Baker College: Learning IBM i At A Distance
June 2, 2014 Dan Burger
Online education may not be ready to replace the classroom experience, but the line between virtual and real continues to fade. I’ve been wondering how this applies to IBM i education at the collegiate level. At last count, there were fewer than 100 colleges in the United States with a curriculum that included one or more classes that even mentioned IBM i. Many of the instructors say those classes are on life support due to small enrollment and college administrators who don’t believe the i is relevant to students being trained in computer science in 2014.
There is a need for entry-level IT workers with IBM i knowledge as part of their information technology degree credentials. I hear it being talked about all the time by IBM i vendors who say their customers are concerned and that vendors with applications running on other platforms use the scarcity of i talent as a reason to move applications off IBM midrange systems. And the shortage is expected to worsen as retirement will be making more withdrawals in the near future.
Where is this injection of IBM i knowledge going to come from?
It could be coming from accredited online sources such as IBM Baker College, where Michael Picerno, dean of information systems, has his eye on the i.
Baker College calls Michigan home, but its sights are set on a larger target. Fifty percent of Baker’s students live outside the state. One of the reasons is that the school works with the US military to provide courses online. Picerno says the successful partnership with the military has forged by offering soldiers the online educational component.
Building a stronger IBM i curriculum based on online delivery is part of Picerno’s grand design. He envisions IBM i and enterprise computing as a promising opportunity to grow the student population and that IBM i shops with jobs to offer will be the fuel that makes the engine run.
“I am aware that there are few colleges teaching IBM i skills, and that’s why I consider it a good niche,” he says. It’s not going to be an easy sell for him, however.
Just like everywhere else, Baker College has director-level staff, who believes in crunching numbers. They’ve already told Picerno the numbers are low for the IBM i classes and he’ll have to phase those out.
Before that happens, Picerno plans to reinvigorate the IBM i programs. He’s working with the IBM Power Systems Academic Initiative to find more resources. He’s looking at adding curriculum, expanding the use of IBM-supplied server access, and learning more about the job market in enterprise computing.
“We have more than 1,200 students in the information systems bachelor’s degree program. My goal is to turn enterprise computing into a minor program to go along with the major in computer science,” he says.
Online classes will be part of the plan.
The latest program Picerno planned and implemented was a mobile application software development degree. It included student-teacher collaboration using Google Hangout, a virtual meeting room.
“Other than putting pieces and parts together during the planning stages, which is not something that is easily done, all the other aspects of this degree program can be done completely online,” Picerno says.
We have campus-based students that take online courses and we have courses that are strictly online. People all over the US can take online classes from Baker College. We have soldiers in Afghanistan taking classes,” he says.
“Computer science students enrolled anywhere could come to Baker for online courses with specialization in IBM i topics. They could take the class for credit, which would transfer to another accredited school.
“I think there are very few things we can’t do online. I see this opportunity as a challenge and I have complete confidence.”