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Webinar Recap: How ASU Sustained Its Learning Culture During Profound Disruption

Dr. Tom Tonkin

Principal, Thought Leadership & Advisory Services

The Arizona State University measures its value not by whom it excludes, but by whom it includes and how they succeed. At the core of the university’s charter is an effort to not only advance research and discovery of public value, but to also assume fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves. With over 120,000 students scattered across five campuses, as well as online and in over 140 countries, it’s no wonder that ASU takes a highly strategic and laser-focused approach when introducing new technology.

"Our enterprise technology strategy is all about advancing our mission of inclusivity. We always talk about technology as a catalyzing force for good that enables our vision for the ’New American University,’ or the university of the future," said Samantha Becker, ASU’s Executive Director, Creative and Communications, University Technology Office in a recent webinar, "How ASU Kept Their Learning Culture Strong During Profound Disruption."

COVID has certainly been a disruptor, but there have been and will be others. To continue to provide students with a high-quality education that leads to a successful career, the New American University must be flexible, adaptable and designed to empower its employees. Simply put, it must become the university of the future—and technology will play a massive role in making this flexible future possible.

The Five Facets of New Tech at ASU

For ASU, any new technology has to go through a rigorous review process and gain approval from an advisory board. It also must meet five key criteria: deliver social and economic impact; offer an enterprise experience, accelerating capacity through operational optimization; fosterlearner success, empowering all learners through inclusive strategies; be a next-gen solution, architecting cutting-edge practices in research, security, data and learning; and be a tool that enables visionary leadership to shaping the future through entrepreneurial thinking, empathy and community engagement.

The criteria is rigid for a reason: ASU’s strict guidelines pay off when the university has to lean on its tools to support its students and staff. For over two years now, the school has been using Cornerstone Learning todevelop a platform designed to reach its professional staff at scale and anywhere in the world. And when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it was clear that the commitment to perfecting ASU’s platform paid off.

Facing Down COVID-19 Disruption

One of the biggest challenges that ASU faced in the early days of the pandemic was getting its highly decentralized system to work together. That’s where their learning platform came in handy to help ASU’s employees overcome obstacles in a manageable way.

Though the school always had the "undercurrent of the right remote technology in place," it wasn’t something they ever tried to do at scale, Jillian McManus, D.B.H., Executive Director of Workforce Development and Health, Office of Human Resources at ASU, explained. However, the pandemic taught them that it could be done—and quickly.

In a matter of weeks, the school shifted to a virtual learning environment built for staff, offering all training and remote resources via its Cornerstone LMS, which the university branded "CareerEdge." ASU swiftly added courses on stress management, tips for remote work and other materials to its learning platform. The university introduced documentation guides for staff and rolled out remote training, all in an effort to arm its staff with the tools needed to continue to do their jobs effectively. Suddenly, people who had never used the platform before were logging on and accessing these resources. People who had already been fairly familiar with it were using it in new ways, according to Kevin Salcido, VP HR/CHRO at ASU.

And, when the social unrest following the murder of George Floyd unfolded, CareerEdge once again helped staff find the support it needed with courses and information around diversity, empathy and bias.

The University of the Future

As ASU continues to navigate academic life through COVID-19 and beyond, Salcido said the school has three priorities that have proven incredibly valuable over the past few months: continued communication, collaboration and compassion. Moving forward, Salcido says the school will double down on being transparent with students and staff about changes, work across departments to ensure decisions are made thoughtfully and, perhaps most importantly, remain sensitive during this difficult transitional time. But, with all that in mind, Salcido wants to keep moving fast. It’s essential for innovation, he explained:

"Something we realized is some of the decisions that would have taken organizations years to implement took us just weeks to make happen because we had no choice. We had to act quickly." And he doesn’t want to go back to how it was before—and Salcido’s fellow presenters echoed his sentiment.

McManus, for example, oversees a counseling service at ASU, and said she’d been thinking about offering remote teletherapy for years. During the pandemic, she was able to deploy a remote option in just three weeks—and also wants to see more of that fast-paced innovation. "Anybody that’s been with us for more than a minute knows that innovation is what we’re all about. The silver lining of this situation is that we all get it on a cellular level; it’s not just a philosophy. We can’t lose that. We’re going to continually innovate and move quickly," McManus said.

To view the full webinar and learn more about ASU’s actions during the COVID-19 pandemic, click here.

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