Big Data in Society

Where Social Science Meets Computer Science

More and more data is being collected about us and our activities. Our social media interactions, online search and shopping behaviour, but also offline location tracking and sensor and surveillance networks are all generating large, often real-time data sets. Potentially, these could help answer important questions facing society today. However, processing big data techniques for social problems in a responsible way within ethical boundaries represents an interdisciplinary challenge at the interface of social and computer science. 

Course levelAdvanced Bachelor/Master/PhD
Session 130 June to 14 July 2018 
Recommended course combinationSession 2: Artificial Intelligence For a Healthy Life, Data Analysis in R
Session 3: Big Ideas in Computer Science, Big Data Management and Analysis in Linux
Co-ordinating lecturersProf. Peter Groenewegen
Other lecturersDr Wouter van Atteveldt, Dr Tijs van den Broek, Prof. Peter Groenewegen, , Dr Christine Moser, Dr Kasper Welbers
Form(s) of tuitionLecture, Interactive seminar
Form(s) of assessmentTBA
ECTS3 credits
Contact hours45 hours
Tuition fee€1000
Students and professionals in the field of Social Sciences, Computer and Information Science and Humanities. Since some understanding of social scientific approaches is required, you should previously have studied research methods and methodology. If you have doubts about your eligibility for the course, please let us know. Our courses are multi-disciplinary and therefore are open to students and professionals with a wide variety of backgrounds.

We will work in small groups to address specific issues and do some hands-on analysis. The course is organized around three themes in which big data techniques are used to answer social questions or solve social problems: 

In the theme module Digital society, you will look at publicly available sources of data on societal and political participation and discourse such as news items and social media messages. Zooming in on a specific theme that has sparked public contention, such as health care and sustainability issues you will use text and network analysis methods to investigate the way public opinion is formed and the interaction between the discourse of leading politicians, journalists, and active citizens.

In the module social recommenders, you will look at the way recommendation engines are shaping society. Recommendation algorithms are determining more and more which songs you listen to, which books you buy, and what news you watch. These recommendations are based on your past behavior but also on data about your friends and other users. These algorithms can help you discover new interests and find items form the ‘long tail’, but they can also cause you to become stuck in a filter bubble of similar items. In this module we will look at existing algorithms and write your own algorithm based on publicly available shopping or review data.

In the second week you will work in mini projects to apply insights from the previous week. In addition to projects that apply directly within the areas taught, big data solutions to disaster response is one of the project options.

Visits to organizations employing data analytical techniques in a social context, such as traffic regulation, communications and government.

At the end of the course, you:

  • Understand and can use big data.
  • Are able to conceptualize the influences and theories surrounding big data.
  • Learned techniques to analyse various kinds of big data.
  • Can trace the impact of big data on social agents.
  • Understand the core legal and ethical issues of using such data for research.
  • Can work with fellow students from different backgrounds.

Articles announced in the syllabus Suggested reading material:

  • Chris Anderson (2008). The End of Theory: The Data Deluge Makes the Scientific Method Obsolete, WIRED Magazine, 16/7, 2008 
  • Bill Wasik (2012) Crowd Control. Wired Magazine. 20 (1)
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