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Faculty awards support creation of innovative curriculum

Awards fund unique enhancements to undergraduate courses in two fields

Professors Richard Gaber and Craig Duff, 2018 recipients of The Alumnae of Northwestern University’s Award for Curriculum Development, will spend the summer developing enhancements for courses in biological sciences and in journalism.

The awards, administered by the Office of the Provost, provide $12,500 to each professor to support the development of innovative course materials and new modes of teaching.

Gaber will use the funds to travel the U.S. gathering fungus specimens for students’ use in laboratory classes. Duff will visit several news media outlets to observe and subsequently teach students about the state-of-the-art multimedia production methods being used by top tier media today.

With a focus on active learning, critical thinking and the development of relevant skills, each professor’s projects will prepare students for greater success within and outside of their disciplines. Each project embodies the innovation that is paramount for recipients of The Alumnae Award for Curriculum Development, helping to grow and strengthen the undergraduate curriculum at Northwestern in creative ways.

Enhancing Biological Sciences Laboratory Courses With Biologically Complex Fungus

Rick Gaber

Gaber, a professor of molecular biosciences in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, will visit forests, logging operations and woodpiles in more than 18 states to collect a geographically diverse array of Schizophyllum commune specimens, a mushroom-forming fungus that is thought to harbor more genetic diversity than any other organism.

Students will study the specimens in three biological science laboratory courses, which attract combined enrollment totals of roughly 800 students per year. The lab work will involve increasingly sophisticated experiments, data acquisition approaches and analyses.

The diversity among specimens will allow each small group of students to analyze their own unique strain, increasing their interest and motivation. Students from different groups also will mate their fungi and perform morphological and genetic analyses of the progeny. They will generate new data and develop and test original hypotheses while gaining experience working as a team. By doing so, they will learn key biological principles and research techniques and approaches.

Gaber previously served as director of Weinberg College’s Program in Biological Sciences, which housed Northwestern’s undergraduate major in biological sciences as well as courses taken by students in other fields. Under Gaber’s directorship, the program undertook a major restructuring of its undergraduate curriculum, funded by a grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Foundation. Goals included earlier and stronger emphases on inquiry-based and interactive learning and on analytic reasoning. Gaber’s work this summer will further enhance the three foundational laboratory courses introduced as part of the general restructuring.

A ‘Medill Method’ of Video/Television Reporting and Production

Craig Duff

Duff, a professor of journalism in the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, will take the lead role in developing an innovative set of online modules to teach video editing and basic multimedia animation in multiple Medill courses. He aims to bring Medill’s multimedia training methods into the same realm of excellence as its reporting education.

Duff will visit leading news channels, network bureaus, digital outlets and post-production houses in Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. He will embed with top editors and observe approaches to the technical craft of digital journalism and use his findings to create, in collaboration with other Northwestern faculty members and technical staff, new online modules that better prepare students for the work and tools they will use in careers at top news outlets. Course experience with this standard “Medill Method” will enhance the success of Medill graduates as they enter professional news and media organizations. 

Duff is an Emmy award-winning video journalist and documentary television director, producer and writer, specializing in multi-platform storytelling and solo journalism. Before joining Medill, Duff was the director of multimedia and chief video journalist for TIME. Through his earlier work with The New York Times, CNN and Turner Broadcasting, he earned numerous national awards. Duff’s summer work will enhance learning experiences with state-of-the-art multimedia techniques across several Medill classes.

The Alumnae of Northwestern University is an all-volunteer organization of women that raises funds for a wide range of projects to benefit the University and also shares the University's academic resources with the community through its Continuing Education program. Founded in 1916, The Alumnae has given more than $8 million to the University in the form of grants, fellowships, scholarships and an endowed professorship. It also has provided funds for special university projects and summer internships.