Interview with De Liu of University of Minnesota
Professors De Liu teaches business analytics courses for the University of Minnesota at the graduate level.
What have your experiences been with posting articles regarding big data on Yellowdig? Have you found it more engaging?
Yes, I find good use [for it]. The impetus for me using it is that the big data topic is very new and there is a lot of news and knowledge that we are not aware of. So I said let’s cross sources because I also want students to explore and [be] informed on these topics. Typically mailing lists don’t do it because students typically do not want to write things to mailing lists. So I think Yellowdig is a good forum because they can also share what they found and discuss and learn from each other and learn from me. So actually most articles were posted by students and I enjoyed reading them. I think it’s a great invitation to the course that I am teaching.
Definitely. I was looking at some of the articles and there was one— how Twitter trends with Spark Streaming and IBM Watson can analyze people’s motivations— and it was very interesting to read the articles. Have your approaches to using Yellowdig changed over the course of the semester? Did you find yourself using it in a certain way at the beginning of the semester but then as midterms approached or finals, things changed with the way students were interacting?
I think that one change I noticed is that I used to share the project teams and announcements for the midterms and finals, also the winners of project teams and presentations. I wasn’t anticipating it but I think it is a great forum to share that. It is better than email because I can format it in the way that I want it to be and also have students react to it because it’s like Facebook. People can like and comment on things and they can engage better with the project teams and the winner announcements.
I see that you have a TA for the Harvesting Big Data class. Did he help with posting? How was he involved with the Yellowdig process?
I think that is another aspect where this forum worked well. So if you have a good TA, then he can help out either [by answering] student questions or help manage the forum. He was [also] helping with posting. For example, if there were common problems in homeworks, he would post on Yellowdig to either provide an answer that everyone can see or [give] tips to the students or, if the students [had] questions— if I don’t get to it first—he [would] try to get it. I think it’s also a way for me to give some of my communication workload to TAs and even other students because occasionally some students will also help answer questions, especially regarding homework assignments. Since they have many problems—sometimes there are technical problems— and they can share and help each other.
Are there any students or articles that you found particularly memorable? A conversation that you had on the virtual platform that maybe sparked discussions in class later on?
Sure. As we talked about Sparks and also big data platforms, one student discovered [Data Breaks (?)] and he posted an article on the forum. And that brought my attention to [Data Breaks(?)]. [It seemed] like a very innovative company that streamlines a lot of the big data setup and it allows you to easily connect to Amazon web services, which provides a lot of the computing power and data storage facilities. We use it to set up our sales. [Data Breaks(?)] makes it very easy, so you can focus on analyzing data without worrying about what happens in the back end. So he used that article to bring my attention to that [company] and right now I am investigating whether we want to incorporate that into part of the curriculum.
That’s very exciting that something that a student posted was able to be considered for a curriculum review. Is this because of the nature of the course itself? Big data is constantly evolving so it seems that these students are actually pushing the boundaries of the subject itself.
I think so. I think that’s part of it. I think this course works the best [with Yellowdig] because of the changing nature of the [data] landscape and the students are also very curious. And we truly learn from each other. You get a good dose of the news and new development in the field and the course is constantly evolving because at the end of the semester, the student teams discover some new technology and they ask, “Can we learn about it?” And maybe as a result, I will incorporate it in the next iteration of the course.
Do you think now that you’ve used Yellowdig for the first time this semester, are there any ways that you might change the way you use the platform in the Fall?
I think I’ll tweak some requirements probably. I think there are about 30% of students who did not post but the others were more active, which is fine with me because the active students were benefiting the whole class. And we benefit each other. I just want to see if I can either engage the rest of the students more through Yellowdig or also encourage them to interact with each other more by giving likes and giving comments— that part is hard because they have a very busy schedule. I understand they don’t keep up with all the articles in the forum.