Ford School faculty launch open online courses

December 19, 2022

Three Ford School faculty have developed exciting new online courses to equip learners and professionals around the globe with interdisciplinary skills that help them engage in and inform complex public policy decision-making processes. Elisabeth Gerber considers how rapidly evolving technology and public policy help make transportation safer, cleaner, and more equitable in her course People, technology, and the future of mobility.” Paula Lantz co-teaches a four-course series, “Data Analytics in the Public Sector with R,” on how to use the power of data to inform policy making. Shobita Parthasarathy explores equity and justice in the development and implementation of technology and science policies in “Justice and Equity in Technology Policy.”

All courses are available through Michigan Online. Earning a course certificate is free for members of the U-M community through Michigan Online. Auditing the course is free for all learners. 

Illustration of a cityscape with varied modes of transportation and infrastructure

People, Technology & Future of Mobility

“Powerful technologies—electrification and automation—are transforming mobility and have the potential to improve quality of life for billions of people around the world,” said Elisabeth Gerber, Jack L. Walker, Jr. Professor of Public Policy. “People will need to make difficult decisions about how and where to invest scarce resources in new transportation infrastructure and technology, whether to provide financial incentives for adopting the new technologies and to whom, how to regulate the use of electrified and autonomous vehicles, and so much more.”

With this complex policy environment in mind, Gerber developed her course, in partnership with Siemens Innovative Technologies, focusing on the far-reaching social, economic, and policy implications of electrification and automation. The six-week course features insights from leaders in automotive and transportation, strategy, and sustainability. In addition, participants hear perspectives from government officials at the state and local levels, as well as experts in engineering, public policy, health, law, urban planning, and economics. Students grapple with the complex trade-offs between safety, sustainability, and access; and are prepared to think about what comes next. The course is designed for learners from all backgrounds and does not require prior training in engineering or social science.

Illustration of workers in a data center

Data Analytics in the Public Sector with R

Every government entity collects and stores millions of data points to perform administrative and legislative duties, allocate resources, and make decisions. The R programming language can help administrators and policymakers interpret the meaning behind this data. Paula Lantz, James B. Hudak Professor of Health Policy and Professor of Public Policy, and Christopher Brooks, assistant professor of information, co-developed this course to equip current and future public-sector professionals with the technical R programming skills to better inform policy and improve decision-making. Learners gain technical skills to gather and interpret public data that are grounded in the fundamentals of public administration, public policy analysis, and data ethics.

“I am really excited about this joint venture between the Ford School and the School of Information that will reach learners from around the world and emphasizes the roles of both data analytics and values in the functions of public administration and the policymaking process,” Lantz said.

The four-week U-M online course series complements Grow with Google’s Certificate in Data Analytics, a professional certificate that teaches the foundations of data analytics. James DeVaney, executive director of the Center for Academic Innovation, noted that this course provides the opportunity for “high-impact, high-wage job skills that serve the public good and will help communities in Michigan and beyond as people are able to harness data to drive decision-making and solve important societal problems.”

Collage of photos featuring tech workers protesting, CCTV camera, wind turbins, and kids using tablets

Justice and Equity in Technology Policy

The interconnectedness of technology, policy, and equality raises crucial questions for scientists, technologists, and leaders in public policy, civil society, and industry. Professor Shobita Parthasarathy, director of the Ford School’s Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program, developed her course to help STEM and policy professionals, community organizers, and students understand how injustices can become embedded in technology and associated policies. In addition, the course explores how these policies affect marginalized communities and how technological design and public policy can better address these effects.

“We need new generations of technologists, policymakers, and civil society advocates who understand technology in a nuanced way and know where and how to produce change,”  Parthasarathy said. “This course offers these skills, and will be useful to a range of audiences from those interested in the social impacts of technology to those increasingly encountering technology in social service and policy.”

The course centers on equity and justice in the development and implementation of technology and science public policies. Using real-world cases combined with scholarly insights, learners get a sense of the complex landscape of technology policymaking as well as how technology, and related policies both reflect and reinforce social values, biases, and politics. The course is designed for people from diverse professional, advocacy, and academic backgrounds, with no scientific, technical, or policy background necessary.

Coming soon

In addition to the three courses launched this semester, economist Justin Wolfers is working on a new Michigan Online course, “Economics for Everyone,” based on the textbook he and Betsey Stevenson have written.