Country's First 'Web Science' Degree Program Comes to RPI

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to offer both a bachelor's degree and a Master's concentration in Information Technology and Web Science.

Add the "Web" as an official, university-sanctioned science and field of study. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, in Troy, N.Y., has announced it now offers the first undergraduate degree program in the U.S. devoted to the interdisciplinary field of Web Science. In addition, RPI will offer a master's concentration, in "Information Technology and Web Science."

RPI said students in the interdisciplinary degree program will investigate issues on the Web related to security, trust, privacy, content value, and the development of the Web of the future.

"The study of the Web has been siloed into certain areas. It's not that nobody studies the Web, it's that everyone does in completely different ways," RPI professor James Hendler told Hendler, one of the inventors of the Semantic Web, is part of a team of interdisciplinary scientists and engineers at Rensselaer that developed the new program.

"A modern IT program shouldn't just teach how to build Web pages, but also explore what the Web really is," said Hendler, who is also an assistant dean in charge of the Information Technology and Web Science program. "Our goal is to create a center of gravity where we can look at the mathematics science and the social aspects and how they all affect each other."

Hendler said Web Science is not a new discipline but a more comprehensive area of focus for higher education that he compared to climate studies. "We're taking an interdisciplinary approach that is more in tune with the modern world," he said.

In terms of career goals, Hendler said the new program fits well with RPI's long history of graduates placing well in traditional IT enterprises.

"Obviously, we think the newer Web companies and the garage startups will be looking for this expertise as well. On the academic side, we see this program feeding into other computers science and information technology programs."

While the concept is new to the U.S., Hendler noted that universities in the U.K. have been active in developing a Web Science course of study. Earlier this month, the University of Southampton and the University of Oxford received $45 million from the government to partner in the establishment of a joint Institute for Web Science. The Institute will be led by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web, along with Professor Nigel Shadbolt of the University of Southampton.

RPI's degree program recently received approval by the New York state Education Department and is being implemented immediately which means students in Rensselaer's IT program graduating May 29 of this year will receive the new degree in Information Technology and Web Science.

David Needle is the West Coast bureau chief at, the news service of, the network for technology professionals.

Tags: Internet, education, IT education, semantic Web, Web science

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