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Harvard Announces 'Data Science Ready' Course, First on New Harvard Online Platform

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Harvard will launch its “Harvard Online” program — designed for interdisciplinary, interactive course clusters — this coming January, beginning with a four-week long course called “Data Science Ready.”

The course, which will be delivered on the existing HBS Online platform, will be taught by Deputy Vice Provost for Advances in Learning Dustin Tingley. “Data Science Ready” will focus on providing nontechnical professionals the skills required to interpret and implement data in their fields of work.

“What’s a data science course for someone who is not a data scientist, and instead is someone who works with, or alongside data scientists? That informed two principles: one was equipping people to be critical thinkers when it comes to data,” Tingley said. “The second is facilitating communication.”

Harvard currently offers a multitude of online offerings, ranging from open courseware delivered via the EdX platform to specialized certificate programs from the Medical School’s HMX platform. Additionally, the Extension School offers degree programs with both online and in-person course components.

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Vice Provost for Advances in Learning Bharat N. Anand ’88 said that the Harvard Online platform would specifically focus on offering sequences of courses designed to provide interdisciplinary perspectives on a topic.

“Take any topic of interest today, whether it's healthcare, whether it's climate change, whether it's data and digital; these are big topics, right?” Anand said. “These are complex topics and almost no case, will you get a full understanding by just taking one course or from one discipline, whether it's economics or medicine or business or policy or whatever it is.”

Anand said that until now, Harvard courses have existed separately from the teaching ecosystem at large, offering fewer opportunities to gather multiple perspectives around a single issue.

“We look at online courses and even courses historically that Harvard has created, it's typically been sort of the one faculty one course approach. But as a result of that, you might end up creating 15 courses in healthcare, but really there's no narrative arc — you're missing the connections across them,” Anand said.

Though the course will be listed on the Harvard Online platform, it will be delivered via the existing HBS Online system. Tingley said that the course management system uniquely allows for “inductive learning,” where students discover concepts through case studies and examples rather than direct lecture.

HBS Online spokesperson Michele Reynolds said that the HBS Online platform focuses on student engagement to “keep the learners on their toes” by cold calling, assigning reflection questions, and facilitating offline study groups.

“Our courses really are very active. We introduced the infamous HBS cold call,” Reynolds said. “They have a short period of time with which to respond and then their classmates can see their response and weigh in. So a lot of the learning that takes place in our courses is peer to peer.”

Anand said that the expansion of online opportunities presented a unique dilemma between “preserving the integrity of the educational experience” and “democratizing education.”

“The lines between residential and online, at least for the last seven months, have completely blurred,” Anand said. “What does this mean for the future of the university? How do we think about not just the great residential experience we offer students, but hybrid modes, online modes? How do we think about that in its entirety?”

— Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at andy.wang@thecrimson.com

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