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Rewarding Creative Curriculum

Two professors are first winners of award supporting innovative course development

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May 19, 2014 | by Brendan Cosgrove

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Two Northwestern University professors, the first winners of a new curriculum development award, will be hard at work this summer on innovative courses that are well suited to today's ever changing technological world.

One course will focus on online pitches that are key to successful crowdfunding -- the increasingly popular way to raise money online for a new product or service from a "crowd" of individuals, rather than big-time investors.

The other course will teach students to develop technologies to help those with disabilities take advantage of modern communications -- to access information that is critical to their well being and taken for granted by many of us.

The Northwestern University Award for Curriculum Development, a $12,500 grant cosponsored by the Alumnae of Northwestern University and the Office of the Provost, is designed to support the development of innovative course materials and new modes of teaching over the summer in preparation for the upcoming academic year.

The inaugural recipients of the award are Elizabeth Gerber, assistant professor of mechanical engineering in the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Anne Marie Piper, assistant professor of communication studies in the School of Communication. Gerber was selected for her proposal “A Crowdsourcing Curriculum to Enhance Entrepreneurship Education.” Piper won for her submission “Assistive Communication Design: Experiential Learning with Local Community Impact.”

“It is an honor and privilege to receive the Alumnae of Northwestern University Award for Curriculum Development,” Gerber said. “I am humbled to be recognized by the Alumnae of Northwestern who have been dedicated to supporting our community's commitment to excellence in education and research throughout the past century.”

Her curriculum is designed to teach the next generation of entrepreneurs how to effectively leverage crowdfunding, a relatively new and nontraditional way of obtaining capital. Instead of making an in-person pitch to a small number of potential partners with large amounts of money to invest, crowdfunding involves pitching via the Internet -- mainly video -- to reach a larger number of investors with smaller amounts of money to commit. The process has made it possible for novice entrepreneurs with limited access to traditional financial backing from banks or venture capitalists to launch new ventures on their own.

“The ability to communicate a new service or product in an online pitch video is vital for successful crowdfunding,” Gerber said in her proposal. “Our curriculum will teach the design and production of pitch videos for crowdfunding campaigns by providing seven online mini-lectures and activities.”

Gerber believes that the self-directed curriculum will be extremely useful to engineering and business students who are attracted to entrepreneurship education, but often find taking such classes difficult because of their already intensive core curricula.

Piper is equally excited about continuing to develop and implement her unique curriculum with the award.

“I am thrilled that the Alumnae of Northwestern want to support the development of this course,” she said. “Northwestern students are united in their desire to make an impact, and I cannot wait to see what students create as part of this class.”

Piper’s course will combine experiential learning with local community impact as students learn to develop technologies that will help those with disabilities more fully take advantage of modern communications such as social media and the Internet, important parts of human interaction many of us take for granted.

“The learning experience comes together through a quarter-long communication design project that matches teams of students with local organizations serving people with disabilities,” Piper said. “I envision students working on projects that increase access to online health information, provide remote therapy for people in rural areas or who are unable to leave their homes, and design new games for children with speech or language delays.”

The award will help bring in leading experts in vision loss, aging and developmental disabilities to work with students and give them feedback on their projects.

“These excellent proposals selected for the first Alumnae of Northwestern University Award for Curriculum Development represent the outstanding and innovative teaching our faculty does in the classroom every day,” Provost Daniel Linzer said. “I’m excited to see the results of the projects students will be working on in these courses.”

Linzer said his office is looking forward to continuing to work with the Alumnae of Northwestern University in support of the University’s mission to provide an outstanding and innovative undergraduate education for Northwestern’s students.