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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

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4.8 rating, based on 84 reviews

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.
  • 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
    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)...
  • This course is a good introduction to the field of Computational Social Science. As it is intended for beginners, there are no absolute prerequisites before you take this course. Of course, however, if you have a Computer Science background where you have already learned about concepts in Machine Learning or Big Data, you will benefit a lot from revisiting these concepts and seeing them from a Social Science perspective. I particularly liked all of Martin Hilbert's lectures (because he is entertaining) and James Fowler's lectures on the influence of connections in social networks.
  • 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

    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
    This course has given me a new insight into how to look for meaning in the data. It was brain opening experience after seeing the implication of big data and machine learning in real-world settings. I am baffled by seeing how it has such a huge implication in the real world and I am still wondering how it can be so good. Now slowly and gradually I am surfing ahead in the course and going so far so good. I have got cutting-edge technology and know-how to work along with that. I am so exiceteeeddd. let's goooooo
  • Anonymous
    I liked this course a lot, one of my favourites that’s for sure! Very interesting topics and funny and understandable teaching manner + practical tasks that made more sure of my scientific capabilities. I started this course just to see if I (I thought of myself as someone who has nothing to do with something Computational) would like it, and now I’m finish it with total love and respect, I can’t wait to dig deeper into this subject:D Thanks a lot to all the teachers! Amazing job!!!
  • Profile image for AyseGül Mirzaoglu
    AyseGül Mirzaoglu
    Prof. Hilbert explains the course content very well and he links the concepts with the works of famous scientists very smoothly. The only thing that can be improved in this course is the part about Machine Learning. Prof. Shelton speaks a bit fast and quietly. The volume of that part can be increased. Thanks a lot for this great course. I got an overview of all these concepts CSS, AI, ML, SNA effectively.
  • 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
    Very well organized. Loved the "sample platter" focus this class takes. There's a lot of intro material. This is a very nice course for folks like me who have a brief knowledge of a social science and wish to take a more relevant, innovative look at the process of gaining knowledge via our latest tool, the computer.
  • Anonymous
    This gives me a foundational understanding of computational social science. Though it is merely the surface, I learned many important new things, not only on CSS, but also on behavioral social sciences. Do not expect to learn advanced knowledge on CSS if you are already on it before.
  • Anonymous
    The course is really interesting but I think that the best part is to listen to prof

    Martin Hilbert. He is really good in making you understand kind of difficult concepts and he always make comparisons to real-world example that usually help a lot.
  • Wang Jiachen
    I like this overview part, it's really clear for me to understand the basic concepts and structures of computational social science. The overview gives me an interest to explore further courses, which is an enjoyable journey for me.
  • 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
    It gave an insight into how social behavior can be modelled and predicted as accurately as possible. These topics touched technical and social science aspects which helped in getting my thinking correctly.
  • Anonymous
    Wow! This course is amazing! Everything is very well structured, the lecturers are very knowledgeable and engaging. I would definitely recommend it to anyone in the field of social sciences.
  • Anonymous
    Excellent course, with great hand-on learning. It gives you a birds eye view of the field, which can also help you decide, which area you want to explore further. Highly recommend it!

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