LAWRENCE — A University of Kansas urban planning professor has received a prestigious award for creating an innovative curriculum surrounding planning, research methods, and diversity, equity and inclusion.
The Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning and the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy recognized Ward Lyles, assistant professor of urban planning in the KU School of Public Affairs & Administration, as one of three educators across the country who developed courses to help prepare future planners to solve economic, social and environmental challenges.
Lyles' course is Quantitative Methods I: Using Research to Foster Compassionate Planning, UBPL 741, in which he redesigned a main research design and statistics course for future planners. He shaped the course into a team-based learning class that centers on creating an equitable and inclusive environment, something enhanced via his participation in the Diversity Scholars Program through the KU Center for Teaching Excellence.
"I wanted to think about ways to have it not be a traditional statistics class that students find irrelevant to what they do out in the world," Lyles said. "Most of the in-class work and all the individual work is project-based to simulate what students do in a workplace serving their communities."
The course is important for students of urban planning as they prepare to begin their careers because they need to be able to analyze data about many issues, from traffic counts to housing prices to water quality. But, in doing so, they must consider how their analyses influence the lives of the diverse groups of people in their communities, he said.
The award is a broader recognition of the teaching excellence of the urban planning program, which has encouraged professor Lyles in his course transformation activities. Fellow urban planning professors Stacey Swearingen White, Bonnie Johnson and Kirk McClure have also received honors for their teaching excellence.
"All four of our faculty have received recognition for teaching excellence and innovation, and this award gives us international recognition for what we are doing to have a curriculum suited to 21st century challenges planners will face," Lyles said.
Lyles has become a go-to person on campus regarding diversity, equity and inclusion work due to his humble leadership and willingness to continually learn and grow around issues of social justice, according to an inaugural co-facilitator of KU's Diversity Scholars Program.
"Ward stood out among a group dedicated to diversity work, taking on a challenging methods course and constantly serving as a resource for others in the group to think through their own courses," said Shannon Portillo, assistant vice chancellor for undergraduate programs at the KU Edwards Campus, associate professor in the KU School of Public Affairs & Administration and chair of the school's Diversity, Equity & Inclusion committee.
A portion of Lyles' research portfolio focuses on compassionate planning, especially related to local decision making aimed at mitigating natural hazards and damages due to disasters. He incorporated that work into the quantitative methods course along with the diversity, equity and inclusion elements.
The course begins with a personal and group reflection process, co-facilitated with Johnson, who teaches a parallel course on planning history and theory, before diving into issues of research design and statistics.
"Personal and group reflection gets students thinking about their own identities and experiences and how their unique characteristics shape their interactions with other people," Lyles said. "Recognizing similarities and differences between our own identities and experiences and those of people we work with is essential for collaboration. “
Later in the course, the students discuss real-world topics they will encounter as planners, such as environmental justice, affordable housing and access to transportation, that require a synthesis of quantitative analysis, interpersonal communication and ethical considerations related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
"Hopefully this course helps our students to think rigorously about planning and policy angles to local sustainability and to think compassionately about the human angles, too," Lyles said.
Photo: Ward Lyles, KU assistant professor of urban planning, talks with Carl Lejuez, interim provost and executive vice chancellor, about making his courses more inclusive at the 2017 KU Center for Teaching Excellence's third annual poster session. Credit: KU Center for Teaching Excellence.