DA 301 - Practicum in Data Analytics

Spring 2022

Your Professor:

Matt Lavin

My Email:


My Office:

Knapp 205-B

Office Hours

1:30-3:00 p.m. MW by appointment and Th 10-11:30 drop-in

Our Classroom:

BMRG 218

When We Meet:

TTh 1:30-2:50 p.m.

Course Description

Using Denison as a model of society, this practicum will analyze new and existing data sources at Denison to explore questions of collective importance. A problem-driven approach will lead students to synthesize and build upon data analytic skills from previous courses through a realistic, organic, and ethical context that carefully considers the implications of data communication (oral, visual, and written) and policy recommendations on a project for stakeholders and community members. A significant component of the course is collaborative with a small team of students working throughout the semester for a “client” usually from Denison or the surrounding community. This work will emphasize developing communication skills appropriate for the public and/or a private audience. Though a significant learning opportunity itself, this course should also be seen as a prelude to a community internship in the post-Junior year summer and will provide ample opportunities to develop a foundation for an intellectual and professional life after Denison. In this course, students will synthesize, hone, adapt, and translate their data analytics skills to a real problem, and be exposed to data analytics in a broad context (for profit, non-profit, government, academic research, and other disciplines).

Office Hours

This semester, I will be using a mix of drop-in office hours and in-person appointments via Google Calendar. For office hours by appointment, visit my appointment page, where you will see a real-time account of when I am available. My standard appointment slots will be divided into 20-minute blocks from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on Mondays and Wednesdays. Note that these appointment slots will disappear from my calendar once I've been booked. Please book appointments at least 24 hours in advance. If I ever need to cancel by-appointment office hours on a given day (say, for example, if I'm ill), I will update the calendar and email anyone with an appointment.

Drop-in office hours will be held in my office from 10 to 11:30 a.m. on Thursdays. For these, you will not need an appointment, but I will see students in the order they arrive, so there is no guarantee that I will have time for everyone on a given day. If your question is time sensitive, you should make an appointment. If I ever need to cancel office hours on a given drop-in day (say, for example, if I'm ill), I will e-mail the entire class.

Additional Norms and Policies

Here you will find information on required readings, import university policies, and course-specific policies like attendance and cell phone use.

Required Texts

HBR Guide to Project Management, Harvard Business Review Press; 1st edition (January 15, 2013); ISBN-10: 9781422187296; ISBN-13: 978-1422187296; available at the university bookstore or on Amazon for about $20.
Selected readings will be made available on Notebowl, and linked to the course website (expect to spend a little more than normal on printing fees)
Self-directed reading as part of your project/client research

Computers and Software

Computers: Students are required to provide their own laptops and to install free and open source software on those laptops. Support will be provided by the instructor in the installation of any useful or required software. R can also be accessed via the browser at r.denison.edu. If at any time you don’t have access to a laptop please contact the instructor and the Data Analytics Program can provide you with a loan from the laptop cart. In class, please use eduroam to connect to the Internet instead of Denison Guest. Please be respectful with your use of laptops and technology in class. I request that you only use them for class related purposes, as I and others may find them distracting (For example, no email or social media should be open in your browser tabs!). Cell phones should be kept silent and put away.
Github, Programming Languages, Software: We will be using git and Github for version control and collaboration. Other than that, this course is largely software agnostic, which is to say that you can use any programming language (r, python, javascript, etc.), digital tools (tableau, excel, minitab, etc.), or combination of languages and tools. Particular clients may require you to work in certain languages, or with certain toolkits. Short of that, your top priority should select tools and approaches you know how to use, and/or tools and approaches that best fit the task. I will add that I am best equipped to give hands on assistance with python, jupyter notebooks, mysql/sqlite, r, html/css/javascript, markdown, and Docker, so please do keep that in mind. (I'll make every effort to help with other languages and software, but you should know what my strengths are.)

Grade Breakdown

Item Percentage Comments
Team Projects 65% The largest portion of the class grade will be based on the ability of teams to work through the data analysis cycle, problem solve collaboratively, and produce a quality final product for their client to use.

Initial bid proposal


Bid proposal presentation


Technical progress report I


Technical progress report II


Project Final Packet

(Includes Executive Summary, Technical Report, Products, and Presentation and Debrief Components)

Individual Skill Building 35% A portion of the class grade will be based on individuals practicing and demonstrating mastery of technical and non-technical professional skills.
  10 Class participation
  10 Scaffolding assignments
  5 Domain-knowledge assignment
  5 Visualization assignment
  5 Ignite presentation


Project Information

The client-based course projects are designed to give you the opportunity to collaborate with a team and with an end user on a set of deliverables within a constrained timeline. The goals of the semester-long project include learning how to work on bigger, more open-ended data sets or analysis products, and to give you the opportunity to gain practical experience and expertise in using data analysis tools that you will need in the real world while you still have access to experienced teachers to help you navigate the process. While some class time will be provided to work on projects, you will need to schedule time to work within your teams outside of class. Your instructor and client will provide feedback at several points throughout the semester.

Grading and Feedback

As with any class, you will have to spend some time with me to get a real sense of what I value and how I grade, but I look forward to that process, and to getting to know you all better more generally. One of the big advantages of a school like Denison is that, if you want to work with me again, you'll probably be able to, whether in another data analytics course, a summer research fellowship, or some other capacity.

As a general rule, the expectations in this course are high, and I'm confident you can all do great work. The feedback I provide on assignments is designed to help you get there. My goal is to provide specific, relevant, and honest feedback when I grade your work. This will include constructive criticism, strategies for improvement, and guidance on how students can achieve success. I will not do "compliment sandwiches" just to begin and end on a positive remark, but this means that, when I praise your work, it's an honest (and I think more meaningful) act of praise.

Major assignments for this class will be distributed with custom rubrics. In general, you will be graded on a mix of criteria that includes assignment process (following directions, turning things in on time); technical profiency (transparency of method, effective research design, proper validation methods, reproducible code, etc.); and use of effective communication strategies (sufficient levels of detail, clarity, depth of research, proper citations, etc.).

Late Work

The pace of this class is fast, especially in the first five weeks of the semester. Work is generally due to the instructor and the clients at the same time, and it's crucial that this work be turned in on time since it reflects poorly on Denison if we are not respecting our client's schedules. If you have a legitimate emergency such as a serious illness, a mental health emergency, or a death in the family, I will grant an appropriate extension with a new due date. The trade off is that work turned in this way is probably not going end up in my hand when I grade everything else, so it’s going to get less feedback. If you miss a deadline entirely without getting an extension, you will automatically lose 10 points off the top of your grade for each day it is late, in addition to any points you lose for the quality of the work.


Cell phones should be off and put away. Laptops are okay for notes and such, but you should not be messaging, using Facebook, etc. I’ll check screens regularly give you a verbal warning on your first offense. After that, I reserve the right to ask you to leave class and mark you absent if you are creating a distraction.

Being Prepared for Class

Coming to class prepared means that you have the day's reading in hand (printed or digital) and have come to class with a way to take notes (printed or digital). If you are not prepared for class, I reserve the right to grade as if you were absent for that day. Anything due on a given day is due at the start of class. Any digital submission of material is due by the time class starts on the day the hard copy is due. If students so not come to class prepared, I reserve the right to add reading quizzes to the day's work. I very much prefer not to do exercise this option and am asking you to help make it unnecessary.

Academic Integrity

Proposed and developed by Denison students, passed unanimously by DCGA and Denison’s faculty, the Code of Academic Integrity requires that instructors notify the Associate Provost of cases of academic dishonesty. Cases are typically heard by the Academic Integrity Board, which determines whether a violation has occurred, and, if so, its severity and the sanctions. In some circumstances the case may be handled through an Administrative Resolution Procedure. Further, the code makes students responsible for promoting a culture of integrity on campus and acting in instances in which integrity is violated.

Academic honesty, the cornerstone of teaching and learning, lays the foundation for lifelong integrity. Academic dishonesty is intellectual theft. It includes, but is not limited to, providing or receiving assistance in a manner not authorized by the instructor in the creation of work to be submitted for evaluation. This standard applies to all work ranging from daily homework assignments to major exams. Students must clearly cite any sources consulted--not merely for quoted phrases, but also for ideas and information that are not common knowledge. Neither ignorance nor carelessness is an acceptable defense incases of plagiarism. It is the student’s responsibility to follow the appropriate format for citations. Students should ask their instructors for assistance in determining what sorts of materials and assistance are appropriate for assignments and for guidance in citing such materials clearly.

Our Commitment to Liberal Arts Education

Denison's mission statement articulates an explicit commitment to liberal arts education. It emphasizes active learning, which defines students as active participants in the leaning process, not passive recipients. Denison seeks to foster self-determination and to demonstrate the transformative power of education. A crucial aspect of this approach is what Denison's mission statement refers to as "a concern for the whole person," which is why the university provides a "living-learning environment" based on individual needs and an overriding concern for community. This community is based on "a firm belief in human dignity and compassion unlimited by cultural, racial, sexual, religious or economic barriers, and directed toward an engagement with the central issues of our time."

In this class, we will discuss inequality directly. In many cases, you will asked to apply quantitative reasoning skills to these subject, which can be difficult because there is always the potential for the available data to complicate or contradict something you may feel very passionate about. In these cases, you should aspire to adopt an attitude of critical skepticism, i.e. wary of claims that are not supported by evidence but potentially willing to be persuaded by evidence if you find it compelling, and willing to give that evidence a fair hearing.

How we treat one another will be a cornerstone of these conversations. Denison's "Guiding Principles" speak of "a community in which individuals respect one another and their environment." Further, "each member of the community possesses a full range of rights and responsibilities. Foremost among these is a commitment to treat each other and the environment with mutual respect, tolerance, and civility." It's easy to treat someone this way when you like them and agree with their ideas, but the real challenge is treating those who differ from us with the same compassion and respect. However, I consider disruptive, deceitful, or hateful behavior to be breaches of these responsibilities. Bullying, trolling, hate speech, and harassment of any kind will not be tolerated.


Initial Bid Proposal

This team-based assignment responds to the client's Request for Proposal (RFP). In the simplest sense, a proposal is a plan of action for addressing a need. It is a specific genre in professional writing, which strives to be honest, evidence-based, specific, and detailed. Bid proposals typically include information about the company making the bid, the work to be performed, anticipated costs, a timeline of work to be done, a list of subcontractors to be included, and anything asked for in the RFP. Our proposals will be a little bit different since we are writing them for clients and for this class, but we will stay fairly close to a standard template.

Bid Proposal Presentation

In this team assignment, you and your teammates will first meet with and present to your client in detail, and then present an abbreviated summary of your project and approach to the class. All members of the team should participate in the presentation for roughly equivalent amounts of time.

Technical Progress Report I

The main goal of the progress report is to demonstrate visibility and transparency to your client. You need to make sure they understand how the project is progressing and have the opportunity for input at critical checkpoints along the way.

Technical Progress Report II

The main goal of this progress report is to update your client on the past month’s accomplishments and provide the opportunity for input on any changes or new insights thus far.

Domain-knowledge Assignment

This individual writing assignment is meant to be a mini-review of a sub-topic related to your client’s field or project, to help each team member build domain knowledge, and to help each team assemble domain knowledge from complimentary areas.

Visualization Assignment

This individual writing and visualization assignment asks you to think deeply and critically about how to present visual information in ways that will ultimately inform your team's final project packet.

Ignite Presentation

A PechaKucha is a type of “lightning” talk that has gained in popularity across business, scientific, and academic worlds in the past ten years. We’re going to try the “Ignite” version of this format, which is even faster! In short, it is a 20X20 format with 20 slides, each of which is displayed for exactly 20 seconds.

Final Project Packet

This team assignment is made up of written and verbal components. Through many individual and team assignments, we have already been working on many aspects of this packet. The initial bid assignment, domain knowledge assignment, technical progress reports, presentations, in-class workshopping, and visualization assignment all feed into this assignment. As a result, the written deliverables and subsequent presentation represent a culmination of all the work and skills that you have been building all semester!

Note: More detailed assignment descriptions will be added to Notebowl as we approach each deadline.


Summary of Due Dates

Due Date Assignment
Thursday, January 20 Sign up for Github and share all Google Drive folders (s)
Tuesday, January 25 Team Norms Document; add details to your Github profiles (s)

Thursday, January 27

Resume (s) and IRB Certificate (s) to Notebowl

Monday, January 31

Draft of Project Plan (s)

Friday, February 4

Domain-knowledge Assignment (i) 

Week of February 8-10 Bid Proposal Presentations (t)
Friday, February 11 Initial Bid Proposal (t)
Week of February 15-17

Bid Proposal Presentations to Clients (t)

Thursday, February 24 Team draft visualizations (s)
Week of March 8-10 Team meetings with Dr. Lavin (s)

Friday, March 11

Technical Progress Report I (t)
Friday, March 25 Individual Visualization Assignment (i)
Friday, April 1 Technical Progress Report II (t)
Week of April 19-21 Ignite presentations 
Friday, April 22 Ignite presentations, peer review
Friday, April 29 Final project deliverables (t)
Exam Week Formal presentations to clients (t)

Weekly Calendar

Week 1: Getting Started

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

In Class: Client and Team Assignments

Homework: Sign up for Github and share usernames via Notebowl; Read HBR chapter 1 (Notebowl)

Thursday, January 20, 2022

In Class: Discuss Team Norms

Homework: Complete Team Norms Document; add details to your Github profiles (s); Read your team's RFP

Week 2: Project Management and Scope

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

In Class: Discuss RFPs

Homework: Resume (s) and IRB Certificate (s) to Notebowl; email clients by beginning of next class and CC Dr. Lavin

Thursday, January 27, 2022

In Class: Discuss Project Plans

Homework: Draft of Project Plan (s) (due Monday); Read HBR chapters 3-6 for Tuesday (Notebowl)

Week 3: Time, Quality, Risk, and Ethics

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

In Class: Discuss domain knowledge research; Discuss Scope Creep

Homework: Domain-knowledge Assignment (i) (due Friday); Read HBR chapters 7-9 by Tuesday (assumes you have the book by now)

Thursday, February 3, 2022

In Class: Discuss readings

Homework: Meet with teammates outside of class

Week 4: Teamwork, Meetings, Handling Conflicts

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

In Class: Discuss readings from Thursday's canceled class

Homework: Initial Bid Proposal Presentations (t)

Thursday, February 10, 2022

In Class: Bid Proposal Presentations (t) to classmates

Homework: Finish Initial Bid Proposals (Due Friday at 3 p.m.) Read research design and methods packet (Notebowl)

Week 5: Research Design

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

In Class: Discuss readings

Homework: Bid Proposal Presentations to Clients

Thursday, February 17, 2022

In Class: Discuss research design and methods

Homework: Team draft visualizations (s)

Week 6: Data Visualization

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

In Class: Peer review of visualizations

Homework: Read Cairo excerpt (Notebowl)

Thursday, February 24, 2022

In Class: Discuss readings; project sprint time

Homework: Read HBR chapters 12,13, and 17

Week 7: Reproducible Code

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

In Class: Discuss readings; project sprint time

Homework: Meet with teammates outside of class

Thursday, March 3, 2022

In Class: Github, collaboration, version control; project sprint time

Homework: Work on Technical Progress Report I (t) (bring draft to team meeting with professor)

Week 8: Team meetings with Dr. Lavin

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

In Class: Team meetings with Dr. Lavin

Homework: Meet with teammates outside of class

Thursday, March 10, 2022

In Class: Team meetings with Dr. Lavin

Homework: Technical Progress Report I (t) (due Friday)

Homework: Individual Visualization Assignment (i) (submit on Notebowl by noon on Friday, March 25)


Week 10: Communication Part I

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

In Class: Team check-ins, project sprint time

Homework: Read HBR chapters 15 and 16

Thursday, March 24, 2022

In Class: Discuss readings

Homework: Individual Visualization Assignment (i) (submit on Notebowl by noon on Friday, March 25)

Week 11: Communication Part II

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

In Class: Team check-ins, project sprint time

Homework: Meet with teammates outside of class

Thursday, March 31, 2022

In Class: Team check-ins, project sprint time

Homework: Technical Progress Report II (t) (due Friday)

Week 12: Getting Results

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

In Class: Team check-ins, project sprint time

Homework: Meet with teammates outside of class

Thursday, April 7, 2022

In Class: Team check-ins, project sprint time

Homework: Meet with teammates outside of class

Week 13: Improving Results

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

In Class: Team check-ins, project sprint time

Homework: Meet with teammates outside of class

Thursday, April 14, 2022

In Class: Team check-ins, project sprint time

Homework: Ignite Presentation Slides (due Friday)

Week 14: Communicating Results

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

In Class: Ignite presentations

Homework: Meet with teammates outside of class

Thursday, April 21, 2022

In Class: Ignite presentations

Homework: Peer review due Friday; Read HBR chapters 20 and 21 by Tuesday

Week 15: Product Completion and Deliverables

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

In Class: Team check-ins, project sprint time

Homework: Read HBR chapters 20 and 21

Thursday, April 28, 2022

In Class: Discuss readings; project sprint time

Homework: Final project deliverables (t) (due Friday)

Week 16: Exam Week

Formal presentations to clients (t)