Learning Information Technology with Terence Ow

October 19, 2007

Teach and they will come.

Teaching the introductory course in IT/MIS in the business school and watch the number of IT majors grow.

I have always found the introductory course to be the most challenging course to teach at any level. On one hand the students in the class are heterogeneous. If you treat this class as a basic terminology class, half the students would just fall asleep. What is the fun about learning the various terms? On the other hand you wonder if you engage them too much technical work (no programming), are you attempting an academic suicide or administrative nightmare as some might call it, where the students will revolt. Besides, most students really do not go to the business school to want to learn about computers. Those are for the engineers and the computer scientists. That is the last thing on their mind to pursue this as a major. During the .com years, there was a surge in the number of majors because many business students are attracted to the idea of starting their own company in the Internet. But the .com crash and parents have in many ways persuaded students to pursue other fields of business. Now is the time to reel them back in. The big question is how?

Since most business school requires students to take this class, this is the first plan of getting them back. Find a book that has around 12 chapters. Each week you will teach a chapter from that book and also provide something interesting from that book during that week. This will help with the terminology and the acquisition of knowledge. Alongside this class, I suggest that you require the students to find a project that they can build a database system. They can find projects at their work, social organizations (there are lots of them that need some database work) or student groups. They will perform some of the elements of systems development throughout the semester such as defining the problem, understand the business processes and activities, modeling the database model and eventually implementing the database. That means this class will also need to have a few more lectures that will focus on database development. Try not to cramp a whole semester of a senior elective class in database for them. That is not what this is about. Teach them enough so that they can independently create a system. I have these database help files and exercises that I have been using the last few years using Microsoft Access that you might find useful in delivering the database content. You, as the administrator of all the projects have to ensure that the projects do not get out of control. Many would argue with me that this is too much work and the students will hate the class. On the contrary, at the end of the semester, I find that most of the students realize their technology skill set has improved. They understand that the journey was very difficult but at the same time it is very rewarding to see the final product come together. The ability to work on a project and succeed under time constraint has huge benefits in learning. Better still, they get an internship because of the technology skills they acquired in the class put a stamp on the importance of the taking the class.

The project is run like a scaled-down systems analysis course. You need to have some kind of proper methodology to manage the projects. You want to engage students to be mini-consultants. This allows them to see the process of how systems development is done in the real world but in a smaller setting. I have many students that convert or add IT as a second major because they find this problem solving approach and creating solutions a very fulfilling exercise and probably a career. The experiential and service learning aspect of this is critical in the success of the class. The students will finally realize that the major is not all about programming. There are many roles during this consulting process that interest them. Isn’t this course supposed to expose them and give them a taste of a possible career path? Better still, get a few consultants to present to the class, it will reinforce their learning that their project is not just as classroom mini-exercise but is applicable to the real world.

2 Comments »

  1. [...] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerptI have these database help files and exercises that I have been using the last few years using Microsoft Access that you might find useful in delivering the database c ontent…. [...]

    Pingback by Ghillie Suits » Teach and they will come. — October 19, 2007 @ 5:51 am | Reply

  2. [...] Check it out! While looking through the blogosphere we stumbled on an interesting post today.Here’s a quick excerptI have these database help files and exercises that I have been using the last few years using Microsoft Access that you might find useful in delivering the database c ontent…. [...]

    Pingback by My Ghillie » Teach and they will come. — October 19, 2007 @ 5:54 am | Reply


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