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Bachelor
Computational Social Science
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Study programme

Computational Social Science encompasses three years, six semesters and 180 credits (EC). All learning activities are uniquely organised around projects in a realistic context or provided by a real-world client organization, which will support you in developing and integrating social sciences and humanities expertise (SSHE), digital expertise (DE), research expertise (RE) ánd changemaking expertise (CME).

  • Year 1

    The first year consists of two semester-long, 20-week courses of 30 EC each. In these courses, you will work in small groups (4-5 students) on one (or two) overarching project challenges. Thematically, semesters 1 and 2 focus on climate change and digital surveillance, semester 3 on health and mobility, and semester 4 on inequality.

    The first year provides you with the foundation for successful learning within a transdisciplinary programme. You will understand the complexity of societal challenges, appreciate that these are open to multiple interpretations, and value these different interpretations. You are also introduced to the basics of data science  - including programming skills (Juypter notebook, Python) - and empirical research and the individual level of analysis and intervention.

    Examples of project challenges: Climate change: smart thermostats

    “Households account for about 25% of total energy consumption in the Netherlands. Heating, generated primarily from fossil fuels such as natural gas (75%), is an important part of this. As such, interventions aimed at influencing household energy consumption can have a large impact on the environment. In 2009, the Dutch Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) calculated that households can feasibly reduce consumption by as much as 33%. What kind of interventions can help to reduce household energy consumption? Many interventions aim to reduce energy needs by encouraging household insulation or to make alternatives such as solar panels and heat pumps more feasible. Other interventions are aimed at influencing individual behaviour. For instance, smart thermostats provide better insight in energy consumption, allowing individuals to adjust behaviour accordingly. Some energy providers seek to influence behaviour by applying insights from gamification, showing individuals how they compare to averages or their neighbours, for instance.

    Understandably, the issue of energy consumption is “wicked”, and the stakes are high. In this project, you will explore the promises and limitations of smart thermostats, as part of the larger and complex issue of household energy consumption. You can draw on data from the Central Statistics Bureau, Ministries, municipal sources, and energy companies. This quantitative data provides knowledge about what is happening in society at large. To understand individual behaviour and perceptions about interventions such as smart thermostats, you will also engage with a variety of stakeholders, such as homeowners, renters, housing corporations, business actors, and policy-makers at multiple levels.”

    Surveillance: COVID-19 Apps

    “Amidst dramatic changes in society in response to the global COVID-19   epidemic, the Dutch government called on the help of, among many others, app developers: “Apps can increase people’s agency in tracing infections and reporting health issues. This supports, accelerates, and alleviates source and contact studies of the public health service (GGD).” Within a week, 750 entrepreneurs offered “smart digital solutions”, of which seven proposals were shortlisted for rapid development.

    Simultaneously, a range of experts, scholars, stakeholders and society at large were invited to contribute advice and criticism. Many expressed privacy and security concerns, questioning techno-solutionism, and calling attention to the far-reaching implications of apps that monitor health or trace contacts. One petition cites Michel Foucault: “Surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action.” (Foucault, 1975).

    Developments in eHealth, more generally, have been on the rise in recent years. For some, insights facilitated by apps or mobile devices may improve access to evidence-based information about one’s health, thus empowering individual agency. Remote medical attention can potentially alleviate demands on strained healthcare systems. For instance, apps can help patients to persevere in therapy or treatment regimes or facilitate medical advice in remote areas.

    At the same time, companies such as Apple and Google market tracking devices such as smart watches, providing insight in the (un)healthy behaviour of individuals. For others, access to (and monetization of) such highly sensitive and personal information raises concerns about privacy and surveillance. For instance, detailed information can be used to tailor products or policies to specific segments of the population at large, with far-reaching societal implications - as pointed out by the critics of the COVID-19 apps.

    It is clear that private health information is both highly valuable and controversial. In this project, you will reconstruct policy processes regarding COVID-19 apps, to gain insight in questions about (network) governance, the morality of regulating digital interventions, and trade-offs between the  individual’s privacy versus societal security in the context of a pandemic. You can draw on data about hospitalizations and intensive care capacity, as well as other epidemiological data, from the perspective of controlling the spread of the disease and having to bear responsibility for risk management under conditions of uncertainty. You will also draw on the perspectives of developers, critics, scholars, and users of apps to understand the practices and meanings crucial to the design of digital interventions.”

  • Year 2

    In the second year, semesters 3 and 4 consist of semester-long, 20-week courses of 30 EC as well and are thematically focused on health and mobility and inequality respectively. The second year introduces you to the analytical level of social practices and systems as well as inviting you to turn your attention to the structural level of analysis. You will work on group assignments proposed by external partners. You are challenged to think about (systemic) digital interventions that may improve the interaction, coordination or communication between stakeholders in a digital system. Finally, you will become familiar with structural cleavages and inequalities in society. You learn how structural inequalities may translate into ‘biased’ applications of Artificial Intelligence (AI), and you are challenged to propose interventions that result in less biased AI solutions.

  • Year 3

    In the third year, you can opt for a minor or electives from other programmes, take an internship or study abroad in the fifth semester. You will complete your degree programme with a 30 EC capstone (or graduation) project for a real-world client organisation in semester 6.

COURSES SEM 1 SEM 2 SEMESTER 1 SEMESTER 2 EC
  • Foundations: Appreciating the complexity of social challenges
    1—3
    30
  • Building blocks: Experimenting with digital interventions for behavioral change
    4—6
    30
COURSES SEM 1 SEM 2 SEMESTER 1 SEMESTER 2 EC
  • Connections: Linking data for better interventions for health and mobility systems
    1—3
    30
  • Structures: Appling responsible AI to reduce inequality
    4—6
    30
COURSES SEM 1 SEM 2 SEMESTER 1 SEMESTER 2 EC
  • Minor / Elective
    1—3
    30
  • Capstone: Making social changes with digital innovations
    4—6
    30

Additional options

Honours programme

If you are ambitious, you can choose to take part in the Honours and Talent programme. You will follow this Honours programme alongside your regular studies. Completion results in you graduating 'with honours': an internationally recognised qualification. If you are up for it, you should not miss out on this opportunity.

Exchange

The UvA has partnerships and exchange agreements with more than 100 other universities. As part of your Bachelor's programme you can do an exchange semester abroad. This can be a valuable learning and cultural experience, and a great addition to your degree programme.

Note: You can only go abroad in your third year (fifth semester).

Electives

There are various opportunities during the Bachelor’s programme for you to shape your programme to your liking. You can gain 30 elective study credits with courses that are part of another Bachelor's programme at the UvA, thereby doing an additional specialisation. Or you can choose a minor: a cohesive programme lasting half a year (30 EC) taken outside of your own programme. You can choose a minor in Communication Science or Entrepreneurship, for example.

Internship

You can devote your fifth semester to taking an internship at an organisation of your choice. This internship will provide you with the opportunity to gain relevant work experience, and apply your academic knowledge in a professional setting. Moreover, the internship will enable you to develop and apply practical skills while putting to use the knowledge that you have gained during the programme.

Workload

Contact hours: On average, students will have 14-18 hours of classes per week

  • Large-scale lectures: 4 hours per week
  • Small-scale tutorials: 6 hours per week
  • Practical sessions/workshops: 8 hours per week
  • Self study: 20 hours per week

Year 1 and 2 have the same structure.

Every Monday morning, you will have a check-in meeting with your tutor in small groups. During these meetings, last week’s progress, this week’s plans and tasks, and students' need for support are discussed.

Every Friday, during the check out, you will present and review the progress your project group made and prepare for the project deadline at the end of the day. This creates a weekly deadline and an opportunity for you to reflect on your activities and participate in peer feedback.

The remainder of the week consists of lectures, workshops/practical sessions and out-of-class study activities where you, collaboratively or individually, will work on your projects, watch online lectures, search for data and information, analyse the data, read literature and prepare for assessments.

Projects

The final products of your group projects can range from policy briefs and manifesto’s to websites, experimental designs or prototypes of other digital tools and interventions. Your individual assignments will include e.g. literature reviews, research proposals, case study reports, essays, simulations and information visualisations. Every semester, both group projects and individual assignments will be graded (50%/50%).

Assignments or group projects may relate to topics such as:

  • nudging towards sustainable behaviour in people’s homes through interface design of electric appliances
  • applying big data to counter aggression among adolescents in particular regions of the world
  • researching issues of blockchain technology, such as users becoming both consumer and producer, in the pursuit of transparency and sustainability in logistics
  • gaining insight into the spread of infectious diseases
  • signalling human rights violations by means of information technology
  • investigating societal possibilities of digital forensics
  • mapping social movements in an age of (digital) surveillance
  • empowering displaced people (refugees) with technology-enabled solutions

Course materials

Examples are:

Acquisti, A., Brandimarte, L., & Loewenstein, G. (2015). Privacy and human behavior in the age of information. Science, 347(6221), 509-514.

Montano DE & Kasprzyk (2002). The theory of reasoned action and the theory of planned behaviour. In Glanz K, Rimer BK, & Lewis FM, Eds. Health Behaviour and Health Education, 67-98.

Wilke, Claus O. Fundamentals of data visualization: a primer on making informative and compelling figures. O'Reilly Media, 2019. (https://serialmentor.com/dataviz/)