SAGE launched a new educational endeavor in September 2017, offering online data science courses aimed at social science researchers. Called SAGE Campus, it will kick off with five courses:
- Introduction to Applied Data Science Methods for Social Scientists, in association with the Social Science Data Lab (D-Lab) at the University of California–Berkeley
- Introduction to Python for Social Scientists, in association with the Royal Statistical Society
- Practical Data Management With R for Social Scientists
- Interactive Visualization With R for Social Scientists, in association with the Royal Statistical Society
- Fundamentals of Quantitative Text Analysis for Social Scientists, in association with Essex Summer School of Social Science Data Analysis at the University of Essex
The courses run for 4 weeks, and students have access to them for an additional 2 months. They are interactive and practical, offering more than a series of video lectures and readings. Students can practice the skills they’re learning during the course and apply them to their individual research activities, receiving feedback and support from faculty throughout the course.
Applying Big Data to Social Science Research
The idea of creating an online campus sprung from research done by SAGE and the University of Essex in 2016. They surveyed more than 9,000 academics and found that researchers wanted to work with Big Data but were unsure of how to do that. SAGE Campus is designed to alleviate this skills gap. Given SAGE’s emphasis on social science, the courses are tailored to their needs. It’s not generic, one size fits all, course material.
SAGE Campus courses come with a price tag of $399. That’s certainly not exorbitant, but it is more of an investment than free massive open online courses (MOOCs). The justification from SAGE is that its courses provide extensive expert learning support, and the course content, datasets, examples, and language used deliver the learning that is relevant to social scientists.
The initiative for SAGE Campus came from Methodspace, the publishing company’s community for social scientist researchers. In a press release, Martha Sedgwick, SAGE’s executive director of product management, commented, “As a key methods publisher for more than four decades, it is our firm belief at SAGE that supporting the development of research methodology is vital to making a positive, lasting impact on societal issues and challenges.”
Credit for SAGE Courses
Learning new skills definitely benefits the individual, but in many professional situations, proof of accomplishing a learning objective is expected. Katie Metzler, head of methods innovation at SAGE, told me that those who complete a course “gain a certificate from SAGE and the instructor or institution.” At the moment, no university credit is earned, as the company views SAGE Campus primarily as skills-oriented. Metzler intimated that formal academic credit could be forthcoming, but it’s much too early for SAGE to pursue that.
I was also curious about why some courses have 12 modules while another has only four. Metzler said, “Our aim is to produce courses that are a manageable length for busy people, as we know many of our learners will be working full time. The course syllabi have been designed by our expert instructors and courses are broken into an appropriate number of modules for the learning objectives. As this is a new venture for SAGE and we’re still learning, our instructors will assess how students have responded to the structure of the course and we may make adjustments going forward.”
Registration for the courses is currently in progress, so SAGE doesn’t yet know how many people will sign up. However, the company is encouraged by the initial numbers. What about librarians? Metzler responds, “We’d love to welcome librarians to SAGE Campus in future!”
Pushing SAGE Forward
Cynics might think that SAGE Campus is a way to push SAGE journal articles as part of the readings for the course. However, none of the syllabi that are posted online include readings. Metzler laughs this off, noting that most courses do require further reading and will provide links to outside resources. “The aim is to bring to life the course content, displaying the real-world applicability of learners’ newly gained skills. However, we do intend that the majority of the learning occurs inside of the course.”
Metzler sums up SAGE’s approach to its new endeavor by saying, “As social and behavioral scientists become more comfortable and more competent in exploiting big data to address social science problems, we’ll be proud to have contributed.”
SAGE Campus is an intriguing extension for a publishing company, but logical when you consider SAGE’s trajectory over the past few years. Although it started as a journal publisher, SAGE has branched out into books, ebooks, case studies, online professional communities, methods research, videos, primary source materials, and datasets. SAGE Campus looks promising, as the company continues to expand its commitment to the social science community.