New Bachelor of Information program pending approval from Governing Council

Interdisciplinary degree will combine social science, humanities, computer science

New Bachelor of Information program pending approval from Governing Council

 

A new two-year Bachelor of Information (BI) degree program at the Faculty of Information may begin in September 2019, pending approval and confirmation by Governing Council’s Academic Board and Executive Committee, respectively. The proposal was positively reviewed by the Academic Policy and Programs Committee of Governing Council on January 11.

The new BI program at the Faculty of Information, also called the iSchool, will be a two-year second-entry professional undergraduate degree program consisting of 11 credits. Students are expected to apply during their second year of first-entry undergraduate studies.

The BI will combine social science, humanities, and computer science to tackle the study of a data-intensive society. According to the proposal, “Students will study how data is generated, exchanged, transformed, deployed, and used, and the way that these processes mediate and are mediated by cultural, legal, economic, and technical structures and institutions.”

Its point of difference from other iSchool programs is its broad focus on three core areas: techniques of digital practice, how information practice is organized at many social and political scales, and information, power, and culture. The proposal also notes a strong focus on social justice.

Wendy Duff, a professor and Dean of the iSchool, said that the BI will mix lectures, studio courses, and a practicum. “You’re learning skills, but you’re also reflecting on what you’re learning in those large classes,” she said. “Then you take that knowledge and skills that you learned and then you go do another course.”

Duff said that the practicum part of the program will give students real workplace experience as they head into their second year. A large focus of the program is giving students both the theoretical and hands-on knowledge that will prepare them for employment in fields such as web publishing, interactive media design, and business. As the proposal states, “We aim to produce graduates who can not only understand, but also make and do.”

The structure and design of the new program relied on feedback from students, external reviewers from two different universities, and faculties like Arts & Science and the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design.

The university plans to accept 25 students at first, increasing the number admitted per year to 100 in 2023. At the moment, the university is in the process of searching for two teaching stream positions and one tenure stream position. The faculty is also developing scholarships and bursaries specific to this program.

The proposal will go before Governing Council’s Academic Board for approval on January 25 and the Executive Committee for confirmation on February 6.

Provincial policy aims to increase number of STEM grads

University currently in talks with province over way forward

Provincial policy aims to increase number of STEM grads

The Ontario government has recently announced a new initiative to increase the number of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) graduates in the province over the next five years. The project is part of a push to make the province an industry leader in the STEM fields. U of T is currently in talks with the province to see how it will be affected.

The plan is to increase the number of post-secondary STEM graduates “by 25 per cent over the next five years – boosting the number of STEM graduates from 40,000 to 50,000 per year,” according to Tanya Blazina, who works in the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development.

“This major commitment will significantly expand the talent pool of well-trained and highly educated workers in Ontario,” Blazina said. “These workers will empower Ontario-based businesses to grow into global players, while also attracting successful and innovative businesses to the province.”

Blazina says that as of Fall 2017, all publicly funded Ontario universities and colleges will have signed an agreement on program plans and funded enrolment levels. Universities will also have signed an agreement concerning funded graduate spaces.

This initiative comes amidst a major expansion project by American tech giant Amazon. The company announced earlier this year that it was planning on building a second headquarters in North America, which Toronto has expressed major interest in.

U of T Vice-President and Provost Cheryl Regehr told The Varsity that the university is “looking for more information and to try and understand what exactly the money will go to.” Regehr says they expect that it will go to additional student spots, in particular a possible student spot in professional master’s programs.

“U of T is already incredibly strong. We are a world leader in many areas and STEM is one of the ones that we’re a world leader,” she said. “We expect that we’ll just continue to be a world leader and increase our research and educational initiatives in this area.”

In order to make the province more attractive to tech companies, the government is hoping specifically to increase graduates is in the field of artificial intelligence (AI). To achieve this, $30 million will be invested to increase the “number of professional applied masters’ graduates in artificial intelligence,” according to a press release.

“Ontario will also partner with the Vector Institute to accelerate growth in the number of professional applied masters’ graduates in artificial intelligence. The goal is to graduate 1,000 applied masters students in AI-related fields per year, within five years.”

Vector Institute is a Toronto-based AI research organization affiliated with U of T. It was founded earlier this year in order to be Canada’s AI hub and to attract top talent from around the world.