For students, data analytics made easy

Hong Kong Shue Yan University enhances teaching and research using IBM Cloud technologies
by Deirdre Puleo
5-minute read
Students sitting around a table with laptops

How does a liberal arts school teach nontechnical students how to use advanced technology to enhance their studies? For Hong Kong Shue Yan University (HKSYU), the answer is to adopt a single solution that’s user friendly and rich in microservices. It found both in the IBM Cloud Pak® for Data platform.

In September 2020, HKSYU launched three laboratories for the study of big data, virtual reality and robotics. The intent is to reinvent liberal arts education, enabling the university to stay relevant in the digital age. By adopting digital technology and online teaching tools, HKSYU will make learning easier and more interesting.

One lab, the Big Data Laboratory, was designed to facilitate studies and support research projects requiring data analytics, machine learning and data visualization. The challenge, however, was to equip the lab with technology that both students and faculty could easily learn and use.

Dr. Connie Yuen, Head of the Department of Applied Data Science, Director of iFREE GROUP Innovation and Research Centre, and Director of the Big Data Laboratory, was tasked with solving the problem. “The students are interested in learning more about technology and how to use it in their studies and lives,” she explains. “But they don’t know how. It’s the same for the faculty members. They would like to use tools to support their research and data analysis, but don’t know where to start. It’s complicated for them.”

Exterior of the university’s research building

The Big Data Lab with IBM Cloud technologies helps

100

students learn data analyses and coding

Pioneering the use of

low or no code

methods to equip nontechnical users with data analyses skills

Cloud Pak for Data makes learning easier for students and teachers who are starting their journey with data analysis. That’s why it was the right choice for us.
Dr. Connie Yuen
Head of the Department of Applied Data Science; Director of iFREE GROUP Innovation and Research Centre; Director of Big Data Laboratory, Hong Kong Shue Yan University

Originally, Dr. Yuen considered installing an Apache Hadoop-based system. “I’m quite familiar with that software,” she recalls. “But then I realized no one would know how to use it. So that was meaningless.”

When the pandemic forced the cancellation of in-person classes, Dr. Yuen explored the idea of cloud services. “We needed a system with a user-friendly interface that could guide students step-by-step through a task, and that had multiple microservices to support the various disciplines. A platform that would benefit not only students and faculty of the Department of Applied Data Science, but also students and staffs of the entire university.”

A room with many desks and computers
Exterior of a building
We needed a system with a user-friendly interface that could guide students step by step through a task, and that had multiple microservices to support the various disciplines.
Dr. Connie Yuen
Head of the Department of Applied Data Science; Director of iFREE GROUP Innovation and Research Centre; Director of Big Data Laboratory, Hong Kong Shue Yan University
Data analyses — and more — made easy
We needed a system with a user-friendly interface that could guide students step by step through a task, and that had multiple microservices to support the various disciplines.
Dr. Connie Yuen
Head of the Department of Applied Data Science; Director of iFREE GROUP Innovation and Research Centre; Director of Big Data Laboratory, Hong Kong Shue Yan University

Dr. Yuen chose IBM Cloud Pak for Data technology, which runs on the university’s on-premises private cloud. “Cloud Pak for Data makes learning easier for students and teachers who are starting their journey with data analysis,” adds Dr. Yuen. “That’s why it was the right choice for us.”

At the start of the engagement, the IBM Client Engineering team conducted a workshop to understand the university’s pain points, expectations and requirements for academic use cases. The team also learned how HKSYU wanted to take advantage of machine learning — and natural language processing in particular — to uncover insights from unstructured data, determine the best topics for research and deliver high quality analysis within a reasonable timeframe.

The workshop resulted in a two-week minimum viable product (MVP) of IBM Watson® Discovery software for news analyses. HKSYU selected the data sources. The results proved the technology’s ability to ingest and analyze news data. The university was impressed with the software’s comprehensive user interface to help students extract meaningful insight, verify the correlation of topics and keywords, and generate reports.

The platform also provides an array of analytic components, but gives the university the flexibility to select just those services and components it needs most. One of those components is the AutoAI graphical tool in IBM Watson® Studio technology, which is integrated with the IBM Cloud Pak for Data platform. The tool automatically runs the key tasks used to build machine learning models, such as data pre-processing and model selection. Plus no coding is needed.

“With AutoAI, students can visualize the whole modeling process, starting from data collection to data analysis to results and the performance of the algorithms,” says Dr. Yuen. “It’s very easy to use. Within a three-hour class, the students learn from the demo, listen to a lecture and practice in a two-hour lab. The professors are also more comfortable teaching data analysis because it’s easier.”

One professor also used IBM Cloud Pak for Data to teach fintech students the Python programming language. “Because students can easily visualize the data, it motivated them to learn Python,” adds Dr. Yuen. “They also have all the tools they need right there to do data clean up, so the task is easier.”

Cloud technology that everyone can use

Today, HKSYU is a pioneer in the industry for using AutoAI technology and low-code or no-code methods to teach data analyses skills to nontechnical students and faculty. As of January 2022, about 100 students from the Department of Business Administration and the Department of Economics and Finance use the IBM Cloud® platform to learn the concepts of data analysis framework and Python coding.

Moving forward, students and staff are planning to use IBM Cloud technologies for data analysis in their research projects. The lab will also support the Bachelor of Science in Applied Data Science undergraduate program when it launches in 2022. The course will equip students with the skills and knowledge needed for data analytics, data science and more, ultimately opening more career opportunities for graduates. The platform also plays a major role in the university’s shift towards digital humanities — the merging of humanities with digital science.

Students claim the platform, especially AutoAI software, greatly enhances teaching and learning in their courses. “The student feedback is very positive,” says Dr. Yuen. “We have just one or two lessons to introduce Cloud Pak for Data and they say the tool makes it easier to understand what data analysis is.”

Across the university, more people are interested in learning how to use the platform for data analyses. This is reflected in increased workshop attendance rates. “In previous years, no more than 20 colleagues joined,” Dr. Yuen comments. “But in our last workshops, we had nearly 50 staff attend the four-day workshop from home to learn how to use IBM Cloud Pak for Data.”

Moving forward, Dr. Yuen has grand plans for the Big Data Lab and IBM Cloud Pak for Data technology. For example, to support the IoT general education course, she wants to connect more IoT devices to the platform. She also wants to collaborate with other programs that use data analysis and add more IT courses. “I think more students will use the IBM Cloud Pak for data in the coming years,” she concludes.

Hong Kong Shue Yan University (HKSYU) logo
About Hong Kong Shue Yan University (HKSYU)

“Cultivating virtues of benevolence; broadening horizon and knowledge” is the motto for HKSYUExternal Link. Founded in 1971, the private liberal arts university offers 17 undergraduate and 18 postgraduate programs to around 4,000 students a year. Recently, HKSYU has focused on the field of digital humanities, and using information and digital technology to transform education.

Solution components
Hong Kong Shue Yan University (HKSYU) logo
About Hong Kong Shue Yan University (HKSYU)

“Cultivating virtues of benevolence; broadening horizon and knowledge” is the motto for HKSYUExternal Link. Founded in 1971, the private liberal arts university offers 17 undergraduate and 18 postgraduate programs to around 4,000 students a year. Recently, HKSYU has focused on the field of digital humanities, and using information and digital technology to transform education.

Solution components