Learn More About the M.S. in Informatics Online Program: A Conversation with Dr. Beenish Chaudhry, Assistant Professor of Computing & Informatics

Written byZachary Schleter


As a student, Dr. Beenish Chaudhry, Assistant Professor in the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s School of Computing & Informatics, was a math and computer science whiz.   

She could program in 14 different languages, including Java, C++, and SQL.  

She served as a research assistant for professors studying topics like knot theory and topological quantum computing.  

But something didn’t feel quite right.  

“I was doing a lot of programming and computation, but I felt like I was missing the humanities, psychology, the understanding of human beings,” she says. “Then, I took a course in human-computer interaction. It covered concepts that merged computing and psychology and evolved my understanding of humanity. It was a very nice melting pot of everything I wanted to do.”  

Now, as a professor in the M.S. in Informatics program, offered both online and on campus, Dr. Chaudhry hopes to spark that same passion and love for developing a holistic understanding of the world and humanity in her students.  

What do informatics courses consist of?  

In the M.S. in Informatics program, students take interdisciplinary courses that teach them how to use information technology effectively to solve human problems. This coursework includes Systems Development and IT Governance, Risk Management, and Compliance.   

One of Dr. Chaudhry’s favorites to teach is INFX 510 – Human-Computer Interaction.   

In it, students explore the relationship between humans and the technology they’ve become so accustomed to using.   

“I always begin the course with a history of HCI,” she says. “This is enlightening because a lot of students don’t appreciate how we got to where we are now. They have been given devices like mice, computers, and phones, but they take them for granted. They lack the appreciation of the ingenuity, challenges, and elegance involved in their development and evolution to the state they are in today.”   

They dive into case studies of historical systems that demonstrate the foundational principles necessary for designing user-centric technology, bridging the gap between theory and the practical evolution of these systems over time.  

For example, in one case study, the complicated design of a missile launching system caused frequent operator errors; as a result, operators often unintentionally aimed and fired missiles at civilian areas.    

“A lot of people might think that only medical professionals can save lives,” Dr. Chaudhry says. “I give my students examples like these so that they can appreciate why designing computers effectively is important and understand the context of the work that they do as informatics professionals.”   

Considering the history, principles, and examples covered in the course, students then design their own programs.   

“My goal is not just to give my students knowledge, but also allow them to put this knowledge into practice,” she says.   

Some systems that students have designed in the past include a mobile app to help international students get accustomed to life in United States, a mobile app to slow down the rate of cognitive decline in dementia patients, and a system to help K-12 schools effectively evaluate teachers’ performance.    

Ultimately, this course aims to teach students the process and the principles of technology design in a way that’s beneficial for humans.  

What does research look like in informatics?  

Much of Dr. Chaudhry’s research is focused on equity-centered design, specifically in the health field.    

Equity-centered design, as Dr. Chaudhry explains it, is about building technology to provide equitable access and benefits to diverse human ecosystems, specifically those that are underserved.   

“At the University, we’re very privileged, with access to resources like fast Internet and high-performance computers,” she says. “On the other hand, there are whole sectors of society that don’t have access to good computers, or even good health care. In my research, I work with such communities to design technological solutions that directly meet their needs.”  

For example, in one recent study, Dr. Chaudhry and her co-authors developed an app to help older adults with low socioeconomic statuses track their medication intake, play games for mental stimulation, and set health goals. They then collected data from users in the target demographic to determine the app’s effectiveness in improving quality of life.   

Part of the study involved making sure the app was easy for individuals to navigate and use.   

Another part – and one that was just as important – was making sure the app was efficient and accessible.   

“In equity-centered design, you design for the ecosystem, not just the individual,” she says. “We have to make design decisions that would, for example, enable the technology to run without high-speed Internet or high-performance computers or high levels of tech literacy, especially if that technology is going to be used in areas without such amenities.”  

Are online courses engaging?  

Just as Dr. Chaudhry’s focus as a researcher is designing technology that meets the needs of humans and communities who use it, her focus as an educator is designing curricula that resonate with and enrich the learning experience of the students engaging with it.   

“I try to be student-centered because that’s one of the principles of Human-Computer Interaction,” she says. “What do they want? How do they want to learn? I take all those factors into consideration, and my courses are designed in a way that students can be successful.”   

Her online courses include a blend of activities, including short video lectures, quizzes, discussion posts, and semester-long group projects.   

And as any good researcher would do, Dr. Chaudhry doesn’t just use guesswork to design her courses.   

“After each module in my courses, students complete a feedback form where they give me recommendations on how I can improve the module,” she says. “There’s also a section at the beginning of the course where I ask students what they want me to cover in the course.”   

The goal is ultimately to build a personalized learning experience for students.   

Recently, Dr. Chaudhry mentored an online student completing an independent study in data analysis. The project involved an online system that high school students use to find internship opportunities. The aim was to understand students’ interactions and behaviors within the application to simplify and facilitate the start of their careers.  

“We are in a golden age right now,” she says. “When I was a student, we didn’t have all these programs and options. Now, it’s so easy to get what you want. And at UL Lafayette, we offer so many concentrations, and there are just so many diverse topics that students can study.”  

Do I need an informatics background for a master’s in informatics?  

Students in the M.S. in Informatics program come from backgrounds as diverse as the field itself, from English to speech pathology to business to computer science.    

In addition, students with an undergraduate degree in a non-computing field take a foundation course to prepare for success in the program.   

Dr. Chaudhry’s advice to students? Just show up and show interest.   

“Students don’t need any sort of particular background in my courses,” she says. “They just need motivation and an interest in learning. A lot of students in the program don’t come from a computer science or informatics background, but through our courses, they acquire the skills necessary to succeed.”  

Kickstart or grow your career and learn from dedicated, passionate instructors like Dr. Chaudhry. The M.S. in Informatics online program offers concentrations in data science, health informatics, cybersecurity, or general informatics. 

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