions faster. 

Trend No. 3 — Extended reality

Exploration through education: This is the fourth realm of learning outlined by ASU President Michael Crow that calls for more immersive learning experiences. Technologies like extended reality (XR), virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) are often used in this space.

Extended reality is a collective term for digital spaces, such as VR and AR. ASU is leading the way in immersive learning experiences through a partnership with Dreamscape Immersive, the world’s leading virtual reality company. Together, the teams have launched Dreamscape Learn, which offers fully immersive VR learning. Last year, for example, students taking introductory biology experienced DSL as part of their learning. 

“At ASU, we’re blending real and virtual worlds to effectively remove barriers to where, when and how learning happens,” shared Gonick. “Through the use of technology, we can enhance, amplify and facilitate deeper and more authentic learning experiences.”

Dreamscape Learn is held inside the Creativity Commons on ASU’s Tempe campus. Directly next door is a space where additional XR experiences are being designed and developed for students by students at Learning Futures.  

One such project is Huddle, which offers classroom experiences in VR. And last semester, students in HST 130 slipped on the Oculus headset, strapped on the hand controllers and were transported to trenches of World War I inside the Huddle experience. 

Trend No. 4 — Digital twins

Simply put, digital twins are virtual representations of an object, system or space. These indistinguishable digital counterparts have been used for decades. 

However, building off technology trends noted in the first installment — including virtual reality, artificial intelligence and metaverses — digital twins are having a resurgence.

At ASU, students are developing a digital twin of the campus. The ASUniverse models, in full 3D scale, the architecture, classrooms and even the Southwest landscape of ASU’s Tempe campus, accessible from anywhere. Future use cases of the digital twin include touring the Tempe campus, attending class, enjoying live entertainment and more.

Additionally, the ASU Smart City Cloud Innovation Center, powered by Amazon Web Services, is developing a digital twin of downtown Phoenix for improved and strategic urban planning.

Trend No. 5 — The metaverse

In keeping with the previous two trends in virtual communities, the global metaverse is extending beyond organizational silos to connect people in a digital world. A main mission of the recently established Zoom Innovation Lab at ASU is to extend Zoom into the ASUniverse.

“The first-of-its-kind Zoom Innovation Lab at ASU will combine the resources available across the ASU Public Enterprise — including the university’s expertise, research, networks and learning assets — with Zoom’s technology and talent to create solutions that better connect society,” Gonick shared in a recent interview with Forbes.

Additional opportunities for more immersive experiences inside the ASUniverse include sporting events, telehealth counseling services and more.

Trend No. 6 — Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the connection of previously unconnected devices, processes and services to the web and each other. This network of connectedness is often described as “smart,” and aligns with ASU’s high priority to play a leading role in cultivating smart campuses, cities and regions. 

“The university has risen as a hotbed of innovation, research and experimentation,” says Gonick in response to the power of partnerships. “Our ability to instrument our campuses' digital infrastructure to support engagement, personalization of learning journeys and public safety are all extensible to meet the needs and priorities of our neighbors.”

At ASU Enterprise Technology, two notable partnerships are helping us advance this work. The Cox Connected Environments Collaboratory tests multiple types of networks to better connect the ASU campus and beyond. Such networks include Bluetooth 5, LoRA (Long Range), CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) and Cox Optical Internet. 

And the Smart City Cloud Innovation Center is helping to lead efforts to advance the use of smart technology from campus to the community. Known as the CIC, the team focuses on using emerging smart technology for local nonprofits and municipalities. 

Trend No. 7 — Blockchain

Today, much of the national discussions around blockchain center on cryptocurrencies. However, this breakthrough technology creates new opportunities to reimagine credential management for the learner, institutions and organizations.

Two initiatives are underway at ASU Enterprise Technology to bring credentials into the 21st century using distributed technology, including blockchain. The first focuses on creating a network — both digital infrastructure and community — to build a validated and immutable repository of learning.

To do so, the Trusted Learner Network is working to reimagine the traditional digital credential model by placing learners and their data at the center. 

Utilizing distributed, web 3.0 semantic technologies, the Trusted Learner Network creates a durable, immutable ledger of learning that allows learners to easily view and manage their credentials. 

And in order for learners to capture their diverse records of learning as verified credentials, they need a digital wallet. Enter ASU Pocket.

The digital wallet and portfolio is being designed and developed by teams at Enterprise Technology. Learners will be able to capture evidence of their learning inside their wallet and connect their skills to future jobs.

Both ASU Pocket and the TLN were featured in the 2023 SmartReport Ecosystem Map, released by iDatafy; the map (included above) reflects a current landscape of digital wallet and learner educational records (LER).

Trend No. 8 — Cloud computing

Over the past few years, ASU has embarked on a massive undertaking to become a fully cloud-based infrastructure. 

Cloud computing offers the storage of large datasets at significantly faster speeds with lower costs. That matters in a world that is increasingly moving online, where the amount of data that is available to capture and store continues to grow exponentially.

The cloud allows for a flexible and accessible digital infrastructure capable of evolving to the demands of our community. One such example involves a collaboration with the Arizona Board of Regents and the AZTransfer process for all state schools.

Trend No. 9 — Gamification

In recent years, the development of an interactive, gamified learning community has gained momentum on campus among learners of all backgrounds.

Now, the combination of Sun Devil Rewards, previously a standalone app, with the ASU Mobile App has integrated the playful approach with other helpful, informative services and resources. Creating a one-stop shop for students to connect, navigate campus and more while accumulating Pitchfork points to become eligible for big prizes.

Trend No. 10 — Digital equity

In recent years, digital equity has risen to the national agenda. And while this was not listed in the edtech trends article referenced above, it has surfaced as a unique opportunity for universities to play a critical role in advancing digital inclusion.

“In realizing the aspirations set forth by our charter, the university remains committed to increasing access, excellence and impact for all those we serve — and we know that technology plays a critical role in this mission,” says Gonick. “As such, it is imperative that all have access to reliable, high-speed internet to fully participate in the ways we work, learn and live online.”

A recent $34.6 million investment in ASU and its collaborators from Maricopa County to narrow the digital divide is proof of the importance of this work. The funding will be used to advance broadband, community support, equipment and training across Maricopa County, which includes the metro Phoenix area, bringing reliable, high-speed internet access to under- and unserved communities. 

This funding makes ASU home to the largest university-led digital equity initiative in the country.

This exploration of the intersection of higher education and technology is a small window into the consistent changes shephered at ASU Enterprise Technology.

Editorial specialist , University Technology Office

What can human remains tell us about climate change? A lot, according to a new research article

January 17, 2023

Learning how people across the world coped with rapid climate change (RCC) throughout history can help current populations prepare, said a group of scientists.  

Their paper on the subject, “Climate change, human health, and resilience in the Holocene,” was published in the January issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS). The article outlines what worked — and what didn’t work — historically for humans during climate change.  Map of continents with different colors indicating temperature. Photo courtesy iStock/Getty Images Download Full Image

Using case studies, the scientists examined human remains and relationships between people during times of RCC. The article discusses how climate change had an impact on health, food stability, disease, migration and dispelled myths of violence during hard times.

“The human remains themselves are vital for explorations of the impact of climate and environmental change on individuals and groups in the past,” said Jane Buikstra, co-author and Regents Professor at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change at Arizona State University. “The archaeological record provides a window into both short- and long-term changes in human groups as a result of different forms of climate change.”

Professor Gwen Robbins Schug, with the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, was lead author of the paper. Co-authors included an international group of bioarchaeologists and archaeologists, including four professors from the School of Human Evolution and Social Change who are members of the Center for Bioarchaeological Research

“We as bioarchaeologists have time depth that we can access by looking at human remains from past populations who’ve gone through things like climate change, who’ve experienced immigration or outmigration,” said Brenda Baker, associate professor of bioarchaeology at the School of Human Evolution and Social Change and co-author of the article. “And we have a handle on how people coped with that in the past, and that can help inform decisions we make today.” 

So, what worked the best? Flexibility. 

Diverse pathways to resilience relevant to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Diverse pathways to resilience relevant to the U.N. Sustainable Development Goals. Graphic courtesy PNAS

“Our research demonstrates the consequences of climate change events in human history have been most destructive for hierarchical, urban societies that lack flexibility to respond to environmental challenges,” the authors said in a press release. “Small-scale communities fare best when they maintain traditional knowledge of local ecology and diverse subsistence practices, are able to be mobile when circumstances require it, and when they sustain mutually beneficial relationships with neighboring communities.” 

Examples of flexibility included incorporating new plants and animals as the climate changed, moving from a very large group of people into smaller societies to live and having a power distribution so not one person, or group of people, had control. 

Another important result from the study are the misconceptions throughout history that climate change directly caused violence among people. The researchers explained that violence is not always a consequence — it mainly happened in large, hierarchical urbanized societies where socioeconomic inequality existed. 

Along with an increased risk of violence, larger, less flexible urbanized societies were also at an increased risk for disease. One case study example used is that of the Black Death in England. The scientists explained that mental stress and overcrowding may have weakened people physically before the plague arrived.  

“Bioarchaeology confirms that environmental migration, competition, interpersonal violence and societal collapse are not inevitable in the face of rapid climate change,” said Robbins Schug. “It is important to incorporate anthropological insights into policy and planning efforts to avoid dangerous popular misconceptions about human nature and human evolution. Social, cultural and historical factors all play a role in shaping human responses to climate and environmental change.”

Professors Kelly Knudson and Christopher Stojanowski with the School of Human Evolution and Social Change were also co-authors of the article. 

Nicole Pomerantz

Communications specialist, School of Human Evolution and Social Change


ASU researchers explore modeling accessibility solutions in new paper

January 13, 2023

From subatomic particles to the formation of galaxies, computational modeling has given previously incalculable insight into how the world works. In a recent article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Arizona State University Professor and Associate Director of the School of Complex Adaptive Systems Michael Barton and his co-authors explore the importance of this methodology and propose new ways to make modeling software and code more accessible.  

“Modeling and simulation are becoming a cornerstone of modern science in many fields. Yet the code that creates these digital laboratories is still largely inaccessible to the public or even other scientists,” Barton said. Laptop pictured with coding on the screen. In a recent article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, ASU Professor Michael Barton and his co-authors explore the importance of computational modeling and propose new ways to make modeling software and code more accessible. Photo courtesy Pixabay Download Full Image

The article explains that no current standards exist regarding the sharing of modeling source codes alongside research results. Recent guidelines encourage researchers to share experimental data, but the equally important need to share the code for models they used to obtain that data is still not generally recognized.

The researchers who contributed to this paper, including Barton, Allen Lee, Marco Janssen and Laura Swantek from the ASU School of Complex Adaptive Systems, explain that because these processes are not accessible, digital experiments can be difficult to replicate. Subsequent researchers may attempt to reverse engineer code to craft a comparable model, or adapt existing models to suit their experiment, but these approaches can be inefficient or inaccurate. 

In this paper, the authors advocate for accessible computational modeling software to address these concerns of efficiency and replicability using the acronym FAIR — research materials should be findable, accessible, interoperable and reusable. Barton described this endeavor as “democratizing advanced technology.”  

“Models and other research software must be made available not just to scientists within the global north, but to everyone in the world,” Barton said. 

This level of transparency is the driving force behind their proposed solution to accessibility: an international open-science community called the Open Modeling Foundation, for which Barton serves as executive director.

The Open Modeling Foundation, which recently received a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, seeks to create consistent standards aligning modeling code sharing with the FAIR principles, ensuring equitable access to researchers worldwide. The organization also hopes to incentivize open-source access to modeling software by creating professional development opportunities.

Much of the cutting-edge research being conducted globally utilizes computational modeling, and experiments that simulate potential future scenarios can influence policy guidance and risk management strategies. Creating access to these tools will enable scientists to better address pressing issues such as climate change or public health.

Barton said, “Computational modeling is helping scientists and policymakers to develop better strategies for addressing the challenges to human well-being and planetary health that confront all of humanity in a globally connected world. Common standards can advance the international collaboration in modeling science that is needed to achieve these goals.”

Dana Peters

Communications specialist , College of Global Futures

image title

Take it in: The science of awe

January 10, 2023

Associate Professor Michelle 'Lani' Shiota shares an easy way to increase your well-being

Editor's note: This story originally appeared in the winter 2023 issue of ASU Thrive magazine.

Want to add more happiness to your life?

Take some advice from Associate Professor Michelle “Lani” Shiota, who researches the science behind awe and other positive emotions.

Shiota says a way to improve mental health is to cultivate the feeling of awe. 

“Awe is that feeling you get when you perceive something as extraordinary — something so different from what your mind is used to that it stops whatever it was doing to pay attention. It’s great for giving our racing thoughts a break, and putting our day-to-day hassles and demands into perspective,” she says.

“You don’t have to go to the Grand Canyon to experience awe. Just go to new places nearby, and look at what’s around you with fresh eyes. Even stopping to take in our incredible Arizona sunsets can evoke a moment of awe.”

Read more about Shiota's work on the impact of awe.

Top photo by Sabira Madady/ASU

Weighing the future, viability of social media platforms

ASU experts weigh in on content moderation, free speech and misinformation in social media spaces

January 10, 2023

When a Twitter account purporting to be pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly and Co. announced “insulin is free now” on Nov. 10, the company’s stock went tumbling. Using the new Twitter Blue service — which allows users to purchase a coveted blue checkmark, meant to ensure they are who they say they are — someone had cost the company millions for the price of $8.

Twitter Blue is just one of the changes Elon Musk rolled out since his purchase of the social media platform in October. Collage of images of an office setting, computers and social media posts. The way we communicate on social media is evolving, leading many to question the longevity and stability of these spaces. Graphic by Alec Lund Download Full Image

Since the purchase, the Tesla CEO has been very vocal about his plans for the social media site. Within the first few weeks of his purchase, Musk had already made sweeping changes to verification protocols, reinstated former President Donald Trump’s account and fired more than half the platform’s workforce. 

This upheaval has left many questioning the stability and future of social media platforms and what role these spaces play in public discourse.

Here, three Arizona State University experts share their insights on content moderation, free speech and mis- and disinformation in social media spaces.

Dan Gillmor is a former journalist and professor of practice in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He is also the co-founder of the News Co/Lab, which is an initiative in the Cronkite School that works to advance media literacy through journalism, education and technology.

Kristy Roschke is a media literacy expert and assistant teaching professor in the Cronkite School. She is also the managing director of the News Co/Lab.

Shawn Walker is an expert in social media data analysis and an assistant professor in the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences. His work focuses on addressing the social and ethical implications of social media data collection.

Question: What motivates content moderation? 

Gillmor: All internet services that offer people the ability to post things themselves moderate content to one degree or another. It's not just the big platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter or WhatsApp. One motivator is liability-related issues. For example, if there's a copyright infringement claim, and if they don't take down the item that's allegedly infringing, then they can be held liable for the infringement. 

Another reason for moderation is simply to make the experience better for users. It’s kind of the equivalent of you inviting people into your home for a party; if someone is acting up in a bad way, you ask them to leave. 

Q: How has the perception of free speech changed with the advent of social media?

Walker: When discussing social media, we often throw out terms like the First Amendment, censorship and free speech without understanding what those terms mean and when those terms are applicable. They're used often in a political context as calls to specific threats, or a specific level of concern. So if we use the phrase “I'm being censored” instead of “my content was deleted,” we're moving up the scale of aggression. We're saying, “A crime has been committed against me.” 

These are private platforms that are commercial spaces. The First Amendment does not apply to commercial spaces. Social media platforms own, operate and pay for the operation of these platforms. They're spaces that we happen to inhabit by agreeing to a set of terms of service. So there is no free speech right. This is not a platform that's produced by a government entity. This is not censorship, this is content moderation because you can't censor inside of a platform where you don't have a First Amendment right.

Gillmor: There's a general appreciation for freedom of expression, but it becomes tested when people see offensive content. Sometimes it's used in ways that are downright painful though legal, like hate speech. Our commitment to preserving freedom of expression is, I fear, being tested. I think it's the cornerstone of democracy and the republic. But the online world has tested people's commitment to free speech.

Q: What are the benefits or drawbacks of allowing social media companies to moderate speech? Do you think that they're doing a good job? 

Roschke: They've been forced into this role because we've had unfettered access to platforms that allow for any kind of speech, some of which has gotten increasingly ugly and harmful, veering toward hate speech. This has required companies that had no intention, and certainly no expertise, to play the role of a content moderator. Now that we've seen so many examples of how speech can be harmful online and in the real world, these companies have no choice but to make decisions about what to keep, what to remove, what to promote, what to downplay.

Are platforms doing a good job of content moderation? No, they're not, and that is not for a lack of money spent, because there have been large investments in content moderation. But it's not nearly enough in the grand scheme of things, and it is also disproportionately applied. For example, even though Facebook has a huge international population and arguably is more active in other countries than it is in the States, the bulk of the content moderation takes place on English content; but so much is really based in other countries and other languages. So it would be nearly impossible for these companies to be able to effectively moderate content. 

Walker: There isn’t much of an alternative. Having no content moderation would be very undesirable because people post a lot of content that we don't want to circulate, ranging from violent and sexual content to disinformation that we would argue would harm society. 

Sometimes folks act like mis- and disinformation is a solvable problem. Disinformation has been a problem since we've been communicating. So the question is, how do we decrease its negative impact on society versus how do we eliminate it?

Q: Where's the line between honoring free discourse but still maintaining a safe space online? 

Walker: Online is not a safe space. We encounter a lot of content that will make people feel uncomfortable and a lot of diversity of opinions and views in some spaces. We see some more insular spaces and private groups where there is more uniformity of opinion and less contesting of ideas. The platforms themselves get to decide because they own those spaces, and then we get to decide whether we want to participate in those spaces. 

Q: If online is not a safe space, what standards are social media companies held to? Do they have a responsibility to work toward a safe space? 

Walker: The issue with social media companies is that they've fallen under the same regulations as telecommunications companies and internet service providers in that, by law, telecommunication companies are not responsible for the things that folks do. They're just the network that messages move over, but they don't produce the content itself, so therefore they are not responsible for that. Social media platforms have been regulated under the same thing; however, they’re providing a different service than internet service providers. Social media companies and platforms are creating these platforms, so they decide who can talk about what features they have. So that's a bit different, but they've traditionally followed that sort of lack of regulation and lack of responsibility.

Q: Why is it important to be verified? What is that responsibility that goes along with it?

Roschke: Verification is a cross-platform designation. It's an aesthetic signal that anyone who's seen the internet or seen social media platforms looks at and says, "That means something about that person.” Oftentimes, that check mark is automatically conflated with trustworthiness. 

There's a magazine called Good Housekeeping and they have something called the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. And when they review products, they'll only put their seal on things that they recommend. Verification has that same connotation, even if in practice it's not actually the same thing. Verification really only means that this account belongs to a real person. However, the way that verification has been handed out across platforms is mostly to well-known people. This check mark has had significance for over 10 years, and that's really, really important because lots of people have learned to look at that check mark, sometimes incorrectly, for credibility.

Q: Does it make it easier to spread misinformation if you can just pay for your verification?

Roschke: Yes, it could make it easier for misinformation to gain traction. It could make it easier to see now, because there's this false sense of notability and credibility associated with an account with a check mark. If someone were to see something that they would dismiss otherwise, they might now give it a second thought or share it. 

Q: Do you think the changes happening at Twitter are indicative of trends across social media?

Roschke: Twitter as a platform is not the biggest; it's not even the second biggest. And it's used by some pretty specific people in most cases. This impacts a lot fewer people than if this were happening to Facebook or something. Twitter doesn't have the engagement that some other platforms do, but what it does have is very close ties to politicians and journalists. If this ecosystem is disrupted in a substantial way, there's going to be potentially big implications for journalism and how journalists and politicians communicate. Of course this has implications for all of the other social media platforms. It shows how precarious these systems of control are. We think that we own them or we run them because we produce all the content for them, but we don't run them and we have no control over what happens to them. And this is painfully obvious now.

Student science writer, Knowledge Enterprise