Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Bringing a Multidisciplinary Perspective of IT to the Classroom: A Theory-Based Development of a Second Course for Non-Majors

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

Bringing a Multidisciplinary Perspective of IT to the Classroom: A Theory-Based Development of a Second Course for Non-Majors

Article excerpt


Information technology (IT) is central to modern society (Toffler and Toffler, 1995). Moreover, its use and technical development are increasing rapidly (Khosrwopour, 1998; Laudon and Laudon, 1999). However, it has been shown that learning to use IT effectively in individual and organizational domainspecific processes cannot be done in a single step (Spiro and Jehng, 1990; Spiro et al., 1992). It requires appropriate introductory concepts, experiences, and motivations, and a life-long commitment to learning (Knowles, 1975; 1984, 1984b). This paper describes our approach for developing a second level course that provides a strong foundation in IT that is embedded in hands-on use of the technology in different complex, research and information-rich environments for students who are not information systems or computer science majors. Our approach is centered on the development of complex and domain-specific case studies, which are used as the main delivery method in a second IT course for non-majors. In this paper we outline the process and rationale that guided the development of case studies, assessment procedures, and the results of a pilot implementation of three case studies of IT use in anthropology, sociology and chemistry.

Students who participated in this study were drawn from three different sections of a course in computer literacy that was designed for non-computer and information science majors. Students in this course were primarily sophomores, and in this study about 60% were males. Each of the three sections was given a different case study with the presenter (from the relevant subject area) being assisted by the class instructor.

This paper is organized as follows. First, we review theories of IT education, and then we examine current course and curriculum development initiatives, and explain how our project differs from those initiatives. Next we discuss the design of the course, showing which theoretical principles were implemented in the course. Building on this, we discuss a pilot evaluation of the course from both quantitative and qualitative perspectives. We conclude with a discussion of the quantitative and qualitative analyses performed in the previous section vis-a-vis our previous discussion of theoretical considerations. This section also identifies future research opportunities and challenges.

Theoretical Considerations

The increasing utilization of IT in organizations and society has led to the emergence of IT-related learning as a separate and important area of education research. Several theories have been developed, particularly since the 1970s, to explain, predict and help design IT learning materials, courses and curricula, as well as use IT to teach other subjects. These theories include conversation theory (Pask, 1975), symbol systems theory (Salomon, 1979; 1981; Salomon et al., 1991), GOMS theory (Card et al., 1983), programming-facilitated learning theory (Papert, 1980; 1993), cognitive flexibility theory (Spiro and Jehng, 1990; Spiro et al., 1992), minimalist theory (Carroll, 1990; 1998), and andragogy theory (Knowles, 1975; 1984, 1984b). These theories provide important insights into the problems and opportunities associated with teaching IT and using IT to teach other subjects. A brief summary of these theories is provided in Table 1, which leaves out the last two theories, namely minimalist theory (Carroll, 1990; 1998) and andragogy theory (Knowles, 1975; 1984, 1984b), from which key principles are implemented in our course. These two theories are reviewed separately and in more detail below with an emphasis on key principles of each theory.

Carroll (1990; 1998) developed the minimalist theory, which is a general theory of IT education that places particular emphasis on principles for the design of IT instruction materials (Van Der Meij and Carroll, 1995). The theory proposes five main principles for IT education: meaningfulness, application, improvisation, recovery and realism. …

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