data 8 spring 19

Students pack Wheeler Hall Auditorium for Data 8.

January 28, 2019

More than 1,600 students signed up for Data 8: Foundations of Data Science this semester, making this innovative introductory course the largest on campus. The growing enrollment is just one indication of the continuing enthusiasm for Data 8, which launched as a pilot in 2015 with fewer than 100 students. Universities and colleges around the country, and even internationally, are creating their own versions of the course, and the second run of the popular online version, Data 8X, went live this week.

Among the distinctive features of Data 8 is its success equipping a broad range of students, including those without math or computing backgrounds, with a strong foundation in just 15 weeks. The course accomplishes this by initially focusing on concepts like inference and random sampling with real world data rather than first delving into math and computational theory.

Data 8 uses the Jupyter cloud computing infrastructure, which allows students to easily access computing tools without loading and launching new computer programs. It features examples from a variety of disciplines, from biology to sports to literature. Connector courses that accompany Data 8 enable students to further explore data science in their areas of interest; Connectors this semester include Data Science for Smart Cities, Data Science and Immigration, and Child Development Around the World. Underscoring the intent to reach beyond traditional STEM students, the Modules program offers explorations into data science within the context of existing courses. And the Data Scholars program supports students from groups under-represented in data science with mentoring and research opportunities. Roughly half of the students who enroll in Data 8 are women.

Data 8 Extends Beyond Berkeley

data8 nyuData 8’s approach and accessibility is attracting attention nationally and internationally. Last summer, representatives from three dozen colleges and universities from around the US and Canada attended a workshop led by Professor David Wagner, one of Data 8's co-creators and lead instructors, for institutions developing and offering data science courses and programs. This semester, with the launch of YData, Yale joins a growing list of universities adapting the curriculum. Yale credits Data 8 as the inspiration for YData, which aims to demystify data science and make it more accessible.

A dozen other universities have designed their own versions of Data 8, including Cornell, the University of Chicago, NYU, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara, says Anthony Suen, Director of Programs for the Division of Data Sciences. A number of others in the US, China, India, Canada, and Europe are exploring the idea, he says, not only for educating undergraduates but also for providing a foundation in data science for graduate students, faculty, and instructors. All of the materials for teaching Data 8, including the textbook, are openly available online.

sjcc“Every university brings their own stamp to it,” said Professor Ani Adhikari, one of the course's co-creators and a lead instructor. “Our hope is not just that other universities will adopt it but that if we come together—just think of Berkeley, Yale, Cornell, the University of Washington, UC San Diego, all these schools—if all of us bring something to it, it’s only going to improve the education.”

Some institutions, like San Jose City College, are accelerating their data science offerings by building on the online version of the course, Data 8X. SJCC instructors supplement the videos and JupyterHub on Data8X by offering labs and exercises designed for their students.

Data 8X was first offered last spring, with 75,000 students enrolling. This month, a new self-paced version launches on edX, expanding Data 8’s reach beyond colleges and universities and making the fundamentals of data science accessible to all.