One of the biggest challenges professors face in creating their course curriculum is making sure they include the latest and most relevant research in their fields.

That’s why Michelle Rufrano, an adjunct sociology professor, decided to plan her upcoming course a little differently this time—by using a new AI tool.

Rufrano is the CEO of CShell Health, a media technology company that aims to curate health information and use it to help create social change. She worked with her business partner, Jean-Ezra Yeung, a data scientist with a master’s in public health, to develop an augmented intelligence tool that can sift through hundreds of thousands of articles of research and synthesize them into various themes.

Rufrano recently used the tool to plan her Coming of Age: Adulthood course at Fordham, sourcing readings from scholarly articles available on PubMed, an online biomedical literature database. The tool organized those articles into knowledge graphs—or geometric visualizations that map out correlations and topics that are most present in the research, without a professor having to manually sort through article titles and abstracts.

According to Rufrano, this method allowed her to plan her curriculum and readings much more efficiently.

“It cuts the research time in half,” Rufrano said. “That kind of document review would usually take me about four months of looking through all of that data. It’s down to about two weeks.”

Rufrano’s course explores the life course theory, which aims to analyze the structural, social, and cultural contexts that shape human behavior from birth to death. As a relatively unique field, Rufrano said it can be challenging to find materials, particularly those that include the most recent research. She said their AI tool is uniquely suited to solve this problem.

“I would have never found some of these studies that came up in the knowledge graphs, because they were published last month, and just would have probably escaped the regular search engines,” Rufrano said. “You would have had to put in some very specific language that you wouldn’t have necessarily known to use.”

Rufrano said it is crucial that students are exposed to a mix of current research in addition to classical works when preparing to enter careers in the field.

“That is so valuable for students who are going into a very volatile workforce. They need to have this very up-to-date information,” she said

Future Uses for the AI Tool

Rufrano and Yeung met while studying for a master’s in public health, and went on to form CShell Health, which uses augmented intelligence to reframe consumer health information and make it more accessible. The course planning model was an early experiment in what they hope will be a total reimagining of public health literacy.

“We can address really salient issues like how institutional discrimination is embedded in language,” Rufrano said. “If we can see the vulnerabilities in the data, then we can correct for the bias in the research. That’s my dream for the company.”