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IT discipline identity and name disguises

December 30, 2011 Comments off

Motivation
UNH Manchester has recently renamed the academic unit that offers two degrees in Information Technology, BS CIS and MS IT, Computing Technology.

The new name has triggered healthy discussions around the word “computing” and the many names that the academic degrees in IT have across the nation and around the world. Why is the IT discipline taught in degree programs of study, undergraduate or graduate, that may be called IT, but also something else? How do we know that a degree program educates students in the IT discipline and not something else? Is there a broader definition of what IT and other computing disciplines have in common?

Some of these questions found answers in the Computing Curricula 2005 Overview Report. Others keep the dialog about computing education compelling and engaged (read about the 2009 Future of Computing Education Summitt).

Naming the place that houses BS CIS and MS IT at UNH Manchester with Computing Technology simply says that the two degree programs belong together, without having to undo the particular history of the BS CIS and MS IT making. Collateral musing on the merit of naming things and how names stand the test of time is left for future posts.

Why Computing Technology?
Computing technology has transformed and is driving innovation in all economic sectors. Occupations in IT are fast growing and address vastly diverse needs to harness information with computing technology means, whether tablets, network sensors, clouds of virtual servers, smart phones, or personal computers – legendary now, by information age standards.

Computing is a purposeful activity that is computer bound: requires, benefits, and creates computer-powered devices and environments.

Technology is about the tools, systems, and techniques that equip the practice in any particular domain, including computing.

From an academic stand point, computing encompasses five disciplines: computer science (CS), computer engineering (CE), information systems (IS), software engineering (SE), and information technology (IT).

Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the world’s largest educational and scientific society in computing, is the ultimate authority regarding the resources that advance computing as a science and a profession, including curriculum recommendations for computing disciplines.

The IT 2008 Computing Curricula IT Volume marks the birthday of information technology as an academic discipline – the youngest among its siblings.

What Is the Information Technology Discipline?
The IT discipline studies the mapping of the computing needs of organizations and users to adequate computing technology solutions. The IT discipline overarching goal of advocating for users and meeting their needs within an organizational and societal context is accomplished through five interrelated IT objectives:

  • selection
  • creation
  • integration
  • application
  • administration

of computing technology processes and artifacts, prototypes, products, and services.

Graduates of an IT degree program should be the first to take responsibility for solving a computing need and devising a solution in an organizational context.

A visually smart description of the relationships among the key curricular components of the IT discipline depicts the five pillars of programming, networking, human-computer interaction, databases, and web systems, built on a foundation of knowledge of the fundamentals of IT. Overarching the entire foundation and pillars are information assurance and security, and professionalism (IT 2008 Computing Curricula IT Volume, pg. 18).

IT discipline key components

IT discipline key components

How Does the IT Discipline Relate to Other Computing Disciplines?
Two dimensions model the curricular domain space of a computing discipline (Computing Curricula 2005, 16-21):

  • Theory/practice spectrum, ranging from theory and principles to application, deployment, and configuration.
  • Technology/organization spectrum, ranging from hardware and infrastructure to software, application technologies, and organizational issues.

In this domain space, the IT discipline distinguishes from other computing discipline by being more applied than theoretical and primarily concerned with infrastructure systems and application technologies.

IT discipline view

IT discipline view

The other computing disciplines, CE, IS, CS, and SE, exhibit different commonalities and differences.

IS discipline view
CE IS
CS SE IT

Side by side, these views make it clearer that:

  • CE and IS show the highest degree of complementarity along the technology/organization axis.
  • CS and IT do the same, but along the theory/practice axis.
  • SE maximizes the overlap between CS and IT.

What is the common core of computing disciplines?
There are concerns that computing education will suffer from increasing balkanization if more specialized computing disciplines will continue to spin off. The exercise of assembling the CE, IS, CS, SE, and IT views of computing together draws attention not only to differences but also to commonalities. Marc Snir (Snir, 2011) raises the question of what should define a common core of computing and information education. His answer says it all:

“It is about educating students in ways of thinking and problem solving that characterize our community and differentiate us from other communities:

  • A system view of the world
  • A focus on mathematical and computational representations of systems
  • Information representation and transformation.

A common core defines the computing canon in which students’ entire computing education is firmly grounded, such that it passes the test of Einstein’s definition of education:

“Education is what remains after one has forgotten everything he learned in school.”

The ways of thinking and problem solving that are computing specific have earned a widely accepted name, computational thinking (Wing, 2006). Essential to computational thinking are problem solving thought processes (formulating problems and their solutions) with integral support from computing tools to effectively represent and transform information.

Acknowledgments
Marc Snir’s viewpoint on computing and information science and engineering as a use-inspired research discipline and educational computing program raises poignant and timely issues for higher education. This post, although marginally related, is the result of having read his article.

References
IT 2008: Computing Curricula Information Technology Volume.

Computing Curricula 2005: The Overview Report.

Snir, M. 2011. Computing and Information Science and Engineering: One Discipline, Many Specialties. Communications of the ACM. 54, 3 (March 2011), 38-43.

Wing, J.M. 2006 Computational Thinking. Communications of the ACM. 49, 3 (March 2006), 33-35.