ASU faculty innovation showcases 3 tech-enabled learning experiences – ASU News Now


Technology offers new ways to enhance how we learn, work and live, and in keeping with Arizona State University’s philosophy of expanding opportunities with tech, faculty across the university are integrating tools that elevate teaching and learning. 
At ASU, the University Technology Office’s (UTO) Learning Experience team assists with the integration of software and other technology into course design. Students work on laptops in a classroom/ Download Full Image
“Working with faculty is essential to truly understand what both faculty and students need to have the best possible learning experience when using technology in the classroom,” said Allison Hall, Learning Experience design director.
With the start of the fall 2022 semester, UTO caught up with ASU faculty to explore how they enhance the learning experience, sharing examples and strategies for leveraging new tools.
Three standout examples — in the realms of online community building, improved web accessibility and creative tools — are full of promise for the new semester.

Building communities for ASU teaching assistants

The role of the teaching assistant (known as a TA) is long standing, with these individuals having a university experience as both student and teacher. As such, TAs operate in a number of communities and have a need to communicate effectively and inclusively.
Groups around campus are using Slack to augment community building online. The real-time communication tool has been stood up as ASU’s enterprisewide, flexible collaboration platform. Faculty and staff have been innovating with this technology since it was introduced to the university in 2019, and Cara Sidman, clinical assistant professor at the College of Health Solutions, was an early adopter.
“I love exploring new technology, so it started with that, but it also came from necessity because I needed quicker communications with my TAs in the large online courses I teach,” Sidman said. Across those ASU Online courses, Sidman can have up to 1,200 students a year, with 20 TAs at any given time.
She turned to Slack because, as she put it, “we need to communicate like an organization.” Slack’s place in the workforce also inspired Sidman to provide experience with it to student TAs.
“It’s preparing career-readiness skills, and that’s what drives a lot of my decision-making and curriculum,” she said.
Sidman notes that the Slack workspace for the TAs allows them to collaborate in course administration. One example is the use of a channel dedicated to grading, where TAs can clarify approaches to rubrics for each other and involve the instructor if necessary.
TAs also orchestrate their own “mini-communities” with students. Using Slack to create plans and trade information on best practices, they then bring discussion to spaces students are familiar with, such as in Canvas, ASU’s learning management system (LMS). “That creates a connection as well, especially for online students where we don’t see each other in person.”

Web accessibility supports learning for all

Nearly every ASU student interacts with Canvas on a regular basis. And today, a growing and important effort around course design is web accessibility, an inclusive aspect that is meant to prevent barriers for people of all abilities from interacting with the internet.
For example, Canvas’ built-in web accessibility checker scans for alt text, which is a text field added to images that will describe them for screen readers. Additionally, the ability to seek out contrast and visibility issues in images tagged PDFs and more are part of the functionality. But to enrich and support accessibility goals, a tool called Ally is available for faculty to integrate into Canvas courses.
Ally provides an intuitive dashboard that breaks down accessibility concerns by assigning scores to a course’s webpage, tagging specific issues. Instructors can view all elements of a specific web accessibility concern, such as alt text, that need to be remedied. 
Through teaching disability courses and using Ally, School of Social Transformation Instructor Terri Hlava has made adjustments to her materials that make a significant impact for those who need it.
Hlava ensures all videos have transcriptions and closed captioning and text uses headers to support screen readers.
“In the spirit of inclusivity, that’s just what you do,” Hlava said.
Holly Basteyns, an instructional designer at the School of Life Sciences, said her team wants to also bring web accessibility mindfulness to students themselves. For example, it’s important for learners in Canvas courses to create accessible materials themselves.

Incorporating creative tool sets for learning

Instructors are also finding new ways to accommodate or encourage different learning styles, and the rise of multimedia is providing new learning experiences that reflect the kind of content today’s learners engage with most. To that end, Adobe Creative Cloud is being utilized by a number of faculty and students.
After taking a Digital Fluency Creative course hosted by UTO’s Learning Experience last semester, Karla Murphy and Chelsie Schlesinger, co-instructors at the School of Humanities, Arts and Cultural Studies, are continuing to find new ways to leverage Adobe’s suite of tools.
In ENG 205, for example, students are tasked to make a two-part podcast using Adobe Premiere Rush. This “literacy narrative” assignment has learners bring autobiographical experiences with aspects of literacy, such as speaking, writing, reading, rhetoric and more, to life. In ENG 102, students have a multimodal choice between a podcast or social media campaign visuals, designing graphics in Adobe Express in the latter case.
These projects don’t replace skills learned with traditional essay assignments, but “support the history that’s already there for digital literacy,” Schlesinger said. “This literacy narrative becomes a really useful tool for students with perhaps a language barrier.”
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In August 2020, Kyle Williams was cut in training camp by the Tennessee Titans.Williams could see it coming. He was an undrafted receiver out of Arizona State University, a longshot to make the regular-season roster.But he was 23 years old. There would be opportunities with other teams to pursue his dreams.Williams’ agent, Jon Baker, said he would make a few phone calls to see if other teams wer…
In August 2020, Kyle Williams was cut in training camp by the Tennessee Titans.
Williams could see it coming. He was an undrafted receiver out of Arizona State University, a longshot to make the regular-season roster.
But he was 23 years old. There would be opportunities with other teams to pursue his dreams.
Williams’ agent, Jon Baker, said he would make a few phone calls to see if other teams were interested. That’s when Williams ran a route very few 23-year-olds do.
He walked away from the game.
“Jon wanted me back in it,” Williams said, “and I literally just told him, ‘Hey, Jon, you know what? I think I’m good.’”
Williams had a different plan for his life, one that involved healing bodies instead of hurting them. He’s now a first-year medical student at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine, the first step toward his goal of becoming a surgeon.
It’s a long and expensive journey: Williams said it will be at least 10 years before he gets his degree, completes his residency and is “emancipated, doing my own thing.”
“I talked to (former ASU running back and current Arizona Cardinal Eno Benjamin) when we were together at ASU, and he said, ‘Man, when my career is done, you’ll just be starting,’” Williams said.
Some waits are worth it.
“I do see myself, in whatever surgical specialty I choose, flourishing and changing lives for the better. Absolutely,” Williams said. 
Williams always had an affinity for math and science, which led to him earning a biomedical engineering degree at ASU in May 2020. As to how a student-athlete can spend that much time on a field, in a playbook and still graduate with honors from Barrett, The Honors College with a 3.69 GPA, Sun Devil football coach Herm Edwards said, “He’s one of those guys that’s way ahead of the curve.” 
ASU alum Kyle Williams is pictured at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in August, where he is a first-year medical student. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Williams wasn’t sure he wanted to become a surgeon, however, until he injured his AC joint in his shoulder during a game against the University of Washington his freshman season and was examined by Dr. Anikar Chhabra, the medical director for sports medicine at Mayo Clinic in Arizona and ASU’s head orthopedic surgeon since 2007.
“He gives me the diagnosis, some words of encouragement and then the prognosis and treatment,” Williams said. “And I just kind of wondered, ‘What does he do?’ Here’s this big, tall dude, and he was able to explain my pathology in a pretty concise way and communicate to me pretty efficiently.
“That was like the advent of my love for medicine. Crossing paths with Dr. Chhabra literally changed the trajectory of my life.”
Chhabra said he knew from his initial evaluation that Williams wasn’t your typical freshman athlete whose key concern is how quickly they can play again.
“He was very inquisitive about the injury,” Chhabra recalled. “’Why did this happen? How can I prevent it?’ Most football players aren’t as worried about the anatomy or physiology. His questions were more on the level of a medical student than a first-year undergrad.”
Their kinship quickly formed; Williams began shadowing Chhabra in the fall of 2017 as a research intern in orthopedic surgery. He observed shoulder and knee surgeries and watched as Chhabra interacted with patients, the nursing staff and physician assistants. 
He was hooked.
“That’s when I really got gripped, if you will, by orthopedic surgery,” Williams said.
Chhabra introduced Williams to cutting-edge arthroscopic techniques and had him help write several research articles, including one on spinal injuries among football players.
“I think he’s going to be a perfect fit for academic medicine in the future,” Chhabra said.
ASU alum Kyle Williams is pictured at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine in August, where he is a first-year medical student. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
Although he has a natural propensity for orthopedic surgery and a desire to return to the sports arena — perhaps, he envisions, replacing Chhabra as ASU’s orthopedic surgeon — Williams has gone into medical school with an open mind.
He’s considering neurological and cardiovascular surgery. He spent about a year and a half between the NFL and medical school working as a cardiac rhythm management clinical specialist at Abbott Laboratories in Las Vegas.
Or, his practice could involve early screening and advocacy for people who are genetically susceptible to cancer. Williams’ brother, Kendall, died from colon cancer at the age of 33. 
“That has given me a deeper sense of purpose while studying medicine,” Williams said. “My brother was very supportive of me in football and in my decision to quit to follow my dreams of becoming a surgeon.” 
Williams does miss football, describing his permanent break with the game as a “super hard breakup.” It’s particularly trying this time of year, when teams are holding training camps and young wide receivers are catching footballs and chasing dreams.
“I mean, it’s integrated into my DNA,” Williams said. “It’s who I am. I played it for 18 years. Even today, a lot of my life resembles certain processes that I underwent in football.
“I’m used to the training table and getting food after practice. So, at Mayo, I’ll go to the cafeteria and chow down. That’s something I just can’t get rid of. And the long nights, even my mentality when it comes to grinding and studying emulates a lot of what I did in football.”
Williams has no regrets about walking away from the NFL so quickly, though. He has moved on.
“He said, ‘Look, I’m going to do this, and if I get a shot that’s great. But I’m going to have this in my back pocket,’” Edwards said about Williams. “He’s headed in the right direction.”
Top photo: Former Sun Devil wide receiver Kyle Williams is a current first-year medical student at Mayo Clinic Alix School of Medicine. After a stint as a free agent with the Tennessee Titans, he decided to forgo further adventures in the NFL to utilize his ASU biomedical engineering degree to pursue a career in surgery. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU News
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