Netherlands, Amsterdam

Big Data in Society

when 6 July 2019 - 20 August 2019
language English
duration 7 weeks
credits 3 EC
fee EUR 1150

More and more data is being collected about us and our activities. Our social media interactions, online search and shopping behaviour, but also offline location tracking and sensor and surveillance networks are all generating large, often real-time data sets. Potentially, these could help answer important questions facing society today. However, processing big data techniques for social problems in a responsible way within ethical boundaries represents an interdisciplinary challenge at the interface of social and computer science.

We will work in small groups to address specific issues and do some hands-on analysis. The course is organized around three themes in which big data techniques are used to answer social questions or solve social problems:

In the theme module Digital society, you will look at publicly available sources of data on societal and political participation and discourse such as news items and social media messages. Zooming in on a specific theme that has sparked public contention, such as health care and sustainability issues you will use text and network analysis methods to investigate the way public opinion is formed and the interaction between the discourse of leading politicians, journalists, and active citizens.

In the module social recommenders, you will look at the way recommendation engines are shaping society. Recommendation algorithms are determining more and more which songs you listen to, which books you buy, and what news you watch. These recommendations are based on your past behavior but also on data about your friends and other users. These algorithms can help you discover new interests and find items form the ‘long tail’, but they can also cause you to become stuck in a filter bubble of similar items. In this module we will look at existing algorithms and write your own algorithm based on publicly available shopping or review data.

In the second week you will work in mini projects to apply insights from the previous week. In addition to projects that apply directly within the areas taught, big data solutions to disaster response is one of the project options.

Course leader

Prof. Peter Groenewegen

Target group

Students and professionals in the field of Social Sciences, Computer and Information Science and Humanities. Since some understanding of social scientific approaches is required, you should previously have studied research methods and methodology. Our courses are multi-disciplinary and therefore are open to students with a wide variety of backgrounds.

Course aim

At the end of the course, you:
•Understand and can use big data.
•Are able to conceptualize the influences and theories surrounding big data.
•Learned techniques to analyse various kinds of big data.
•Can trace the impact of big data on social agents.
•Understand the core legal and ethical issues of using such data for research.
•Can work with fellow students from different backgrounds.

Credits info

3 EC
Contact Hours: 45
If you want to earn more credits you can take courses in our other sessions to create a 4 or 6 week programme.

Fee info

EUR 1150: The tuition fee includes:
• Airport pick-up service
• Welcome goodie bag
• Orientation programme
• Course excursions
• On-site support
• Emergency assistance
• Transcript of records after completion of the course

An early bird discount of €150 is available for students who apply and pay before 15 March, and students from VU Amsterdam as well as from exchange partner universities will receive a €250 discount. You apply for the discount simply by indicating that you are currently a student at VU Amsterdam or at a partner university in the online application.

There are also discounts for students who attend multiple sessions, combine 2 courses and receive a €200 discount and combine 3 to receive a €300 discount. All courses include excursions. We will also organize trips and excursions as part of our social programme, which is a great way to get to know your fellow students and learn more about Amsterdam and the Netherlands. The social programme is not included in the tuition fee.

Furnished accommodation is available. Various housing options will be offered.


VU Amsterdam Summer School offers three kinds of scholarships: the Academic Scholarship, the Photographer Scholarship and the Vlogger/Videographer Scholarship. More information about these scholarships can be found on the VU Amsterdam Summer School websi