Friday, October 05, 2007

The Big Picture - Technology and the Real World 

As many of you know, I teach MIS at Metropolitan State University in the Twin Cities. Major advantages of teaching at Metro include: small class size and older students, average age is mid-late 20's. This means mom and dad are most likely not funding their journey through college. These students realize they need the degree and for the most part are willing to work to attain it.

One topic covered in MIS is the System Development Life Cycle (SDLC), a guideline for identifying the necessities to install a new computer application. We study it from the technical side then after counting off, I divide the class into groups to apply the methodology to something outside the technical arena. Topics may include planning a trip to Hawaii, babysitting the neighbor's dog for a week, buying a new car, etc.

The major benefit that arises from taking a technical concept and applying it outside technical parameters is that students learn that there is similarity across the board when structuring a solution to a problem - regardless where the problem occurs; the methodology is transferable. This kind of application also removes the mystery so often associated with computers.

Another benefit of short in-class activities is that students are randomly assigned to a group via counting-off or alphabetically, one time. Since they are given a specific objective, the group has focus. All barriers just drop - no one is judged on any physical traits - they simply have to work together on a practical application of a technical process.

The groups for these mini projects shift with each topic. Students learn that they can all work with anyone - they get beyond the divisive labels that too many in society want to apply to any respective subgroup.