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Data Tells a Story: Reading Data in the Social Sciences and Humanities

Loughborough University via FutureLearn

This course may be unavailable.



How can we answer questions about the world around us? How can we make decisions about what to do? Over the past years, more and more people have turned to data for help. Huge amounts of data are collected every day from millions of sources. This data has a lot to tell us! But data by itself is mute—it can only help us if we learn to make it speak and tell its story.

In this short free online course, we will introduce basic ideas about collecting data, and techniques for turning data into information we can use. Along the way, we will hear from researchers at Loughborough University about the ways they use data in their work.

Learn to answer questions with data

In the first week, we will start by considering some questions drawn from arts, political science, geography and sport that we want to answer. We will think about what sort of data we might be able to use to answer these questions, and how we might go about finding this data.

Once we have data, we will start to explore it using some visual tools we can either create by hand or using apps online. We will discuss how to understand these visualisations and begin to read what our data has to say.

In the second week, we will follow up with ways to summarise and present data. You will learn how to choose the right summary for the type of data you have collected and the question you are trying to answer.

We will conclude with an article about how to make meaningful comparisons using data, and an explanation of the critical concept of significance. We will look at the data we have collected and use these techniques to see what it has to say about our starting questions.

Throughout the course, we will be collecting, sharing, analysing and discussing our own data and learning what it has to say about some specific questions.

Improve your critical thinking skills

Although there exist very difficult and mathematically complicated methods of analysing data, the fundamentals of data analysis come from general critical thinking, and can be grasped with the basic examples and techniques we will cover. By the end of this course, you will have learned about how data can help answer questions in a variety of disciplines, and have hands-on experience with data collection and analysis.

This course is open to anyone with a primary level education in maths and good critical thinking skills. It is suitable if you are:

  • Starting or considering a course in arts, humanities, social sciences or sport
  • In a career where data analysis is becoming relevant
  • Curious about applications of data to a wide range of disciplines
  • Interested in learning about and experimenting with how data can be collected and studied to help answer questions

Taught by

Eugenie Hunsicker and Mary Lorimer


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