“This is the course that will help you understand the bigger picture of the role data has played and is playing in society. Students who are interested not only in the mechanics of big data but also the big questions of big data really need to sign up for this course.”

‘Big data’ is increasingly being touted as the next big breakthrough in research, business, and government. This course moves beyond the hype to critically examine the unprecedented opportunities and serious challenges inherent in big data approaches to advancing knowledge. We start by defining ‘data’ and introducing the social implications of big data research. We then undertake an in depth survey of the empirical literature where big data has been used to address previously unanswerable questions, focusing in particular on social media such as Twitter, mobile phone data and collaboration platforms like Wikipedia. We also compare the approaches taken in a number of different disciplines including economics, literature, and development studies. Finally, we examine the methods used, claims made, and limitations of various approaches in terms of their representativeness and reliability.

Outcomes: At the end of the course, students will be able to identify the benefits and drawbacks of various big data approaches; have a thorough grasp of the social implications of the ethical, legal and social issues in this area of research; be familiar with the various approaches and findings using big data, especially in the social sciences but also in cognate areas; be able to design research with big data to advance social science research and relate this research to solving practical problems.

This page was last modified on 15 March 2017