Innovation and change in the Information Systems curriculum of an Australian University: a socio-technical perspective.

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Tatnall, Arthur (2000) Innovation and change in the Information Systems curriculum of an Australian University: a socio-technical perspective. PhD thesis, University of Central Queensland.


Information Systems is a relatively new curriculum area and one that is still growing in size and importance. It involves applied studies that are concerned with the ways people build and use computer-based systems in their organisations to produce useful information. Information Systems is, of necessity, a socio-technical discipline that has to deal with issues involving both people and machines; with the multitude of human and non-human entities that comprise an information system. This thesis reports an investigation of how Information Systems curriculum is made and how the choices of individual lecturers or groups of lecturers to adopt or ignore a new concept or technology are formed. It addresses this issue by describing a study into how the programming language Visual Basic entered the Information Systems curriculum of an Australian university, and how it has retained its place there despite challenges from other programming languages. It is a study of curriculum innovation that involves an important but small change in the curriculum of a single department in a particular university. Little of the literature on innovation deals with university curriculum and most reported work is focussed on research, development and diffusion studies of the adoption, or otherwise, of centrally developed curriculum innovations in primary and secondary schools. The innovation described here is of a different order being developed initially by a single university lecturer in one of the subjects for which he had responsibility. It is important primarily because it examines something that does not appear to have been reported on before: the negotiations and alliances that allow new material, in this case the programming language Visual Basic, to enter individual subjects of a university curriculum, and to obtain a durable place there. The research investigates a single instance of innovation, and traces the associations between various human and non-human entities including Visual Basic, the university, the student laboratories, the Course Advisory Committee and the academic staff that made this happen. It follows the formation of alliances and complex networks of association, and how their interplay resulted in the curriculum change that allowed Visual Basic to enter the Information Systems curriculum, and to fend off challenges from other programming languages in order to retain its place there. I argue that in this curriculum innovation no pre-planned path was followed, and that representations of events like this as straightforward or well planned hide the complexity of what took place. The study reveals the complex set of negotiations and compromises made by both human and non-human actors in allowing Visual Basic to enter the curriculum. The study draws on the sociology of translations, more commonly known as actor-network theory (ANT) as a framework for its analysis. I show that innovation translation can be used to advantage to trace the progress of technological innovations such as this. My analysis maps the progress of Visual Basic from novelty to ‘obvious choice’ in this university’s Information Systems curriculum.

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Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Management and Information Systems
Historical > RFCD Classification > 330000 Education
Historical > RFCD Classification > 280000 Information, Computing and Communication Sciences
Keywords Information Systems University curriculum Innovation Sociology Actor-Network Theory
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