Big Data: How Data Analytics Is Transforming the World

Course No. 1382
Professor Tim Chartier, Ph.D.
Davidson College
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Course No. 1382
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What Will You Learn?

  • numbers Learn how to put "big" data to work in your own life - from your cell phone use to your exercise routine.
  • numbers Delve into artificial intelligence and discover how computers are programmed to think and make decisions like humans.
  • numbers See how a mathematical approach called bracketology can help you pick winners during March Madness.
  • numbers Test the theory that everyone is connected by six degrees of separation.

Course Overview

Data is everywhere, shedding light on all aspects of life. Retailers know what’s selling and who’s buying. Pollsters test opinions on everything from candidates to consumer goods. Doctors follow their patients’ vital signs. Social networks register the interactions of millions. Sensors measure the changing weather. And as athletes play, fans collect exhaustive statistics on their performance.

If something can be measured, then in all likelihood a vast archive of data is already being compiled—and it is growing daily. Often, the data is unprocessed, waiting for someone to analyze it and discover new, valuable knowledge about the world.

This is the role of data analytics, a powerful set of tools for making sense of datasets of all sizes—from a personal exercise log to the massive collections of “big data” that define our information age. From science to sales, from sociology to sports, data analytics is unraveling the fascinating secrets hidden in numbers, patterns, relationships, and information of every kind.

Consider these examples:

  • Cell phone science: If you are an avid user of your cell phone, try downloading several months of your calling data. You may see daily and long-term patterns in your usage that surprise you. Plus, any changes in your routine, such as a vacation, will show up prominently.
  • Hardball analytics: The book and film Moneyball tell how the Oakland A’s overcame one of the smallest budgets in major league baseball to assemble a division-winning team. The secret? Managers used overlooked data analytics to hire undervalued, high-performing players.
  • Presidential prediction: In the 2012 presidential election, statistician Nate Silver and a few others correctly predicted the winner of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Here, weighting criteria make it possible to analyze data collected by hundreds of pollsters from thousands of distinct polls.

In our age of accelerating progress in so many fields, it’s easy to lose sight of the underlying innovation that makes this revolution possible. In case after case, the big breakthrough comes from data analytics, the mathematical magic that turns undigested information into life-transforming insights and advances.

Big Data: How Data Analytics Is Transforming the World introduces you to the key concepts, methods, and accomplishments of this versatile approach to problem solving. Taught by Professor Tim Chartier, an award-winning Associate Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Davidson College, these 24 half-hour lectures give you the big picture on big data, highlighting the crucial role of data analytics in today’s world and the even greater impact it will have in the future.

A Course for Data Users at All Levels

You need no expertise in mathematics to follow this exciting story. Professor Chartier explains the basic computational techniques used in data analytics, but his focus is on how these ideas are applied and the amazing results they achieve. His wealth of case histories and his many helpful graphics make Big Data both accessible and entertaining. Those who will benefit from his presentation include

  • those in business, government, science, and other endeavors, who want a view into what data analytics can do for them;
  • the intellectually curious, eager to investigate the role of computing and “data scraping” in the modern-day miracles of the information age;
  • math enthusiasts who relish seeing a wide range of mathematical techniques address practical challenges;
  • those considering, or already pursuing, work with data and aspiring to explore the full scope of their remarkable field; and
  • anyone who relies on the Internet, smart phones, social media, or other tools that make them a participant in the data analytics revolution.

Big Data at Work

The volume, velocity, and variety of available data have increased at an astonishing rate during the last twenty years. That is to say, there are vast amounts of stockpiled data, and more is being generated constantly; the speed at which data is used, updated, and overturned in favor of newer data continues to accelerate; and data comes from many different sources and can be put to diverse uses. The miracle of data analytics is that ingenious algorithms are able to process this data deluge, which has been compared to trying to drink from a fire hose of information.

For instance, in just fifteen minutes the number of photos uploaded to Facebook exceeds the total number of photographs stored in the New York Public Library’s photo archives. Yet you can see a picture on your Facebook news feed within seconds after it’s posted. A high-speed computer algorithm allows the flood of imagery to be managed in a way that’s both timely and orderly. Professor Chartier explains how programmers achieve such feats by focusing only on the data that’s crucial to a specific task, while ignoring everything that’s irrelevant.

Big Data takes you behind the scenes to witness many examples of data analysis in action, including the following:

  • Google Flu Trends: Google search queries on flu symptoms have sometimes proved more accurate and up-to-date at plotting the spread of flu than reports issued by doctors and hospitals. Explore the pitfalls and enormous potential of Internet traffic for charting many different trends.
  • Online recommendations: Predictive analytics deals with forecasting the future, a task taken very seriously by companies like Netflix and Amazon that aim to predict what customers want. Learn how Netflix came up with an impressively accurate movie recommendation algorithm.
  • March Madness: A classic exercise in data analytics is predicting the playoff winners of the NCAA basketball tournament, held every March. Follow the system for filling the game brackets, designed by Professor Chartier, and see how it applies to many other problems.

But big data and data analytics can also be a mixed blessing. While the field has revolutionized fraud detection, making many kinds of transactions much more secure, it has the potential to threaten personal privacy in ways that can be hard to spot. In this course, you learn that one of the best defenses for privacy is to know how data is compiled and processed, and which activities are the most compromising.

A Tool for Everyone

Honored as the Mathematical Association of America’s first ever Math Ambassador, Professor Chartier is a champion of the fun, challenge, and breathtaking power of mathematics—qualities that are beautifully illustrated in data analytics.

He especially relishes the links between sports and math. Not only does data analytics give you deep insight into the relative qualities of players, but it can establish a theoretical limit on performance—as when you learn how to estimate the fastest possible time for the 100-meter dash.

Professor Chartier also describes how simple analysis improved his own performance as a swimmer—which illustrates a key point: data analytics can be put to use by anybody for any problem that involves a dataset, no matter what size.

With Big Data, you discover tools that are transforming the world and that you can use to transform your own life. It’s like watching a thrilling spectator sport that invites you to suit up and join the action!

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24 lectures
 |  Average 31 minutes each
  • 1
    Data Analytics—What’s the “Big” Idea?
    Sample the tremendous scope and power of data analytics, which is transforming science, business, medicine, public policy, and many other spheres of modern life. Investigate why this revolution is happening now, and look at some common misconceptions about data analysis. x
  • 2
    Got Data? What Are You Wondering About?
    Data analysis is not just for large organizations and large datasets; it’s also for the average person. Learn how to put data to work in your own life—from charting your cell phone usage to personalizing your medical care or improving your exercise routine. x
  • 3
    A Mindset for Mastering the Data Deluge
    Today’s data users often feel like they’re drinking from a fire hose of information. Investigate strategies that help manage the data deluge, and learn efficient ways to think about data that separate what’s genuinely useful from what can be strategically ignored. x
  • 4
    Looking for Patterns—and Causes
    Humans are experts at pattern recognition, which is a key skill in data analysis. But when are patterns real and when are they imagined? Study some surprising correlations between apparently unrelated phenomena, asking whether there is a cause-and-effect relation or mere coincidence is involved. x
  • 5
    Algorithms—Managing Complexity
    Algorithms—rules to follow for solving problems—are the secret of managing huge datasets. Start by looking at simple algorithms, including an amazingly effective sorting procedure that you can perform by hand. Then see how these concepts apply to more complex problems, such as web search engines. x
  • 6
    The Cycle of Data Management
    Study what happens after you gather data. It must first be stored, then organized, integrated with data from other sources, and analyzed. Now you are ready to act on the information that the data provides. Determine how this cycle works in practice, and uncover some hidden pitfalls. x
  • 7
    Getting Graphic and Seeing the Data
    Graphics have long been a compelling way to present and understand data. Survey some unusually effective graphics from the pre-computer era. Then explore the wealth of graphical tools available today. Graphics can reveal new information, but they can also obscure it when used poorly. x
  • 8
    Preparing Data Is Training for Success
    “Garbage in, garbage out” is a famous expression in computer science, underscoring the importance of starting with reliable data. Learn how data is prepared to remove errors and ambiguities. As an example, see how the US Postal Service perfected machines that can read hastily scribbled addresses. x
  • 9
    How New Statistics Transform Sports
    Follow the saga of the 2002 Oakland A’s, famously depicted in the book and film Moneyball. Thanks to data analytics, the A’s made it to the major league playoffs with a roster of undervalued players. Survey the increasing role of data at all levels of sports competition. x
  • 10
    Political Polls—How Weighted Averaging Wins
    Study the role of big data in predicting election results. Contrast the disastrous 1936 presidential poll by the Literary Digest with today’s impressively accurate aggregators of polls, such as statistician Nate Silver. Analyze what makes aggregation more effective than any single poll. x
  • 11
    When Life Is (Almost) Linear—Regression
    Explore the power of regression analysis for modeling the past and future, focusing on a technique called the linear least squares method. As an example, use data from Olympic gold medal times for the 100-meter dash. Calculate a theoretical fastest possible time for the event. x
  • 12
    Training Computers to Think like Humans
    Delve into the field of artificial intelligence, discovering how computers are programmed to think and make decisions like humans. An automated version of the 20 questions game illustrates how neural networks are the key to machine learning—a technology that is now in widespread use. x
  • 13
    Anomalies and Breaking Trends
    Sometimes it is the odd bit of data—the outlier in a sea of statistics—that is crucial to solving a mystery. See how sophisticated anomaly detection has led to a significant drop in credit card fraud. The same approach helps understand cultural trends that go viral. x
  • 14
    Simulation—Beyond Data, Beyond Equations
    Enter the world of simulation, which allows researchers to model behavior that would otherwise be too dangerous or expensive to study. Investigate the history of the subject and its multiplying applications—from science and engineering to entertainment. x
  • 15
    Overfitting—Too Good to Be Truly Useful
    Learn how to avoid the perils of overfitting, which is when an overly complex model or noisy data leads to flawed conclusions. Explore object lessons in this common pitfall, including an earthquake forecast that was disastrously wrong. x
  • 16
    Bracketology—The Math of March Madness
    Every year, millions of people engage in a hugely popular data exercise called March Madness. See how a mathematical approach called bracketology helps you excel at picking winners in the playoff games of the NCAA basketball tournament. x
  • 17
    Quantifying Quality on the World Wide Web
    Internet searches used to be frustratingly hit-or-miss. See how Google changed that by creating a realistic model of the way web surfers use the Internet. Then look at attempts to hijack search results to improve page rankings and how programmers thwart these tactics. x
  • 18
    Watching Words—Sentiment and Text Analysis
    We are nearing the point where every book ever written is accessible and searchable in digital form—as already exists for the even more voluminous texts from Twitter, Facebook, and other media. Learn how data analysts mine this limitless storehouse of words for new cultural and business insights. x
  • 19
    Data Compression and Recommendation Systems
    Data compression is crucial for storing and transmitting digital images at a fraction of their original size. See how compression also improves online recommendations, as shown by the Netflix million dollar competition, which led to a new algorithm for personalized recommendations. x
  • 20
    Decision Trees—Jump-Start an Analysis
    Probe the power of decision trees by breaking down the demographics of survivors of the Titanic disaster, an analysis that tells the tragic story of events aboard the sinking ship. Then test decision trees in other applications, marveling at their ability to carve quickly through data. x
  • 21
    Clustering—The Many Ways to Create Groups
    Clustering is a powerful way to discover new relationships in data by sorting it into groups, called clusters. Explore this family of techniques by searching for clusters in the Million Song Dataset. Then try other examples that show the exceptional flexibility of clustering. x
  • 22
    Degrees of Separation and Social Networks
    Test the popular theory that six steps, at most, connect you to any person on the planet. Social networks like Facebook provide a wealth of data for quantifying our relative connectedness. See how graph theory helps you to visualize any linked phenomena. x
  • 23
    Challenges of Privacy and Security
    Big data can be a big threat to privacy. Learn how surveillance cameras, smart phones, and Internet use provide a wealth of opportunities for tracking specific individuals. Examine privacy issues raised by corporate and government activity, and review what you can do to lead a more secure life. x
  • 24
    Getting Analytical about the Future
    Focus on a branch of data analytics called predictive analytics, concerned with predicting the future. Imagine attending such a conference years from now. What can you expect? Answer the question with the tools you have learned in the course, and come up with some surprising forecasts! x

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Your professor

Tim  Chartier

About Your Professor

Tim Chartier, Ph.D.
Davidson College
Dr. Tim Chartier is an Associate Professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at Davidson College. He holds a B.S. in Applied Mathematics and an M.S. in Computational Mathematics, both from Western Michigan University. He received his Ph.D. in Applied Mathematics from the University of Colorado Boulder. Professor Chartier is a recipient of a national teaching award from the Mathematical Association of America (MAA)....
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Big Data: How Data Analytics Is Transforming the World is rated 3.7 out of 5 by 46.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Practical Information I was very happy with the course material. Well worth the time for learning about the importance of data analysis in the world today.
Date published: 2020-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent This is an excellent survey of big data for those who are not in the field. I suspect that it would not be useful for someone who is already in the field. However, for the rest of us who are always hearing the terms (“big data” and “analytics”), it adds meaning and insight into what the experts are doing and saying. This course tackles the impossible task of explaining the advanced technical fields of “big data” and “analytics” without using technical tools such as mathematics. Somehow, it succeeds. I came out of the course with a better understanding of what Google does, how analytics affects sports (e. g., the movie “Moneyball”), and how the internet knows more about me than I thought it did. Dr. Chartier has a good speaking style. He presents a very complex subject in terms that a layperson can understand. I used the video version. I think that the visual aids are important to the course.
Date published: 2020-04-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A broad survey with just enough depth I bought the course mostly because the term "Big Data" seems to be everywhere. As it turned out, much of what I had done professionally as an analyst in financial services fell within the content, but the course brought in so much more (e.g. social network analysis) AND opened a window for me in terms of how the various tools can work together. It really whet my appetite for further study. The pace and level of detail was just right, and the professor's enthusiasm for the topics came through on every lecture.
Date published: 2020-02-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Introduction to Important Subject Matter Prof. Chartier does an admirable job of introducing this important subject matter to a broad audience through this course. His topics are well-chosen, and his examination of the topics is interesting and thought-provoking. That said, Prof. Chartier's sing-song lecturing voice and his frequent stumbles in reading the teleprompter diminish his effectiveness and result in a lower score for the course overall. I also share the view of other reviewers who have complained that his examples are overly focused on sports scenarios; it would have been nice for him to drawn from a broader range of applications. Nonetheless, this is a worthwhile course (even though it is now almost six years old), and I recommend it despite these flaws.
Date published: 2019-11-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course!!! I really enjoyed this course! Professor Chartier is very articulate and engaging throughout the course. Before embarking into the mathematical mechanics of Data Science I would recommend all new students and data analytics enthusiasts to take this course first.
Date published: 2019-02-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from It was just ok for me I was on the fence for quite some time about whether or not to purchase this course. Even though data analyst was never my job title, I did do quite a bit of data analysis over a 30 year period. I think my overall opinions of this course is somewhat of a mixed bag. Certainly there is some good information for a novice in this area, but very limited new information for people who have worked with data- until maybe the last 6 lectures or so. I think the customers would get a clearer picture of the course content by calling it “An Introduction to Data Analytics”. The title used set me up for a much higher expectation for the content than what was delivered. I’d say something like the first 16 to 18 lectures were fairly boring to me. I was more interested in the later lectures on topics, such as how companies such as Google, Netflix, Amazon, and Pandora attempt to use algorithms to improve recommendations or how policing agencies try to use data analysis to improve their job effectiveness. However, my own experience with recommendations from many such companies have been incredibly lackluster and frustrating. I also recently watched a documentary somewhere that showed how analysis on data from sources such as the internet or security cameras have produced many false “leads” for the police and FBI, and clearly many crimes still go unsolved. Honestly, I don’t know if all of this mathematical massaging of data will ever provide perfect or even good solutions for many applications (particularly when relying on passive data). Some situations are better suited for data analysis than others, and putting too much confidence in data analysis can perhaps cause more problems than help in many situations. But the professor is very clear about the limitations of data sets and analysis techniques, and stresses that number crunching alone won’t lead you to good results. I am a huge fan of using real world examples in lectures. However, not being much of a sports fan, I felt there was too much focus on sports data. He does use non-sports examples, but there was just way too much focus on sports, especially in the earlier lectures. If you love sports, you probably wouldn’t notice this. The professor did stumble around his words quite a bit and had somewhat of an awkward cadence. Perhaps he was not comfortable in presenting in front of a camera. There was also some noticeable dubbing. While this was somewhat distracting at times, he isn’t the worst I have ever seen at the TGC or elsewhere. At the end of the day, this course is probably best suited for those interested in how data is used, have some technical background, but no or little experience with data analysis.
Date published: 2019-02-03
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Disappointed Several aspects disappointed me. The professor has a style that reminds me of an informercial (which seems to be an increasing pattern with the newer Great Courses compared to the older courses). I half expected Chuck Norris or George Foreman to come onto the stage at any moment. The content seemed to be at the High School level - certainly not a college course. There was too much fluff - I found myself wishing I could fast forward. This course could have been edited down to half the length. And, the Professor talked too much about himself.
Date published: 2019-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Instructor make new science very understandable I have used numerous Great Courses and this is right there with the best of them. I purchased this course knowing that a lot of the science behind data management and use has evolved way beyond what I know. Little did I know how much it has changed. , This course added a great deal to my knowledge, but it was certainly challenging at times trying to understand the concepts being presented--this is good news. The Instructor was great, passionate about the topic and good in presentation. I especially liked the examples used to further understanding of the topics. Going in, I was not too sure what to expect and found the content of the material truncated at time due to the lack of time. I think this course might get a bit of mixed reviews because if you are thinking about a better way to be secure in using your computer/smart phone, this is not it. But, if you are thinking about understanding a bit more about how massive amounts of data are being collected and used to advance understanding of complex problems, this is spot on.
Date published: 2018-11-25
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