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ITP has been championing change and innovation for 25 years

To celebrate the 25th anniversary of Aalto University’s flagship minor program Information Technology Program (ITP), we take a look at what makes this program so unique.
Students jumping for joy at the Amphitheater stairs.
ITP offers a collaborative environment for students to develop their technology and design-thinking skills. Photo: Petri Anttila.

 

ITP is celebrating its 25th anniversary! That makes 25 years championing project-based education and collaboration with companies. ITP stands for Information Technology Program, a summer minor program organized by Aalto University’s School of Business. The program brings together design, business and technology, and offers its multidisciplinary teams of students the opportunity to develop a project tackling digital challenges and innovation. With a fresh batch of students completing the program this summer and joining the ranks of ITP alumni, it’s time to look into the history of this program and what makes it so unique. 

ITP proposes new ways of teaching technical skills 

The first edition of ITP took place in 1995. Laura Sivula, the head of Aalto University’s Summer School and ITP’s Program Director, who took the reins in 2014, tells us that the program was born out of a desire to ‘develop new ways of doing programs and teaching, particularly by enhancing multidisciplinary teaching and learning at the business school’. Central to this was the concept of challenge-based learning, an approach to education that seeks to integrate real-life business challenges into teaching and thus for students to solve.

ITP Faculty Antti Leino posing in black&white picture.

ITP'95 had great timing to support the first wave of the internet and multimedia communication.

Antti Leino, ITP Faculty since 2001

Another central goal to the development of ITP was to train business students in technology skills. Throughout the early 1990’s, such skills had become high in demand from IT companies, particularly in the field of mobile communications. At the time of the creation of the program, opportunities for students to develop technical competences were not yet included in the Business School’s curricula. 

The year of the first edition of the program turned out to be in itself quite symbolic: ‘1995 was a milestone in many ways, but most of all World Wide Web and the first generation of browsers had just appeared to the school's premises’ recalls Antti Leino, Marketing Architect and ITP Faculty since 2001, who participated in ITP’s very first edition. ‘ITP´95 had great timing to support the first wave of the  internet and multimedia communication. Simple guidebooks to "program" HTML where available, and with a little help from the IT Department students created their first home pages. Very very simple ones.’ Currently Leino teaches digital marketing strategies in Digital and Interactive Ecosystems (DIE) track. 

Over the past 25 years, the projects have grown in complexity, and the tools available to students have diversified, as ITP responded to new trends and challenges in the field, as Leino points out. ‘In the very early stage, multimedia was dropped, and the program focused first towards networking- and content-related topics. Over the years we (me and Nordkapp´s Sami Niemelä) realized that there was an opportunity to push further, and Content & Media was replaced with Strategic Experience Design. Then when Laura jumped on board she understood to add a third track about Digital and Interactive Entertainment which added a nice piece of marketing, gaming and platform-thinking to the program.’

The development of students’ tech skills has remained central to ITP’s philosophy. Prof. Matti Rossi, ITP’s Academic Director, believes that ‘all business students should gain a basic understanding of digital technologies and their possibilities’. This is explained by digital technologies’ ubiquity: ‘most of our students will end in jobs where software and artificial intelligence are part of everyday routines and much of the information needed for decision making and work flows comes from different systems.’ 

Rossi therefore deems it essential for current students to understand how things work. ‘Many of the accounting, management and marketing students will be dealing with implementing digital information systems in their workplaces and again it is very useful to know what is realistic and what is not. A business student who does not understand the basic ideas of for example programming and databases has a very hard time grasping what is going on in an organization.’ 

And so, according to Rossi, what ITP offers to students is more than general theoretical understanding, it is the chance to apply that knowledge. ‘ITP projects immerse the students in real world problems and give them insights into the organizational life of information systems. This is very valuable for both the students and teachers.’

ITP has adapted to the changing technology landscape, integrating more digital content and continually adjusting the focus to stay relevant.

prof. William Schiano, Bentley University, ITP Faculty since 2005

ITP has always kept adapting and evolving 

25 years old and still going strong, ITP has managed to stay relevant. How was this achieved? By placing adaptation and openness to change at the core of its practices, as professor William Schiano from Bentley University and an ITP faculty for 15 years, points out: ‘it has adapted to the changing technology landscape, incorporating more digital content and continually adjusting the focus to remain relevant’. Currently, prof. Schiano teaches in the Information and Service Business (ISB) track how companies can benefit from different technologies and systems in their strategic development.

Professor Nenad Jukic from Quinla Business School of Loyola University Chicago agrees with prof. Schiano: ‘ITP has a very good system of continuously evaluating courses and providing meaningful feedback to the instructors so they can always know what works and where the changes are needed’. It is this characteristic that has kept partners, both lecturers and companies, coming back. Prof. Jukic has collaborated with ITP for four years and teaches data-based decision making in ISB track.

In turn, these long-lasting connections are what allows the program to keep an ear to the ground. According to Sivula, two key elements of ITP’s success are ‘having a good relationship with companies, so you have a clear view of what are the needs of work life and the business world’ and ‘having lecturers who are industry experts, and therefore bring know-how from work life into the program’. ITP thereby stays on top of an ever-changing business and consumer landscape, which forces the program to be continuously rethought. ‘Every year, we go through the courses and evaluate their relevance, based on feedback from both students and companies’, Sivula explains.

Laura Sivula smiling at the camera wearing a white collared shirt and black jacket

Our strength is that we have such a strong vision of the program.

Laura Sivula, ITP Program Director & Head of Aalto University Summer School

Another contributing factor is the fact that, from the start, ITP was conceived as an experimental program, a testing ground for new pedagogical methodologies. ‘ITP has been a testbed for trying out new ideas’ says Rossi, ‘and often new digital solutions are first taught (or learned) in the business school through ITP courses and projects’. In Sivula’s opinion, the minor program format has also played to ITP’s advantage: ‘it has been a blessing, being able to organize the teaching as a minor program, not integrated into any degree program. It allows for more experimental and multidisciplinary practices in comparison to a degree program, where you need to have the more canonical components.’

ITP’s in-built adaptation is also what allowed the program to smoothly adapt to the restrictions imposed as a response to the Covid-19 pandemic. ‘We already had so much experience facilitating student work with cloud services and collaborating virtually. A strength that we have is that we have such a strong vision of the program, so it doesn’t really matter whether it’s in person, virtually or through a hybrid model’.

Often new digital solutions are first taught (or learned) in the business school through ITP courses and projects.

Prof. Matti Rossi, ITP Academic Director

Where is ITP heading now?

What new challenges and frontiers does the future bring to a program that has positioned itself as an innovator? Considering that the business landscape is always changing, there should be no shortage of directions in which the program can evolve. Leino points out the variety of current trends: ‘digital media is everywhere: there is a big number of everyday tools in offices and homes run on platforms; mobile gaming is a huge export product in Finland; network technologies keep evolving towards 6G’. 

But, beyond the technologies themselves, there are social implications to these developments that Sivula is keen to approach: ‘Every year we want to see a bigger shift towards sustainability, ethics (AI, machine learning, data, how it is collected from customers and users) and we really need to ensure, as the students are learning about these topics, that the ethical concerns are mentioned throughout’.

Whichever way ITP comes to move, we can expect change to remain at the core of this innovative program. As Leino puts it, ‘ITP’s key role has always been, and will continue to be, to educate students to understand the change and to understand the possibilities of the change. One can easily say that ITP has never stopped innovating itself.’

Read more about 25-years-old ITP

Six students gathered in a teamwork space. One of the students is pointing at a whiteboard with post-its.

Record number of students completed minor studies in ITP

In ITP 2020, multidisciplinary student teams successfully completed nearly 20 digital business projects in collaboration with public and private organizations.

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Opetus on käynnissä luokkahuoneessa ja opiskelijat kuuntelevat pöytään nojaavaa opettajaansa.

ITP courses were organised in hybrid teaching model during the exceptional summer

Information Technology Program (ITP), Aalto University’s summer minor program, ran its courses and business projects in a hybrid model during the summer while taking care of everyone’s safety.

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Students jumping for joy at the Amphitheater stairs.

Information Technology Program (ITP)

Aalto University Information Technology Program (ITP) brings students together from diverse backgrounds and all around the world to solve digital business problems. ITP enables students to combine business, design and technological perspectives, making it an ever-changing and valuable education module. ITP prepares students for a future of data-driven and evidence-based decision making in the digital economy.

School of Business
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