ASU, edX partnership: Transforming the landscape of higher education

April 23, 2015

With the announcement of the Global Freshman Academy, ASU becomes a charter member of edX, joining universities like Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Georgetown and others in a shared commitment to excellence in teaching, learning and access to education.

As part of this partnership, ASU will be providing world-class courses for the online education platform, including at least 12 courses for the Global Freshman Academy, which are courses that can be taken for credit, as well as traditional Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) that do not offer credit. Crow, Agarwal, Mariani ASU president Michael M. Crow, center, with Anant Agarwal, the CEO of edX, left, and moderator Tyra Mariani. Crow announced the Global Freshman Academy with Agarwal at a New America conference in Washington, D.C., April 23. Photo by: Logan Clark Download Full Image

This partnership creates potential to project the talents of ASU faculty to a global audience, and to further ASU’s mission of increasing access to a quality education.

The first of the MOOCs separate from the Global Freshman Academy will be Mass Communication, taught by Dan Gillmor of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, internationally recognized author and leader in new media and citizen-based journalism.

In announcing the partnership April 23, university president Michael M. Crow said the effort was intended to create new opportunities for educational attainment.

"What we’re interested in is every tool and every technique that alters pathway success," Crow said at a New America conference in Washington, D.C. "How can the student transit from any family and any family income into a post-secondary learning experience."

ASU and edX are natural partners, according to Phil Regier, University Dean for Educational Initiatives and CEO of EdPlus at ASU.

“We have fundamentally similar objectives around helping students succeed and providing unprecedented access to college-level courses,” he said. “We are taking content from a public research university and giving it to the world.”

Regier says that by using edX as a platform, ASU will provide students additional options for online learning, providing high-quality content to students around the world regardless of their educational goals.

“Ultimately,” says Regier, “ASU will be enhancing the edX experience by incorporating technology that makes taking a MOOC a more collaborative experience.”

ASU is already a leader in online education, or digital immersion, including more than 90 graduate and undergraduate degree programs. Its undergraduate digital immersion programs are ranked eighth in the nation, and several graduate programs are individually ranked.

ASU brings this expertise to edX, sharing what works for students in primarily digital programs and helping students learn and ultimately succeed.

This success is highlighted in an 89 percent average retention rate in online programs at ASU, according to ASU Online.

The Global Freshman Academy is a unique addition to edX. ASU is the only school to offer an entire freshman year worth of credits in this format. The university grants those credits and a student may request a transcript for application to undergraduate programs. The credits will be available at a lower cost than regular online coursework.

The first course offered in the Global Freshman Academy will be Introduction to Astronomy, taught by Dr. Frank Timmes, an astrophysicist who focuses on nuclear astrophysics, supernovae and cosmic chemical evolution.

While crafting the list of courses to add to edX’s already impressive roster, Regier said the university wanted to focus on some of ASU’s specialties to complement the high percentage of science and technology courses edX already offers. Some of the course topics ASU intends to include are in business, health solutions, sustainability and public policy.

“Our professors are reaching audiences they couldn’t before,” said Regier. “Dan Gillmor can now reach students around the world with a mass communications course that is widely available and free.”

This is just one example of the opportunities ASU will have to expand access to education through the partnership with edX.

“We are planning on launching at least a dozen courses in our first year and to provide 30 courses in the next two years,” said Regier. “This is only the beginning.”

ASU's New American University library will preserve past while looking forward

April 23, 2015

When Jim O’Donnell took his first stroll through the Hayden Library on ASU’s Tempe campus this February, he could have sworn the 50-year-old building was talking to him.

“It was whimpering, ‘Help me … help me,'” O’Donnell said with a slight smirk on his face. Jim O'Donnell Download Full Image

University librarian and professor in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, O’Donnell is serious when it comes to remodeling and reimagining the New American University library. He envisions the library as an exciting digital “showroom” with dynamic spaces for world-class collections and events, and librarians not as service providers but as collaborators who are eager to engage and help.

"There’s a joke I’ve been quoting too often about how Best Buy has become Amazon’s showroom. You go to Best Buy, you shop, you compare prices and then you go home and order from Amazon," O'Donnell said. "The good thing about the library is that we are both Best Buy and Amazon. It’s a showroom, but it’s a showroom for our stuff, and we’ve really still got the good stuff.

“I want that first-time experience for an 18-year-old student to be just like mine, where they walk around the library and say, ‘Gee, I had no idea this was available to me.’ It should be a life-changing moment."

He believes the library showroom could be an exciting place where computer monitors are prevalent, curated exhibits are on display, students are fully engaged and energetic meeting spaces leave users inspired.

The prestigious scholar and author, who was hired earlier this year from Georgetown University, has been engaged in digital innovation for nearly 25 years. He is now leading the charge to transform the university library system from its book-smart past into the digital repository of knowledge where users can remotely access information 24/7.

O’Donnell hosted an April 23 panel discussion with university colleagues to give them a glimpse of the New American University library system, not coincidentally, on World Book Day.

“We start with the assumption that our users start as online users. That is, they will begin and do much of their library work remotely,” O’Donnell said. “We will focus our services on making sure that they get – emphatically – the best service in the Valley.”

O’Donnell said the library has approximately 4.5 million volumes of material spread out over eight libraries. He said in the past decade the university has turned increasingly to digital initiatives and services to help students and scholars with their research. O’Donnell said the university has done a good job making the transition during the digital era but that the physical buildings need a makeover.

The starting point, O’Donnell said, will be renovating the five-story Hayden Library, which he considers the focal point of the Tempe campus.

“The new Hayden is a tired old building that will need fixing up. When it’s done, it will be a stunningly attractive, exciting and important space for the campus. It’s going to be the showroom and access point,” O’Donnell said. “Our other spaces will be transformed in the same way, but they just don’t need the heavy renovation.”

Panelist Hava Tirosh-Samuelson, who is the director of Jewish Studies and Miriam Lowe Professor of Modern Judaism at ASU, said she has great respect for information technology but that it should not be the sole modality of knowledge.

"Learning about the past is the most instructive way to think about the future,” Tirosh-Samuelson said. “Books, manuscripts, periodicals and texts must be treated with great respect, and I would hate to see them disappear.”

O’Donnell says the books won’t go away, but they’ll be tucked away on a shelf and called upon when needed through the interlibrary loan system and Borrow It Now program.

“The book is here to stay, but the way we use the book changes and is changing rapidly around us,” O’Donnell said. “Our students and our faculty are depending more and more on online resources. When they use the physical materials, they are pre-ordering them. They’re coming in to grab and go.”

About the only question O’Donnell couldn’t answer about the new library system and Hayden renovation will be when. He promises it will be soon.

“I’d love to see that first sledgehammer in the next 12 to 18 months, and I’m working with the assumption that is possible,” O’Donnell said. “But we live in the real world, so we’ll see what we can do and we’ll try to do it as fast as we can.”

Reporter , ASU Now