Data Science for Social Impact in Higher Education:  First Steps

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University of Chicago

Story of the course

The Data Science Clinic provides students with projects that transcend the traditional classroom experience.

The data science major at UChicago has been carefully designed to attract a wide range of students to data science, with interests ranging from foundational and theoretical aspects to focus areas on the societal impact of data. Project-based, experiential learning is a critical tenant of our educational philosophy in data science. Such experiences are grounded in best STEM teaching practices and have been shown to broaden participation in STEM. One of DSI’s core goals is to build an inclusive community that increases traditionally underrepresented groups in the field of Data Science. The Data Science Clinic course was designed to align in part with this goal. Several characteristics of the Clinic were crafted to attract and retain a diverse and vibrant pipeline of data scientists. By providing a range of projects to select from when enrolling in the course, including work that makes positive change for the local communities, we took the opportunity to integrate authentic learning into our major (Espey, 2018; Torres et al, 2016). In the context of our program, authentic learning is a form of active learning in which students focus on real-world issues over a long period of time (Singer et al., 2020) that may improve both student retention and performance among other positive student measures (Beier, 2019). Specifically, the social impact track of the Clinic offers a real possibility for the field to grow in a manner that actually reflects the population it purports to engage.

Inspiration to start the course

The Data Science Clinic provides students with projects that transcend the traditional classroom experience. The Clinic is one of the critical centerpieces of UChicago’s education, research, and partnership strategy on data science and AI. Applied experiential learning is a core component of the UChicago data science educational mission. By centering practice through the Clinic, students are placed in the driver’s seat to advance research, industry projects, and social impact through data science. UChicago data science majors must complete two-quarters of the Clinic in order to earn a data science degree (B.A.). 

Course Example

A-ha Moment

light bulb

Working with a team and an external partner will often be new skills that students will need to develop during the Clinic. Use easy and early wins to build student confidence.

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