Information Systems Curriculum Using an Ecological Model

Information Systems Curriculum Using an Ecological Model

Arthur Tatnall (Victoria University, Australia) and Bill Davey (RMIT University, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch314
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To those of us involved in research and teaching in information systems (IS), it is clear that curriculum innovation and change is complex, and anything but straightforward. The amount of control that individual IS academics have over the curriculum varies between universities. In some cases there is complete control over curriculum content whereas in others just control over delivery with content determined externally. This article concentrates on the former situation but still has some relevance to the later. All curriculum innovation is complex (Fullan, 1993) due to the involvement of a large number of human actors, but in information systems curriculum change this is particularly so due to the need to consider the part played by such non-human actors (Latour, 1996) as the technology itself. We will argue that if you want to understand how IS curriculum is built, you need to use models and metaphors that relate to how people interact with each other, with the environment, and with non-human artifacts. One such approach is provided by the ecological metaphor described in this article in which we argue that systems of education may be seen as ecosystems containing interacting individuals and groups. The interactions between these will sometimes involve co-operation and sometimes competition, and may be interpreted in terms of these forces along with mechanisms for minimizing energy expenditure. In this article we will examine the application of this metaphor to curriculum change in information systems.
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Nordvall (1982) identifies several models for curriculum change that he suggests all have relevance, in the higher education context, at the subject, course, and institutional levels. These are:

  • Research, development, and dissemination models

  • Problem solving models; social interaction models

  • Political and conflict models

  • Diffusion, linkage, or adaptive development models

Models of change based upon a process of research, development, and dissemination (RDD) are probably the most common way of attempting an explanation of the process of curriculum development (Nordvall, 1982). In models like this, relying on logical and rational decisions, curriculum change depends on the use of convincing arguments based on programs of research. A rational and orderly transition is then posited from research to development to dissemination to adoption (Kaplan, 1991). These could then be considered as “manufacturing models” as they follow a fairly logical and straightforward mechanical approach with one thing leading directly to another and do not allow for or consider other influences such as those due to human interactions. If we were to accept a manufacturing model like this, then we might expect some curriculum outcomes to be consistently apparent across the world:

  • As research would have shown that several specific programming languages were much more widely used and better to teach than others, all courses requiring programming would use just these few languages, and there would be no arguments regarding the best language to teach.

  • As research would show the advantages of object-oriented methodologies all computing courses would teach only these and ignore other approaches.

  • The content of courses around the world would be designed to achieve similar goals and outcomes, and contain similar content.

  • Research would show the ideal method of teaching computing concepts and issues and classroom delivery of content would be moving toward this researched ideal. Everyone would then use these ideal delivery methods.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Metaphor: A term applied to something to which it is not literally applicable, in order to suggest a resemblance.

Competition: When two individuals or species are in competition with each other, they are each striving for the same thing. In biological systems it is typically food, space, or some other physical need, but in the model described in this article, it can be any matter relating to IS curriculum. When the thing they are striving for is not in adequate supply for both of them, the result is that both are hampered, or adversely affected, in some manner.

Ecosystem: In the context of this article, the ecosystem represented by the curriculum in a university information systems department contains (at least) the following “species”: lecturers, researchers, students, professional bodies, university administrators, and representatives of the computer industry.

Co-operation: Occurs when one species works with another in order to achieve an outcome beneficial to one or both. Proto co-operation is the situation in which both benefit by the co-operation, but can survive without it. Mutualism occurs when each benefits and cannot otherwise survive. Commensalism occurs when two species habitually live together; one species being benefited by this arrangement and the other unharmed by it.

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