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Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students
Data-Driven Decisions and Discovery
"Data is the oil of the 21st century"—it's the raw material that today's economies and societies increasingly rely on, though to be useful it must first be extracted, refined, and distributed. The analogy only goes so far, but there is no question that the use of data to drive decisions and discoveries has increased dramatically over the past two decades, thanks to prevalent data collection, cheaper storage, faster computers, and sophisticated new algorithms.
The seminar will have three interwoven components:
- Hands-on instruction in tools and techniques for working with data, from spreadsheets to data visualization systems to machine learning packages. Even with no previous programming experience, students will become equipped to perform surprisingly sophisticated analyses and visualizations. Students will complete short assignments on a variety of provided datasets and will propose and undertake a larger project using a dataset of personal interest.
- A suite of case studies where data has been key to decision-making or discovery. These studies will be drawn from a wide variety of domains—from social sciences to natural sciences to law, medicine, and politics. Additionally, each student will present a mini-case-study in an area of personal interest.
- Ethical issues, including privacy in data collection and use, and the effect of bias in data-driven decision making. We will also discuss how to evaluate claims about data-driven results and recommendations.
Class time will include some lecture-style material and student presentations, along with plenty of hands-on activities and engagement. For components (2) and (3) we will invite a few knowledgeable guest instructors; students will be expected to do some readings and engage in thoughtful discussion.