Marywood University and IBM Team on System i Curricula Development
November 13, 2006 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Marywood University, the Scranton, Pennsylvania, business and managerial science college that offers MIS degrees with a business bend, has been a staunch supporter of the IBM midrange platform for a very long time. And as a means of reinvigorating its MIS program, which is now being transformed into a Bachelor’s of Business Administration degree with a focus on Business Information Technology, the university is working with IBM to create System i-specific course material that could be the basis of college and university courses around the world some day.
Marywood is located on a 115-acre parcel of land in the suburb of Scranton that bears the same name. It has nearly 300 faculty members, 50 different degrees, a stunning 12:1 student-teacher ratio, and over 3,000 students (including undergraduate and graduate students). It is one of the few–and perhaps the only–four-year college that offers courses on the OS/400 and i5/OS platform, and the university itself runs on the platform. The BIT program is part of the Arts College, which is an interesting choice, and it has two faculty members and usually a handful of adjunct professors.
Marywood has two problems, and they mirror IBM’s own problems with the System i platform and perhaps with IT in general. You see, this fall, no new students signed up for the undergraduate program. That is a much bigger problem than needing System i-specific coursework, but the two are perhaps related issues. Brian Kelly, who is an assistant professor at Marywood, writes for IT Jungle from time to time, and who publishes his own books on the System i platform, agrees finding students is related to developing coursework.
“We want to have a program the way it ought to be,” explains Kelly. “We want Northeastern Pennsylvania to know it is safe to get a degree in information technology, and to get a degree that trains you to be a business person as well as a technologist.” These days, Marywood typically has between 10 and 15 undergraduates and five to 10 graduates studying IT; at the peak during the dot-com boom, the numbers were twice that, according to Kelly. The university clearly wants those numbers to be larger again, and wants to get students enrolling in the BIT program now.
In helping Marywood promote its partnership with IBM to develop new course materials, Big Blue cited a report from the Computing Research Association that said the number of incoming undergraduates who said they would major in computer science fell by 60 percent between the fall of 2000 and the fall of 2004. Only 1 percent of incoming freshmen declared an interest in computer science in 2005, compared to 4 percent in 1999 and 2000, when interest in computer science degrees among freshman peaked. That is a 75 percent drop. So, Marywood might be shocked to have added no new students this fall, but other colleges and universities are apparently not faring much better.
I don’t know about you, but this statistic rocked me back on my heels.
Working through the Academic Initiative for System i program, Kelly says that Marywood is trying to come up with an integrated set of textbooks, lab materials, teaching aids, and other materials that cover the System i as well as other technologies. This is not possible today. While many courses teach Unix, Windows operating systems and Oracle and SQL Server databases, professors who want to teach the System i have to do a lot of work to weave it in to the material. Moreover, there is not necessarily any continuity between classes in the MIS program, so one professor may teach System i concepts, but other instructors are under no obligation and may not feel any compunction to teach the box.
In the long run, Marywood wants to develop coursework that allows it to expand beyond the Scranton area with its BIT program. IBM is providing some coursework materials, such as graphics, for course modules, but Kelly says there is a lot of work to do. In fact, he is proposing that the courses simulate a very modest ERP system implemented in System i technologies, walking students through all aspects of the application, the box that runs it, and the business processes that are encapsulated in those applications.