Northwestern professors innovate education through Alumnae Award: BTN LiveBIG

Northwestern professors innovate education through Alumnae Award: BTN LiveBIG

For over 100 years, The Alumnae of Northwestern University organization has been dedicated to expanding innovation on the various campuses of Northwestern and beyond. To fuel that innovation, it sponsors a variety of grants, scholarships and awards.

The Alumnae’s Award for Curriculum Development provides Northwestern professors with funding and resources to develop new methodologies, courses and course materials. Awardees receive $12,500 towards their projects and an opportunity to present at the university’s TEACHx forum on promoting experiments in teaching and learning.

Although this year’s winners come from worlds as disparate as engineering and communications, they share a desire to help students understand the role of technology in their respective fields.

Dr. Amanda Stathopoulos, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, works at the intersection of science and the humanities. Her course, “Engineering Possibilities: Decision Science in the Age of Smart Technologies,” is designed to help students, from the start of their education, understand the challenges facing cities and learn how to critically evaluate different solutions, ranging from traditional to innovative.

“The future of engineering is being framed by unprecedented challenges of climate change, urbanization and social inequality alongside new opportunities for planning, building and managing more livable cities,” says Stathopoulos via email. “The inspiration for this course comes from the growing emphasis on technological and data-driven interventions in cities, and the need for engineers in training to have deeper understanding of that process and their own role.

One goal of the course, Stathopoulos explains, will be to foster an “intellectual environment where students develop awareness of the impact of emerging technologies, an understanding of engineering as an integral process of societal change and acceptance of responsibility for the social as well as the technical impacts of engineered solutions.”

Communications studies associate professor Dr. Jeremy Birnholtz’s proposal “Computing Everywhere: Informally Engaging Non-Technical Students with Computational Thinking” seeks to expand basic computer fluency among all students.

“Just as media literacy was essential in the past,” says Birnholtz, speaking to Northwestern Now, “computational literacy, or the ability to understand and critically engage with software and programmers/engineers, is an essential skill for all Northwestern undergraduates,”

The subject matter, Birnholtz admits, can be a bit intimidating. But the goal of the course is to draw on and make connections with student’s everyday lives. The workshop-style course will build a foundation of basic knowledge covering engineering, coding, software, and algorithms that will be applicable in the classroom and beyond.

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