Big Data project breaks new ground

A SUNY Oneonta team of sociologists, political scientists, philosophers and information technologists has begun integrating the study of Big Data—the vast collection of information generated by our online activities—across the social science disciplines.

With the majority of the population now communicating and consuming information online, studying social media data has become a viable way to gauge attitudes and beliefs, and there is an emerging need for data scientists. Using tools such as IBM’s Many Eyes, Trackur, ContentSeer and Topsy, SUNY Oneonta students are learning the mechanics of analyzing qualitative data. In classroom discussions, they’re examining broader social issues related to morality, privacy and popular culture.

In Assistant Professor of Sociology Greg Fulkerson’s social research methods class one Monday afternoon, students are learning to use the IBM SPSS Modeler text mining tool. In between tasks, one student toggles to his Facebook timeline. Another scrolls through Reddit headlines. Even as they analyze data, they add to the ceaselessly accumulating bits of content to be sifted.

SUNY Oneonta’s Big Data Project is funded by two SUNY Innovative Instruction Technology Grants, with additional support from IBM, Microsoft, Gnip and RapidMiner, and collaboration with Penn State and the University of Buffalo.

Assistant Professor of Sociology Greg Fulkerson, left, and Associate Professor of Sociology Brian Lowe, right, are part of SUNY Oneonta’s multidisciplinary Big Data team.
Photo by Michael Forster Rothbart

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