Sustainability and success: Teaching with technology


November 7, 2013

Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability faculty is integrating technology to deliver real-world experiences to their students.

Such classes as Sustainability Leadership and Social Change, Sustainable Cities, Sustainable Urbanism and International Development and Sustainability allow faculty to engage with students, colleagues and international partners through technology. Download Full Image

“Technology can bring the class to the outside world, instead of taking the outside world to the class,” says David Manuel-Navarrete, an assistant professor in the School of Sustainability and a senior sustainability scientist in ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability. “The balance of power within the class is altered; the instructor is no longer a purveyor of information, and the students are not just the consumers of the information. Instead, it becomes a process of co-production.”

Types of technology

Faculty from the school and throughout ASU receive positive feedback from students about their innovative, interactive approach to teaching, including some of the following examples:

VoiceThread: a free cloud application that allows professors to upload lessons and documents to discuss with students via microphone, webcam, text, phone or audio.

Skype: an often-free way to chat with international students via phone or video call. One sustainability professor conducted lectures and discussions with Delhi students, projected on large screens.

Vidyo: a software-based video conferencing tool that can run on existing hardware. Not only do professors use it in class, this environmentally friendly option also enables them to connect remotely with colleagues, saving time and gas.

Blackboard: a web-based tool used by many ASU professors for online and hybrid courses. It provides discussion boards, calendars, quizzes and tracks student progress.

Think before you leap

Trying one or more of these technologies can be daunting at first. But taking it one step at a time and establishing a back-up plan makes the process an easier, more successful transition.

“Use technology in a meaningful way – be conscious and clear when choosing the types of technology,” says Arnim Wiek, a senior sustainability scientist in ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and an associate professor in the School of Sustainability. He is simultaneously teaching ASU and German students using technology. “We shape the technology. In an educational setting, ask yourself, ‘Why would I use this technology?’”

Dan Childers, also a senior sustainability scientist and professor, collaborated with Kurt VanLehn from the School of Computing, Informatics, and Decision Systems Engineering to use a modeling software called Dragoon to effectively teach fundamental ecosystem concepts. Childers says there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to using technology to educate.

“I think we should not be afraid of technology,” he says. “Students tend to be more keen on and capable of using it. There is no common solution that could or should be implemented in each pedagogical situation.”

Partner with students

Sometimes, even including students in the decision-making can lead professors to the right type of technology. Jason Kelley, a lecturer in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, implemented VoiceThread in his courses to introduce lectures and discussion topics. He then asked the students to evaluate the software at the end of the semester.

“Don’t be afraid to try out new things,” he says. “Experiment with the students; tell them that you’re going to try a new tool, and that you want their candid open feedback.”

Oftentimes, using technology in the classroom or online can mean more time and work, but positive, impactful learning outcomes make up for it. In Rimjhim Aggarwal’s Sustainable Development in Action course, students from ASU and Delhi filmed their own short documentaries exploring urban environmental justice issues in their respective communities. Then, the videos were shared with each set of students and discussed over Skype.

“Rather than exploring culture through abstract terms, the students could observe culture through the lives of people,” says Aggarwal, a senior sustainability scientist and an associate professor in the School of Sustainability.

Have fun while learning

Sander van der Leeuw, former dean of the School of Sustainability and United Nations Champion of the Earth, says technology can make education more enjoyable.

“Please experiment with all of these technologies,” he says. “Because after all, not only is technology efficient, but also a lot of fun.”

American Indian Policy Institute conducts census workshop


November 7, 2013

Is the population of American Indians and Alaska Natives today in the United States 2.9 million? Or, is it 5.2 million?

The first U.S. Census was conducted in 1790, but American Indians were not included until 1860, and only 40,000 tribal individuals were counted due to federal policies and population loss. Much has changed, yet the question of an accurate population estimate remains elusive. people looking over shoulder of woman on computer Download Full Image

The American Indian Policy Institute at ASU is collaborating on the Tribal Indicators Project to carefully analyze and better understand the applied uses of U.S. Census data with American Indian Studies and the Center for Population Dynamics.

As part of the project, Amadeo Shije, U.S. Census Bureau Data Dissemination Specialist at the U.S. Census Bureau’s Denver Regional Office, recently visited the university to lead a census workshop. Tribal stakeholders for the Tribal Indicators Project, ASU graduate students, faculty and staff participated in the training.

“I shared an article about the American Indian Policy Institute’s Tribal Indicators Project and it generated a lot of interest at the Census Bureau. We realized that no other entity in the country has undertaken this type of project on tribal data. It was just what the Census Bureau needed to see because it makes the bureau's efforts worthwhile when American Community Survey data estimates are applied in important and unique ways,” Shije said.

The importance of the data is represented in the divergent population numbers. Based on methodological changes to the U.S. Census Bureau’s decennial survey, both 2.9 and 5.2 million are technically correct. Population estimates are based on the number of individuals who self-reported during the 2010 census as American Indian/Alaska Native “alone,” and those individuals plus those reporting as American Indian/Alaska Native “in combination” with another race.

“U.S. Census data is used to allocate over $400 billion dollars of federal funds annually, including funding that is critical to tribal nations and communities,” said Pat Mariella, director of the American Indian Policy Institute.

The 2000 census provided the first opportunity for U.S. citizens to self-identify as multi-racial. In 2005, the Census Bureau replaced the “long form,” used since 1940 to collect socio-economic data, with the American Community Survey in 2005. And the bureau’s powerful American FactFinder database available on the internet continues to grow in its uses and complexity, Mariella said.

The Tribal Indicators Project held its first stakeholders meeting earlier this year where Jennifer Glick, director of the Center for Population Dynamics, presented initial findings from work on a 1990-2010 cohort analysis designed to – among other things – quantify the change in the size of the American Indian/Alaska Native population that is not due to births, deaths or migration. This research is designed to suggest how much of the observed growth was due to a change in racial self-identification..

“Tribal stakeholders at the meeting were interested and supportive of this research and asked to continue to be involved in its progress. They also requested training to better understand and increase their use of U.S. Census data,” Mariella said.