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Managing IT/Community Partnerships in the 21st Century

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Universities are increasingly being asked to play a greater role in their communities. With the growth of the technology industry and the increasing importance of the Internet in education and everyday life, academic IT departments are beginning to form partnerships with both non-profit and for-profit organizations in the local community. These partnerships can relate to the whole curriculum, to specific classes, to students internships, to theoretical research, and to industrial research, and there are many other possibilities for IT/Community partnerships. Managing IT/Community Partnerships in the 21st Century explores the various possibilities for partnerships between academic IT departments and community-based organizations.

Introduction to “Managing IT/Community Partnerships in the 21st Century”

Many people have a stereotypical view of the university as an “ivory tower” of scholars who keep to themselves and are not involved with the day-to-day activities of the communities around them. In reality, most universities have multiple partnerships through which they make an immediate impact in the local communities. Community partnerships cross all boundaries within the university: Faculty, staff, and students, academic departments, administrative departments, student affairs, and athletic departments all can make a difference in their surrounding communities. Many universities even have offices of community service, or offices of community partnerships. The relationship between universities and their communities is a living, breathing relationship.

Academic departments of information technology can play a major role in these community partnerships. While these academic departments may have a variety of titles (Information Systems, Management Information Systems, Computer Information Systems, Information Sciences, Management Science), and may fall under multiple academic units (Colleges of Business, Engineering, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, Library Sciences, etc..), these departments all have an important role to play, and important resources to share. As the importance of information technology increases, there are many technology needs in the community that go unfulfilled. Information technology must be not only for those who are economically privileged. Information technology must be used to improve the quality of everyone’s life.

The chapters in this book provide a sampling of the many different types of partnerships taking place between communities and academic departments of information technology. The partnerships described take place in different universities, large and small, with different missions, in many different countries. They demonstrate the wide range of partnerships that have taken place, and they can provide a base of literature with which to build future partnerships.

I have organized the chapters along four major themes: course partnerships, educational partnerships, business partnerships, and digital divide partnerships. Although these themes, and the related partnerships, are not mutually exclusive, they provide a conceptual framework in which to present these partnerships. For instance, many of the course partnerships involved partnerships with local primary and secondary schools. Some of the business partnerships involve course curricula. Some of the business partnerships involve the educational system—local primary and secondary schools. Some of the course partnerships involve the digital divide. These different types of partnerships should not be viewed as individual solutions; rather, combinations of all of these partnerships should be sought to best meet the needs of the university and the community.

The first chapter, “Service-Learning Opportunities in the Information Systems Curriculum,” by Jonathan Lazar and Doris Lidtke, provides a background on service-learning courses within the information systems curriculum. Service-learning courses involve students taking part in community service that is structured in a way to build on the classroom curriculum. In this chapter, the advantages and disadvantages of service-learning are discussed, and the infrastructure needed to successfully operate a service-learning class is presented. The major courses in an information systems curriculum are then presented, with corresponding information on how to present the class as a service-learning class, and where possible, examples of how service-learning has been successfully utilized. From personal experience and the published literature, the lessons learned can assist those attempting to implement service-learning in their classes. Finally, important issues that impact on the information systems curriculum, such as cheating and accreditation, are presented in the context of service-learning.

“Active-Learning in Higher Education: A Model and Roadmap, “ by Venkatesh and Small (Chapter 2), continues the discussion on service-learning and other experiential learning processes. The chapter provides an excellent discussion of the educational theories that inspire experiential learning in universities. The authors discuss their experiences with field projects at Syracuse University, including a number of design and networking-related courses. Venkatesh and Small also provide a discussion of the infrastructure at Syracuse University that has allowed their experiential learning programs to flourish.

In Chapter 3, Ruppel and Ruppel describe in detail a service-learning class that has worked with the same community partner for five semesters. In this Systems Analysis and Design class at the University of Toledo, students have helped a small K-8 private school with their computer networking needs. In the different semesters, the student groups assisted with the planning, design, and wiring of the computer network for the school. The students also assisted with grant writing, cost-benefit analyses, and web site development. This chapter provides an interesting view of a service-learning class, because students and faculty worked with the same non-profit organization over five semesters. Ruppel and Ruppel discuss the benefits of this course to both university students and the local school, and present their lessons learned, to be applied in courses that focus on networking or systems analysis and design.

About the Author

Jonathan K. Lazar is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, in the College of Science and Mathematics at Towson University. He has a number of research publications focusing on human-computer interaction issues in the Internet environment. Specifically, Dr. Lazar is interested in user error, user training, user satisfaction, user-centered design methods, web usability, and online communities. Dr. Lazar is the author of the book, User-Centered Web Development, published by Jones and Bartlett Publishers. Dr. Lazar has integrated service-learning in a number of different information systems courses, and Dr. Lazar was named the Towson University Faculty Advisor of the Year in May, 2000.

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