I'm attending an iSchool, though a few years ago I had no
idea what that meant. What seems to make the iSchools
movement different from other disciplines is that it arose in response to a new
challenge, based on the insight that no existing discipline completely
addressed the phenomenon of the Information Age.
It is different in that its approach is interdisciplinary (my chosen
definition: "A curriculum organization that cuts across subject-matter lines to
focus upon comprehensive life problems or broad-based areas of study that bring
together the various segments of the curriculum into meaningful association." -
) and takes its area of study to be information.
Other disciplines seem to have long histories and established programs which
are usually well known. It is different than other disciplines in that it still
defining itself as a science. It includes many established sciences like
computer science, psychology, and sociology. But as a science and discipline in
itself, it seems to be evolving and not-yet-final - in a good way.
One conception that seems common to the iSchools is the
focus on the triangle of information-technology-people. In order to address the phenomenon of the Information Age,
all three sides of the triangle need to be included. Other disciplines seem to
focus on one of the three sides, or two of the three sides - understanding how
people use technology form a sociological perspective, for example. While we
wouldn't say the sociologist is wrong, in an iSchool we might say that there is
another way to look at, that there might be more to gain from an
interdisciplinary understanding of all three sides of the triangle.That we bring something unique and new and valuable to what we study.
With information as our area of study, some iSchools emerged out of the tradition of Library Science, which is focused on themes like classification, organization, and searching of physical information sources. It seems natural that as information moves toward digital forms that they would extend their study to digital information. Other iSchools seem to have developed out of Computer Science or Business Schools, and while they all likely have their own flavor, they all seem to have moved toward the same conceptual triangle as their common theme.
My own choice of an iSchool was something of an accident of circumstance. I moved near Penn State to get away from the Philadelphia suburbs, with the thought of returning to college as something far in the back of my mind. When I did decide to return to school, I had a conversation with an advisor about my interest in "something with technology" and, since I didn't think I wanted to be programmer, she suggested IST. I was interested from my first class (IST 110) and thought there was something unique here. But I also thought that I was going to get in, get a B.S., and get out - to start a job that paid well. But over the three years of my undergraduate classes, I realized I wasn't that excited by some of the jobs that my fellow undergraduates were getting. Most of them were very good jobs in the usual sense, but none of them quite fit the passion I had for the things that made IST unique, that made it an iSchool rather than a Business school or a Computer Science school. For me, it is the interdisciplinary approach to a compelling set of issues raised by our 'Information Age' world that brought me to this graduate school. And though I have moments of doubt, there really isn't anything else that I can imagine doing right now that could be more interesting.