Big opportunities with big data

A new informatics course open to students from across campus is just one sign of a far-reaching initiative to create new learning opportunities related to data analysis and security while building on the University of Georgia’s record of using big data to advance knowledge and discovery.

Eight new faculty members will join UGA this year following the completion of the Presidential Informatics Hiring Initiative, and a proposal to create a campus-wide Georgia Informatics Institutes for Research and Education is being submitted to the institution’s University Council. On Oct. 11, the university will host its first interdisciplinary informatics workshop, which will include discussions led by UGA faculty members, opportunity for networking among faculty and students across a wide range of disciplines as well as interdisciplinary speakers.

“The explosion of digital information has created new opportunities in so many fields-from the sciences to engineering and the humanities,” said Kyle Johnsen, an associate professor of engineering who is directing the campus-wide initiative to establish the GII. “Our goal is to help faculty use informatics as a tool to help answer research questions while making it easier for them to incorporate informatics into their instruction.”

The new informatics course, which is listed as special topics in engineering (ENGR 4900) but in the future will be listed under a proposed INFO course prefix, will introduce students to data analysis and help them develop evidence-based decision-making skills that can be applied to any field. The course is the foundation of a proposed undergraduate certificate program in informatics that also would include discipline-specific courses and several electives. Planning for a graduate certificate program in informatics that would have an emphasis on research is currently underway, as well.

A seven-member planning committee with representation from six units across campus developed recommendations that are serving as the framework for the proposal for the Georgia Informatics Institutes for Research and Education, which would serve as a hub for informatics-related activities across campus and serve as a link to industry, government and community partners. In addition to administering informatics certificate programs, the Georgia Informatics Institutes would lead an effort known as Informatics Across the Curriculum to promote informatics-related instruction, much in the same way that the Writing Intensive Program in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences supports faculty efforts to infuse more writing in their courses.

The Georgia Informatics Institutes also would foster interdisciplinary collaboration by bringing faculty members with related interests together and providing workshops and other resources for researchers and scholars who are interested in incorporating the latest techniques in data mining, analysis and visualization into their projects.

“The GII would be housed in the College of Engineering, but its mission is to serve the entire university,” said Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Pamela Whitten. “It provides a framework and an opportunity to build new connections among faculty that can lead to significant advances in research, instruction and outreach.”