David Danks at CMU-Q
David Danks at CMU-Q

CMU’s David Danks on the new micro course experience

David Danks visited the Qatar campus last semester as part of a trio of micro courses on the topic of artificial intelligence. Danks is the head of the Department of Philosophy at Carnegie Mellon’s main campus in Pittsburgh, and the L.L. Thurstone Professor of Philosophy and Psychology.


This is your third visit to the Qatar campus. Are you jet lagged?

I do enough international travel that I’ve learned when I will get a weird dip in the middle of the day and I can’t quite focus. That turns out to be, I think, pretty predictable, so I get a cup of coffee 30 minutes before. It also helps to get plenty of sunlight.


You are here doing a micro course, which is new for our campus—is it something you do on the main campus?

No, this is a new thing. I remember when Mike Trick (the dean of CMU-Q) first mentioned it to me, and I said, well, yeah, but how is this going to work? His attitude has always been that micro courses are an experiment worth trying.


What do you think of micro courses so far?

I think one of the real benefits is the very constrained nature of a micro course. It’s a very focused, intense experience for the students, but it’s an opportunity to dive deeply, quickly into a subject.


What’s the advantage for the student?  

It opens doors to students who might not otherwise have the opportunity to dive deeply into a subject. If you are, let’s say, a biology major, it could be very difficult to have a focused experience around ethics and AI. Amicro course gives students the opportunity to try new classes that they wouldn’t otherwise have considered. Once they get a taste of it, maybe they’ll be excited to explore in more depth.


What are your impressions of the students here?

I have consistently been deeply impressed with the students here on the CMU Qatar campus. Their willingness to engage with hard problems, their interest in tackling the challenges that we face as societies, it’s really inspiring for me as an instructor to see.


Can you recall something that surprised you when you were first introduced to CMU-Q?

One thing that surprised me is the very close relationship between faculty and students on this campus. The students and faculty work together more closely, in more detail and for longer periods of time than we could ever hope to have in Pittsburgh. It’s really exciting to see the ways in which the learning relationship can go beyond just the simple “I’m lecturing, you’re listening.”


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