The overarching goal of Penn State’s School of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) is to pursue an agenda that focuses on the theoretical, application-oriented, and educational issues facing a digital global economy. Our research focuses on building an understanding of how information and technology fundamentally impact (and are impacted by) people, organizations, and the world community. The teaching and learning environments we offer are designed to build leaders for a rapidly evolving information-driven world. Because of the seriousness of technology demands faced by business, industry, and government, Penn State’s School of IST has moved aggressively on a broad front. One of the keys to these efforts was the development of the IST Solutions Institute (SI), an administrative arm of the school that is the driver of higher education institutional cooperation, knowledge transfer, and educational program development and delivery. (School of IST, http://ist.psu.edu)
A primary focus of the Institute is the Online IST Project, which began in October 1999. The project presented a unique challenge: to create an online, problem-based, real-world, modular, reusable curriculum for the School of Information Sciences and Technology. One of the biggest challenges would be to flesh out a problem-based, online instructional design model that meshed with other unique, market-driven needs.
What has evolved through our team process is called “Solutions-Based Learning” — a real world model that focuses on teaching and learning within a business-oriented, team-driven process. Solutions-Based Learning not only focuses on students finding solutions to real world problems; it is a solution to the many high level learning needs that universities and schools have today. Solutions-Based Learning relies on presenting students with a real-world problem at the beginning of an instructional module.
Within that module, topics support both the traditional instruction, as well as the problem-solving activity. As the students work through the content, they are not only gathering information for the problem solving process, they are participating in traditional online activities such as reading and collecting information in a hypertext fashion, discussing the content with students and facilitators in online bulletin boards, and interacting with multimedia exercises and streaming video events that enhance the content.
The Solutions-Based Learning and Online IST approach transforms the way in which courses are created, managed, accessed, and evaluated. It is innovative in three ways.
1. Online IST modules allow rapid configuration and tailoring of educational material – Online IST courses are developed in a modular fashion by a team of faculty content specialists, instructional designers, and multimedia experts in the IST Solutions Institute. The School of IST has access to approximately 100 faculty in the information sciences. This enables the SI team to provide the most up-to-date content in information technology. Currently, there are four fully online courses: IST 110: Introduction to Information Sciences and Technology, IST 210: Organization of Data, IST 220: Networking and Telecommunications, and IST 250: New Media and the Web.
2. Delivery via the World Wide Web provides portability and anytime, any place access – The Online IST courses are delivered through the World Wide Web. Teachers and students can access course content, multimedia exercises, live streaming video events, and lab activities through a simple web browser. In addition, they can communicate with members of their virtual class through synchronous and asynchronous communication tools. The “portability” of the courses enables learning to take place at any location in a “just in time” fashion. Both teachers and students can access the materials 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in any location. In this model, the expertise of the teacher is augmented by instant teacher and student access to a fully designed IT curriculum.
3. Interactive, problem-based courses increase student and teacher skills – Learning gains are accomplished through activities and media including: team-based, real world problems, multimedia-based interactive exercises, online asynchronous and synchronous communication, and virtual lab activities. The resulting courses focus on developing students capable of understanding the theory, practice, and problem solving of IT. Real world problems are designed by faculty and industry experts in conjunction with Solutions Institute instructional designers to ensure that the problems are challenging, motivating, and aligned with course learning goals. Through these activities, students develop their oral and written presentation skills, professionalism skills, and research skills.
Since the project’s inception, experts within the IST Solutions Institute have designed, developed, and implemented four core online undergraduate courses. In approximately two years since the first course was finalized, approximately 100 sections with 5100 students around the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania have utilized these courses.
The eight-person SI team responsible for the Online IST project is comprised of instructional designers, multimedia and graphics specialists, faculty development specialists, and project managers. Team members work directly with IST faculty members to create and constantly evaluate and improve the innovative Online IST courses. The director of the Online IST Project, Cole Camplese, has an extensive background in online education for both educational and corporate audiences.
The Solutions Institute was recently awarded the IST Innovation Award by the students of the School for its groundbreaking work on the Online IST curriculum.