Published: May 23, 2022

A computer science professor at CU Boulder who taught more than 10,000 students in his online data science course has received a prestigious award from Coursera for his innovative course design.Sriram Sankaranarayanan

Sriram Sankaranarayanan, University of Colorado Boulder professor of Computer Science has been awarded the prestigious Innovation Award from Coursera for his online “Data Structures and Algorithms” specialization, which teaches the fundamentals of data structures and algorithms with an emphasis on applications in data science. 

The online course is part of CU Boulder’s online Master of Science in Data Science (MS-DS) degree offered on the Coursera platform. 

The Coursera Innovation Award is given to a professor and university that has successfully implemented cutting-edge features into the course content and demonstrated a high level of industry and university expertise. Sriram Sankaranarayanan received the Innovation Award on behalf of CU Boulder for implementing the web-based interactive computing platform Jupyter Notebook into the design of course assignments. According to Coursera, Sankaranarayanan’s specialization was among several dozens of courses with more than 10,000 enrollments, launched in 2021 and has at least a 4.7 average star rating. 

Sankaranarayanan’s use of Jupyter Notebooks has made it possible for students to practice designing solutions to problems by proving them mathematically correct, turning them into code and testing them against provided test cases all in one central programming environment. The award, Sankaranarayanan points out, shows that thousands of learners enrolled in the specialization found the course materials useful. 

“To me, this is a great recognition for innovation that started right here to serve our on-campus  and post-baccalaureate programs in computer science,” Sankaranarayanan said. “They are now helping many more students from around the world learn how to design data structures and algorithms.”

The online MS-DS degree program is unique in that it caters to students who may not necessarily have a traditional background in the subject area. Sankaranarayanan’s course is one of three that are considered part of the degree’s “pathway specializations.” By taking the course and earning a minimum grade, students are guaranteed admission to the MS-DS program. 

“The award given to Sriram highlights the quality of the courses CU Boulder has in their online Master’s in Data Science degree,” Jane Wall, director of the Data Science program said. “We are thrilled to be part of such an innovative and exceptional program.” 

Since its founding in 2020, over 1,000 students have enrolled in the MS-DS program. Robert McDonald, Senior Vice Provost of Online Education and Dean of University Libraries says he is delighted with the success of the program and expects big things in the coming years for them. 

“We are so happy that Sriram has won this recognition from Coursera,” McDonald said. “The work that he and his graduate team have accomplished in automating the assessments for their courses is remarkable and is a key model for how others will move for-credit credentials forward on the Coursera platform.”

Sankaranarayanan calls this “a great validation” for the time and effort he and colleagues have invested to create learning materials that are more accessible and can reach more students. 

“The past year has been a big learning experience,” he said. “I cannot say that my own learning process has concluded in any way. I am still learning how to engage students better so that more students are able to complete the course.”