UBC to offer first dedicated data science course in winter 2018/19

Data is everywhere in our daily lives, behind everything from the advertisements we see online to the predicted drive times our favourite mapping software supplies whenever we need directions.

Given the increasing importance of data analytics in many fields and the unprecedented amount of information we have access to in the internet age, a basic understanding of statistical concepts and the ability to manipulate data sets are highly valuable assets for the future job candidate and the general consumer of information alike.

It was in part because of the rapidly changing position data plays in our world that UBC’s first dedicated data science course — being offered for the first time in the winter 2018/19 term — was created.

“It used to be that data collection was a problem and that’s not a problem anymore,” said Dr. Tiffany Timbers, the course instructor.

“We have devices like our cell phones that are collecting all kinds of information, we’re wearing Fitbits, you can track people’s activity on the internet, sensors in your home are collecting information so information is being collected quite widely and the bottleneck now comes down to making sense of that data,” she said.

According to Timbers, what makes the class unique is its dual emphasis on both coding and statistical methods.

As can be seen from the course outline, publicly available on GitHub, the course material can be broken into two general sections. The first part of the material introduces students to the basics of using R — a program commonly used for data science — to organize and visualize data. The second part of the material moves on to cover some basic statistical methods for analyzing and understanding data.

The course, open to students from all faculties, is structured to provide ample opportunity for hands-on learning, with much of the twice-weekly lectures set aside for students to work through exercises using R and Jupyter Notebooks, another popular data science tool.

All of the class exercises will utilize real data from different fields, allowing students to see more concretely the potential real-world applications of what they are learning. In keeping with the emphasis on experiential learning and real-world applicability, the course will culminate in a final group project in addition to a final exam, allowing students to put some of the skills they have learned into practice on actual data sets.

According to the course learning objectives — also available on GitHub — by the end of the term, students will be able to collect data from a variety of online sources, shape it into a usable format and use some basic statistical tools to analyze and interpret it.

Timbers believes that this new course will offer students valuable preparation for both future coursework at UBC and their future careers in the work world.

“To keep up with the world, it’s important to develop these skills,” she said.