The Making of an iSchool
by Koraljka Golub
The information field, aka the iField, applies interdisciplinary approaches to enrich and facilitate the generation, transfer, and curation of data, information, and knowledge by the widespread use of technology in order to maximize human potential. The iField comprises disciplines such as computer science, library and information science, business informatics, knowledge management, business, sociology, psychology, philosophy, ethics, linguistics, and media, alongside a range of applied fields and disciplines such as astronomy, medicine, biology, health, history, religion, archaeology, musicology, literature, and art.
|The iSchool at LNU is considered to be well-placed to address some of the most relevant challenges of the 21st century (ones that can be mediated and facilitated by information and communication technologies).
To promote the iField at my institution, Linnaeus University (LNU) in Sweden, we drew inspiration from the words of our iSchools project advisor, Andrew Dillon, who was the head of the University of Texas–Austin’s School of Information at the time: “The most pressing problems of the 21st century are trans-disciplinary and invariably mediated by information or its associated technologies. To lead change, scholarship must cross boundaries and equip the next generation of graduates to think in terms of leveraging human abilities through new IT. There is no single subject or discipline for this, it has to be outside traditional boundaries or it will not work. To do this, an iSchool at your university is essential. Without it, progress will invariably be limited and narrow” (lnu.se/en/iinstitute).
The idea to create an iSchool at LNU was born in 2016, when LNU had already had a proven track record of interdisciplinary and cross-institutional collaborations both inside and outside the university (lnu.se/en/research/searchresearch/forskningsprojekt/linnaeus-university-as-a-unique-ischool). For example, a master’s program titled Innovation Through Business, Engineering and Design (lnu.se/en/programme/innovation-through-business-engineering-and-design-specialisation-design-master-programme/vaxjo-international-autumn) had recently started covering the pri vate sector’s need (notably IKEA, whose Swedish headquarters is close to LNU) to educate professionals who have knowledge and skills in all three of those disciplines. At about the same time, the LNU Centre for Data Intensive Sciences and Applications (DISA) had begun taking shape. DISA now involves eight different specializations, including computational social sciences, data-intensive digital humanities, data-intensive astroparticle physics, visual analytics for engineering smart systems, and wood and building technologies. DISA also boasts strong collaborative practices with the private sector, including a cluster of more than 200 IT companies in the region and beyond.
Inspired by these new models to bridge traditional disciplinary and institutional boundaries, the iField seemed like a great platform through which to connect traditionally disparate departments, disciplines, and non-academic institutions in order to jointly address complex future societal challenges. In 2017, the university was awarded a project grant to explore the potential and identify the benefits of starting an iSchool and joining the iSchools organization (ischools.org). The idea was met with enthusiasm at a sufficient number of levels, so the acting vice chancellor at the time proposed the formation of what we now call the Information Institute (iInstitute; lnu.se/en/iinstitute).
All About the iInstitute
The iInstitute offers the following:
1. Undergraduate programs:
- Bachelor in Library and Information Science (Swedish distance and campus modes; 180 ECTS [European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System]; Department of Cultural Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Humanities)
- Bachelor in Interactive Media and Web Technologies, with two tracks decided in the second year (Swedish campus mode; 180 ECTS; Department of Media Technology, Faculty of Technology)
- Bachelor in Information Science (international distance mode; several departments from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities and Faculty of Technology; currently being created)
2. Graduate programs:
- Master in Cultural Sciences (Swedish campus mode; 120 ECTS; Department of Cultural Sciences, Faculty of Arts and Humanities)
- Master in Social Media and Web Technologies (international distance and campus modes; 120 ECTS; Department of Media Technology, Faculty of Technology)
- Master in E-Health (Swedish distance mode; 120 ECTS; Faculty of Health Sciences)
- Master in Digital Humanities (international distance mode; several departments from the Faculty of Arts and Humanities, Faculty of Technology, and School of Business and Economics; a pilot for this program began in fall 2017)
- Master in Data Science (international distance mode; a number of departments from all five faculties, led by the Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Technology; core modules exist, with pilot start date to be announced)
- Master in Information Management (international distance mode; a number of departments from all five faculties, led by the Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Technology; core modules exist, with pilot start date to be announced)
- Master in Digital Learning (a number of departments from the Faculty of Technology and Faculty of Social Sciences)
3. Doctoral programs:
- Ph.D. in Computer and Information Science (a joint program among the Department of Informatics, Department of Media Technology, and Department of Computer Science, all at the Faculty of Technology)
- Ph.D. in Contract Archaeology (GRASCA), related to Digital Humanities (focus on digital archaeology), information mediation and communication, and database handling (Faculty of Arts and Humanities)
- Ph.D. in Biomedicine with a focus on Health and Pharmaceutical Informatics (Faculty of Health and Life Sciences)
- Ph.D. in Library and Information Science (Faculty of Arts and Humanities; currently being created and will be ready by the end of 2018)
4. Research nodes:
5. Information Engineering Centre (IEC; lnu.se/en/research/searchresearch/forskningsprojekt/information-engineering-center), a research and collaboration project at LNU aimed at creating new businesses, new jobs, and increased competitiveness through cooperation among researchers, businesspeople, and the community. IEC’s vision is to transform the Linnaeus region into northern Europe’s most attractive IT region. It currently involves more than 200 IT companies.
In addition to enriching these current and planned programs related to the iField, the iInstitute will explore possibilities by combining expertise from different disciplines in order to add to the value of other existing programs and better prepare graduates for existing job markets. One example would be to offer minors in IT for students majoring in arts and humanities in order to provide them with greater job opportunities. Another is to jointly develop modules for data science and for digital humanities and to offer them jointly for efficient resource distribution. Also, knowledge of IT is important in many situations, but knowledge of taxonomies and metadata has proven crucial in settings where high precision and recall are needed, including in big companies; therefore, combined knowledge from library and information science and IT would be beneficial. These are only some of the directions the iField at LNU could be developed in order to further strengthen the skills and employability of its students, as well as research in the iField among scientists.
In March 2017, LNU attended the annual iConference (see newsbreaks.infotoday.com/News Breaks/Looking-to-the-Future-at-iConference-2017-117650.asp) to learn about the criteria for membership in and the process of joining the iSchools organization. The majority of iSchools members tend to comprise one large unit (e.g., in the U.S., often a School of Information), but rarely two. This is why the LNU model of combining several existing units into an iSchool was new and had to be discussed. During the conference, we received encouragement, and after the event, the formation of the structure of and intensive discussions about a potential iSchool at LNU took place. In November 2017, iSchools’ executive director, Michael Seadle, deputy dean of the Faculty of Humanities at Humboldt University of Berlin, and iSchools’ chairman-elect, Sam Oh, head of the iSchool at Sungkyunkwan University, paid a visit to LNU to offer guidance on the iInstitute and the process of joining iSchools. As a result, on Nov. 30, we submitted our application, and on Dec. 17, LNU received a notification of acceptance as a member of the iSchools organization.
Our application outlined how LNU could contribute to the iField and the iSchools organization. The iSchool at LNU is considered to be well-placed to address some of the most relevant challenges of the 21st century (ones that can be mediated and facilitated by information and communication technologies). Not only is LNU uniquely positioned to harness expertise that crosses a range of disciplinary boundaries in order to find novel approaches and solutions to tackle these problems, but it is also known as an entrepreneurial university for its cross-institutional collaboration and excellence in related fields such as data science and digital business and learning technologies. Moreover, LNU’s cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral approach could serve as a source of inspiration for exploring new ways to conduct academic activities within universities that have more traditional models. To quote Jens-Erik Mai, head of the department of information studies at the University of Copenhagen, “I think the idea of establishing an information school with those elements is both innovative and very exciting … I think it could help lay the foundation for what an iSchool could also be” (lnu.se/en/iinstitute).
LNU’s membership in iSchools provides several potential benefits. First, it is significantly contributing to strengthening internal research and education in the cross-disciplinary iField, also in collaboration with external public and private sectors. Second, creating new, relevant programs and updating existing ones can attract many new students, leading to additional revenue for the university. Third, LNU can now collaborate with more than 80 iSchools from around the world, including many that were ranked among the top 50 universities globally by Times Higher Education in 2016 (University of California–Berkeley, University College London, Cornell University, University of British Columbia, University of Hong Kong, and Humboldt University of Berlin, to mention a few). Collaboration exists in a variety of areas, such as research, education, and the forming of joint strategies for promoting the iSchools organization and the iField, both worldwide and in regional chapters.