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University of California, Davis

Computational Social Science Methods

University of California, Davis via Coursera


This course gives you an overview of the current opportunities and the omnipresent reach of computational social science. The results are all around us, every day, reaching from the services provided by the world’s most valuable companies, over the hidden influence of governmental agencies, to the power of social and political movements. All of them study human behavior in order to shape it. In short, all of them do social science by computational means.

In this course we answer three questions:
I. Why Computational Social Science (CSS) now?
II. What does CSS cover?
III. What are examples of CSS?

In this last part, we take a bird’s-eye view on four main applications of CSS. First, Prof. Blumenstock from UC Berkeley discusses how we can gain insights by studying the massive digital footprint left behind today’s social interactions, especially to foster international development. Second, Prof. Shelton from UC Riverside introduces us to the world of machine learning, including the basic concepts behind this current driver of much of today's computational landscape. Prof. Fowler, from UC San Diego introduces us to the power of social networks, and finally, Prof. Smaldino, from UC Merced, explains how computer simulation help us to untangle some of the mysteries of social emergence.


  • Computational Social Science (CSS)
    • In this module, you will be able to examine the history and current challenges faced by social science through the digital revolution. You will be able to discuss the mystery at the core of society: social emergence. You will be able to recall the fundamental building blocks of the scientific method and how they apply to the new computational tools we now have available. You will be able to defend what people mean when they say that ‘social studies’ are currently maturing to become a ‘real science’.
  • Example of Computational Social Science: Data Science
    • In this module, you will be presented with an example of how computational social science is applied in the real world through a case study. You will be able to discuss examples of digital footprint and describe how computational social science is applied. You will practice an activity and be able to configure a machine to create a database that can later be used for analysis.
  • Examples of CSS: Machine Learning & AI
    • In this module, you will be able to discover how artificial intelligence can convert news stories into a real-time observatory of global unrest and potential terror attacks, and how brain scans can be used to reveal aspects of your moral values. You will be able to practice interacting with artificial intelligence that can interpret your art skills.
  • Examples of CSS: Social Networks and Computer Simulations
    • In this module, you will be able to discover how social networks and human dynamics create systems that are larger than you and me: social systems. You will be able to discuss how social networks and human dynamics follow recognizable patterns. You will be able to identify how social network analysis and computer simulations are currently quite successful in untangling some of the mysteries of social emergence.

Taught by

Martin Hilbert


4.8 rating, based on 107 Class Central reviews

4.7 rating at Coursera based on 297 ratings

Start your review of Computational Social Science Methods

  • Profile image for Bonny
    I’m so confused by all the glowing reviews of this course. Am I taking a different course than everyone else? Perhaps my style of learning differs from most, but I’ve found this course ridiculous at times (with multiple in-video quiz answers revolving...
  • I really enjoyed this course and learned a lot of valuable concepts. My main criticism--and this just may be because of my particular learning goals--was that I didn't learn to DO as much I'd hoped. The data scraping lab was the kind of stuff I wanted to learn. I understand that extracting data, building models, and mapping data all also require theoretical background. However, for my particular goals I'd have liked to have done more application. Perhaps there are other courses that do that which I'll enjoy even more now that I have a good overview of the theory.
  • Anonymous
    That is the best course I have ever took through Coursera. Professors are very very enthusiastic about what they teach, course content, links, quizzes, and assignments (peer-reviewing and web scraping) are highly helpful and informational. I felt like...
  • so far so good, It's an introductory course which introduces a lot of concepts . Let's hope there are more lab and hand-on tutorial and practical skill which i can apply in real life
  • Anonymous
    I very much like the format, the collaborative contribution of the various experts in this intertwined field. The only change I would recommend for future iterations or similar efforts (not always possible but was the only real technical issue I noticed)...
  • An excellent course to enter the field of Computational Social Science. Even if one doesn't end up in this field, it gives a fascinating insight into how society works in general. I really liked the hands on approach. The examples used in the lectures were perfect!
  • Anonymous
    Excellent course to have a high level understanding of what Computational Social Science (CSS) is and the methods used in the field including Machine Learning, Social Network Analysis, Agent-Based Simulations among others. The course provides many insightful...
  • Anonymous
    Overall very good, with the main presenter, Prof Hilbert, bragging his achievements in every opportunity. It gets on my nerves after a while. It shows more an inferiority complex rather than profound knowledge of the topic (which he has). Prof. Fowler's explanations are vague at times, he is better read than heard.

    Some questions have mistakes, for instance, the question asks for 2 answers but the system allows you to select just one.
  • Anonymous
    T​hank you all for providing this course! This is an introductory course and covers most of CSS topics with so many good examples. I do learn a lot even from those examples! And on web scraper, before I thought the course would teach me how to code for it but it actually uses a quite powerful tool, much more convenient than writing something by myself. I'm looking forward to dive into the second course of this specialization!
  • Anonymous
    It was a very valuable course. Every topic was backed by real life implications and empirical data, making the learning more engaging. I also appreciate the entire structure of the course where explanations were handled by various professors specialized in that particular stream as it helped me understand the concepts in much more depth with a lot of clarity. I am very thankful for such a valuable course !
  • Anonymous
    The course provides fundamental concepts and showcases data analysis application cases in the field of social science. There is a practical exercise in collecting data from Youtube. The course also talks about machine learning and social scenario simulation. In both cases, examples of uses of these resources are shown, but it does not indicate that specific software can be used to perform machine learning and scenario simulations. But it is still a useful course due to the high level of exposure to the concepts and dilemmas that constitute big data.
  • Anonymous
    Very interesting, very well taught and the lecturers are very engaging. It also provides us with a lot of information quickly and making it easy to learn. This course gives students a powerful tool to do good efficiently.
  • Anonymous
    The course was incredible. I learned a lot and now I know where to direct our studies and research. perhaps the improvement would be that there were more practical topics to better understand the content.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    I particularly enjoyed the web-scraping for some reason. It feels very advanced although it's very easy. ...It seems to be a very fast and efficient way of grabbing data. Throughout the course, the content was challenging, but when it was finally applied to the labs at the end, it was really rewarding to see everything play out. It was even more rewarding when it made sense too! ... I'm really glad I took this course! It was definitely a challenge, but I'm glad I got to experience and learn about so many topics I never knew even existed. These computational tools have enormous implications.
  • Anonymous
    Awesome. I will complete other courses. Thanks for this complementary courses on computational social sciences.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    Highly recommend to all who are interested in the topic. I enjoyed the course a lot. It had a lot of examples and was quite easy to digest. The reading materials provide an in-depth view if you need additional insights. As an introductory course it is really good and is manageable regardless of your background. It breaks down some of the most dense topics into very easy to grasp examples. Overall, it left a good impression. I’m greatful to the instructors for their time and effort, and making their work available.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous completed this course.

    This section of the course gave a really solid foundation into the introduction of what computational social science is and why it is so effective. You also get introduced and learn from 4 different UC professors about different aspects of computational social science. This portion really gave me the base to enjoy the whole course and understand the importance of CSS.
  • Anonymous
    I this was a very good and clear way to start the course and I liked how it was structured. The lectures were well paced and engaging. And the exercises that ere provided helped with understanding the material. I do wish there were more interactive exercise but since this is the first course and an introduction that it did not require a lot of exercises. I would recommend this class to others who are interested in network analysis and I am excited for the upcoming courses. The resources provided with each week were also very interesting and knowledgeable helping to understand the material further.
  • Anonymous
    This is a really useful overview to the subject of computational social science methods. I think it challenges many traditional ways of doing quantitative research like designing questionnaires and conducting surveys. Not that those expensive methods will go away, but certainly will have to rethink how to maximize their values in light of quicker Big Data methods. I am very impressed with how well each professor can communicate complicated subjects in an understandable way.
  • Anonymous
    This is a great introductory course on the main components of computational social science. I gained a good understanding on the history of social science methods and how this has evolved overtime with the evolution of digital data. I really liked how this was a UC-wide collaboration involving various professors across the UC universities in their respective fields of expertise on big data, machine learning, social network analysis, etc.

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