For those entering post-secondary and graduate levels of education, the world becomes all about experiences. Students are not wondering why they’re learning a particular theory, lesson, or exercise, but rather how to apply it to the real world. Technology has helped to bridge the gap between the Why and the How, but usually separate from the academic setting and more as an extracurricular activity.
VentureBeat spoke with one company that is seeking to fill that gap, focusing on data science (statistics, programming, etc.). That company is Leada, and it’s launching today as a way for professors to supplement their teaching and enable students to apply what they’ve learned to actual real-world problems.
Started by Brian Liou and Tristan Tao, both University of California, Berkeley graduates, Leada tackles an issue both founders had: The university hadn’t taught them employable skills in the data science industry, just theories. They tried using Codecademy, but Liou said that it was limited to introducing students to skills. Coursera just didn’t work for them either.
The result is Leada, a Y Combinator-backed program that professors can use to give students actual experience tackling data analysis problems from industry. All course work is created by Leada and is only available through participating schools. To date, six professors from five institutions — Notre Dame; New York University; University of San Francisco; University of California, Berkeley; and Northern Illinois University — are using the service. Liou hopes Leada will be in 30 universities by the fall.
“We believe data science is a fundamental skill for everyone,” he said. “I really feel that the data science niche will be very large and always think about the pain point we solve being applied to other industries.”
Leada partners with companies and then creates the curriculum for students. Professors assign the project in their course syllabus for students to complete over the semester, like homework. Each project has auto-checks to ensure that the student progresses through the project at a good pace. Liou says that it’s not about right or wrong with these projects, but rather about students applying their knowledge. The service offers a live teaching assistant to help answer any questions.
While it’s free for professors to use, the cost is passed through to the students. Liou justifies this by saying it’s akin to purchasing a textbook for the class. The company offers two options for students: industry projects, which are $25 per student, and programming boot camps, which start at the beginning of the semester and cost $50 per student.
One thing that is concerning, though, is what happens to all the data that students enter into Leada. The program works with companies to create the projects, which may be based on real-life problems that they’re trying to solve. So by having the students take a stab at them, will companies be able to leverage those responses without providing credit or compensation? Liou says that currently there’s not an opt-out option, and professors and students are not told that their work could be used. “We’re not at a point where we feel like we need to tell what the data is being used for. We haven’t tackled that problem yet,” he said.
But Leada isn’t just about helping those attending college or university. Liou shared that his startup is also targeting enterprise companies to provide a training solution in which an instructor will be present to help teach employees about data science. The content will be the same, but the structure will be different (specifics weren’t shared, but it’s doubtful that other company data would be used in these scenarios), as will the cost. One of the companies participating is Zenefits.
Leada has received approximately $200,000 in funding from Y Combinator and the Imagine K-12 accelerator.