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Innovative teaching methods help engage students at ASU

Innovation is everywhere at ASU, especially inside the classroom.
Pre-recorded lectures give ASU students more time for questions in class.
ASU lecturer's YouTube videos make business education available to everyone.
Telepresence robot allows ASU professor to teach remotely.
August 30, 2017

Professors use variety of techniques to better reach students, prepare them for future

Arizona State University Associate Professor Michael Tueller walks down the flight of 26 steps that serves as the entrance to Arizona State’s Hayden Library.

He takes the elevator to the third floor, swipes his ID card and puts everything into place. The lightboard is set up, the camera is focused and he presses play.

He’s now ready to begin lecturing.

This summer, Tueller has utilized Hayden’s mkrstudio, a film and audio room that gives users high-quality production value for their presentations. Recording lectures for his Greek language and literature coursesin the School of International Letters and Cultures, Tueller has proved that the studio can be used by faculty and students alike.

“What’s great about ASU is the extent to which they’ve set it up so I can use it without much assistance,” Tueller said. “The library’s mkrspace initiative as a whole has various innovative media resources that can be used by ordinary folks. That is something that not many other schools do.”

Tueller is one of many ASU professors using new techniques to further the school's innovation reputation. These methods help keep students engaged, as well as prepare them for an ever-changing future.

With one unit taking about four hours a day to record, Tueller taped his 20 units of material in just over 80 hours this summer. His days were spent using a glass chalkboard that allows viewers to see the professor’s face as he writes, with the Greek letters and words shining aglow in front of him (pictured above).

The idea of giving students the material prior to class so the in-person time could be spent drilling and going over homework dates back to when Tueller was a graduate student at Harvard. However, it wasn’t until he got ahold of mkrstudio that he had been able to replicate that teaching style in Tempe.

“If a parent is wondering if their kids are getting as good a classical education as they do at Harvard, I can tell them they are,” Tueller said. “Because I was the one who was teaching Greek then, and now it is the same class.”

According to Britt Lewis, ASU Library communications specialist, teaching courses through mkrstudio is just the start of what can be accomplished with the new technology.

“Having free access to high-quality production equipment is hugely beneficial to students and faculty looking to learn new skills and create something original,” she said. “The library is happy to offer the resources and spaces in which to do that.”

Business school professor goes viral providing lectures to everyone

"Now I know most of you have spent your childhood evenings dreaming of taking your first supply chain management course," deadpans Eddie Davila, a senior lecturer in ASU's W. P. Carey School of Business.

This is the first line of a 12-part lecture series that Davila uploaded to YouTube for free back in 2010. The videos have since combined to total more than 3 million hits, reaching far-flung corners of the world in the name of supply chain management.

“It was made so that it could be shared with everyone,” Davila said. “They are being used at other universities and by people all over the world, and they get to see the ASU logo on it every single time.”

Davila, who has been teaching at ASU for about 20 years now, seemingly struck gold with the videos he made seven years ago. Using an entertaining and unique style of lecturing on one of the top programs at ASU, his series was timed perfectly with the start of an age where almost everyone in the world has their face in their phone or in front of a computer at all times.

“Some people in education think our job is to teach students and not entertain them,” he said. “I disagree. If I just wanted to teach them, I could tell the kids to read a book.”

Davila’s style of teaching has earned praise from both his students and peers, and his courses now regularly feature more than 200 enrollees.

“Eddie is one of the most dynamic faculty members I know,” said Kay Faris, a senior associate dean at the W. P. Carey School of Business. “He is a master at getting his message and concepts across to students, and they overwhelmingly respond to his teaching style.”

Ultimately, Davila plans to keep working on making education available to everyone, a passion that aligns with ASU's commitment to access through programs such as the Global Freshman Academy.

Robots take over in journalism school

Man smiling
Eric Newton

Can you teach a class without actually being at class? ASU Professor of Practice Eric Newton has found a way — helpful when academic business takes him out of town.

With the assistance of a telepresence robot named Scotty (as an ode to Star Trek), Newton has taught his Innovation Tools class at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication with some help from the virtual-presence device.

However, instructing a classroom full of students isn’t the only thing the robot is capable of.

“It helps all kinds of people come to our journalism school when they aren’t physically in Phoenix,” Newton said. “We can drive it from any device that holds the Beam software — a laptop, an iPad, even an iPhone. It assists with high school recruiting, attending meetings from afar, and I’ve even used it to take the school’s entire freshman class on tours of Cronkite NewsCronkite News is the news division of Arizona PBS. The daily news products are produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University..”

Ian MacSpadden, director of broadcast engineering and operations at Arizona PBS, has collaborated with Newton on several different projects in their time at ASU. That included the Cronkite School’s first-ever Innovation Day, where some of the brightest young minds in journalism got to see some of the new tools that could help them in their future endeavors.

“Eric was able to bring in new technologies for students to explore,” MacSpadden said. “Journalists focus on language, image, audio and the new technology that comes along with them. We were able to demo drones, virtual-reality headsets, new cameras and immersive-experience technology.”

Newton’s alternate job title at ASU is “Innovation Chief,” and that title is something he has been working toward since the first journalism class he ever taught.

“I was a young teacher (at a university that shall remain nameless) and just went by textbook,” he said. “One day, I realized I was teaching copy editing symbols to students who would never actually use them. I [knew then] that I never wanted to do anything like that again.”


Top photo: ASU Associate Professor Mike Tueller records online lessons in ancient Greek in the mkrspace studio at Hayden Library. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

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ASU-led project to rebuild tribal housing with eye to future, rooted in tradition

August 30, 2017

Partnership with Gila River Indian Community to bring sustainable, culturally relevant housing to Native American tribe

Gila River Indian Community residents haven’t chosen their housing since the 1800s.

Their U.S. government-furnished homes are uninspired, inefficient and lacking reference to culture, experts say.

A community-led research project headed up by Arizona State University has the potential to turn it all around.

“Indigenous people have an interrupted history in North America,” said Wanda Dalla Costa, a visiting eminent scholar from Canada based in ASU’s School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built EnvironmentASU’s School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment is part of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering..

“Boarding schools, the reservation system and the outlawing of cultural traditions segregated indigenous people from their practices and norms. Thankfully, Native American traditions are being reintroduced in a number of disciplines, including architecture and community planning. The best way forward is often through our traditions.”

Dalla Costa is referring to a new collaboration between ASU and the Gila River Indian Community, which started in 2015. That’s when Dalla Costa was introduced to Gov. Stephen Roe Lewis at an event celebrating the life and work of poet Sherman Alexie. When Lewis discovered he was talking to a Native American architect, his mind immediately went to work.

“The opportunity to work with an acknowledged design expert such as Professor Dalla Costa doesn’t come around very often,” Lewis said. “In partnering with ASU in developing sustainable housing would be the first of its kind for our community, bringing together modern technology and traditional building methods as the foundation of our future homes.”

Lewis, an ASU alumnus, wanted the university to explore the idea of building affordable, sustainable and energy-efficient homes with an eye toward the traditional adobe structures that once dotted their reservation, about 40 miles south of Phoenix.

Wall of stoneThe Casa Grande National Monument, built in the 1300s, is one of the first adobe structures built on Gila River land. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Home building is at a healthy clip in the community. In the past two years, Gila River finished building approximately 475 single-family home structures, with plans to build an additional 600 in the next five years — and those 600 would incorporate designs from the project with Dalla Costa.

The partnership typifies one of ASU’s design aspirations by connecting with communities through mutually beneficial relationships, said Bryan Brayboy, ASU special adviser to the president and President’s Professor of indigenous education and justice.

“Wanda Dalla Costa is enacting ASU’s commitment to working with tribal communities in creating futures of their own making,” Brayboy said. “Her work, rooted in listening to the community’s needs, is innovative, insightful and imaginative. It is only the beginning of something very big.”

Dalla Costa said over thousands of years living in the Arizona climate, tribal members developed sophisticated methods of adapting to the hot and arid climate by building brick adobe homes, using shade structures for outdoor living, cooking outdoors to reduce heat gain in the home and, at times, living in subterranean dwellings.

“This is what climatic resiliency in architecture looks like, and principles such as this need to be reinvestigated here in Arizona,” said Dalla Costa, who is a member of the Saddle Lake First Nation of Northern Alberta.

According to Climate Central, Phoenix is experiencing 6.2 more days above 110 degrees since 1970, and the city’s nighttime temperatures have also increased almost 9 degrees since 2000 due to heat-island effect.  

Adobe home
A typical adobe-style home in the Gila River Indian Community, Gila Crossing, circa 1900. Photo courtesy of USC Special Collections

The heat wasn’t a real problem for the original inhabitants of Gila River, who built homes that suited their lifestyles.

“The adobe’s thick walls protected the tribe members from the heat and were very effective,” Dalla Costa said. “When you live in this kind of climate, you figure out real fast what works.”

What hasn’t worked so well are the homes furnished by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which was established in 1824 to oversee and carry out the federal government’s trade and treaty relations with indigenous tribes.

The first recorded adobe structure on Gila River dates back to the 1300s. The structure, known as the Casa Grande, is still standing. Adobe, along with sandwichMud packed with lumber forms and attached to a structural framework of posts. construction were the most common types of structures before the mid-1960s, when the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) started furnishing homes on the reservation. The HUD model was replicated across the USA, regardless of culture, climate or local materials and construction techniques.

Wooden home
Sandwich-style homes started popping up on the Gila River reservation in the 1920s. Photo courtesy of Kelley and Susan McGuinness/Defiance Photography

“It’s a one-size-fits-all approach to architecture,” Dalla Costa said. “The HUD home isn’t designed for this climate.”

That often translates to higher energy bills during the summer — some as high as $500 a month. For community members on fixed incomes, this can be a real hardship.

“A main goal is to contain utility costs with quality construction and energy-efficient methods,” Lewis said. “It’s not only important for our homes to reflect the past and the future, but as an end goal they must be energy-efficient.”

Buy-in from the community was also a must for Lewis, who wanted tribe members involved in the project from the start.

“It’s all about changing peoples’ perception that we’ll be creating something as beautiful and more efficient than they once had,” Dalla Costa said.

Dalla Costa and BriAnn Laban, a visiting doctoral student studying architecture from the University of Hawaii, met more than 100 residents in several community meetings and presentations to establish rapport and engage them as co-collaborators on the project.  

Two homes
HUD started building homes on the Gila River Reservation starting in the mid-1960s. Photo courtesy of Robert Nuss

“Most of them felt a disconnection to their homes,” said Laban, who is from the Hopi tribe in northern Arizona. “A lot of architects had come in before thinking they knew what the community needed, but having a Native American perspective was important to them.”

Dalla Costa’s team of architecture students is hoping to come up with a number of designs and begin a prototype home next year. The aim is to have a sample wall section ready in time for next May’s Mul-Chu-Tha fair and rodeo in Sacaton, Arizona. 

“A fully built prototype home would enable community members to touch and see the inside, and experience how these homes would look in a contemporary setting,” Dalla Costa said. “Once they walk inside, they can make a decision if this type of home would be a good fit for their community.”