Mount Royal University hosts cutting-edge IT conference

This October, one of Canada’s newest bachelor’s degrees in computing and one of computing’s newest disciplines came together for the first time. The Special Interest Group for Information Technology Education’s thirteenth annual conference on IT Education and the first annual conference on Research in Information Technology was jointly hosted by Mount Royal University at Hotel Arts from Oct. 11 – 13.

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) is the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society, delivering resources that advance computing as a science and a profession. Part of ACM, SIGITE leads the charge in creating a venue for discussions on IT education as well as the creation of IT research. Surprisingly, IT as an academic discipline is quite new compared to more traditional computing education, particularly computer science (CS), information systems (IS) and computer engineering (CE).

A new degree for a new idea

According to Randy Connolly, professor of Computer Science and Information Systems, The SIGITE stream is closely aligned with the educational model used to create Mount Royal’s new Bachelor of Computer Information Systems program.

“The Mount Royal program was designed to thread the needle between the more theoretical CS and the more technical IS disciplines,” says Connolly. “CS has become more and more focused on producing master’s and doctorate-level graduate education — theoretical computer science that is more about computability and mathematics and less about practical applications.

“Many students go into CS because they want a practical, vocational degree and find that what they are learning is less about what is and more about what ought to be. IT was born as a discipline that was more closely aligned with what students and employers wanted. We might be the only bachelor’s degree program in Canada who is running based on IT principles.”

Researching IT education

The conference provided a forum for sharing and developing ideas relating to IT research, education, applications, IT‐industry‐academia relationships and the role of professionals and educators as advocates for the effective use of IT. This year also includes the introduction of a new IT Research conference, showcasing research in IT connected to teaching the discipline. Both sessions carried the joint theme of Working Together: Research & Education for IT.

Part of Connolly’s mission was to use his own students to plan, execute and attend the conference, providing them with an insight into the world of computing academia. For fourth-year student, Aashish Kumar, his conference experience included logistics, presentation management, audio-visual setup and even presenting an academic paper on one of the newly-created classes from last year.

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Fourth-year student Aashish Kumar.

“I’m one of the first generation of students to move through the new BCIS program, and took COMP 4545 – Information Systems Organization,” says Kumar. “Our professor, Ruben Yumol, had us interview industry professionals in the field and develop a term project based on their real-life initiatives.

“It was an interesting and rewarding course - we had to come up with the questions for the interview that would really help us understand their project. Working with real industry professionals, you want to represent Mount Royal and yourself in the best possible way. It was a great opportunity to learn more about how the industry really works and make contacts.”

For Connolly, hosting the conference proved a rewarding challenge for both his students and himself.

“SIGITE had some reservations about hosting the conference in Canada, but I think we showed them that we were able to deliver,” says Connolly. “The logistical work was pretty significant, but Aashish was more than capable with everything that I threw at him; if I was an employer, I’d be crazy not to hire him.

“Participating in these conferences was really important for me as a scholar, especially early in my career. Seeing attendees present from all over North America showed me that we are doing good stuff here at Mount Royal, and giving my peers and students and opportunity to do the same was really important to me. Scholarship on teaching and learning is such a focus at MRU; because you are teaching it every day, you can bring your own experience to bear on your research and do real, practical applications while exercising rigorous scholarship.”

Kumar agrees with his professor, and echoes the value of the conference experience for undergrads.

“Being part of that first graduating class, hearing about what other schools are doing was really interesting. You can see how other programs are making choices about entrepreneurship and software development that we can take back to Mount Royal, apply to our own work and influence the BCIS program itself.”

— Colin Brandt, Nov. 1, 2012