This book is for an introduction to management information systems (MIS) course in colleges and universities. Kieran Mathieson
This page is for instructors. It explains why I designed the book the way I did.
wrote the book.
You're welcome to use the book. Please give me feedback
, so I can improve it.
This isn't just an online textbook. It's a better textbook, that happens to be online.
Hard to teach, hard to take
The intro MIS course isn't easy to teach.
Some people call it "the widow maker," because students dislike it so much.
Information system (IS) are abstract things that can't be seen or touched. They use components like "relational databases" (whatever they are) to "support" (whatever that means) "business processes" (whatever they are).
Business processes can't be seen or touched, either. Most students in their early twenties have little business experience. They don't know much about processes, decisions, or strategies. Even older students have worked mainly in lower-level jobs, and don't have a managerial perspective.
So, we're asking students to learn about things they can't see, that operate in ways they don't understand, for purposes that are unclear, using components they have never heard of.
Most MIS textbooks don't help. They describe abstract concepts in abstract ways.
If there's concrete, hands-on material, it's often in an appendix or supplement, disconnected from the conceptual material.
Another problem is that MIS books are dull
. Students don't like to read dull material, especially for a required class that's not in their major. Even I
can't stand reading intro MIS books.
This isn't a matter of pandering to the crowd. It's a learning issue.
Boring material is harder to learn.
Why make things harder on students? Why give them abstract, boring material? Why encourage students to dislike MIS?
And dislike their instructors?
Do we need this pain?
How to change?
What I have tried to do is write a book that makes learning MIS and teaching MIS easier and more pleasant
"Easier" does not
mean "less rigorous." What I have focused on is making the process of learning easier, without watering down the material itself
This has to be done carefully. Some books that are lightened up are, in fact, dumbed down. The Cartoon Guide to Statistics
is an example. Further, it isn't clear that that book's use of comics rather than computation makes readers better statisticians.
Downing took a different approach in Calculus the Easy Way.
The introductory text is written as a set of stories in a fantasy world. It isn't dumbed down. It covers the same topics as other textbooks, including the chain and product rules, derivations of trigonometric functions, integration, logs and exponential functions, and so on.
But the fantasy story is just a thin layer on top of a traditional calculus book. It's "brain candy." It isn't clear to me how the fantasy story helps students learn calculus.
We need to be careful here. Just because a book is boring, that doesn't mean it's less rigorous.
But at the same time, just because a book is not boring, that doesn't mean students can learn from it.
Let me suggest that rigorous material can be presented in emotionally interesting and cognitively effective ways.
Do you want a rigorous text that students hate? An easy-to-read but dumbed down text? Or is there a third choice: a rigorous book that students like
Let's see how MIS-Book.Com is different from other introductory MIS texts.
Supports the SQ3R method
is a way to read for comprehension. It focuses on cognitive effectiveness
. This book supports SQ3R. For example:
- Each chapter lists goals, has titles and headings, and highlighting. This supports structure, the S of SQ3R.
- Characters running throughout the book ask the author questions about the material. That's the Q of SQ3R.
The page Learning with the book
describes the SQ3R approach. Students using SQ3R will make the most of their reading time.
Stories make it easier for people to link abstract concepts to concrete reality.
The book uses stories to show how businesses work
. It uses stories to show how IT works
. It uses stories to show how MIS helps business
But it goes further. There is one more type of story that is central to MIS-Book.Com:
The book itself is a story of students learning about MIS.
The Scoobies are five students taking an introductory MIS course.
They have different backgrounds, and different reasons for taking the course. For example, Brandon is a marketing major being forced to take the course. As the book progresses, he comes to understand the value of MIS in marketing. Faith is a computer science major, a serious tech human, who thinks she won't get anything from the course. By the end of the book, she has learned that IT use is motivated by business goals, and she should understand both of them.
Not everything goes smoothly in the Scoobies' story.
Brandon, Faith, and the others face some challenges. This brings more emotional realism to the book.
One more thing about the students' story. The Scoobies are role models. They show how good students act.
They ask questions. They challenge the book's author. They take their MIS studies seriously, no matter what their major.
Make it concrete
In this book, there's no separation between concepts and skills.
For instance, Microsoft Access is integrated throughout the database chapters.
Students read about a concept, see it in pictures, and then do it in software.
Several running software packages are installed on the site
, with at least one example of each major software category discussed in the book.
The packages are integrated into the text.
For example, there's a simple transaction processing system called Badger. Students can read about it, then try it
Further, The MIS-Book.Com Web site applies the ideas that MIS-Book.Com talks about.
Strategy, security, database... all these aspects of MIS-Book.Com are discussed.
There are animations to help students visualize processes that happen over time
. See this page
, for example.
There are business examples through the book.
But rather than always talking about large companies, the book often looks at small companies that are easy to understand.
Examples are OceanKayak
. They are real companies, and their business practices are reflected on their Web sites
Make it fun
The book's written in a conversational style. It's full of quirky pictures and lame jokes.
There are doom cows, evil dolls, and tamers of giant alien bugs.
Examples are drawn from things students know about.
For instance, there's a database example about the people who kill Kenny on South Park (1)
The book uses short movies
. Some of the chapter exercises ask students to watch a movie and answer questions about it.
Can I just tell you that I love this book? It cracks me up!
All this makes the book more fun to read. And it can only help teaching ratings.
Make it focused
The book explores core topics in depth, and omits peripheral topics.
This means that chapters like the one on computers and programs
However, I'm sure there are topics missing from the book that people want. Please let me know!
Attract students to MIS
MIS-Book.Com might attract more students to MIS.
It makes the field more interesting, more concrete, and less painful.
There is extra tech material for students who are attracted by such things
. There are optional tech notes embedded throughout the book, plus chapter supplements on programming and other tech topics.
- Students complain about the high cost of textbooks. Not this one! It's free for now, and will always be cheap. (More on this below.)
- There is no separate ethics chapter. Instead, ethical issues are raised throughout the book. For example, the chapter on group decision support contains material on supporting ethical decision making.
- The book has personalization features like bookmarks. It also has social features, like messaging and forums.
- There is a student community that helps students help each other. Actually, I'd like to get more advice on improving the virtual community aspects of this site, if you have ideas.
- The book takes advantage of "teachable moments" (a good concept with an irritating name). There are times when a discussion of, say, Web sites, leads naturally to a broader discussion of marketing and MIS. The danger is that the conceptual structure of the content is lost. I'm adding extra elements to pages with long diversions, including extra commentary, headings, highlighting, and a page summary, to bring the focus back to the main ideas.
- It may be possible to customize the book. There could be pages that you edit, for your own students. You could include exercises, examples, links to MIS Web sites, and so on.
- Please give me feedback! What is missing? What is incorrect? What supplements do you want? What other software (like an OLAP server) would you like to see installed? Please, please, please! I'm begging you!
Reasons not to use the book
Here are reasons why the book won't suit every instructor.
- The book has rough edges. There are lots of typos (most likely). I'll clean them up as I learn about them.
- The book may omit topics you want to cover. Let me know what they are. Let's talk about those topics in the forums.
- The book needs more supplements. Each chapter has exercises, but no answers at the moment, and no test banks. Let me know what you'd like. I'll hire people to help if the book earns enough money.
- It's not a "real" book. I doubt I'll ever create a paper version of the book. My experience has been that today's students have no trouble with an online book, but your students may be different.
- Parts of the Web site's software are clunky.
I use the TikiWiki
content management system, version 1.9. It has a good feature set. The parts of it that students work with most of the time are just fine. However, some parts of the interface are clumsy. You can almost hear the steam engine at work. Clunkity, clunkity, clunk.
Version 2.0 of TikiWiki has been released. It has a better interface. I'll switch to 2.0 sometime in 2009.
There isn't much I can do to improve TikiWiki at the moment. I've made some custom changes (like the feedback tab to the left, hint, hint), but large scale redesign is not a viable option. Without any cash. Which leads me to...
Will I charge for the book?
That's my plan, although it might change. The book will remain free until 2010 or so. If I charge after that, my guess is that the book will cost around USD$25 for six months, about the same as couple of large pizzas.
The book may be free forever for people in developing nations. Feedback about that idea is welcome.
Income (if there is any) will be used to improve the book. I imagine hiring people to write cases, add supplements, improve TikiWiki, integrate the book with Moodle and Blackboard, etc. MIS-Book.Com might sponsor research to improve the intro MIS course.
Income might also support a vibrant, international virtual community of MIS students. Perhaps students could be hired to run the community. Students in developing nations might be able to make a living this way.
Let me know if you have other ideas for ways in which income to MIS-Book.Com could improve teaching of the intro course, or of MIS teaching in general.
Your feedback can help improve this book.
You can use the orange feedback tab on the left. You can email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org
. Use the forums for questions that other instructors might want to talk about (there's a link to the forums on the right). The feedback
page lists more communication options.
You can sign up for a newsletter to get occasional news about the book. Use the Newsletters
link on the right.
I'll give credit to people who make useful suggestions, on the credits
page, and in appropriate places in the text.
Thanks for reading this far. Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Please let me know.
(1) If you don't know what this means, you are so
uncool. But then I'm uncool, too. Maybe the word "uncool" is uncool.