Course Syllabus

All lectures and interactive assignments are online in this course. The course provides unit credit toward graduation on all UC campuses, as well as UCD GE for 'Quantitative Literacy' + 'Social Sciences' (for other UCs: please petition GE and major/minor credit with your advisor). Both mid-term and final exams can be taken through the online service ProctorU at any quiet location of your choice.


Course Content

Digital technology has not only revolutionized society, but also the way we can study it. For one, studying the massive digital footprint behind left behind by human online interaction allows us to gain unprecedented insights into what society is and how it works. This includes its intricate social networks that had long been obscure. Computational power allows us to detect hidden patterns through analytical tools like machine learning and to natural language processing. Finally, computer simulations enable us to explore hypothetical situations that may not even exist in reality, but that we would like to exist: a better world.  Computational social science provides us with the tools to explore new scenarios in a way that is as intriguing as playing a video game, while at the same time grounding it into the empirical reality of the world around us. This course gives an introduction to some of the exciting possibilities of how to do research.

UCCSS (University of California Computational Social Science) is the first online course taught collectively by Professors from all 10 UC campuses (about UCCSS).

While no formal requisites are necessary to join this course, at the end you will web-scrape 'Big Data' from the web, execute a social network analysis ('SNA'), find hidden patterns with machine learning ('ML') and natural language processing ('NLP'), and create agent-based computer models ('ABM') to explore what might happen if we would change certain things in society.

More on Course Logistics


Course Objectives

By the end of the course you will have:

  • gained a comprehensive understanding of prevalent modern social science research methods;
  • critically thought through the complexities of many pressing social science challenges;
  • collected hands-on experience with several computational research tools;
  • prepared yourself to better navigate in a world where the most valuable companies, the largest democratic elections, and your immediate social network are run by computational social science.


Office Hours and class interaction:

  • For content questions: use Piazza (see navigation bar). Sign up and don't miss the ongoing class conversation!
  • For personal questions: send a private message on Piazza or Canvas (see "Inbox" in navigation bar). We can always set up a video-conference / or a personal office meeting.
  • Regular "Announcements" are made (see navigation bar), incl. video messages. Make sure not to block them in your inbox.
  • Please feel free to create or join a study group. You can coordinate here: Study Group coordination



Final grades are based on a 100-point system as follows:

Grade Component Points Weight  Canvas shows you two grades throughout the course: one based on graded assignments, and one for total achievable. This allows you to calculate "what-if" scenarios, but can be confusing! Final grade is % of obtained points of 1000 possible points.
 Video Questions 100 10%
 Labs 300 30%
Midterm Exam 250 25%
Final Exam 350 35%
TOTAL 1000 100%


Midterm (25 %) and Final Examination (35 %)

Study Orientation: Exams consist of multiple choice questions. There are three kinds of questions on the exams:  (1) application of learned concepts; (2) how well you paid attention / took notes during lectures; (3) if worked through the labs: Exam study orientation

Midterm Exam (sessions 1-5). The only way to take the midterm is through the online proctoring service ProctorU. We will walk the talk of computer-mediated interaction. You can take the exam at any quiet place of your choice. ProctorU is available 24h a day during the determined period beginning of WEEK 6. It is free for you if you schedule your exam more than 72 hours in advance. You will need to have a high-speed internet connection, a webcam (internal or external), a Windows or Apple Operating System, and a government issued photo ID. To sign up for it, go to ProctorU link in the Navigation bar here in Canvas, and set up an account (also see instructions here). Then follow these instructions: . ProctorU recommends that you test your equipment at . You can find more technical and service provision details on the ProctorU website. If you have special SDC requirements, please arrange your exam with y colleagues at

Final Exam (sessions 6-10). There will be a final exams held on UC Davis campus, or, alternatively, you can again use the online proctoring service ProctorU during the specified period. The Final Exam Date is June 13 at 8:00 am, Rock Hall. If you have a scheduling conflict with these times, please opt for ProctorU. For on-campus exams bring a Scantron Form 2000, pencils and eraser. During the exam you cannot leave the room before handing in both your exam and the exam booklet.

Academic Integrity. No notes, or other help is allowed in either exam setting. Any student found holding any potential aid during an exam will be referred to Student Judicial Affairs. Cheating, plagiarism, and other misconduct are serious violations of your contract as a student. Please make sure you are familiar with them: . Ignorance is not an acceptable excuse.


Interactive Video Questions (10%) and Labs (30 %)

Interactive assignments allow you to quickly build a strong base for your grade in this course (40%).

Intermittent/interactive video lecture questions represent 100 points in total (usually 10 points per session), equal to 10% of the final grade. You only have one attempt to answer them. Points will be transferred when you reach the end of the video.

Points for interactive labs have different weights. The insights you gain while working through them accumulate constantly, building up to a final integrative lab exercise (session 9) and the exams. Therefore, do NOT skip them: you will need them eventually anyways.

Assignments are usually due Sundays at 8:59pm Pacific Time and have to be registered before the indicated deadline. Late submissions are still welcome. You accumulatively lose 15 % of the points for each late day for the first three late days. After that, you can maximally receive 50 % of the points when submitting until the deadline of the session 9 assignment ("Integrative Lab"). Note that you won't be able to go beyond a C for the class if all your assignment submissions would be late (even if all content would be perfect). If you are traveling, Canvas might adjust due dates according to other time zones (i.e. on mobile devices), so remember that due dates are always 8:59pm California time PST (to adjust time zone see guide here).


As in any good online social network: inappropriate online behavior will be penalized (within the class and/or through official university channels). This protects the rights of everybody involved. So please watch your words and be a respectful cyber-discussant. Please let us know if you feel there is inappropriate behavior of anybody in our online discussions.

Please make sure that you understand and avoid PLAGIARISM. We do check with plagiarism software and regularly report misconduct to Student Judicial Affairs ( ).

Avoid Plagiarism (1:50min) Plagiarism, Quoting & Paraphrasing (4:25min)



FAQs (important: please read!)

  1. Will the exams cover mostly lecture material or labs? Answer: Exams draw from both lectures and labs.
  2. How should I prepare for the examinations? Answer: Check out the "Course Logistics & Study Recommendations" and the "Exam Study Orientation". Do so at during Session 1, so you are in the know and don't waste time.
  3. Will there be tasks and questions that require any extra programming skills and background in math or statistics? Answer: No, no prerequisites required. If you pay attention and do the readings, there is absolutely no reason why not to achieve an A+. You got a high school degree and made it here, you can do it.
  4. Are the intermittent questions in the video lectures graded? Answer: Yes. They are worth one entire letter grade (10%). Exams will include questions that you are unlikely to answer correctly if you haven't actively watched the lectures and taken the intermittent questions seriously. Not doing them right, will hurt your grade twice. If you got one wrong, go back immediately and re-watch that segment to be prepared for the exam. The questions on the exam are NOT literally the same questions, so please don't waste time memorizing them. Understand what they are about.
  5. How do I know if I got an intermittent video question wrong/right in PlayPosit?  Answer: If you marked a question correctly it turns green (or stays white for correctly not marking it). Wrong answers turn yellow/redish. "Check all that apply" questions are graded all or nothing (!)
  6. The PlayPosit interface shows that I got points on the questions, but it doesn't show up in Canvas? Something went wrong with the sync process (maybe an internet connection problem...). Please sync your grade manually if you find this situation: at the end of the PlayPosit video (question summary) click on the "three dots" and "Export to LMS". Please ALWAYS CHECK at the end of your Session if all grades got synced. It is always your responsibility (here and elsewhere) to check if the tech you are using also worked.
  7. Will the final exam be accumulative (cover material from the first part of the course)? Answer: No, it covers sessions 6-10. But: some concepts will follow us around during the entire course. The final exam will cover everything that we ALSO dealt with during the second half, even if we learned these concepts in the first half. For easier video review, you can also watch the videos (without questions) here at AggieVideo (you have to log in).
  8. I have anxiety during exams, especially during multiple choice tests. What can I do? Answer: This is a serious disadvantage, but one you have to learn to confront. I encourage you to visit the Student Academic Success Center or the equivalent at other UC campuses: . I also encourage you to get a better understanding of effective learning techniques. For example, see this popular online course on Learning How to Learn, from our colleagues at UC San Diego.
  9. Can we collaborate with others in homework reading quizzes? What do you think of using Google docs and online helps like crowd-sourced study guides? Answer: I'm a big fan of Study Groups and being a scholar of digital communication, I also know that online collaboration can be very productive. I designed the grade distribution in a way that that students who rely too much on the work of others in these "collaborations" will receive a double penalty during the exams. In other words: you won't be successful overall when relying on the work of others. As for notes and third party study guides, experience shows that only those students succeed who actively do the assignments and make their own notes. This is because it is not the study notes, but the interactive process of preparing notes that makes the difference! All of this being said, I think it is a great idea to join forces (in personal meetings or through online collaboration) to identify gaps in your understanding. Our common enemy is the lack of understanding. So join forces, please!  However, remember that any collaboration is highly counterproductive when you start depending on it.
  10. Is it sufficient to simply study the intermittent video questions, without watching the lectures? Answers: Sometimes, video questions point to important content (=> they are useful), but it is unlikely that you'll be able to apply the idea behind a question to a new context in the exam, without understanding the idea (=> by themselves, they are not enough). This being said, as instructor I don't care if you learn the content of this course from our interactive video presentations, or if you have the ambition to cram endless lists with many hundreds of questions from a piece of paper: as long as you end up understanding the concepts! ...because that is what we check in the exams.
  11. The videos are lagging, what can I do? Answer: By default, streaming is set to a full HD version and depending on the network connection/bandwidth, you may experience the lagging/pausing. You can adjust video quality from the scrub bar (<HD>) or adjust the video course (more here) as that should help. You can also watch the videos (without questions) here at AggieVideo (you have to log in).
  12. What is "Piazza" and why do I need it? Answer: Our ongoing class discussions happen in Piazza. Just like it sometimes useful for you to listen in when others ask questions in class (and sometimes not), most students find it useful to follow along in these discussions. But just like with most apps, you can regulate the frequency these notifications get send to your email inbox. You have to sign up for Piazza: it is an add-on app to our main platform Canvas. Be aware that "if you choose to opt-in to Piazza Careers (a separate service they offer), you consent to the release of information included in your user profile, which may include education records, to companies that participate in Piazza Careers and to other users who have opted into Piazza Careers". We will NOT use and NOT need Piazza Careers and I do not promote it.
  13. What communications / messages should I get in order to be on top of what's going on? Answer: Through Canvas (our main platform) you will get one Welcome email from the instructor per Session and sometimes general feedback for assignments from TAs. These are IMPORTANT! Make sure you have your Canvas notifications settings TURNED ON!


About the course coordinator:

Before joining UC Davis, Prof. Hilbert created and led the Information Society Program of the United Nations Secretariat for Latin America and the Caribbean. This program aims at fostering the impact of digital technologies. In his 15 years as United Nations Economic Affairs Officer he has provided hands-on technical assistance in the field of digital development to Presidents, government experts, legislators, diplomats, NGOs, and companies in over 20 countries. Policy makers from the highest political levels have officially recognized the impact of his projects. He retired early from his life-long appointment with the UN, because he wanted to be an active part of the exciting process of making use of these same digital technologies to better understand society. He joined the University of California in 2014 to be able to dedicate more time and energy to "Computational Social Science". He regularly still does consulting work for the UN and other private and public clients, applying new CSS methods in practice.

He has written five books about digital technology for international development and has published in academic journals in the fields of communication, economic development, information science, psychology, ecology and evolution, political science, complex systems, women’s studies, and forecasting. His findings have been featured in popular outlets like Scientific American, PBS, Discovery, NatGeo, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Economist, NPR, BBC, Die Welt, Correio Braziliense, ElMundo, among others. International perspectives are no mere theory for Prof. Hilbert, as he speaks five languages and has traveled to over 70 countries. More:



Course Summary:

Date Details Due