Department offers hybrid graduate degree combining online, offline education
For students who recognize how the world of Big Data is already revolutionizing the fields of biology and medicine, the University of California San Diego is introducing a new program that combines online and classroom education. The Department of Computer Science and Engineering (CSE) is introducing Biological Data Science (BDS), a 10-course, accelerated Master’s degree program.
The accelerated BDS program complements courses that are currently taught in CSE and its Bioinformatics specialization, and program faculty will introduce new courses directed specifically at BDS. The distinctive feature of this program is a mix of offline and online courses developed by UC San Diego faculty in the form of currently available Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs.
“Taking some courses online at the student’s preferred pace will reduce the ‘on-campus’ time of the students,” said CSE Professor Pavel Pevzner (at right), who helped launch the Bioinformatics graduate program at UC San Diego as well as a series of popular MOOCs on the Coursera learning platform. “The accelerated option should be of particular interest to U.S.-based working professionals who may want to obtain an M.S. degree within a year or less.” Finding Hidden Messages in DNA, the first in a series of bioinformatics courses developed by Pevzner, was named one of the Top 50 MOOCs in a survey published July 19 on the online learning website, Class Central.
By establishing its first accelerated M.S. program, UC San Diego joins the ongoing revolution in online education at leading computer-science departments. In 2014, for example, Georgia Tech introduced an online M.S. program in Computer Science, which attracted thousands of excellent students, many of them working full-time at major corporations. But according to CSE’s Director of Masters Programs, students enrolled in a purely online program are missing something.
“They are missing the powerful experience of being on campus for at least a part of their studies and interacting face-to-face with top professors,” said Gregory Kesden. “Here at UC San Diego we aim to show that having a hybrid online-offline program will carry with it the best of both worlds.”
The accelerated M.S. program in BDS will leverage a series of courses and specializations that have been developed by UC San Diego faculty (see illustration at left from Pevzner's MOOC). By taking those courses online, students enrolled in the program will be able to complete the M.S. program specializing in Biological Data Science with as little as three quarters (30 weeks) attending classes on the ’bricks-and-mortar’ Southern California campus.
This hybrid program combines the advantages of both online and offline experiences. It will provide an option for UC San Diego students who are unable to attend classes on campus full-time, or who recognize that a purely online degree is not optimal for someone who hopes to translate the M.S. degree into more pay or a better job.
“In fully online M.S. programs, students do not get face-to-face access to world-famous Biological Data Science experts,” said CSE Chair and Professor Dean Tullsen. “We anticipate that many companies will consider the BDS program as an attractive option to educate their workforce because it directly addresses the needs of students currently in full- or part-time jobs.”
According to Kesden, the next goal is to “extend the accelerated M.S. program from the BDS specialization to the entire field of Computer Science and Computer Engineering, perhaps as early as 2017.”
BDS is at the intersection of biology, data science and computing, and its genesis can be traced to the Human Genome Project, one of the largest computing efforts in the history of science. At completion in 2001, the Project assembled the three billion bases of the human genome from hundreds of millions of short fragments. Fifteen years later, a single laboratory can generate an even larger volume of data in a single day, and the advent of such massive biological data sets has resulted in a tidal wave of data covering all aspects of life sciences. Handling and understanding such data is critical to new biomedical discoveries and it is expected to pave the way for the emerging field of precision medicine.
Analyzing ‘big biological data’ also creates computer-science challenges and a new type of professional – the biological data scientist – to address the challenges. The biological data scientist combines the skills of a software programmer, statistician or bioinformatics expert to create computational models of biological data, decode it, identify trends, and present them in ways that can be understood by biologists.
Initial online courses would include “Data Structures and Algorithms” (currently available as a Specialization of six online courses and a capstone project on the Coursera platform); “Bioinformatics Specialization” involving seven online courses; and “Analyze Your Genome,” to be released on Coursera later this year. Additional online offerings for the Biological Data Science program will be developed in 2017.