Observations on Implementing Specializations within an IT Program

Observations on Implementing Specializations within an IT Program

Erick D. Slazinski (Purdue University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-026-4.ch457
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With a projected 2.26 million additional jobs to fill in various computer fields by the year 2010, there are and will continue to be ample job opportunities in the computer industry. However, the computer field is far too broad for one individual to be an expert in the entire field. Therefore it may be more useful for students to have the opportunity to concentrate their studies in a specific interest area within a broader Information Technology (IT) degree. IT educators throughout the United States (US) have paid attention to the needs and demands of the IT industry. To address the need for IT graduates with specialized skills, many of the leading universities have created programs which allow undergraduate students to specialize or focus their studies. This chapter will discuss findings on the state of IT programs with regards to their course offerings. One area of specialization, or track, is presented as an example. It will be noted that even within a specialty area, there can be further specializations. In addition to supporting the students pursuing the specialty area, general knowledge courses must also be offered to those pursuing other specialty areas.
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The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 2.9 million computer-related jobs in 2000, with an expected 4.89 million computer jobs by the year 2010. Considering new jobs as well as replacements, over 2.26 million additional people will be needed to fill these jobs (Hecker, 2001). The fluid nature of the IT industry makes generalizations difficult. Therefore, skills are often categorized or grouped together into skill sets (or job descriptions). The most common clustering of skills has been summarized in Table 1.

Table 1.
Summary of educational pathways
     • Network Systems Pathway
     • Information Support and Service Pathway
     • Programming and Software Development Pathway
     • Interactive Media Pathway

Of these pathways (or specialization tracks), two of the top occupations (as predicted by the US Dept of Labor) are systems analysis and database administrators (which have been grouped in the EDC Information Support and Service Pathway). See Table 2 for a listing of the top growth occupations.

Table 2.
Percentage change in employment, projected 1998-2008
OccupationPercent change
Computer engineers108
Computer support specialists102
Systems analysts94
Database administrators77

From U.S. Dept. of Labor


Where Are The Specialized It Programs?

Published curriculum from the institutes who attended the Conference for IT Curriculum (CITC) II held in April of 2002 were used as the sample set. The conference attendees were primarily IT educators from around the US, who had an interest in IT curriculum issues. An IT curriculum is focused on the application of technologies to solve problems. To differentiate, a traditional Computer Science curriculum is focused on algorithm design.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Relational Database Management System (RDBMS): A suite of programs which typically manages large structured sets of persistent data, offering ad hoc query facilities to many users, which is based on the relational model developed by E.F. Codd (FOLDOC).

Knowledge Area: Represents a particular sub-discipline that is generally recognized as a significant part of the body of knowledge that an undergraduate should know (IEEE, 2001 AU31: The in-text citation "IEEE, 2001" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

Systems Design: The approach used to specify how to create a computer system for business (FOLDOC).

Track: A series of courses designed around a topical area which is structured in a manner to efficiently develop a student’s skill set.

DBA: The title database administrator (DBA) represents an IT professional who ensures the database is accessible when it is called upon, performs maintenance activities, and enforces security policies.

IT Discipline: The intellectual gap in our educational frameworks for students who are interested in computing careers but find computer science too narrow, mathematical, and physical-science oriented, while MIS is insufficiently deep in technical content and too focused on traditional business topics and culture (Finkelstein, 2002 AU30: The in-text citation "Finkelstein, 2002" is not in the reference list. Please correct the citation, add the reference to the list, or delete the citation. ).

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