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Data Literacy – What is it and why does it matter?

Sorbonne Universités and University of Copenhagen via Coursera


You might already know that data is not neutral. Our values and assumptions are influenced by the data surrounding us - the data we create, the data we collect, and the data we share with each other. Economic needs, social structures, or algorithmic biases can have profound consequences for the way we collect and use data. Most often, the result is an increase of inequity in the world. Data also changes the way we interact. It shapes our thoughts, our feelings, our preferences and actions. It determines what we have access to, and what not. It enables global dissemination of best practices and life improving technologies, as well as the spread of mistrust and radicalization. This is why data literacy matters.

A key principle of data literacy is to have a heightened awareness of the risks and opportunities of data-driven technologies and to stay up-to-date with their consequences. In this course, we view data literacy from three perspectives: Data in personal life, data in society, and data in knowledge production. The aim is threefold: 1. To expand your skills and abilities to identify, understand, and interpret the many roles of digital technologies in daily life. 2. To enable you to discern when data-driven technologies add value to people’s lives, and when they exploit human vulnerabilities or deplete the commons. 3. To cultivate a deeper understanding of how data-driven technologies are shaping knowledge production and how they may be realigned with real human needs and values.

The course is funded by Erasmus+ and developed by the 4EU+ University Alliance including Charles University (Univerzita Karlova), Sorbonne Unviersity (Sorbonne Université), University of Copenhagen (Københavns Universitet), University of Milan (Università degli studi di Milano), and University of Warsaw (Uniwersytet Warszawski).


  • Your Life as Data
    • If you use Google and have a look at your Google Dashboard you will probably be amazed by how much data this company has collected about your online activities. Now think about all the other internet services, social media sites, and databases that may have a file on you, your health, your actions and inclinations. In this module, we will explore user tracking and information harvesting, define personal data and discuss the limits in managing your personal data disclosure. Consequently, we will present the legal framework for data protection and processing.
  • Networked Data, Truth and Democracy
    • In this module we expand on Module 1 by looking at how networked data and algorithms affect the way we see the world. From global dissemination of best practices and life improving technologies to the spread of hate and radicalization, we trace the mechanisms by which data-driven technologies can add value to people’s lives, and how they can exploit human vulnerabilities.
  • Data-driven Knowledge Production
    • Big data and novel computational methods have revolutionized the way we create knowledge. We will show by example how this knowledge is used and what it implies for the future of humanity. We look at AI-research, computational social science, machine learning and education, and through these examples, we will try to cultivate a deeper understanding of how data-driven technologies are shaping the social fabric, how they augment human capabilities, and may improve our stewardship of spaceship earth.

Taught by

Irina Shklovski, Sergio Splendore, Martin Loebl, Morten Misfeldt, Floriana Gargiulo, Christian Igel, Rasmus Helles, Robin Engelhardt and Joanna Osiejewicz

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