Online Program at University of California at San Diego Teaches Practical Uses of Data Mining Tools

by   |   March 28, 2013 5:49 pm   |   1 Comments

One in a series of articles profiling university programs focusing on big data and analytics education.

The data mining certificate program at University of California at San Diego’s Extension School was created in 2003. The program began just as new data mining tools with graphical user interfaces came on the market, meaning that command line programming was no longer a barrier to entry into data mining.

Natasha Balac, now the director at UCSD’s recently opened Predictive Analytics Center of Excellence, was then a consultant working with the Extension School when she proposed a single class to see if there was any interest in the topic.

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“Even 10 years ago, there was a lot of interest,” Balac said. “The reason we had students interested in these classes, even 10 years ago, was the practical aspect. At the time in data mining text books, you would open them and it would be just a bunch of equations and proofs, and very statistically heavy books. The tools evolved, and they had nice [user interfaces], and people started looking around for a program because they could use these tools but didn’t have the technical background yet to understand what they were doing.”

The program features three required courses in data mining, a required data preparation course and one elective. The entire program is completed online.

Balac said students still use the open source data mining tool Weka, and is still focused on the practical application of data mining techniques. Students also learn some programming in R and SAS languages in the program and can take an elective course to learn more.

The first class had 10 people in it, Balac said; now there are 60 people in each class and a waiting list. Cindy Hanson, the assistant director of science and mathematics at the Extension School, said as interest in the program has increased over the last few years the program began adding new features.

Now students are able to take workshops and gain access to UCSD’s supercomputer, named Gordon, to crunch big data projects. Hanson said the program is also developing a capstone course for the certificate program where students will work with local industry partners on projects using business data. That class is in development and should be ready by the winter quarter in 2013.

Courses run quarterly; Hanson said most students complete the certificate in four or five quarters. Each class is $625; students that are new to statistical analysis are asked to take an introduction to statistics course as a prerequisite. Most students have already had some experience in the workplace, but some graduate students take the courses to enhance their studies.

Program details:

  • Program began in 2003; courses are online only.
  • Five course certificate program, usually completed in four to five quarters.
  • Each course costs $625

Program features:

  • Access to UCSD’s supercomputer for workshops
  • Capstone course with local business data in development, ready by 2014.
  • Students learn tools like SAS, R, and WEKA.


Email Staff Writer Ian B. Murphy at Follow him on Twitter .

Home page photo of University of California at San Diego library by Belisario via Wikipedia Commons.

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One Comment

    Posted August 16, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    People who have not had the opportunity to be introduced to data mining tools like those used by universities have no way to fully understand or appreciate their value. I learned the value of data mining tools in college, using EBSCOhost as my primary source for nearly all of the research papers I wrote. When I try to explain the benefits of data mining tools to friends, the response I generally receive is “But I can retrieve all of that information using a simple Google search, so why would I need to spend money on a data mining tool when Google can give me the same thing for free?”. If you have experience using data mining tools such as EBSCO, you know how flawed that logic is. The vast amount of data that can be accessed using a data mining tool that cannot be found by using Google or another public Boolean based search engine to perform a search on the mainstream Web. Google and the internet are powerful research tools, but do not come close to offering the same amount of data as these data mining tools do. After I graduated and my EBSCOhost login credentials expired, I continued to get friends who were still attending school to let me use their accounts for my research. To this day I still use the data mining tool for work, which in my opinion speaks volumes to the power of data mining as a priceless tool for conducting research.

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