New classes: Art of data


Emily Shi and Julia Goldberg

Computer science (CS) teacher Lester Lee hopes for students to build upon previous coding experience to think, learn, and communicate like data scientists in his newest full credit computer science course next year, “Art of Data.” The course will combine computer science, math, statistics, and art to offer an immersive interdisciplinary experience.
Though the main focus will be giving students more sophisticated programming skills, Lee’s goal is for students to see the broader context of computer science: data. Lee plans to break down the process of what data scientists do into clear steps for the students—including obtaining, cleaning, analyzing, communicating, and visualizing—to engage in hands-on work. “By the end, I wanted something that felt a little like the real world and not just, ‘this only happens in the classroom,’” he said.
Showing students the broader field of data and visualization—the graphical and at times artistic way to view data—is crucial to students’ ability to engage in projects and communicate, Lee said. “If you just show someone numbers, they’re not going to know what you’re talking about. You have to know how to talk about it, so there’s the aspect of ‘Okay, I know something. How do I communicate that in a clear manner to someone else.’”
Lee first had the idea for the course when he looked at a proposed list of possible upper-level computer science courses. Once he saw “data mining” as a suggestion on the list, his interests in art and math inspired him to flesh the idea out into a full-fledged class.
This type of interdisciplinary course is often absent at the collegiate level, and Lee never had the opportunity to take a similar class, he said. “If you go to universities or higher level CS they end up either staying on the very technical side, or they go on the other end where they don’t really do a lot of CS and there’s a lot of cool project art stuff.”
As such, Lee said that equally distributing focus on all of the areas and making changes to the curriculum based on student feedback will be the most challenging aspect of teaching the class next year. “It touches on so many things and ends up being hard to balance, which is a fear of mine as well,” he said.
The main product Lee wants students to take away from the course is an ability to find datasets that relate to their own interests—which may span sports, biology, medicine, or art—and procure a final website with a portfolio of each step that they step they took with data to arrive at a final project.
Art of Data and a new half credit class, “Software Engineering,” will join a collection of new computer science courses since the main upper-level class is currently AP Computer Science, which will be phased out.
Currently, the prerequisite to all upper-level courses in the department is Computer Science 2 (CS2), which allows students to have a general level of comfort with loops and functions that students can use in later classes. The year after next year, Lee hopes to offer another half-credit intermediary class between CS2 and Art of Data so that the latter can explore data in more depth, he said.
Nevertheless, Lee said he feels excited to teach students an in-depth account of how to interact with data, he said. “My hope is that students will be able to see how CS fits into a broader context.”