BC to launch new online master's degree in data science – Boston College

About the M.S. in Data Science
The Lynch School of Education and Human Development will offer a new online master’s degree in the burgeoning field of data science beginning in the fall of 2024, Stanton E.F. Wortham, the Charles F. Donovan, S.J., Dean of the Lynch School, has announced.

An interdisciplinary academic field that employs statistics, scientific computing, methods, processes, algorithms, and systems to extract or extrapolate knowledge and insights from information, data science is a flourishing specialty that has generated vigorous demand among students eager to break into the profession.  According to Fortune, colleges with top rankings for online data science master’s degree programs saw a 20 percent enrollment growth between the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 academic years.

“In an era when data-driven decisions and systems influence every sector of business and society, individuals who bring an ethical framework to data science are critical,” said Wortham. “Our M.S. in Data Science program will empower students to apply technical methods and consulting skills with an eye toward ethics and the common good, as they address the increasingly complex technological needs of organizations and communities.”  

Featuring a principled, human-centered approach by emphasizing ethics and a keen understanding of bias, with security and privacy issues at the forefront, the part-time program within the Lynch School’s Measurement, Evaluation, Statistics, and Assessment department is designed for both experienced professionals and recent college graduates, said Wortham.  

The employment rate for data scientists—whose work is categorically divided into business and market analysts, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning technology, and infrastructure and data cleansing—will increase by 36 percent from 2021 to 2031, also according to Fortune.  Currently, the average United States data scientist’s annual salary is more than $125,000. 

About the M.S. in Data Science
To highlight the significance and upward trajectory of data science, the Lynch School hosted a Boston College faculty panel on September 18 focused on ChatGPT, a large language model-based chatbot, and Generative AI, a type of artificial intelligence technology that can produce various types of content, including text, imagery, and audio. Honorable David S. Nelson Chair Brian K. Smith, associate dean for research at the Lynch School, served as the keynote speaker.  

Panelists, who discussed questions on how to utilize ChatGPT and Generative AI and prepare students for the workplace in light of such technology, included Monan Professor in Education Matthias von Davier, executive director of the TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center at BC; John FitzGibbon, associate director of the Center for Digital Innovation in Learning; Information Technology Services Chief Technologist Peter Salvitti; and Center for Teaching Excellence Assistant Director of Teaching, Learning, and Technology Nirmal Trivedi. 
Nelson Professor Brian K. Smith, speaking at the forum on ChatGPT. (Lee Pellegrini)

Smith said concerns about students’ use of AI to produce term papers, essays, and other work should fall to the bottom of the priorities among all of the challenges facing education in the U.S.  “There are far bigger, more important problems than a talking robot. However, these tools are powerful, and deserve our attention because their impact will be wide ranging and long term. The primary objective for this not-so-new but currently controversial and very productive technology is finding ways to work with it.”

Plagiarism detectors are unreliable and it’s impossible to enforce bans on AI use by students, Trivedi said, but the tool can readily and effectively serve as a tutor, editor, and idea generator—although it has limitations.  “AI doesn’t ‘reason,’ and typically generates what would be characterized as C-level work, but with effective prompting, it can produce better and better results that are more nuanced and accurate. That being said, the more specific you get, the more information it generally gets wrong or invents.”

The introduction of the calculator for classroom use was supposed to signal “the end of math,” Trivedi said, but the solution “was to require students to show the work, which can also be done with AI. Instructors can and probably should focus more on grading the thinking process than the final result.”

An expert on developing psychometric models and integrating diagnostic procedures into these methods, von Davier highlighted automated scoring of written and graphical responses and automated item generation as two key areas for researchers to capitalize on the capabilities of AI.  

FitzGibbon advocated a strategic approach to artificial intelligence in the classroom. “You need to engage with AI, and create a communication and assessment strategy: Take a formative approach to exploring AI by identifying what humans can do well and what AI can do well.”

In closing, he quoted Jaron Lanier, a Silicon Valley visionary who later wrote about the cultural dangers of technology and social media: “If I am unhappy with the way digital technology is influencing the world, I think the solution is to double down on being human.”  
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