Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

A Comparison of Baccalaureate Programs in Information Technology with Baccalaureate Programs in Computer Science and Information Systems

Academic journal article Journal of Information Technology Education

A Comparison of Baccalaureate Programs in Information Technology with Baccalaureate Programs in Computer Science and Information Systems

Article excerpt


Recently, a number of universities in the United States and elsewhere have started baccalaureate programs in Information Technology (IT). In addition to the universities with which the authors are affiliated, these institutions include Capella University, Illinois State University, Indiana University, Pennsylvania College of Technology, the State University of New York at Morrisville, the University of Baltimore, and the University of South Alabama. Most of the institutions in question have added the baccalaureate degree in Information Technology to other computing-related baccalaureate degrees, such as degrees in Computer and/or Electronic Engineering, Computer Science, Information Systems, Computer Information Systems, and Management Information Systems.

While some (e.g., Denning, 2001) welcome this development, others are less accommodating and argue that there is nothing that would make a baccalaureate program in IT sufficiently distinct from a baccalaureate program in an existing computing discipline to warrant a separate degree program. The argument that IT baccalaureate programs are not sufficiently distinct is most often heard from faculty in programs in Computer Science (CS) and (Management) Information Systems (IS). The argument is often two-fold. First, it is argued that there are significant differences between IT programs and that one, therefore, cannot speak of a single (type of) IT baccalaureate degree. Second, to the extent that there is any similarity between IT degrees offered at different institutions, there is no significant difference between them and degrees in CS or IS.

There is some anecdotal difference that there is confusion on the part of prospective students and their parents concerning the difference between degrees in CS, IS and IT. Academic advisors in the institutions offering all three types of degree report spending a good deal of their time explaining the differences between the programs to incoming students. This confusion is exacerbated by the fact that the term "Information Technology" is also used as an umbrella term to encompass CS, IS and IT in the narrower sense that we are using the term in this paper.

There are two methodologies that one can use to try to shed light on the question whether there are any major differences between CS, IT and IS. The first can best be described as top-down and involves first arriving at an agreed-on definition of the various disciplines involved, and then comparing the definitions to see whether there are important differences between the disciplines. A second methodology can best be described as bottom-up. It involves an empirical analysis of the structure of the actual degree programs that various universities offer at this point in time. In particular, this analysis asks, "Are there noticeable similarities in the structure of the actual IT programs that different institutions currently offer and, if so, are there major differences between those programs and other computing-related degree programs?"

Top-down Methodology: Defining a Discipline

The top-down methodology can be conducted in at least two different ways, following different ways of defining a discipline. The first and most traditional way of defining a discipline is to come up with a one or two sentence description of a discipline.

For example, CS can be defined as follows: Computer Science is the study of the design and properties of algorithms, and their linguistic and mechanical realization

while IS could be defined as:

Information Systems as a field of academic study encompasses the concepts, principles and processes for two broad areas of activity within organizations: (1) acquisition, deployment, and management of information technology resources and services (the information systems function) and (2) development, operation, and evaluation of infrastructure and systems for use in organizations processes (system development, system operation, and system maintenance). …

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