Michael B. Spring
IS 2870: Information Technology Standards
Department of Information Science and Telecommunications
University of Pittsburgh
Spring, 1998 -- 98-2 -- 33201
Standards are quantifiable metrics to which parties adhere for purposes of allowing some common ground for interchange. Some students of standards view monetary systems developed for the exchange of goods as the earliest standards. The alphabet may be viewed as one of the earliest standards - a compatibility standard for the exchange of information. Other early standards include a variety of different measurement standards - the rod, the cubit, etc.
Modern U.S. standards first appear in the manufacturing arena. The history is somewhat cloudy and many stories are told, but in most of them, mass production and the railroads play a role. The railroads required standardization on many fronts, from track gauge to time. More importantly, the railroads opened up the capability to move mass produced goods great distances creating a needs for standardized parts which could be obtained from local sources. Boiler explosions led to standards for testing boilers and major fires led to standardization of fire fighting equipment. To date, the vast majority of standards are in the manufacturing arena - the composition of SAE 30 motor oil, or the size of 10D common nail.
More recently, manufacturers of information processing equipment, particularly telecommunication equipment, have developed selected standards for hardware and software - data packet construction, power specifications, connection types, etc. There are also a growing number of standards that dictate software design and information formatting. Historically, standards have been most obvious in the telecommunications arena where for the most part a phone is a phone is a phone. Recently, large consumers of information processing equipment and software have begun to mandate that the services and equipment they purchase comply with selected standards. These consumers include the federal government and combines of major corporations.
This course is an introduction to standards and standardization in the information technology industry. The course will explore the creation, modification, adoption, and maintenance of standards. The course will describe the process of standards development and will review the development, composition, and operation of standards organizations. It examines a wide spectrum of standards, focusing on standards related to computing and information in electronic form. Industry, de facto, de jure, consensus, and anticipatory standards will be considered. Several key standards will be reviewed and implementation issues will be explored. Issues arising with the growing importance of standards will also be addressed.
The standards that will be examined in this course are limited to those in the information technology arena. The thousands of manufacturing and engineering standards, which are of vital importance to making information technology work, are of minimal concern in this course. Within the realm of information technology standards, we still look primarily at the higher level software and information formatting standards. While hardware standards are important they are generally addressed in other courses in the curriculum. Less well addressed, but of increasing prominence, are the software and information formatting standards. They will be the focus of our attention here.
To understand recent information formatting and processing standards, it is important to recognize that computers are being used more and more to manipulate aggregate information objects - mail messages, images, documents, and product specifications. These forms of information are of great concern to information scientists and we will most often choose these more complex standards when possible. Students interested in more fundamental standards and protocols - i.e., signalling and data packet - are encouraged to take the appropriate telecommunications course.
IS 2870 is a graduate course. This means students have responsibility to be proactive in their learning. The instructor's role is less directive and more one of stimulating and guiding learning. If you think back to the things you remember from other courses you have taken, you will probably find that the things you remember best are the things you had to work hard to learn. What takes place in the classroom constitutes only a small part of the overall learning in any course. To this end, the course is constructed to provide three kinds of learning experiences. First, class lectures and discussions that help to clarify the concepts and principles in operation. Second, readings that both provide an overview and some depth in discussion of the topic. Third, practical experiences related to the subject matter at hand.
The most important learning will come from the efforts you undertake beyond the textbook and class lectures. The lectures will provide a counterpoint to what is in the book and the assignments will require the use of skills learned in this course along with the many other skills you have developed throughout your program. The lectures for the course will cover a broad range of topics in an effort to provide both orientation and understanding about basic concepts. Finally, the assignments will provide an opportunity to see, in relatively simple situations, how the concepts discussed in the lectures and readings are implemented in practice.
At a very minimum, it is expected that you will read any material assigned to you before the class for which it is assigned. This does not mean skimming the material - it means reading, annotating, and understanding the material. It also means that it is your responsibility to identify areas in which you need to do extra work to bring yourself up to basic competency in the areas we will cover. Any course in this school brings together a diverse group of people with vastly different experiences. This makes it difficult to know where to start in a multifaceted course like this one. While the discussion of standards in the first part of the course is fairly well self contained, the latter parts of the course will require a fundamental understanding of telecommunication and computer systems. The basic knowledge and the associated skills developed in data structures, networking, and information systems provide a common starting point for our discussion. Should you find yourself totally ignorant in these areas, you are encouraged to do some preliminary reading, skill enhancement, or thinking during the first few weeks of the course. It is important that you understand that what you take out of the course will to a large extent be determined by what you bring to it.
While there is no accepted or standard programming language or operating system, there is a growing trend to establish such. For the last decade, many viewed the Unix operating system as a standard toward which we should be moving. Because of the close association between Unix and the C programming language, which has been used extensively for interactive system programming, some saw C and C++ as emerging language standards. More recently NT and Windows 95 have begun to emerge as operating system platform standards. In conjunction with the explosive growth of the world wide web, Java has begun to gain in popularity as a language of choice. While work may be done on any platform and in any scientific language, you are encouraged to use either Unix or NT/Win95 operating systems and the C or Java languages for programming work you do in this course.
The goals of the course are:
The required textbooks for the course are:
Students will also need to read some material on OSI standards. You may choose and source you like. Some references are provided to:
Students may also wish to read:
Students who do not know, and wish to learn C or Java might consider the following:
In addition to these books which address the theory of standards, several other books on particular standards may be of interest to students, particularly during the second half of the term. These would include the following:
Students are expected to come to class prepared to discuss the topic assigned for the day. In addition, students are expected to be doing their own exploratory reading on related subjects throughout the term. As indicated, the instructor believes that the knowledge and skills you take away from a course come not only from what the instructor espouses in class, but from your external readings and your own work and writing.
The instructor reserves the right to modify the course requirements. In particular, if deemed necessary, exams may be added to the requirements or substituted for selected requirements if in the instructor's opinion students are not staying abreast of course readings.
In addition to readings and class participation (accounting for 10 points of the grade awarded by the instructor), students are required to complete 90 points of project activities. There are 50 points worth of activities to be undertaken by all students. Beyond these minimum requirements, students may choose from the optional activities listed below or they may propose new activities (in writing to be reviewed and if appropriate approved by the instructor.) Proposed activities may be individual or group, but care should be taken to insure that the scope of group activities are significantly larger than individual projects.
The activities below are simply illustrative of those suggested for the class. They are far from exhaustive, and are intended only to stimulate thinking about the kinds of projects students might undertake.
The submission of required activities are all due by week 8. Late assignments will be subject to a 10% penalty.
Grades for all the assignments will be summed and from 0-10 points will be added by the instructor based on an assessment of class participation. Final grades will be assigned as follows:
Classes will meet from 6:00 to 8:50pm in Room 407 LIS building on Monday of each week.
This course is addresses a subject which has not traditionally been a part of the information science curriculum. The topics are interdisciplinary, broad, deep, and complex. From the academic perspective there is not any comprehensive perspective or model from which the subject may be suitably studied. For these reasons, students should anticipate that the sequence of topics may be adjusted, expanded, or contracted as the term proceeds.
In general, the course will be divided into four parts.
Be prepared for a DISCUSSION during this class session of what you have read. If possible, we will discuss the reading with the primary author, D. Linda Garcia of the Office of Technology Assessment.