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Gone are the days of stuffy lectures and drowsy students. In UMBC’s Information Systems Department, undergraduate research opportunities, cutting-edge teaching methods, innovative classroom models, and special seminars to increase student retention are just a few tactics being used to engage and inspire students.

Supporting the Local Community

Professor: Amy Hurst, PhD
Program: Information Systems, Human Centered Computing
Class: Graphic Design for Interactive Systems – HCC 710

About this project:
This project provided students an opportunity to apply their skills and knowledge regarding graphic design in a real-life human setting. The students leverage multiple mediums of graphic design to create marketing, branding and management content for the Arbutus Senior Center in Baltimore, Maryland. Content developed for the senior center included:
– Mission and Vision statement
– Board of Directors picture board
– Business cards, envelopes and letterhead
– T shirts
– Webpage
– Power Point slides

S1070006This Arbutus Senior Center leadership, staff and supporters were gracious collaborators, providing the student with business requirements and feedback. This shared effort resulted in valuable content that the ASC will be able to utilize to help recruit volunteer support as well help raise awareness of ASC as a resource to the local community. In addition, the students gained a valuable learning experience, not only in graphical design development how to apply graphical design development to meet specific end user business and social needs.

This project was lead by UMBC Information Systems’ Professor Amy Hurst, who summarized the project to the ASC Board of Directors in the the following statement:

“The work from this course was produced by graduate students in the Human-Centered Computing program in the Information Systems Department at UMBC. These students spent the semester learning the fundamentals of graphic design through lecture, in-class critiques and real-world assignments. They have also worked to learn more about the exciting community at the Arbutus Senior Center through a field trip and talking with members of the Board of Directors Each student has completed eight assignments that are tailored to the Arbutus Senior Center. I hope you enjoy seeing the student’s work, and engage with the students and share your thoughts.”

About the Arbutus Senior Center:
The Arbutus Senior Center is Baltimore County’s 20th and newest senior center. The center is excited to share their campus with the Arbutus Library and Arbutus Community Center. The senior center has a fitness room with eight pieces of state-of-the-art cardio and strength training equipment, a multipurpose room with full multi-media capabilities and kitchen, two classrooms, two craft rooms including one with a kiln, and a game room. Personal training services are available for a nominal fee. For more information go to:

S1070015About Graphic Design for Interactive Systems – HCC 710
This course focuses on visual communications is the presentation of information through the use of type and image. Students in this course would get an understanding of how visual principles can be used, gain experience in working through the design process towards the creation and evaluation of both typographic and image based form, reinforce certain technical and computer skills, and refine your ability to critique and discuss relevant issues both individually and in group situations. In this course, the objective is to create forms that can be both read as well as seen. We consider issues ranging from visual clarity and the needs of the user, creating hierarchy in a non-linear reading order, to the semantic/pragmatic, implicit/explicit characteristics of form.

About UMBC Department of Information Systems:
In this department we offer two undergraduate, three Masters, and two PhD degree programs. In addition, the department currently offers several certificate programs at the undergraduate level. Our academic programs, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels, are experiencing growth in student enrollments. In order to provide the best education to our students, we are continuously working on improving the curricula and course contents in all of our programs. One of the recent additions to our undergraduate programs is the new minor in IS beginning in the Fall 2012 semester. You can find detailed information on the IS minor under the Undergraduate tab on the side frame.

Overall, we have nearly 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in our programs who, with the help of our faculty members, study, design, develop, and evaluate information technologies to address the needs of a broad range of individuals and organizations. This makes our students true problem solvers and ideal employees for public and private sector organizations with significant IT requirements. Despite the current challenges in the economy, IT professionals are still high in demand throughout various industries. For more information, go to



Teaching Tactics

Professors in the Information Systems department are using out-of-the-box teaching techniques to help students learn the material.

Dr. Sreedevi Sampath has changed the structure of her IS 448: Markup and Scripting Languages class.  In IS 448, the students learn an array of web programming languages, such as HTML, CSS, JavaScript, PHP and XML. She lectures in short bursts and has students immediately apply the concepts through in-class labs. The technique ensures comprehension of the material and if students have trouble, Dr. Sampath is only a raised-hand away.

Dr. Sampath is teaching these programming languages in a way that connects them to one another. “At the end they actually see a fully functioning web system,” she explains. The final project has students create a blog application, like WordPress or Blogger. “I was really trying to find something that would put all of those technologies together,” says Dr. Sampath. Plus, she felt that the project would be interesting for college students, many of whom are no stranger to blogging

Dr. Henry Emurian believes that repetition is the key to learning, which is why he swears by Java Tutors.

Java tutors is a mandatory part of IS 147: Introduction to Computer Programming, a class that introduces basic principles and techniques of computer programming. The tutoring starts off by asking students to simply copy symbols and words common to Java like “public” and “static” and “{“. The exercise familiarizes students with the grammar of the language. It makes them aware of spacing, capitalization, and the location of these symbols on the keyboard. After a dozen or so repetitions, students graduate to the next–more challenging–exercise.

While the initial copying exercises might seem overly basic, Emurian explains that the goal is to promote a muscle-memory type of learning. More importantly, getting questions right builds confidence, which is essential for beginners who see programming as daunting and abstract.

Industry Experience

IS courses that simulate what it’s like to work in the industry give students practical experience and an undeniable edge. Taken in a student’s senior year, these classes get students ready for the “real world.”

Take Dr. George Karabatis’ IS 420: Database Application Development course, which, last spring, had managers from e-commerce company Paypal commission the students to make projects.

“Think of this team as a start-up company,” Dr. Karabatis tells his students at the start. Then student teams work on developing prototype client/server applications. Last spring Paypal sponsored two projects, the first inspired by and the second, a money transfer system.

Stand-out projects were demoed for Paypal executives. “They were quite happy with the demos,” says Dr. Karabatis. At least one student was offered a job interview as a result, he says. Dr. Karabatis, who, before teaching, spent years in the telecommunications industry, explains that his goal is to give students an idea of what to expect in the “real world.”

The course is an approved elective for UMBC’s new Entrepreneurship and Innovation Minor. Dr. Karabatis encourages his students to submit their class projects—or other ideas—to UMBC’s Idea competition—a campus-wide competition that asks students to solve problems plaguing society.


Raising Retention

What’s the difference between Information Systems and Computer Science? How about Computer Science and Computer Engineering? Not sure? Neither are the majority of freshmen who come to UMBC knowing only that they want to do something with computers.

Most end up as Computer Science majors, overlooking UMBC’s other computing majors like Information Systems, Computer Engineering, or Business Technology Administration. The result is frustrated students who switch majors, leading to wasted time and credits.

Enter COMP 101, a new course intended to help students discover the computing major that’s right for them. Next fall, Information Systems professor Dr. Carolyn Seaman and CSEE professor Dr. Marie desJardins will offer two sections of the course, (which are listed in the schedule of classes as combined sections of IS 101Y and CMSC 104).  Their hope is to help increase retention in computing majors, especially among women and minorities—groups that aren’t statistically drawn to the field.

“Traditional computing programs generally spend the first semesters teaching skills (for example programming) without really talking much about the big picture, specifically the grand challenges of the field and the impact one can make on solving societal problems,” explains Dr. Penny Rheingans the Principal Investigator of the NSF research award that made COMP 101 possible. Rheingans taught the course last fall. “This organization works fine for students with a love of programming, but not so well for those who see programming as a tool to achieve greater good.”

Freshmen interested in computing are encouraged to take the course in place of IS 101 or CMSC 104, required introductory courses. In it, they will learn both technical skills—algorithmic problem solving, abstraction, programming and analysis—and professional skills—time management, understanding learning styles, networking, working in teams, and presenting. Students will work together on semester-long design, implementation, and evaluation projects. There are also peer mentors—Computer Science and Information Systems undergraduates—that new students can use as a resource.

COMP 101 is supported until summer 2015 by the NSF research award: Transforming the Freshmen Experience of Computing Majors. But, Seaman says the hope is to eventually make it a permanent fixture of the curriculum, giving computing students a good start and a straight shot toward success.