Wharton professor Kevin Werbach was announced as one of eight recipients of the Ideas Worth Teaching Award by the Aspen Institute Business & Society Program.
Announced on Sept. 30, the award seeks to recognize courses that highlight important emerging ideas about the role of business in creating an inclusive environment, according to the Ideas Worth Teaching website. There was a 40% increase in nominations for the awards compared to last year, Wharton News reported, and the winning finalists were picked from nominations representing 90 schools from 19 countries.
Werbach, a Legal Studies and Business Ethics professor, was awarded for his course, called "Big Data, Big Responsibilities: The Laws and Ethics of Business Analytics," which he created in 2016.
He said he created the course after witnessing a need for business students to have a greater understanding of the legal and ethical challenges that come with using artificial intelligence and big data, adding that it was the only one of its kind at a business school in the country.
“Alongside understanding the methods of analytics and AI and algorithm, it's critical to have a broader perspective about their impact and the challenges that they pose. I also felt strongly that this was important to do in a business school,” Werbach said. “AI and big data are not just about technology. I'm hoping that this raises awareness and gets more people at different schools to teach these kinds of courses.”
Werbach’s course was selected for the award because it emphasizes a need for business leaders to understand the ethical and legal considerations of using data and analytics, particularly as companies continue to become more reliant on these factors for strategy and decision making, according to the Ideas Worth Teaching website.
“The course gives students the skills to use analytics in a responsible way, including the ability to identify flaws and limitations in algorithms, anticipate legal or ethical controversies, and evaluate mechanisms for algorithmic accountability,” the website’s statement reads.
Wharton junior Tvisha Malik, who took the Werbach's class in fall 2020, said she found the course's mock trial experience to be one of the highlights of the class. Werbach gave students a video clip of a fictional trial from the legal drama TV show "The Good Wife" and asked students to argue in favor and against the alleged racial biases in an algorithm that optimizes mobile maps, Malik said.
“It gave us an opportunity to explore and defend the legal and moral implications of technology that are so familiar to us, while practicing our public speaking skills," Malik said.
Although other schools have since added similar courses, Werbach said he believes his course to be a testament to what makes Wharton special.
“I think it's a recognition of the kinds of things that we can do in the curriculum at Wharton,” Werbach said. “It's a great honor, but I think it's great to be in any place that has room for this kind of material in the curriculum.”