College Avenue Commons awarded Gold 'green building' certification

September 2, 2015

College Avenue Commons, the newest Arizona State University building used primarily by the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, has earned one of the leading honors for achievement in “green building” and sustainable construction.

The U.S. Green Building Council awarded the five-story, 137,000-square-foot structure its Gold Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification. College Avenue Commons The College Avenue Commons building showcases advanced features of sustainable construction and provides a platform for educating students in the practical aspects of planning, designing, constructing and operating such buildings. Photo by: Jessica Hochreiter/ASU Download Full Image

The council’s certification rating system encompasses the quality of the design and construction phases of the building’s life cycle.

In a letter announcing the Gold LEED rating, the council describes College Avenue Commons as “a showcase example of sustainable design" and says the structure "demonstrates [ASU’s] leadership in transforming the building industry.”

Completed in summer of 2014, College Avenue Commons is the home of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, which includes the Del E. Webb School of Construction. The building also houses ASU’s Sun Devil Marketplace and the Future Sun Devil Welcome Center, which operates the ASU Experience campus visitor and student tour program.

Dozens of alumni of ASU engineering and construction programs were involved in the College Avenue Commons project, which was a joint collaboration between Gensler and Architekton designers and architects and was built by Okland Construction.

Designed for efficient use of resources

The project scored high in many of the aspects covered by USGBC’s rating criteria — among them energy use and performance, use of materials and resources, site selection and community connectivity, design innovation, indoor environmental quality, water-use efficiency and reducing the impacts of regional climate factors such as the heat-island effect.

College Avenue Commons features monitoring systems that use sensors installed inside and out to provide data on the environmental performance of the building and its sustainable features.

The building has an east-west orientation that helps minimize the western exposure and allowed an abundance of glass to be used on the north and south faces of the building, where direct solar exposure can be controlled. The south face of the building uses a double skin to shade the glass as well as provide shading for the pedestrian sidewalk below.

The exterior surface and an attached metal shade structure along the south side help protect the window glass from the heat and glare of the sun while preserving the view and letting natural light into the building. Advanced LED lighting that can be adjusted according to users’ needs is used in large public spaces.

“The massing of the building was creatively extruded to create passive self-shading, thereby reducing the heat load on the façades and also providing shade along pedestrian routes," said ASU assistant vice president and university architect Edmundo Soltero. "Not only does this mitigate the urban heat-island effect, but it also creates shaded corridors within the campus fabric.”

To reduce College Avenue Commons’s carbon footprint, it was built using materials with low embodied energy — materials that use less energy and fewer resources to make, transport and build — and more than 90 percent of waste materials from the construction process were recycled. There also are spaces suitable for installation of solar-energy technology in the future.

An edifice built for education

A major goal of the project was to provide an edifice that functions as a resource for engineering and construction education. The design allows observation of parts of College Avenue Commons’ (CAVC) infrastructure and operating facilities systems to help students learn about building dynamics. It also helps foster collaborative classroom and laboratory learning environments.

“The designation of LEED Gold for CAVC is indicative of our school’s focus on sustainable design and construction techniques,” said G. Edward Gibson Jr., director of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. “It helps us showcase what’s required for future sustainable building to become a reality, and it provides our students insight into the practicalities of what it takes to plan, design, construct and operate these types of facilities.”

Some engineering and construction students were involved in early planning meetings for the College Avenue Commons project and offered ideas to the design team for sustainability features, Gibson said.

In collaboration with the Del E. Webb School of Construction, Gensler and Architekton conducted a series of sustainability workshops with the students to get their input into which strategies they felt would be important for the new facility. The top concerns included energy and water use as well as flexibility for future uses of the building itself.

College Avenue Commons earned well over the amount of rating points needed to achieve its Gold LEED certification and only several points short of a Platinum certification, the USGBC’s highest rating. Read more about LEED certification.

The certification means the project is poised to get global recognition through the USGBC’s education and marketing efforts to promote the green building movement.

Joe Kullman

Science writer, Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering


Research-based tech helps education get smart

September 2, 2015

Sixty-six percent of fourth-graders in the U.S. could not read at grade level in 2013, according to the National Assessment of Education Progress. In 2012, the Organization for Economic Development ranked U.S. 15-year-olds 27th out of 34 countries for mathematics, 20th in science and 17th in reading. And yet the U.S. spends more per student than the other countries listed.

It’s not hard to find a slew of statistics about the state of American education, and the consensus is generally not positive. Many policy makers have focused their improvement efforts directly on K-12 schools. However, universities that educate teachers and conduct research on learning can also be innovators that transform our educational system. illustration of computer tech Arizona's education system has significant room for improvement. Researchers at ASU are finding innovative solutions through new technologies. Illustration by Joseph Raiton Download Full Image

The challenge of educating our population is compounded by rapidly changing technology, global competition, and growth in population size and diversity. The people and companies that came together during the 2015 ASU + GSV Education Innovation Summit are searching for new and creative ways to move education into the future, facing all these challenges and more.

Arizona State University President Michael Crow participated in a number of interviews and panels during the summit to discuss some of the ways ASU is working to transform higher education. One project that he mentioned is ASU’s new partnership with Starbucks, which aims to help get more people into college.

The president isn’t the only one at ASU working for change, however. The university supports numerous innovators and researchers who are looking to transform education through new, research-backed technologies, including the following examples:

Literacy unlocked

Learning to read is one of the biggest challenges of childhood. It’s also a key indicator of future success. Reading proficiently by the end of third grade is an important milestone, because that’s when students shift from learning-to-read to reading-to-learn. Children who do not read proficiently by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than their proficient peers.

Carol Connor, a professor in ASU’s Department of Psychology and a senior learning scientist at the Institute for the Science of Teaching and Learning, wanted to know what it would take to get all children reading proficiently by the end of third grade. Through research supported by the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Education, she found that individualized instruction is the key to teaching successful readers.

Her work is the basis of Learning Ovations, a start-up company led by Carol Connor and CEO Jay Connor. The company helps teachers implement the research findings through the A2i technology platform. A2i “links language and literacy assessment results to recommendations for specific amounts and types of reading instruction [for individual students] through evidence-based algorithms,” according to the company website.

The platform uses assessments that are already given in schools. This means that teachers don’t have to give extra assessments to use the technology. The software also helps teachers track students’ needs, provide personalized lesson plans and monitor students’ progress.

Carol Connor worked with researchers at Florida State University and the University of Michigan to develop and test A2i in several schools and school districts. The results to date are remarkable; in classrooms using the Learning Ovations platform, 94 percent of students learn how to read by the end of third grade, compared with the national average of 34 percent.

The Connors have been working with SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center, to refine the business side of the company. SkySong is a mixed-use development that houses more than 70 companies from around the world along with ASU programs that support entrepreneurship and economic development.

“If ASU as a university saw the value of third-grade reading improvements, SkySong, as a focus on innovation and entrepreneurism, saw how they could help the business side of it through introductions, support and engagement with lots of different connections within the community,” Jay Connor said.

In October 2014, Learning Ovations received a $1.05 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The funding will help the Connors strengthen A2i and prepare it for large-scale implementation.

Jay Connor said Learning Ovations is a model for how research that starts in the university can have an impact on the wider community. It’s the proof point for ASU’s vision that “we can have profound quality of research and we can really bring it to our communities.”

Concept mastery

Adaptive Curriculum is another educational technology company based at SkySong that is working closely with ASU. The company builds math and science software and technology for classroom use in grades 5-12.

What differentiates Adaptive Curriculum is its focus on concept mastery and interactivity, rather than a “drill and kill” approach, according to CEO Jim Bowler. For example, one lesson lets students observe and interact with a Ferris wheel to learn about sine curves and how they work outside the classroom.

To make sure its lessons are as accurate as possible, the company collaborates with scientists and mathematicians at ASU. It also works with ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teacher’s College to develop lesson and implementation plans that help teachers effectively use the technology.

Bowler said ASU has been an important part of Adaptive Curriculum’s development over the past several years, both as a partner in helping to develop products and by providing an enjoyable environment at SkySong.

"Right from the top, Michael Crow has always been supportive, the members and teachers of the school of education have been very helpful, and we've gotten great support from the SkySong management,” he said. “It's a good community to be in.”        

Game for change

Both Jay Connor and Bowler mentioned several trends they’ve seen in educational technology. Bowler noted the rise of tablets as a learning platform. Jay Connor mentioned the “gameification” of learning. In his opinion, this is an area that really hasn’t lived up to its potential.

Many educators and researchers have tried to leverage the power of games, he said, but “haven’t thought of what that power is.” This has led game developers to start with the “wow” instead of with the educational or social impact they want to achieve. The result can be simply “adding pictures and sound and movement,” Connor said.

Sasha Barab, a professor in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and executive director of the Center for Games and Impact, is working to change that. He and his colleagues at the center start by ensuring that the first part of the game to be developed is its impact goal.

“The game is a tool. The goal is the impact,” Barab said.

The ecosystem is also very important for creating games that are effective in the classroom. How is that game integrated with the school environment? Are the teachers being taught how to use it effectively? These are essential questions that must be answered to create a game that can live up to its potential.

And there is a lot of potential.

In a game, students “actually can have agency,” Barab said. They can discover they matter because of their academic abilities. Games can create experiences that cut across virtual and real life and allow students to become engaged with material on a deeper level. How much more illuminating is it to learn about ecology by playing a mystery game where you’re an environmental activist trying to discover the culprits behind a mass fish die-off than it is to learn it from a textbook? This is the premise behind “Mystery of Taiga River,” one of the educational games featured on the Center for Games and Impact’s website.

In addition to researching and testing games, the center offers teacher education programs as well as “impact guides” to a variety of popular games. The guides provide players, parents and teachers with tools to understand play, inspire reflections and stimulate transformation. For example, a guide to World of Warcraft explores effective collaboration, while the guide to Civilization explores diplomacy.

“Games can foster a different kind of learner,” Barab said. In particular, they can foster learners who are uniquely suited to the challenges of a high-tech, fast-paced 21st century.

“Technology will transform education,” Jay Connor said. “I actually think there's the potential that within 10 years’ time we won't talk about how bad our education system is.”

Written by Erin Barton, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development.

Allie Nicodemo

Communications specialist, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development