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Banner for the newsletter New Lines fall 2022 issue, published by Stanford Digital Education
Changing Course

A Spotlight on an Innovation in Instruction

'BioE 177: Inventing the Future' keeps evolving

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In spring quarter 2022, Stanford faculty Lisa Solomon, Drew Endy and Tina Seelig shepherded a diverse class of Stanford students in a new iteration of their course, BioE 177: Inventing the Future. A key change involves a project in which students debate the pros and cons of futurist concepts such as de-extinction.

Solomon, a Stanford lecturer, and Seelig, professor of the practice in Stanford's Department of Management Science and Engineering, launched the course in 2018. It evolved with broader changes in society, integrating in for instance, new aspects of climate change science and policy and, of course, responding to the global pandemic of COVID-19. In winter quarter 2021, the two instructors invited Endy, associate professor of bioengineering, to join them in teaching the course, seeking to allow students to benefit from his biosciences expertise. Over the last four years, the course has explored how to predict and invent the future and why this is important by focusing on a wide range of frontier technologies, such as robotics, AI, genomics, autonomous vehicles, blockchain, 3D Printing, VR/AR and synthetic meat, among others. The class has featured debates in which students present utopian and dystopian scenarios and determine what has to be done to inoculate ourselves against the negative consequences.

In spring quarter 2022, the instructors brought their unique expertise to tackle themes from flying taxis to extinction reversals, or de-extinction. Students were able to not only explore how the decisions they made today defined and shaped our collective futures, but they were also provided everyday tools and practices that could be leveraged to shape how they could plan for the future. In part to account for COVID-19 constraints, the course team had their students use digital video and extended reality (XR) to engage in the dystopia / utopia debates, but it served a pedagogical purpose beyond pandemic precautions. For the first time, they used these visual tools to tell stories that would make the case for their side in the debate.

Stanford Digital Education’s Associate Creative Director Erik Brown spoke with Solomon, Endy, and students about the course to produce this video. Special thanks to the Stanford Center for Professional Development’s video team for all their support.

This is the third installment in Stanford Digital Education’s “Changing Course” feature, which spotlights innovative ways in which members of the Stanford community are leveraging digital education techniques to better meet their learning goals and level up the student experience. If you would like to be showcased, please reach out to Erik Brown,