HUB XC410 B1: Spark! Data Science for Good Practicum

  1. Course Description
  2. Learning Outcomes
  3. Courseware
  4. Materials
  5. Course Format
  6. Class Mechanics
  7. How to Succeed in this Course
  8. Register and/or Sign up for the waiting list

Course Description


Technology-focused major students will be assigned to work on one of two project types: Data Science or Software Engineering. Social Science major students will provide the social science expertise to projects.

For the Software Engineering track, to ensure that students get the most out of this class, we require students to have taken CS411 (Software Engineering), ideally DS519, or have equivalent experience. You must have a strong programming background. Familiarity with web and/or mobile application development is helpful, though not required.

On the data side, Ideally, students would have completed CS506 or CS365 or have equivalent knowledge, however students taking this class must have some prior familiarity with programming at the level of CS 105, 108, CS110, 111, 112 or equivalent. CS 132 or equivalent (MA 242, MA 442) is required.

For Social Science students, the instructors expect you have taken at least your degree required statistics course and have knowledge of social science experiment creation, management, etc.

Please consult with course staff during office hours if you have questions about the prerequisites. Assignment 1 (the pass/fail diagnostic test) will help you assess your readiness to take this class. You must pass this assignment to receive a passing grade in the class.


DS4G Practicum enables students to tackle real world data challenges related to a more equitable and just society. Students will work in teams on projects provided by a variety of partners from the public sector including government agencies, nonprofits and researchers. Projects will vary depending upon partner needs but will be focused on producing a technical artifact that may include researching and developing robust data pipelines to publish public data sets, creating interactive tools or applications, or completing data-focused research. All projects should address pressing societal challenges in the public sphere.

While each student team will have a unique experience based on the requirements of their assigned project, the course will encompass five distinct parts:

  1. Teamwork, collaboration, and project/ client management
  2. Computing and Data science: data collection, data engineering, data preprocessing, and analytics and/ or software development
  3. Testing, refinement, delivery, and documentation of technical artifacts
  4. Research synthesis and presentation of the final deliverable

The projects will begin with a human and community centered design process with the stakeholders most impacted or impacting the proposed project topic or output. Desk research and stakeholder interviews will help students understand the root causes of the societal issues that will be addressed through the course. The course will conclude with final presentations of findings to the partners, and a final work product or technical artifact which will include thorough documentation of work completed and a well crafted policy memo summarizing findings or the solution and the associated research and design process. By applying their computing and data science skills to real world challenges or questions sourced from public sector partners, students will help to unlock new data intelligence or technical solutions that can contribute to more just communities.

Learning Outcomes

At the conclusion of the course, students will have acquired both content knowledge on the root causes of a specific societal challenge, its consequences, and remedies, as well as hard skills related to designing and building technology or data applications that may contribute to better public understanding, engagement, or other benefits sought by the project partner.

Hub Learning Outcomes

Creativity/Innovation (CRI)

BU students across all fields of study will benefit from learning how to think in new ways, imagine new possibilities, take new approaches, and/or make new things. Creative activity is a source of deep human satisfaction and common good. In addition, the ability to generate and pursue new ideas is quickly becoming a prerequisite for entry into the skilled workforce, which places a premium on applicants’ creative skills and potential for contributing to creativity’s more applied offspring, innovation. BU graduates should understand how the creative process moves from need or desire to design, to draft, to redesign, to execution; they will have personal experience of taking risks, failing, and trying again; and, in this way, they will have developed the patience and persistence that enables creativity to come ultimately to fruition.

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will demonstrate understanding of creativity as a learnable, iterative process of imagining new possibilities that involves risk-taking, use of multiple strategies, and reconceiving in response to feedback, and will be able to identify individual and institutional factors that promote and inhibit creativity.
  • Students will be able to exercise their own potential for engaging in creative activity by conceiving and executing original work either alone or as part of a team.

The Spark!/MetroBridge interpretation of the creativity and innovation component will take place primarily through the design phase of the course when students will work with partners to conceptualize or refine the creation of a technical artifact that will be developed in response to the needs presented by the partner through the original project scope.

The output of the design phase will be a roadmap of tasks and deliverables that will be developed during the semester. The solution will also require validation through engagement of stakeholders impacted or impact the project; this step will follow the completion of the research phase of the course.

The prototype presentation will take place approximately halfway through the course. Included in this deliverable will be wireframes, dataset(s) identification and any other building blocks necessary prior to the development / implementation phase of the project. The remainder of the course will be spent on intensive implementation of the project.

Research and Information Literacy (RIL)

Scholarly research—the process of posing problems, designing effective investigative strategies, collecting and evaluating information, drawing conclusions, and presenting findings—drives the creation and dissemination of new knowledge in and across all academic disciplines, professions, and walks of life. Today’s information explosion places a particular requirement on anyone doing research to develop the abilities associated with information literacy—knowing how to locate needed information, assess the accuracy of sources, and use them to good effect. BU’s mission as a research university embraces the conviction that research and information literacy should be central to an undergraduate education. By learning from scholars on the BU faculty how new knowledge is created and disseminated, and by conducting or participating in research, BU students join a community of inquiry with a commitment to the pursuit of knowledge that crosses borders and connects generations.

All Writing, Research, and Inquiry courses (found in the Communication capacity) also develop the learning outcomes of the Research and Information Literacy area and fulfill one Hub unit in each of these areas.

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will be able to search for, select, and use a range of publicly available and discipline-specific information sources ethically and strategically to address research questions.
  • Students will demonstrate understanding of the overall research process and its component parts, and be able to formulate good research questions or hypotheses, gather and analyze information, and critique, interpret, and communicate findings.

Spark!/MetroBridge teams will achieve this learning outcome through focused research and engagement with stakeholders to understand and, ultimately, validate the problem and proposed solutions and respond to in-depth feedback. Once the initial project proposal or scope is confirmed and team collaboration and project management practices are established, teams will craft a discovery and research plan for gathering important underlying context knowledge through desk research, stakeholder input, and expert feedback on the issue that will be addressed through the creation of a technical artifact.

This assignment is designed to help students gain a deep understanding of the broader context within which the client’s need exists.  The deliverables for this assignment include a research and stakeholder engagement plan and a final report and presentation of the key findings from the research. Students will reflect upon the input they have received and the work completed during this phase may result in an adapted project proposal or scope. The students will engage with community partners throughout the project journey to gain input and insights on key assumptions and realities of stakeholders and document these insights through the sprint retrospectives.

Teamwork/Collaboration (TWC)

Training in and the practical experience of teamwork teaches the process of innovation, develops leadership, and fosters knowledge of one’s own strengths and appreciation for those of others. Collaboration defines the 21st-century workplace. Employers rely increasingly on teams—groups of people with different backgrounds and training who tackle projects jointly—and they identify the ability to collaborate with these diverse groups as an essential skill for almost every position. Civic life in an increasingly interdependent world also calls more and more for the ability to collaborate with people from different backgrounds and with different perspectives, build consensus, and compromise for the good of a broader purpose.

Learning Outcomes

  • As a result of explicit training in teamwork and sustained experiences of collaborating with others, students will be able to identify the characteristics of a well-functioning team.
  • Students will demonstrate an ability to use the tools and strategies of working successfully with a diverse group, such as assigning roles and responsibilities, giving and receiving feedback, and engaging in meaningful group reflection that inspires collective ownership of results.

The application of teamwork and collaboration learning outcomes will be centered around the successful completion of a technology artifact using agile development principles. The teamwork and collaboration process will be assessed through the development and evaluation of team agreements to reinforce practices of high performing teams. Students will have an opportunity to give and receive feedback at the beginning of the semester, mid-semester, and at the end and will be expected to proactively solve team issues using the feedback and decision-making tools provided. Team members are expected to contribute equally throughout the course of the project. Tasks will be distributed among team members based on their technical areas of knowledge or their contribution to the qualitative elements of the project.

While students will have specific roles within the group, course content will cover the design, architecture and development of software or data science artifacts as a whole, allowing students to appreciate the work of each member of the team. Throughout the course of the semester, students are expected to provide each other with continuous feedback; pair programming and code review will allow individual team members to work together and provide critical feedback on others’ code, to improve the functionality of their projects. Students will practice the scrum approach to agile development, a common software industry approach to teamwork, collaboration, and project management. This will include weekly planning sessions, scrum meetings, and retrospectives aimed at continuous product delivery.

Writing-Intensive Course (WIN)

Writing-Intensive Courses enable students to build upon and practice skills learned in the First-Year Writing Seminar and, in some instances, in Writing, Research, and Inquiry courses. Writing is fundamental, the most important form of expression that BU undergraduates must develop. In almost every professional setting, BU graduates must be able to express their ideas in clear, coherent prose. Effective writing demands the honing of skills, but it also cultivates ways of thinking, evaluating evidence, constructing responsible and convincing arguments, and generating creative ideas. As effective writers, BU graduates will pay close attention to the potential readers of their writings; as responsible writers, they will take ownership of their message and the means of communicating it, and hold their writing to high standards of truth, accuracy, validity, and humaneness.

While learning to craft written arguments is essential in the First-Year Writing Seminar, the Writing, Research, and Inquiry courses, and most courses designated as Writing-Intensive, the latter also accommodate students’ learning to write to the standards of majors and professions, such as journalism, that place a premium on the difference between arguments and expository accounts.

Writing-Intensive Courses have the First-Year Writing Seminar as a prerequisite and develop at least learning outcomes 1 and 2 below.

Learning Outcomes

  • Students will be able to craft responsible, considered, and well-structured written arguments, using media and modes of expression appropriate to the situation.
  • Students will be able to read with understanding, engagement, appreciation, and critical judgment.
  • Students will be able to write clearly and coherently in a range of genres and styles, integrating graphic and multimedia elements as appropriate.

Written products will include both team and individual assignments. Student teams will identify and articulate the tool or data set needed by the client, and related research questions or hypotheses, a mid-term presentation on progress for stakeholder feedback, and a final presentation synthesizing their research. Individuals will also produce short reflection piece following attendance at a community meeting or zoning hearing to understand the broader societal context of housing, and a brief policy memo summarizing their findings.



  • Piazza: This class will use Piazza to post homework assignments, lab activities, and information about the projects, as well as discussion boards and blog posts. 
  • Gradescope: <description>
  • Blackboard: <description>


  • Desmond, Matthew. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Penguin Books, 2017. Find it at the library.
  • Please do not hesitate to reach out privately if you have any concerns about obtaining the required or recommended equipment and materials so we can try to help. 
  • A functioning laptop with a power cord, about 800 MB of free space and administrative privileges to install software. Bring your laptop to each and every class. Please do not hesitate to see us privately if you have any concerns about this requirement. We’re happy to help.
  • There is no required textbook for this course. However, there are required readings. Usually articles found on the Internet.

Course Format

In addition to regular lectures, we will also have labs. During labs, we will work on assimilating material covered in lecture into our projects. Labs are meant to be hands-on team, work sessions.

There will be four phases of the course:

  • Preparation: Team agreements, scope and methodology
  • Discovery: Research and stakeholder engagement
  • Design: Detailed specifications for the proposed technical artifact including any of the following elements, as necessary: user flow, user stories, data identification, wireframes, product specifications
  • Delivery: Weekly development sprints to ensure completion of the prototype and final report by end of semester

This course has neither a mid-term nor a final exam.

Team Resources

Students are also able to access computing services e.g. AWS credits, etc. They must be requested at this link and we will assess the request and get back to your team as soon as possible.

Each team is allowed up to $200 for incidental expenses directly associated with implementing their project (i.e. not pizza, etc.). You can submit receipts or procurement requests through this form: For questions, please email Spark Finance team at

Assignments and Grading

Assignments serve the purpose of tracking team and project progress. Occasionally, there will be assignments to cement material learned in class.

CategoryGrading Elements%
Teamwork & Collaboration (Individual grade)– Attendance: class, scrums, labs, client mtgs
– Sprints: Assigned & completed tasks
– Peer Evaluation (mid-term + final)
– Partner Evaluation
Research Phase (Team Grade)– Research Plan
– Stakeholder engagement
– Research Report or Presentation
Design Phase (Team Grade)– Project Scope
– Project Specifications
– Inputs: user stories, data set identification, wireframes, final report outline as outlined in specifications
– Artifact Vision Presentation
Project Implementation (Team Grade)– Final Project
– Weekly sprints
– Data Projects: data collection and processing, data analysis. data infrastructure + pipeline
– Software projects: code quality & organization, code documentation
– Final Report / Policy Memo
Client (Team Grade)– Project Proposal/ Scope
– Mid-Term Presentation
– Final Presentation
Documentation (Team Grade)– Github
– Google Drive
– Inline technical labeling and documentation to ensure reproducibility

Assignment Details

Further details will be found in the gradescope assignments. Some projects will have slightly different requirements for assignments than outlined here.

Research Phase

  1. Research Plan: Research plan outlines desk research, background readings, stakeholders to interview and rationale, public events to attend, and benchmarks of similar work produced in same or other geographies
  2. Public Meeting/Stakeholder Consultation – Personal Reflection: Observing a public meeting will help you to become familiar with how public meetings are conducted, who the players are, and observe the politics of the issues the project seeks to address in real life
    1. Students are required to attend a remote city council hearing, community meeting or zoning hearing related to the core issues their project will address to gain insight into the array of stakeholders engaged in (or resistant to) housing production. Please note the date, time and ‘host’ of the meeting, and provide a brief reflection [500 words] that answers the following questions:
      1. Issues: What are the issues being discussed?
      2. Stakeholders: Who are the identifiable actors and what interests are they representing? Are anyone’s interests not being represented?
      3. Goals: What are the various parties trying to accomplish? What was the outcome of the meeting?
  3. Stakeholder Interviews – 5 interviews with stakeholders impacted or impacting the issue you are working on
    1. The stakeholder interviews synthesis template will include student reflections on the feedback, assumptions identified, and anything that may have surprised them.

Design Phase

  1. Proposed scope: outline of the user/ client goals, high level vision of the final deliverable, detailed specifications for the product. Additional elements will need to be included in the specifications depending on if the project is a data science project (data set identification or APIs, tech stack, analysis questions, etc.) or a software engineering project (user flow, user stories, wireframes, tech stack).
    1. Validation: 5 Stakeholder interviews to validate need and/or provide input on the proposed technical artifact.
    2. Presentation: Project Vision presentation
    3. Final Scope of work: signed by client/partner

Delivery Phase

  1. Sprint demos, approximately every 2 weeks
  2. Sprint retrospective reports, approximately every 2 weeks
  3. Final technical artifact + documentation
  4. Final report/ presentation

Class Mechanics

Attendance & Absences

Missing more than three classes may affect your final grade by negatively impacting your participation components. Please note that attending lab is mandatory. You may not attend a lab section that is not your designated lab section without permission from Professor White, or the teaching fellow. If for some reason you are not able to attend a lecture, discussion, exam, or lab session, please let the appropriate instructor know so that the appropriate accommodations may be made. Some special cases exist, e.g. BU Policy on Religious Observance

Assignment Completion & Late Work

Communication, particularly written, is essential to data science. As a result, we expect correct spelling, grammar, naming, etc. All work submitted will be evaluated for communication quality and will impact the score of the work. Remember, you can always ask someone to proofread your work (while honoring the Academic Code of Conduct). This is a good practice to start. 

  1. In general, homework will be released during the Tuesday lecture and due, via Gradescope, at the start of the following Tuesday lecture. Homework may be up to 24 hours late with a -10% impact on score. Homework will not be accepted after 24 hours late.
  2. The homework may be completed, via Gradescope, by 11:59 PM (23:59h) on the Thursday after it is released for extra credit.
  3. Labs are generally expected to be completed during the discussion section. However, contact the instructors if you need extra time. Labs are assigned to you on Friday during your lab section. They can be submitted as late as that Sunday at 11:59 PM (23:59h) for full marks. Labs may be submitted 24 hours late (that is Monday at 11:59 PM/23:59h) with a -10% impact on the score. Labs will not be accepted after this late submission deadline.
  4. Projects will generally have 3-4 weeks to be completed. The details for each project will be clearly stated in Piazza. Projects can be up to 48 hours late with a -10% impact on score. Projects will not be accepted after 48 hours late.

Academic Conduct Statement

You are expected to abide by the guidelines and rules of the Academic Code of Conduct.

Integrity & Conduct

I take the Student Responsibilities guide very seriously and in particular:  “civility and respect for others within the University.” In this class we should all strive to be the model for what we want our University and industry to be.

Class And University Policies

  1. Course members’ responsibility for ensuring a positive learning environment (e.g., participation/ discussion guidelines).
  2. Academic conduct, plagiarism and fabrication
    You may discuss homework assignments with classmates, but you are solely responsible for what you turn in. Collaboration in the form of discussion is allowed and encouraged. We understand that there may be teams working on projects together and they must document which team member completed different tasks.
    Any use of 3rd party software, APIs, or algorithms in your product creation should be through third party licensing terms, open source licensing terms, or references. It should be clearly documented. This includes using snippets of software or the complete software.
    We – both teaching staff and students – are expected to abide by the guidelines and rules of the Academic Code of Conduct
  3. Disability Accommodations
    If you are a student with a disability or believe you might have a disability that requires accommodations, please contact the Office for Disability Services.
  4. Sexual Misconduct
    Boston University is committed to fostering a safe, productive learning environment. Title IX and our school policy prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, which regards sexual misconduct — including harassment, domestic and dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. We understand that sexual violence can undermine students’ academic success, and we encourage students who have experienced some form of sexual misconduct to talk to someone about their experience, so they can get the support they need. Confidential support and academic advocacy resources can be found with the Center for Sexual Assault Response & Prevention.
  5. Equal Opportunity
    This course celebrates diversity and welcomes all. BU has strict guidelines on classroom behavior and practices when it comes to treatment of students and guests on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, mental or physical disability, genetic information, military service, national origin, or due to marital, parental, or veteran status. Discrimination for any of these reasons is prohibited. Please refer to the Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Policy for more details.
  6. Positive Classroom Experience
    At your discretion, please alert one or both of your instructors to anything related to preferred pronouns, preferred name or nickname, and/or any extenuating circumstances or triggers that might affect your classroom experience. We want to make sure you have the most positive experience in the classroom as possible.
    This course affirms people of all gender expressions and identities. If you prefer to be called a different name than what is on the class roster, please let us know. Feel free to correct us on your preferred gender pronoun. If you have any other questions or concerns, please do not hesitate to let us know.
  7. Social Climate
    Any student who has difficulty affording groceries or accessing sufficient food to eat every day, or who lacks a safe and stable place to live, and believes this may affect their performance in the course, is urged to contact the Dean of Students for support. Furthermore, please notify one or both of your professors, if you are comfortable in doing so. This will enable us to provide any resources we may possess.
    It is not unusual for students to feel stress, and about 15% of students experience depression, anxiety or other mental health concerns. Please know that we are here to help you find the resources to help you get through this stressful time.
    If work shown in this class, professional or student-generated, offends you in any way, please mention it in class or talk to us privately about it so that we can all learn from each other. This is not to say we will ever restrict freedom of speech or water down an aggressive or edgy idea, but we want to discuss anything that someone deems troublesome or offensive.
  8. Student athletics
    All student-athletes should be provided with a sheet from Student-Athlete Support Services regarding absences throughout the semester. These sheets should be handed in as soon as possible to avoid potential conflicts and so arrangements can be made to provide for missed lecture notes, classwork, or discussion.
  9. Recording of classes
    We strive to record every class for later review. However, the recordings are a byproduct of the in-person lecture and, as such, are useful for review and the occasional replacement but should not be considered a true substitute for in person attendance.

Finally, there are many resources available to students. For example:

How to Succeed in this Course

  1. In brief: To succeed in this course you should come to class having read the material beforehand, attend all lectures, come to Discussion prepared with questions, complete all assignments on time, and discuss problems and materials with your fellow classmates.  
  2. You are welcomed and encouraged to visit office hours.
  3. Use Piazza to ask questions about course material. This term we will be using Piazza for class discussion. The system is highly catered to getting you help fast and efficiently from classmates, CAs, the TF, and myself. Rather than emailing questions to the teaching staff, I encourage you to post your questions on Piazza. If you have any problems or feedback for the developers, email Find our class page at:
  4. The Education Resource Center offers free individual and group tutoring. We are also hoping to build a community with this class and, as such, would love to support study groups, etc. We encourage DS-100 alumni to participate as lab assistants, tutors, and teaching fellows.

Register and/or Sign up for the waiting list