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Big Data course added to computer science curriculum

A woman stands in front of a computer lab.

Adjunct Susan Zeng, a subject matter expert with IBM in Columbia, is teaching the Big Data course. A Mizzou Enginering alumnus, Zeng is working with Professor Chi-Ren Shyu.

According to computer giant IBM, humans generate 2.5 exabytes (1018 bytes) of data on a daily basis from sources as varied as healthcare and financial services, social media, mobile devices, commercial transactions and scientific endeavors. It is estimated that all words ever spoken by human beings are equal to just five exabytes of data.

The Information Age has turned into the Era of Big Data. Companies and professionals with the ability to work with and extract insight from the explosion of electronic information will be better aligned to make strategic decisions about their business models giving them a competitive advantage.

Recognizing the value of providing current students with the skills to uncover insights from the massive amount of data available, MU Engineering’s Computer Science Department has partnered with IBM’s “Academic Initiative” to offer a “Big Data Analytics” course this fall.

“When we train our students, we want the course content to be cutting edge,” said Dong Xu, computer science department chair and James C. Dowell Professor. “There are a lot of things going on in computer science and one of the reasons our students are getting better jobs and higher salaries is because we have made our curriculum dynamic and state-of-the-art.

“IBM has great company culture and that is one of the reasons for their success. Besides technology collaborations, we value our relationship with them because of their work ethic and professionalism,” Xu added. “They are great role models for our students.”

Adjunct Susan Zeng, a subject matter expert with IBM in Columbia, is teaching the Big Data course. A Mizzou Enginering alumnus, Zeng is working with Professor Chi-Ren Shyu.

“Data was traditionally stored and processed in relational databases, but as technology advanced and people became more instrumented and interconnected through the Internet, smart phones and digital devices, the volume of data exploded,” said Zeng. “There’s gold in there, but you must be able to filter through this large and often unstructured volume quickly to get the the valuable information.”

“IBM’s supercomputer, Watson, that appeared on ‘Jeopardy!’ used the Big Data platform to defeat human competitors,” said Zeng as an illustration of the depth and speed of information retrieval.

Zeng said that attributes of structured data have already been defined, but 80 percent of new data is unstructured, and it is this body of information that can be mined. Besides its obvious commercial usage, Big Data can be used to tackle challenging issues of health, transportation, energy and more.

“This is new and evolving, so there is a need to be innovative,” the data architect said. “A new version of the software [IBM InfoSphere Big Insights and InfoSphere Stream] came out while I was preparing for class.

“It’s a hands-on class. The experience will be very helpful,” Zeng said adding that the class touches on different topics so that students will have an idea of where to start and where to go to find the information they need.

“We can no longer use our current models in data science and analytics,” Shyu said. “Traditional ways of making decisions are less relevant.”