Information Systems (IS) sits in the intersection of business, technology, and social sciences. A successful IS student should be a highly versatile individuals who are capable of evaluating business potentials of technologies, applying data analytics skills to derive actionable insights, and evaluating the society impacts (particularly the dark side or unintended consequences) of the technologies. To nurture these qualities, I strive to achieve the following goals in my teaching career:
- motivate students inside and outside the scope of classroom,
- nurture the students’ ability to connect the dots from various disciplines,
- help students become independent learners who can learn new technologies outside the classroom effectively, and
- encourage students to not only consider the technical or business perspectives, but also the societal perspectives of technologies.
To motivate the students, I incorporate real-world cases and applications as native components in my courses. At the beginning of every class, I motivate by stating what the students can achieve by the end of the class and what they can do in the real world by applying the knowledge. At the end of the every class, I incorporate group activities where students discuss how the knowledge can be applied in a scenario outside the scope of what my class has covered. For example, if I introduced a technique using an application in the retail industry as an example, I will encourage students to think creatively about applications in other industries. I try to ensure that my examples, cases, and analogies are up-to-date, so that they are relevant to the students. Given an expectation of what they are capable of after the class and being able to imagine how they can extend the knowledge outside the classroom, the students feel empowered and motivated throughout every class.
Connecting the dots from various disciplines ranging from data analytics, economics, and business has never been an easy task, even for established scholars. To encourage students to draw from various perspectives, for every major concept in the class, I contextualize it using diverse examples or analogies, by which students can immediately relate the concept to other concepts learned from other courses or applications. Before the course starts, I survey the students to get an idea of their background and interests. With the survey data, I created balanced student groups for group projects, where students need to apply the knowledge to solve a complex problem that requires multidisciplinary approaches and learn from each other. Each student in the team will bring her perspectives and incorporate them in the concerted group work.
In the information system field, technical skills may become out-of-date just in a few years. Besides constantly updating the course material, a crucial role that a teacher plays is to equip students with effective independent learning abilities. Unlike subjects such as maths and physics, with which students may have independent learning experience, the knowledge in information systems depends heavily on the objective of the learner, the development trend in the industry, as well as the learning resources that the students can locate. As part of the course, I will demonstrate how to quickly locate up-to-date resources for technical tools or skills. Plus, I encourage the students to explore an area in IS of interests, and share how they acquire knowledge independently. For example, a bonus will be given in the group project if students could go reasonably beyond the scope of the class.
As a relatively new field, unintended consequences and side effects of technologies may be under-researched. As the students may be the practitioners in the future, I encourage the students to think critically before applying their knowledge and skills. When introducing a technology, I encourage students to share their thoughts and concerns of the applications and discuss the potential issues in class. “All models are wrong, but some are useful”, said George Box. As powerful as the data analytics is, the limitations of it should not be ignored. For example, I deliberately design faulty data analysis as an example, and ask students to identify the errors and estimate the consequences of the errors. The ultimate purpose is to foster the critical thinking ability of the students and raise the awareness of responsible technology uses.
In a world where tools and practices are constantly changing at an unprecedented speed, students should be able to catch up with the trend even after they leave academia. As critical thinkers, they should make the world a better place by responsibly employ the knowledge they learned in my class and the new knowledge they learn on their own after my class. My role as a teacher is to help students achieve these in a way which they will enjoy and remember.