Teaching information systems

Professor uses a novel approach to reach today's learners

Asked to teach an introductory course on information systems that had long been somewhat unpopular among students, accounting and information systems professor France Belanger knew she was in for a challenge.

France Belanger
Accounting and information systems professor France Belanger

Required course was dreaded by some

The course was a requirement for master’s students in her department, but it was clear that “a number of students did not want to be there and did not care about the content.” Belanger, an award-winning teacher and researcher with 18 years of experience, brought in cases, having used this approach in other master’s classes. “The case discussions went well, but the lecture material was pretty much lost on most of them.”

Redesign leads to lively participation

Redesigning the class the following semester, she cut back lecture time and introduced “practice” sessions on sub-topics that required students to do practical exercises on a technology issue — such as developing a privacy policy, testing their computer’s security, or researching an emerging technology.

The result: lively discussions — “students really wanted to know why certain things happened when they acted on some technology-related issue,” Belanger recalls — and strong turnouts — “they came to class, even though attendance was not mandatory.”

Text of a page from Information Systems: An Experiential Approach
Text of a page from Information Systems: An Experiential Approach

Successful approach leads to new book

Inspired, Belanger put her ideas to wider use in a new textbook, Information Systems: An Experiential Approach, that she co-authored with Craig Van Slyke, an associate dean and professor at Saint Louis University, who saw a similar response after incorporating short activities and related discussions in his introductory course. The book, filled with experiential exercises and questions, is primarily aimed at juniors, seniors, and non-information systems graduate students.

Making information relevant, manageable

“Information systems touch almost every aspect of our lives — not only producing information, but helping us make better use of information,” Belanger notes. “Yet, students are often detached and uninterested in the introductory course, especially if they are not IS or IT majors and the course is traditionally structured and focused on conceptual knowledge.”

The book aims to “connect new information to what most students already know, either from general life experience or material covered earlier in the course.” Its 14, tightly focused chapters provide only the necessary information, she says, leaving students to fill in the details themselves through the learning exercises and online materials. “Young people today don’t want to read 50-page chapters. They live in a world of Facebook wall postings, tweets, and text messages. They’re used to receiving information in small chunks.”

Real-world examples and activities

Topics cover a range of processes related to information, including evaluating, managing, organizing, storing, transmitting, and securing it; protecting its confidentiality and privacy; analyzing it for business decision making; developing information systems; and e-business.

Each chapter opens with a focusing story, which helps “ground the content in a concrete example” that also demonstrates the relevance of the material, and ends with activities, including review and reflection questions, many of which integrate multiple concepts.

Students learn the importance of IT in their lives

Actively applying the concepts, reflecting on the discussion, and understanding the topic’s relevance increases engagement and deepens the learning experience, she says.

For Belanger, one of the best examples of the impact of practice on student interest comes from the first class exercise of the term (included in chapter 1 of the book), which requires students to not use any information technology for 5-6 hours and blog about their experience afterward.

“I am surprised every time to see the depth of their realization about the importance of IT in their lives and in their future careers. It starts the semester on a very different foot than what I had experienced with the traditional lecture and case approach.”

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