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IT 2008: The History of a New Computing Discipline

The IT model curriculum represents an excellent starting point toward understanding more about IT as an academic discipline.
  1. Introduction
  2. Establishing the Discipline
  3. Computing Accreditation Background
  4. Overview of Model Curriculum Process
  5. Inputs into the IT Model Curriculum
  6. The ABET Criteria
  7. The Computing Curricula Project
  8. The Final Product
  9. Broad Goals of an IT Program
  10. Conclusion
  11. References
  12. Authors
  13. Footnotes
  14. Figures
  15. Sidebar: key insights
  16. Sidebar: Accreditation
  17. Structure of ABET for computing programs
  18. Sidebar: Computing Curriculum 2005

The early 1990s saw the emergence of the Internet from the environs of the technical cognoscenti into the dot-com world with an interface for the masses. Additionally, the personal computer had reached the point that essentially everyone in all enterprises had one, and used it heavily. The increased complexity and importance of computing technologies for the success of organizations and individuals led to a growing need for professionals to select, create, apply, integrate, and administer an organizational IT infrastructure. Organizations typically filled these positions using individuals with widely varying backgrounds whose educational experiences often provided poor preparation for the demands of the position. The skill sets needed for the new breed of network and system administrators were not provided by the more algorithmically and analytically oriented computer science programs of the time. Moreover, information systems programs, with the business education requirements of their accreditation bodies, were equally unwilling or unable to include the technical depth required.

In response to this new educational need, programs arose such as those from Purdue University and Pennsylvania College of Technology, which were called Information Systems (IS) and Computer Science (CS) respectively, but were something else entirely.

These programs, and others like them, had sprung up independently and spontaneously to satisfy the needs of employers for workers with skills in networks, distributed systems, and beginning in the mid-1990s, the Web. By the peak of the dot-com boom in 2000, there were at least 17 institutions around the U.S. that had or were forming programs with similar characteristics, and which were most commonly called “Information Technology.” The largest of them was at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in Rochester, NY, with over 600 undergraduate students, as well as a sizable master’s program.19

On the national level, other factors were developing that also contributed to the emergence of the IT discipline. The Computing Sciences Accrediting Board (CSAB), which had long been the primary accrediting body for CS education, was joining with ABET, which accredits engineering and technology programs.21 Within ABET both the newly formed Computing Accreditation Commission (CAC) and the Technology Accreditation Commission (TAC) had noticed the emerging IT programs, and were wondering under which commission IT would best fit.

It was in this lively environment that a group was formed that would guide IT through the period of defining its own model curriculum, its place with respect to the other computing programs already extant, and its own accreditation criteria. The Society for Information Technology Education (SITE) was formed in December 2001, with participation from 15 institutions with programs that could be considered to be IT programs. SITE later became SIGITE (a special interest group of the ACM) in the summer of 2003.

At this first meeting in December 2001 (the Conference on Information Technology Curriculum, or CITC-1), committees were formed to formulate accreditation criteria and a model curriculum; and a Delphi study was conducted to determine which topics the participants thought should be covered in an IT program.18 At this meeting, the community also started work on a succinct definition of the discipline of IT, an effort that eventually cumulated in the following definition:

“IT, as an academic discipline, is concerned with issues related to advocating for users and meeting their needs within an organizational and societal context through the selection, creation, application, integration and administration of computing technologies.”

Another conference was planned for the following April and the momentum continued through CITC-2 (April 2002), CITC-3 (September 2002), and CITC-4 (October 2003), which was also SIGITE 2003.

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Establishing the Discipline

Several early papers sought to justify the existence of the discipline. One of these surveyed course offerings by discipline and tabulated emphasis by counting hours required in several areas. Several related disciplines were included in this study (see Figure 1). The courses required in each of these disciplines were grouped into seven categories: Business; electronics and signals (Electr & Signals); computing hardware (Hardware); interpersonal communications (Interpersonal Comm); networks, Web systems, and databases (Net, Web, Databases); physics, math and chemistry (Phys, Math, Chem); and Software. The data was gathered from publicly available documents (usually university catalogs) describing the requirements of each program. Twelve institutions were studied, each with at least two of the disciplines of interest.

Figure 1 shows that each of the seven disciplines studied is unique. Management Information Systems (MIS) is the only discipline with over half of the required courses in the category of business. Computer Engineering is the only discipline with over 25% of the required courses in the category of Electronics & Signals. Computer Science is the only discipline with nearly 40% of the required courses in the category of Software. Of greatest interest in this context is the fact that IT is the strongest in the Net, Web, Databases category with a strong presence also in the Software category. The key point of this figure is the IT discipline was found to be unique and there appeared to be some consensus already as to the sub-areas that made up the IT curriculum.

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Computing Accreditation Background

From the start, accreditation was important to all the participants of CITC. The accreditation committee formed at CITC-1, and began work toward formulating accreditation standards. CITC-1 included one attendee who was specifically invited because of her strong affiliation with ABET, and the desire to have those views represented at the initiation of the efforts to establish IT as an academic discipline (see the sidebar “Accreditation.”).

At CITC-3, the question of which ABET commission to use was put to a plenary vote: Should IT accredit through ABET CAC, or through ABET TAC? ABET had assured us they would honor our decision, and it was ours to make; they would not force us either way. Both commissions had their proponents in the membership, and opinions were voiced openly. When the vote was taken, about three-quarters of the membership preferred to go with ABET CAC (hereafter referred to as CAC). It was also decided to make this a binding vote; all members of SITE (later SIGITE) who sought accreditation would seek it through CAC.

This decision led CAC to restructure their accreditation criteria to consist of a set of general criteria for all computing programs, augmented by three sets of discipline specific accreditation criteria for computer science, information systems and information technology. Several IT programs have since been accredited. Both the general and the IT-specific accreditation criteria may be found at:

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Overview of Model Curriculum Process

The effort to write the IT model curriculum started at CITC-1 with the establishment of an IT model curriculum committee. Initially, the committee consisted of 15 individuals and soon grew to a group of 24 computing educators. It became clear it would not be feasible for a group of this size to write an IT model curriculum, and so a writing committee of seven people was appointed; that committee included three of the authors of this article. Over the course of the next two years, this writing committee was responsible for producing the various drafts of the IT model curriculum, and for soliciting and receiving input from the full curriculum committee. In addition to reviewing the various drafts produced by the writing committee, many of the members of the curriculum committee were responsible for significant parts of the curriculum document.

Principles. At SIGCSE in February 2003, a birds-of-a-feather session was organized to discuss the work on accreditation and curriculum in IT. Several members of the writing committee participated in that discussion and a set of guiding principles emerged that remained constant throughout the entire process.

  1. The model curriculum would be developed in the context of the Computing Curricula project. ( The Computing Curricula project was a collaboration between the ACM, AIS (Association for Information Systems) and IEEE Computer Society and aimed to produce model curricula for all computing disciplines, as well as an overview volume to describe the relationships among the different curricula (Joint Task Force for Computing Curricula, 2005).
  2. The curriculum should be coordinated with the accreditation criteria in a clear and consistent fashion.
  3. The curriculum should be organized so it would have some longevity. It was clear a curriculum that needed to be revised every two years would be of limited utility to institutions wishing to use the model to create an IT program.
  4. The curriculum should be flexible and the required body of knowledge should be as small as possible. Even though IT programs are similar in many ways, there are many differences, reflecting the origins of the programs and the diverse constituencies the programs have been created to serve. It was felt the community wanted a curriculum that would provide guidance without too many constraints.
  5. The curriculum should reflect the relationship of IT to the other computing disciplines. The IT discipline exists in an ecosystem of computing and business disciplines and as the integrator of components and deliverer of systems to serve all of these constituencies’ needs and to prepare professionals to perform in this environment.
  6. The curriculum should reflect those aspects that set IT apart from other computing disciplines. Even though IT programs are similar to other computing programs, there are features that make IT distinct. The model curriculum needed to clearly express the unique character of IT as a discipline.

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Inputs into the IT Model Curriculum

The committee used several inputs to drive the development of the curriculum. The first major input was the Delphi study done at CITC-1 and validated by similar studies done with other constituencies, such as the advisory boards of participating IT programs.18 The work of the accreditation committee and the evolution of the criteria in ABET were also continuously evaluated during their development. In addition, the evolving work of the Computing Curricula project (see the accompanying sidebar “Computing Curricula 2005“) was a significant influence on the model curriculum. Coordination between the writing committee and the accreditation committee and the computing curricula committee was made possible because each of these other committees included some members from the writing committee. Another significant input was the ongoing research of the SIGITE community as represented by published articles and the on-going discussions in the annual conferences.

Information technology was unique among the computing disciplines accredited by ABET CAC in that it formulated accreditation criteria before it finalized a model curriculum.

Key documents referenced often throughout the development process of the IT model curriculum included:

  • CC 2001: Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs in Computer Science.
  • Computing Curricula 2005: The Overview Report.
  • CE 2004: Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs in Computer Engineering.
  • IS 2002: Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs In Information Systems.
  • SE 2004: Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs In Software Engineering (SE 2004)
  • The Profession of IT: Who Are We?8
  • The Profession of IT: The IT Schools Movement9

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The ABET Criteria

The principle that the IT model curriculum should be a blueprint to create programs that could be accredited led to a second important source of inputs to the IT model curriculum formulation process, namely the Computing Accreditation Commission of ABET. IT was unique among the computing disciplines accredited by ABET CAC in that it formulated accreditation criteria before it finalized a model curriculum. In both CS and IS, a model curriculum existed long before the formulation of accreditation criteria.

The most recent ABET CAC accreditation criteria, formulated with considerable input from SIGITE, distinguish between General Criteria and Program Criteria. The intention is that any program in computing must meet the general criteria to be accredited, while specific computing programs, such as programs in computer science, must also meet the relevant program criteria, assuming there are any. Currently, there are program specific criteria for computer science, information systems, and information technology.

CAC’s general criteria require programs seeking accreditation to formulate program educational objectives, defined as statements that describe the career and professional accomplishments that the program is preparing graduates to achieve, and program outcomes, defined as statements that describe what students are expected to know and be able to do by the time of graduation. In addition, a program is required to have a documented assessment process in place to determine the extent to which its graduates meet the program educational objectives and program outcomes. The results of this assessment process must then be used to improve the program. Many of the other accreditation criteria ask institutions to show the curriculum is designed to enable students to achieve the program outcomes and that the program has sufficient resources, including faculty, institutional support, lab and library resources, and so on, to allow students to achieve the program educational objectives and program outcomes.

In many ways, program outcomes are central when it comes to accreditation. While the actual attributes of graduates included in the current version of the CAC accreditation criteria are different in format from the ones used by the IT model curriculum committee, there has been no significant change in their content.

There were two main reasons for choosing an outcomes-based approach. The first was that ABET was moving in this direction for all programs accredited. The second was that, based on current educational practice, outcomes are more useful than inputs.

The current CAC general criteria list a number of attributes that graduates of any computing program are expected to have at the time of graduation, namely:

  • An ability to apply knowledge of computing and mathematics appropriate to the discipline;
  • An ability to analyze a problem and identify and define the computing requirements appropriate to its solution;
  • An ability to design, implement, and evaluate a computer-based system, process, component, or program to meet desired needs;
  • An ability to function effectively in teams to accomplish a common goal;
  • An understanding of professional, ethical, and social responsibilities;
  • An ability to communicate effectively;
  • An ability to analyze the impact of computing on individuals, organizations, and society, including ethical, legal, security, and global policy issues;
  • Recognition of the need for and an ability to engage in continuing professional development; and
  • An ability to use current techniques skills, and tools necessary for computing practice.

The IT criteria specify several additional attributes that graduates from an IT program must achieve. The additional attributes in the IT criteria are:

  • An ability to use and apply current technical concepts and practices in the core information technologies;
  • An ability to identify and analyze user needs and take them into account in the selection, creation, evaluation, and administration of computer-based systems;
  • An ability to effectively integrate IT-based solutions into the user environment;
  • An understanding of best practices and standards and their application; and
  • An ability to assist in the creation of an effective project plan.

In addition, the IT-specific accreditation criteria provide additional guidance on the curriculum by listing a number of topics that must be covered in an IT program, including the core information technologies of human computer interaction, information management, programming, networking, Web systems and technologies, information assurance and security, system administration and maintenance, system integration, and architecture. As will become evident later, the list of topics was strongly influenced by the IT model curriculum.

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The Computing Curricula Project

A third significant input into the curriculum process was the Computing Curricula Project, and in particular the CC 2001 document and later, “Computing Curricula 2005: The Overview Report” The IT community decided that the curriculum should not be organized around courses, in the way in which the model curriculum for Information Systems is primarily organized,15 but around smaller units. There was a wide variety of IT programs and it was felt this diversity was welcome, especially in an emerging discipline such as IT. Organizing the model curriculum around a set of courses could stifle innovation, so it was decided to organize the curriculum around Knowledge Units structured into Knowledge Areas. A Knowledge Area was thus a particular disciplinary subfield, and a Knowledge Unit was a thematic module within a Knowledge Area.

Knowledge units consist of a set of topics and a set of learning outcomes, divided into core outcomes and advanced outcomes. The core outcomes are those that committee members could agree that every IT student should achieve. There is no expectation that every student achieves all advanced outcomes, but there is an expectation that every graduate from an IT program achieves some of the advanced outcomes. Which advanced outcomes are covered depends on the preferred emphasis of the student and the flavor of the IT program that he or she is enrolled in (such as networking, security, Web systems, among others).

The 2008 version of the IT model curriculum has been thoroughly reviewed, has come about as a result of input from multiple institutions, with great support from the ACM, with input from the ACM, ABET, and the IEEE Computer Society.

During the period of intense work on the model curriculum from 2003 to 2005, there was a lot of evolution going on in many individual IT programs. During that evolution, faculty of the BYU IT program published several papers documenting their thinking and their changes, in the hope that the community could use this experience and thinking in their own programs.10,11,12,13 In 2002, they observed that in networking the theoretical underpinning, course outline, and even the text were the same for both the CS and IT version of this course, but the major difference was the labs were needed to provide the student outcomes.11 Over the next three years several papers were published that documented work in the community to develop IT curriculum. Of particular note was the work of Charles Reynolds and the staff at the U.S. Military Academy.2,23,? The were building on each other’s work and the impact of the collaboration was significant on the evolution of the model curriculum. A consensus developed around the ideas that the focus of IT was at the integration points of the various technologies and that there were some pervasive themes that were common to almost all IT programs. These ideas became common threads in much of our work. The pervasive themes that emerged were:

  • User centeredness and advocacy;
  • Information assurance and security;
  • The ability to manage complexity through abstraction and modeling, best practices, design patterns, standards, and the use of appropriate tools;
  • Extensive capabilities for problem solving across a range of information and communication technologies and their associated tools;
  • Adaptability;
  • Professionalism (life-long learning, professional development, ethics, responsibility); and
  • Interpersonal skills.

In the spring of 2004 the writing committee met in Williamsport, PA, and resolved several issues, including what to call “integrative programming.” Additionally, committee members were not satisfied with the organization of the security knowledge area. Immediately after the meeting, one of the writing committee (Ekstrom) participated in the IAEGC16 certificate program at Purdue sponsored by the NSA. This program strongly influenced the Information Assurance and Security (IAS) component of the model curriculum. Since IAS is a complex topic that touches every part of IT, a way was sought to organize the concepts so that it would be simple enough to introduce to a freshman and yet sufficient for advanced courses. While at the IAEGC program, Corey Schow of Idaho State University delivered a lecture in which he claimed to teach IAS in an hour. He used the cube diagram from Machonachy et al.20 and really did provide a solid overview of IAS understandable to a freshman. A version of the IAS knowledge area was written and vetted with the other participants and faculty of the IAEGC program. Thus the IAS component of the curriculum was directly derived from the work of that community.

Integrative Programming. One of the more significant insights that developed during the writing of the model curriculum resulted in the creation of the knowledge area “Integrative Programming.” The writing committee kept seeing some topics that were in the Programming knowledge area, but these topics seemed to be distinct from the programming taught in CS programs. It was soon realized that what needed attention were several programming concepts which had been added to the Programming knowledge area.

When looked at more carefully, it was realized that these topics represented programming concepts unique to the IT academic discipline, and that the element they all had in common was that they dealt with integrative programming—programming that pulled together larger and perhaps disparate programs or code segments, permitting them to share functions, data, security features, and so forth. Scripting is an essential part of integrative programming. Once it was realized that these topics belonged together, they were grouped in a separate knowledge area and then the new knowledge area was fleshed out.

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The Final Product

Much more transpired between the first posting of the model curriculum on the ACM Web site and its final version in November 2008, but the details of that period are of minimal importance here. The main point is the 2008 version of the IT model curriculum has been thoroughly reviewed, has come about as a result of input from multiple institutions, with great support from the ACM, with input from the ACM, ABET, and the IEEE Computer Society. It has taken its place alongside the other curricula recommendations on the ACM Web site (

The five pillars of an IT academic program are: databases, human-computer interaction, networking, programming, and Web systems.

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Broad Goals of an IT Program

Again, from the model curriculum:

“IT programs aim to provide IT graduates with the skills and knowledge to take on appropriate professional positions in Information Technology upon graduation and grow into leadership positions or pursue research or graduate studies in the field. Specifically, within five years of graduation a student should be able to:

  1. Explain and apply appropriate information technologies and employ appropriate methodologies to help an individual or organization achieve its goals and objectives;
  2. Function as a user advocate;
  3. Manage the information technology resources of an individual or organization;
  4. Anticipate the changing direction of information technology and evaluate and communicate the likely utility of new technologies to an individual or organization;
  5. Understand and for some to contribute to the scientific, mathematical and theoretical foundations on which information technologies are built; and
  6. Live and work as a contributing, well-rounded member of society.”

The IT Body of Knowledge. Figure 5-1 on page 27 of the model curriculum details the “IT Body of Knowledge” as reproduced in Figure 2.

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IT is unique among the computing disciplines in that it emerged in response to a specific educational need, rather than as a result of the emergence of a set of research questions that were not covered sufficiently by existing disciplines in the way in which, for example, cognitive science emerged as a separate discipline in the 1970s and 1980s. However, as the field matures, the community is gradually starting to broaden its focus to include research questions as well as educational concerns (see for example, Reichgelt,22 Ekstrom et al.,13 and Cole et al.6).

Much of this is strongly influenced by the 2008 version of the 4-Year IT Curriculum volume, which provides an excellent introduction to the academic discipline of IT, along with recommendations for the content and delivery of an IT curriculum. This curriculum volume represents the best efforts of many individuals from many academic institutions and professional organizations. It increases to five the number of computing programs that have formally defined curricula, as outlined in the CC 2005 document. It has received wide exposure both nationally and internationally, and has already had a significant impact on many computing programs both in the U.S. and abroad. It should serve a useful role throughout its lifetime.

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F1 Figure 1. A comparison of programs in computing (derived from Lunt et al.

F2 Figure 2. The IT Body of Knowledge with core topics italicized.

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UF2-1 Structure of ABET for computing programs.

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    1. ABET: Computing Accreditation Criteria. (Now only available as 2009–2010 criteria or 2010–2011 criteria);

    2. Alford, K. L., Carter, C. A., Ragsdale, D. J., Ressler, E. K., and Reynolds C. W. Specification and managed development of information technology curricula. In Proceedings of the 5th Conference on informaotion Technology Education, Salt Lake City, UT CITC 5, October 28–30 2004, ACM, New York, NY, 261–266.

    3. CC 2001: Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs in Computer Science;

    4. CE 2004: Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs in Computer Engineering;

    5. Clarke, F. and Reichgelt, H. The importance of explicitly stating educational objectives in computer science curricula. SIGCSE Bulletin Inroads 35, 4 (2003), 47–50.

    6. Cole, C., Ekstrom, J., and Helps, R. Collecting IT Scholarship: The IT-Thesis Project. SIGITE 2009, p 127–132.

    7. Computing Curricula 2005: The Overview Report;

    8. Denning, P. J. The Profession of IT: Who are we? Commun. ACM 44, 2 (Feb. 2001), 15–19.

    9. Denning, P. J. The Profession of IT: The IT schools movement. Commun. ACM 44, 8 (Aug. 2001), 15–19.

    10. Ekstrom, J. and Renshaw, S. A Project-Based Introductory Curriculum in Networking, WEB and Database Systems for 4-year Information Technology Programs. CITC (Sept. 2002), Rochester, NY.

    11. Ekstrom, J. and Renshaw, S. Curriculum and Issues in a First Course of Computer Networking for Four-year Information Technology Programs. ASEE Session 2793, 2002.

    12. Ekstrom, J. and LUNT, B. 2003. Education at the Seams: Preparing Students to Stitch Systems Together, Curriculum and Issues for 4-Year IT Programs. Purdue University CITC (Oct. 2003), West Lafayette, IN.

    13. Ekstrom, J., Lunt, B., and Helps, C. Education at the seams: Preliminary evaluation of teaching integration as a key to education in Information Technology. In Proceedings of the 2004 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition.

    14. Gillies, J., and Cailliau, R. 2000. How the Web was Born: The Story of the World Wide Web. Oxford University Press, NY.

    15. Gorgonne, J. T., Davis, G. B., Valacich, J. S., Topi, H., Feinstein, D. L., and Longnecker, H. E, Jr. IS 2002: Model Curriculum and Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs in Information Systems, (2003);

    16. Information Assurance Education Graduate Certificate (IAEGC), 2005. Validated Oct. 2008;

    17. IS 2002: Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs in Information Systems;

    18. Lunt, B. M., Ekstrom, J. J., Lawson, E. A., Kamali, R., Miller, J., and Gorka, H. R. Defining the IT Curriculum: The Results of the Past 2 1/2 Years; In Proceedings of the International Conference on Engineering Education and Research (Olomouc, Czech Republic, June 27–30, 2004).

    19. Lutz, P. 2007. Information Technology: History, Development, Trends (2007);

    20. Machonachy, V., Sschou, C., Ragsdale, D., and Welch, D. A model for information assurance: An integrated approach. In Proceedings of the 2001 IEEE Workshop on Information Assurance and Security, (U.S. Military Academy, West Point, NY, June 5–6 2001).

    21. Martin, K. 2001. CSAB, Inc. President's Message;

    22. Reichgelt, H., and Yaverbaum, G. Accountability and accreditation: Putting Information Systems accreditation into perspective. Commun. AIS 21 (2007), 416–428.

    23. Reynolds, C. W. Engineering the information technology curriculum with pervasive themes. In Proceedings of the 7th Conference on information Technology Education, (Minneapolis, MN, Oct. 19–21 2006). ACM, NY, 141–148;

    24. SE 2004: Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Degree Programs in Software Engineering;

    25. Stoll, C. The Cuckoo's Egg: Tracking a Spy through the Maze of Computer Espionage. Doubleday, NY, 1989.


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