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Outstanding Contribution to Information Systems Education Award Given to Bentley Professor
Bentley University’s Heikki Topi is the recipient of the 2015 Outstanding Contribution to IS Education Award from The Association for Information Systems (AIS). This prestigious award recognizes contributions to the field, curriculum development, an ability to inspire students, new teaching tools and methods, and publication.
Professor Topi teaches courses in the Master of Science in Information Technology (MSIT) and undergraduate programs at Bentley. His involvement in IS education includes leadership in the development of model curricula for the field, leadership roles in broader computing education and accreditation through both the AIS and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and textbook authorship.
His teaching is “focused on helping students learn two core types of competencies,” Topi says, “First, how to be effective contributors to and leaders in processes that identify how information technology can best be used to help organizations achieve their goals, and second, how to design and implement systems that positively transform organizations.”
We sat down with Professor Topi to learn more about his work:
Q: What are your top goals as an educator?
A: For me, the most important goal is to help my own students develop competencies that allow them to thrive throughout their careers as information systems professionals.
I also want to contribute to the information systems community’s continuous improvement efforts; our field changes so rapidly that IS education has to evolve constantly.
It’s also important to help my own students and the whole IS community understand better the implications and potential consequences of our actions; as IS professionals, we have very important ethical responsibilities.
Q: What do you enjoy most about IS education on a broad level, and also teaching?
A: In my work, I enjoy most the moments when I feel that I have been able to help a student discover something new, something that has allowed the student to gain important new capabilities and see the world from a different perspective.
I also enjoy the opportunity to be involved in the very rapid and fundamental transformation of organizations and individual work that information technology is currently enabling.
Finally, both within the Bentley community and the broader information systems community, I have wonderful colleagues without whom the work would be impossible, but with whom it is enjoyable!
Q: What is the most challenging aspect of teaching?
A: The challenges are related to the rapid, transformational change of the underlying technologies—staying competent as an IS educator requires constant and intensive learning.
Fortunately, this is also one of the most fun parts of what I do. If only there was more time.
For us as educators, it is important to identify those competences that are most likely to stay valuable throughout a 40-year career. This is where education excels compared to training of short-term technical skills.
Q: What is your current research focused on?
A: I’ve recently studied the nature and identity of the information systems discipline and its relationship with other computing disciplines. This is a topic directly linked to my work within IS education, because in the education work one of the key questions is to figure out what is in the core of our field.
I’ve also had an opportunity to be part of a long-term project with my CIS colleagues that studies how the user’s experience and interaction with large-scale enterprise systems can be improved. This is an area that links directly to my systems analysis and design courses.
Q: What are the top skills that technology professionals need?
A: There are many that are essential, but at this point in time, the following four competencies are fundamental to IS professionals:
- Understanding how to structure and model data and processes in a way that transforms overwhelming details to a clear and understandable set of well designed concepts in a way that serves organizational goals.
- Knowing how to discover and retrieve data from various types of internal and external sources to enable effective analytics (often using SQL and its derivative languages).
- Determining if and how technology can help achieve organizational goals before investing money and time—don’t get Hadoop to manage distributed data just because everyone else has it.
- Understanding the ethical implications and potential consequences of technology.
Kristen Walsh is a freelance writer and editor in the Boston area with a niche in higher education, health care and small business. She enjoys the behind-the-scenes information gathering and personal interviews that bring stories to life and strike a chord with readers. Online content and magazine writing includes blogs, opinion pieces, features and health care reporting. Her work has been published by The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Hechinger Report and The MetroWest Daily News.
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