5G and the future of higher education: Q&A with ASU president Michael M. Crow

Arizona State University is using technology—including Verizon 5G—to tackle issues in higher education. The result? Increased enrollment and better student outcomes.

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ASU President Michael M. Crow Keynote At 2021 ASU + GSV Summit | Higher Education

Images courtesy of Arizona State University. ASU President Michael M. Crow gives keynote remarks at the 2021 ASU + GSV Summit in San Diego, an annual gathering of education technology innovators and stakeholders.

It’s a puzzle that institutions of higher learning are constantly trying to solve: How do you not only attract more students to your school, but also broaden the pool of students by making learning more accessible overall?

For Arizona State University, the answer is based in technology.

Under the guidance of Michael M. Crow, current president of ASU, the school has strategically integrated new technology, including Verizon 5G, to build new models of teaching and learning while embracing online learning and distance learning. For eight consecutive years and counting, ASU has been named #1 in innovation in U.S. News and World Report’s annual Best Colleges rankings. And students are responding: In the 21 years since Crow became ASU’s president, enrollment has grown from 40,000 students to more than 120,000 to meet the growing demand for a college degree.

Here, Crow shares his thoughts on how technology like 5G could reshape higher education and smart campuses, change the student experience and allow greater access to learning opportunities everywhere.

Interview edited for length.

Was there a pivotal moment that started you down this technology-focused path and showed what could be possible in higher education?

When I was a kid, my Eagle Scout project with a friend was to gather food for families in need. When we delivered the food, I found a family living in a tar paper shack with a dirt floor. One of the children was a classmate. Later that night, I saw Apollo 8 orbit the moon on television. It was hard for me to reconcile how a place with such vast technological knowledge could also have people struggling for adequate food and shelter.

That was likely when I began framing in my mind that there would be a way to use advanced technological systems to create opportunities for educational achievement by large numbers of people.

Walter Parkes Of Dreamscape Immersive  And Michael Crow Demonstrate Collaborative Virtual Reality Learning Technology | Higher Education

Walter Parkes, co-founder and co-chairman of Dreamscape Immersive and Michael Crow demonstrate their collaborative virtual reality learning technology, Dreamscape Learn.

Is there a particular recent outcome at ASU that highlights how technology can help transform higher education?

During the pandemic, ASU formalized a partnership with Dreamscape Immersive, a California-based educational company that creates immersive virtual reality (VR) entertainment experiences. Both organizations share an interest in how such a technology can be adapted for educational purposes, so we set out to design a first-year Biology 181 curriculum that integrated VR with Hollywood-style storytelling. Our collaboration, Dreamscape Learn, is a next-level interactive approach designed to improve learning outcomes.

When the course rolled out in spring 2022 alongside our traditional biology course, immersive VR experiences replaced our conventional labs. After both courses concluded, an evaluation found that learners in the Dreamscape Learn version performed significantly better than their counterparts. With this early and optimistic result, we are continuing to expand our offerings in subjects like climate science, sustainability and chemistry, all with the help of student storytelling though a course called “Designing for Dreamscape.”

‘Right Now, WE Are Witnessing The Most Life-changing Technological Moment Since The Start Of The Industrial Revolution.’ By ASU President Michael M. Crow | Higher Education

How are advancements in 5G impacting education at ASU?

Right now, we are witnessing the most life-changing technological moment since the start of the Industrial Revolution. By working together as a university community, and with a broad range of partners, we have been working toward what we believe will position ASU as a leader in 21st-century higher education.

With those insights in mind, we are advancing the Learning Futures Collaboratory (LFC), an initiative that supports unique design, research and creative efforts to apply technology to the learning needs of tomorrow. This endeavor supports our work with Verizon as a 5G Innovation Hub, including our ongoing design of ASU as a smart university of the future and of programs that invite students to develop, pitch and deploy creative applications of 5G technology for the betterment of society. Beyond the LFC, ultra-fast connectivity empowers our on-campus and remote learning experiences, world-class research, immersive learning projects, and our student and community services. In short, there isn’t one aspect of teaching, learning and discovery at ASU that is not enhanced in some way by this advanced technology.

As a top public research university, ASU has a major responsibility to provide high-quality education⎯on campus and digitally⎯and we know that technology must play a big role in achieving that at scale. We are fortunate to have ASU Enterprise Technology to imagine and guide this complex work. Our eAdvisor program, ALEKS Mathematics Placement Assessment and me3 major selection tool are just a few examples of how we use technology to support student success in unique ways.

If you were a student today, what technological advancement of your smart campus would you enjoy most?

As a Star Trek fan, I like to say that our university community and our partners are designing something akin to the Vulcan Science Academy, and I am excited by the experience of it and the vast potential it represents for higher education.

At the same time, building off of what we learned through COVID, we now also have ASU Sync, digitally enhanced, face-to-face remote learning courses that provide students greater flexibility to suit their learning styles and schedules. None of these adaptive changes would be possible without a growing number of learning innovations and the creativity of those who implement them.

What’s on your mind today when it comes to technology, 5G and higher education? And what is important to tackle next?

We are always asking ourselves, “Could we be using technology to educate three more students for every one student we have on campus?” We think about what that would take and what additional service we could provide if bandwidth and connectivity were not issues. We know that once those factors are broadly available, nothing that a university has to offer will be inaccessible. Institutions will be able to educate more learners and increase our national college attainment rates.

Looking ahead, it is impossible to ignore the impact AI will have on the future of higher education. Unlike many others, I am an optimist. I believe that, managed wisely, AI has the potential to unlock new and unprecedented doors to learning for more people. It is imperative that we work together to determine what that impact should look like and how we can get there.

The goal is to find every idea and innovation we can create and apply them to every person we touch to help advance their individual success and the overall success of society. If we figure that out, then we will have realized what a public university is supposed to be.

Phyllis Lockett, CEO Of LEAP Innovations Interviews Michael Crow And Walter Parkes About Educational Technology Collaboration | Higher Education

Phyllis Lockett, CEO of LEAP Innovations, interviews Michael Crow and Walter Parkes about their educational technology collaboration at the 2021 ASU + GSV Summit.

Why should the average person care about how technology and 5G could transform higher education?

5G is important because the quality, speed and reliability of our connectivity is a relevant factor in the quality of our lives. 5G has the ability to level the playing field in terms of wireless technology and the broad array of services and opportunities it provides. It behooves all of us to understand the scope and importance of this sea change.

Of course, 5G also has the capacity to change what and how we learn, which will impact all aspects of our lives. Right now, our global college attainment rates are insufficient to make the most of the technology we have and to meet the complex challenges ahead. By leveraging existing technologies and inventing new ones for higher education that produce better learning outcomes, and then supporting ubiquitous access, we can educate more people, regardless of their location or socioeconomic status, and enhance social mobility and prosperity for all.

‘5G Has The Capacity To Change What And How We Learn, Which Will Impact All Aspects Of Our Lives.’ By ASU President Michael M. Crow | Higher Education

It is imperative that we move swiftly and work collaboratively to prepare learners of all ages, interests and backgrounds to engage with and maximize available technologies as tools capable of creating the futures we want.

See what 5G can do for you.

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