May 10 2013

Are the Days of the IT Specialist Numbered?

Convergence means IT professionals will need to know it all.

In information technology ­education, we are accustomed to talking about alignment, or the degree to which the ­components of an educational system (­standards, curricula, instruction) work together to achieve institutional and instructional goals.

The new buzzword today is "convergence," which reflects the ­integration of existing technologies into new forms that seamlessly bring together different types of ­media and applications. We are seeing an explosion in convergence, with ­smartphones and tablets among the most ubiquitous examples.

This evolution should also change how higher education institutions teach — and what they teach — as a means of launching their students into successful careers. Profound changes are ­occurring in the delivery of education and in the preparation of new kinds of IT professionals who can meet the changing demands of business and industry.

Convergence in Learning

At Lansing Community College (LCC), we are developing immersive and simulated software applications that incorporate gaming design to improve teaching and learning.

We expect the approach will help students learn complex content in less time, with better retention, than they are able to achieve in a traditional ­lecture format.

The challenge to ­infrastructure is significant, with expectations of increased bandwidth (especially in multiplayer ­environments) and zero downtime, as well as ­alterations to on-campus learning spaces. Growing demand for IT workers who ­understand current convergence technologies and who demonstrate the ability to learn new skills quickly is dramatically changing the role of the traditional IT ­specialist, who typically focused on a ­specific computer network, database or system administration function.

A New Generation

Convergence technologies require individuals who understand the various elements of integrated infrastructures and devices, including virtualization, storage management, mobile device integration and cloud computing. Convergence technicians must know how the infrastructure is equipped, deployed, secured and managed. They are consulted on design and deployment, including integration of emerging technologies — often an impractical role for conventionally trained IT specialists.

Interest from business and industry in our college's service area and LCC's development of new teaching technologies led us to create a new program in convergence technology — the blending or integration of voice, video, image and data into a single but flexible global communications network — geared toward the enterprise and residential markets. Students who complete the track will earn industry certifications from Cisco Systems and CompTIA.

This past fall, 62 students ­began taking courses on a path ­toward ­certificates in convergence ­technology. An associate's degree will be offered in the same subject, allowing students to become job-ready quickly. And we ­recently launched a residential networking specialist ­certificate program for those interested in helping homeowners with residential ­technology needs, which often include ­convergence.

In partnership with the ­National Convergence ­Technology Center at Collin ­College in Texas, and with help from a $4.4 million National Science ­Foundation grant, we will continue to develop convergence courses such as cloud computing and ­virtualization, with the goal of ­becoming a mentor to help other colleges in our ­region with the ­development of their own ­convergence programs.


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