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ASU, edX reimagine first year of college


December 28, 2015

Editor's note: This story is being highlighted in ASU Now's year in review. To read more top stories from 2015, click here.

Global Freshman Academy offers alternative entry into higher education ASU and edX Partnership The Global Freshman Academy will give learners anywhere in the world the opportunity to earn freshman-level university credit after successfully completing a series of digital immersion courses. Download Full Image

Arizona State University and edX, two leaders in interactive online education, will announce Thursday the Global Freshman Academy, a first-of-its-kind program that offers a unique entry point to an undergraduate degree.

The Global Freshman Academy will give learners anywhere in the world the opportunity to earn freshman-level university credit after successfully completing a series of digital immersion courses hosted on edX, designed and taught by leading scholars from ASU.

By allowing students to learn, explore and complete courses before applying or paying for credit, the Global Freshman Academy reimagines the freshman year and reduces academic and monetary stress while opening a new path to a college degree for many students.

“At ASU, we’re committed to academic inclusion and student success, regardless of a student’s family circumstances. We will not be successful unless we reach talent from all backgrounds around the world, and the worldwide reach of the revolutionary edX platform allows us to open this program to anyone with the drive to obtain their degree,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow. “The Global Freshman Academy will empower students to prepare for college and achieve what they may not have thought they could.

"There are many pathways to success, both academically and in life," Crow said. "This is now one of them.”

Since it was founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2012, edX has offered Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) from leading global institutions, for learners around the world. This is the first time that the power of the edX platform will be harnessed to help students earn credit on a global scale.

“We’re proud to welcome ASU as an edX Charter member,” said Anant Agarwal, edX CEO. “ASU has established itself as a new model for the American research university with a focus on inclusion and global thinking. This partnership delivers on the founding mission of edX: the promise to transform education while increasing access to high-quality learning. As with other innovative technologies in the digital space, so too will Global Freshman Academy change the educational opportunities that will help people transform their lives.”

The program differs from other digital immersion undergraduate programs in the following ways:

• Course credit for open online courses: By completing the full series of eight Global Freshman Academy courses, students earn full college credit for freshman year; students will also be able to opt for taking individual courses for credit if they prefer.

• Cost effective: Freshman-year credit earned through Global Freshman Academy is a fraction of the cost students typically pay.

• Learning before payment: Students may decide to take a course for credit at the beginning or after coursework has been completed – reducing financial risk while opening a pathway for exploration and preparation for qualified students who may not otherwise seek a degree.

• Unlimited reach: Because of the open course format, learning takes place while scaling completely – there are no limits to how many learners can take the courses online.

• Innovative admissions option: Global Freshman Academy’s approach is different from the traditional admissions process of other credit-bearing courses, eliminating such barriers to entry as standardized tests and transcripts that are part of the traditional application process.

• Track record of success: This partnership brings together a globally recognized online educational platform founded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a university whose innovative online degree programs boast an 89 percent retention rate.

Crow and Agarwal will officially announce the program’s launch on April 23, at the New America annual conference in Washington, D.C. This year’s New America conference theme is “Exploring a New America: What Drives Innovation Around the Country?”, and one focus is on innovation in education and the classroom.

“Innovations in education are critical on moral, economic and national security grounds,” said Anne-Marie Slaughter, president and CEO of New America.

The Global Freshman Academy will offer a collection of first-year courses designed to fulfill a specific set of general education requirements. Upon completion of each Global Freshman Academy course, students who pass the final exam will have an option to pay a small fee of no more than $200 per credit hour to get college credit for the course.

Completion of eight courses in the series, including several required courses and some elective, equals the requirements for a full freshman year at ASU – at about half the cost of the national average for a year of in-state tuition at public universities.

The general studies focus areas will include mathematical studies, humanities, arts and design, social-behavioral sciences and natural sciences. The first course, Introduction to Astronomy, is now open for enrollment, and starts in August 2015. It will be taught by Frank Timmes, an astrophysicist who focuses on nuclear astrophysics, supernovae and cosmic chemical evolution.

Two additional courses will be offered starting fall 2015, with the remaining courses scheduled to be released within the next 24 months. Human Origins will be taught by Donald Johanson, who most notably discovered the hominid skeleton known as “Lucy.” Western Civilizations: Ancient and Medieval Europe will also be offered.

Because the series is hosted and administered completely online, learning can occur anywhere, at any time of day, any day of the week. The program is perfect for ambitious students who need a more flexible, economically viable model for their education that enables them to hold jobs, work remotely and save money. The Global Freshman Academy will also allow students to get a jump-start on their college education while still in high school.

“These classes and assessments are being designed, built and administered by leading scholars and faculty at ASU,” said Adrian Sannier, chief academic officer for EdPlus at ASU. “These courses are developed to their rigorous standards, and course faculty are committed to ensuring their students understand college-level material so that they can be prepared to successfully complete college.”

Enhancing solar energy harvesting by minimizing heat loss

Liping Wang and his students are designing novel nano-engineering materials


December 28, 2015

The fast-depleting reserves of conventional energy sources and ever-changing environmental impacts have resulted in an urgent need for high-efficiency renewable energy sources and energy-saving materials.

Liping Wang, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, is tackling this challenge head on through his Nano-Engineered Thermal Radiation Lab. Liping Wang (right), an assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, has earned a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation for his work in novel nanomaterials. Photo by Jessica Hochreiter/ASU Download Full Image

His research primarily aims to selectively control thermal radiation for energy applications by fundamentally understanding and exploring novel physical mechanisms in nanoscale radiative transport with nano-engineered materials or so-called metamaterials.

“One of my main focuses — and that of my team of graduate and undergraduate students — is on enhancing solar energy harvesting and conversion, like solar to heat by minimizing thermal radiation, which causes energy loss,” Wang said.

The goal, he said, is to design materials that are nearly 100 percent efficient in their absorption of the right spectrum of sunlight with close-to-zero emissivity in the infrared. Thermal loss, he explained, happens at the longer wavelengths so the goal is to achieve “spectral selectivity” with nano-engineered materials.

Wang and his students are developing materials that will perform at higher temperatures, up to 700 degrees Celsius (1,292 degrees Fahrenheit), at which more power can be potentially produced.

Wang, who has published more than 20 papers in peer-reviewed journals over the past three years at ASU, was this year granted a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) award to advance his research, and that of his students.

The award is being used to engineer new materials with micro/nanoscale feature sizes comparable to or smaller than the wavelength of light. Wang’s lab is employing physics to improve the conversion efficiency of solar thermal, solar photovoltaic and solar thermophotovoltaic energy-harvesting applications.

“We are investigating the resonance behaviors that a nano-engineered material exhibits in response to external electromagnetic waves at visible, near-infrared and mid-infrared ranges for tailoring thermal radiation at will,” Wang said.

“Besides advancing the fundamental understanding in nanoscale radiative transfer, our home-built spectrometric platform enables the systematic study of radiative properties over a wide temperature range from -196 degrees Celsius to 1,000 degrees Celsius,” he said. “This will provide unperceived spectrometric information from millimeter down to micrometer and nanometer scale, while the novel nanostructures with exotic radiative properties will be demonstrated for various applications in energy harvesting, thermal management and optical data storage.”

Wang said what makes his lab distinct is that they can take their concepts all the way through the engineering process — they design and fabricate the materials, as well as develop the state-of-the-art instrumentation to characterize material properties, and thus optimize performance.

He said that although proving the science is important, it is also important to lower the cost of production if the materials are ever going to get to market.

“Right now, nanofabrication is very expensive — about $100 per hour, and it takes 24 hours to grow a 5- by 5-millimeter sample for testing,” he said. “We have to get that cost down to have a practical impact on solar systems.”

Wang’s CAREER program will lead to a wide range of civil, military, aerospace and industrial applications. The success of this project will ultimately result in wide applications of energy harvesting to convert solar energy to heat and power, as well as energy savings by radiative cooling or heating using "smart" coating materials.

Smart coatings, he explained, could be laminated on building roofs or embedded in exterior material and would ideally radiate heat to cool in the summer or absorb more to heat the building in winter.

“You accomplish this by controlling the optical properties of the coating with tunable materials,” Wang said. “This type of technology could be used for space application as radiation is the only way to do thermal control for spacecraft and satellites to maintain power.”

“A smart coating could even be used to create clothing that would help heat or cool the human body for maintaining personal comfort and health in different environments,” he said.

Wang joined the ASU faculty in 2012. He received his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering with a focus on nanoscale radiative heat transfer from Georgia Institute of Technology. Wang is the lead principal investigator for ASU’s participation in the U.S.-Australia Solar Energy Collaboration on Micro Urban Solar Integrated Concentrator project, sponsored by Australian Renewable Energy Agency.

Sharon Keeler

associate director, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering

480-727-5618