Education as a ‘public good’: UC Berkeley offers Data 8 course for free online

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Data 8: “Foundations of Data Science” — one of UC Berkeley’s most popular courses —  is now publicly available online as of April 2, through a partnership with edX.

Data 8X, the course’s online equivalent, is free to audit, but students must pay in order to take exams and receive a certificate. This certification, however, will likely not transfer as academic credit or satisfy the data science major requirement, according to Cathryn Carson, the faculty lead of the Data Science Education Program.

“Opening it up on edX/BerkeleyX seemed the best way to enable others broadly,” said Interim Dean for Data Sciences David Culler in an email. “In particular, it makes it possible, say, for community colleges to draw lecture material from edX while offering the labs and discussions in person. It opens up a world of opportunities.”

Carson said the development of Data 8X began last summer, and about 37,000 students from 181 countries are currently enrolled in the course.

The online course is taught by campus professors John DeNero, Ani Adhikari and David Wagner, all of whom have received the Distinguished Teaching Award, UC Berkeley’s top teaching honor.

Adhikari said that as a public university, UC Berkeley has a responsibility to “push education out as a public good.” She was involved in the creation of Stat 2X, an online version of the popular Statistics 2 class on campus.

“While Berkeley is regarded as a very high-level research institution, for (computer science) and stats, it’s also a pedagogical leader,” Adhikari said. “It has changed the way these things are taught.”

According to Adhikari, Cornell University and the University of Washington, in addition to other colleges, have implemented their own versions of Data 8 using the software and projects developed by UC Berkeley faculty.

In both Data 8 and Data 8X, each enrolled student is provided with a Jupyter notebook, an online portal for coding, which allows students to learn coding without having to download software. Typically, having to buy and download software could be a barrier for learning computer science, according to course instructor Vinitra Swamy.

Swamy said Data 8 is about making computing “accessible,” pointing out that among the enrolled students in the class, more than 60 majors are represented. She added that there is a fairly even split between genders enrolled in the course.

The data science major has passed its review by the College of Letters & Science Executive Committee and is awaiting approval by campus administration, according to Carson.

Yuvi Panda, an operations architect for the Data Science Education Program, said Data 8 introduces students to data science in a way that is “natural and understandable,” beginning with the value of data instead of the mathematics behind it.

“The data science course at Berkeley is great, but it’s still limited to the privileged few who can make it to Berkeley as a student,” Panda said. “Now that we have the technology to make this available, we absolutely should.”

Anjali Shrivastava covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @anjalii_shrivas.