Students were able to select classes from a course catalogue filled with both beloved classics (Political Theory, Jane Austen, Deconstructing Racism, etc.) and sixty-one classes new to Bowdoin.
A student listens in a class
We focused on a handful of new courses—in digital and computational studies, economics, history, religion, and Russian—chosen somewhat arbitrarily to highlight the ways visiting or new professors are sharing their expertise and how tenured professors are recrafting their intellectual interests into new offerings.
DCS: 3450 Cognition in Analog and Digital Environments
Eric Chown, Professor of Digital and Computational Studies
Though his class is new, Chown says his fascination with the intersection of human cognition and computation dates back to his graduate school days, when he studied with an environmental psychologist who investigated how our natural and constructed environments shape us.
This topic is perhaps even more pressing today, since it’s not just the physical world around us but also our digital world that has the capacity to profoundly influence how and what we think. In some ways, our brains weren’t designed to cope with today’s frenetic bursts of enticing stimuli. “Most of us are suffering from damaged attention,” Chown said.
In his class, students study Reed Johnson evolution and the brain—how we process information—and also how we are susceptible to digital misinformation and manipulation. Importantly, they also address what can be done about it.
“We discuss how virtual environments could be designed to be supportive, to be cognitively helpful so people can thrive in them,” Chown said. “And we’ll talk about ways of optimizing learning and how to use things like the digital world effectively,” he added. In the end, he hopes the students leave with an understanding that “there are ways they can take ownership of their attention.”
ECON: 3501 Poverty and Economic Development
Marc Rockmore, Visiting Assistant Professor of Economics
Female student laughs in class
In Poverty and Economic Development, students study economic systems on large and small scales, zooming in as close as looking at how poverty influences individuals’ decision-making and fates. While the class focuses primarily on sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, it also touches on poverty in other parts of the world, including the United States.
“Within this seminar, we’re moving a little bit outside of economics,” Rockmore said. He lays other academic disciplines, like biology, epidemiology, and climate science, on top of the traditional study of economics. For instance, the class is considering the biology of learning—how the first two years of life are critical to life outcomes—and they are reading studies on how a slight increase in temperature can affect people’s mental health and life outcomes.
“What I try to do in this process is give students a broader sense of not only how these different forces come together and shape poverty, but also how poverty interacts with these forces and can make them worse,” Rockmore said.