THE 'School' phenomenon some say began with the Mooore's Law. As processing speed doubled almost every two years, the range, depth and diversity of information that could be processed grew at a much faster clip.
With concomitant improvements in communication, storage, transmission and retrieval technologies, we are now swimming in a deluge of information. A 2007 study by IDC concluded that the worldwide production of information in 2006 exceeded 161 exabytes, increasing at a compound annual growth rate of 57%.
While only a small fraction of this information is accessible online (<2% by some estimates), it presents major challenges (and opportunities) in information management, access, and preservation and usage. Dr. Shalini Urs, the founder of the Mysore-based International School of Information Management (ISiM), discovered this when she tried to recruit students for a research project on information retrieval.
'Neither a computer science student nor an information science student could achieve what we wanted &mdash getting them to collaborate and work together was an uphill task,' recalls Urs.
Long before that, in 1988, Dean Tony Carbo of University of Pittsburgh and her colleagues felt the same, and launched a group to enhance teaching and research in all aspects of information. And the information school (iSchool) movement was born (for more information visit ischools.org). The movement attempts to give a voice to the idea of Information Management.
The website for the assocation of iSchools. A good place to learn what is new
A premier association of academics, this is a site for cutting edge news
A premier organisation for data management professionals
Here is a one-stop shop for information security professionals
What does the discipline teach?
I-schools seek to offer an inter-disciplinary approach to the study of information management. Instead of relying on technology alone to address the problem of mountains of data piling up everywhere, it involves various disciplines such as economics, sociology, library science, linguistics, law, psychology, etc.
The coursework involves technology, science and management (see box for the list of courses) - it deals with every aspect of information, from organising it to making it accessible and useful.
The programme is normally spread over four semesters, though shorter courses are also on offer. The programme is centred on three areas, namely technology, information and management. Hence it begins with courses such as database management, programming skills, enterprise architecture, and moves on to offer modules on structured learning on management concepts, organisational structure and optional papers on business functions. The integrative element is provided by courses on information life cycle, knowledge architecture, organisational learning, digital transformation etc.
Invariably, the programme would also involve a structured industrial project or dissertation. This enables the student to apply the concepts learned in the classroom, to a particular problem .
In India, information management is still in its nascent stage. While four schools offer some form of information management programmes, it is only ISiM which qualifies to be termed as an Indian i-school. Academically affiliated to Mysore University, it functions as an autonomous body, making its own decisions about admissions, course structure and even the operational model.
ISiM - an overview
The school's operational model is unique. Urs calls it the 'inverse of distance education'. In a distance education set-up, the school and faculty are in one place but students are scattered. In ISiM's case, the school and students are at one place (ie Mysore) but the faculty is distributed. ISiM's faculty is largely drawn from the industry and reputed educational institutes in India and abroad. The foreign faculty typically spends three to four weeks in Mysore to complete the coursework, after which they are accessible to students on e-mail or Skype. For under than Rs. 2 lakh, Urs says, ISiM is able to attract some of the biggest names in the world of iSchools.
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The selection process for foreign universities would involve sitting for GRE, while Indian schools would want you to take a written exam and an interview. ISiM for example, conducts an entrance exam, simultaneously across many cities in the country, which tests a candidate's verbal ability and reasoning, quantitative skills, analytical/logical reasoning and data interpretation capabilities.
Students with CAT, MAT or GATE scores are exempt from this entrance test.
Internationally, a four-year undergraduate degree is mandatory. And normally a sizable section of the cohort would be from an engineering background. The MTech programme offered by ISiM also follows this trend, with over half the students being from the engineering background.
They could range from a highly technical role of designing and building a data warehouse to a not-so-technical position of an information analyst whose job is to processes and interpret information.
Technical communications is another option - the job entails conveying technical information in simple speak, which could be in the form of user manuals, reference cards, business reports, etc. For example at ISiM, recruiters included UNiSYS, Thomson Reuters, Rediff, SAP Labs and Informatics (India) among others. 'With the Googles of the world trying to organise the world's information, here is a course that would be India's answer to the need for an army of talent to actualise it.
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