Volume 1

Volume 1, Number 5

September 8, 2003

12 pages723 K bytes

Developing and Using an Integrated Collection of Rich Real-Life Analogies and Metaphors in the Teaching of Complex IT Concepts

Thang N. Nguyen
California State University Long Beach
Long Beach, California 90840, USA

Abstract: Common IT (information technology) concepts/notions are generally complex and rather difficult for new students to grasp. These include, for example, (a) OOP (object-oriented programming) notions of abstraction, encapsulation, inheritance and polymorphism or (b) those associated with ISO/OSI (International Standards Organization/Open System Interconnect) reference model such as the notions of protocols, services, and standards. The basic concepts of OOP in example (a), if well presented, will facilitate the understanding of other relevant concepts, e.g. class versus instance methods/data, method overloading and overriding, use of foundation classes and interfaces as well as OO program design. Similarly, the basic concepts of ISO/OSI in example (b) should be well understood before the introduction of other related concepts such as internetworking with circuit-switching or packet-switching, forward and reverse address resolution, hop, time-to-live, communications gateways, message-oriented middleware, security public/private key or socket programming. It is a real challenge for instructors to adequately convey the complex IT concepts to students, especially to those majored in Information Systems and/or other non-Computer Science disciplines. Quite often, the instructors use fragmented, piecemeal and ad hoc analogies, and refer to isolated metaphors drawn from numerous and disparate sources, in the teaching of such complex concepts. This paper presents a simple and practical method to developing and using an integrated collection of rich real-life analogies and organized metaphors for better conveying and teaching complex IT concepts. For illustration of the method, the paper uses two examples: the first with emphasis on the development of an analogous model, and the second focusing on its metaphorical usage. The model in the first example is developed for the teaching of internetworking concepts and facilities and is labeled as a human communication model, analogous to the OSI model. The second shows the use of an extended version of the analogous model for the explanation of basic OOP programming concepts and capabilities using their real-life metaphor counterparts. Discussions and concluding remarks follow.

Keywords: analogies, analogous modeling, metaphors in IT education, OOP concepts

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Recommended Citation: Nguyen (2003). Developing and Using an Integrated Collection of Rich Real-Life Analogies and Metaphors in the Teaching of Complex IT Concepts. Information Systems Education Journal, 1 (5). http://isedj.org/1/5/. ISSN: 1545-679X. (A preliminary version appears in The Proceedings of ISECON 2003: §3511. ISSN: 1542-7382.)