This year the School of Information at the University of Arizona is officially debuting as its own standalone college. It’s particularly relevant in this digital age but some of the programs they offer might come as a surprise to you.
“If we think about information these days,” said Catherine Brooks, the interim dean of the “iSchool.” “We have a lot of information on our phones and our computers. And when we do research, we gather lots of data.”
Data really is everywhere, from the tips of our fingers to programming the newest artificial intelligence. It has the potential to go anywhere.
“So the School of Information is unique in that we tend to look at information and and data science as it intersects with the human condition,” Brooks said. “So we do a lot of human centered technical courses. So human computer interaction, the way humans engage with their new technologies, data science as it’s applied to human questions in health, education and business.”
Brooks says their curriculum is far ranging, intertwined with some parts of life we don’t even realize are connected to tech.
“We have courses that are completely tech based, like big data mining, machine learning, AI, data ethics, deep learning, natural language processing, and then they also spanned all the way to the social behavioral digital behavior courses like digital discourse and identity. Social media across sectors, so that class we study social media behavior, and how does social media work and what are the impacts across sectors like education in business and in healthcare and and then we have a third arm where we’re focusing on game development, game behavior, and we actually have an undergraduate degree program in eSports.”
You heard that right — eSports, as in video games. But it’s not just Frogger in your mom’s basement anymore.
“If we think about gaming in general,” Brooks said, “it’s no longer just a recreational effort. It’s also serious games where we build games for things like training and healthcare, or education. Virtual reality is utilized for a lot of different purposes, not just recreation. And so, game behavior is also interesting when we think about things like team behavior in a game or game perspective, or bias and diversity in the gaming industry, or even things like game addiction and some of the other psychological topics.”
While some of what they do is hands on, working with lasers and 3D printing, students also get to focus on one of the biggest most pressing issues our society faces.
“We aim to move forward and really push the students and our researchers to continue to think about topics like machine learning,” said Brooks. “AI this year is a big question. How do we how do we manage AI as humans in our workplaces and in our lives, and so we’re really excited to be here. And then we hope the students want to come and join us.”
They also seem to have fun.
In their creative coding class, students have a competition where they build Skittle sorters, and see who can sort the most skittles the fastest. The machines use light to separate each color, which has a lot of practical applications for the real world.
Through their five undergrad programs and four graduate programs, the iSchool has about a thousand students, and more from outside the college all together.
“We blend well with other majors,” Brooks explained, “and so we teach a lot of students that aren’t necessarily majoring in our programs, but they’re eager to take our courses as either electives or as part of a minor choice or a double major decision.”
But if you’re interested in their classes, you should know other students are too.
“Almost all of our classes are wide open to the entire campus, said Brooks. “This fall, we’re just almost full. So we hope students go ahead and register and pick up some of those remaining seats. But we’re pretty excited about what’s happening.”