Thursday Thoughts with Dr. Alan Drimmer featuring Daniel Mintz

August 20, 2019 0 By Stanley Isaacs

[ Music ]>>From University of Maryland
University College, this is Thursday Thoughts with Dr. Alan Drimmer. This series features faculty and friends of
UMUC highlighting areas of academic expertise.>>Welcome to Thursday Thoughts at
University of Maryland University College. I’m Alan Drimmer, chief academic officer, and
today, I’m delighted to be joined by Dan Mintz, a program chair in information
systems management, and chairman of the academic advisory board,
the shared governance organization here at UMUC. So thank you for coming. It’s good to have you.>>Glad to be here, and glad to be here.>>Excellent. Well, since I came here about 10 months ago,
we’ve had a lot of conversations back and forth. I’ve gotten to know you, and
appreciate our partnership. Tell us a little bit about
you, how you came to UMUC. What did you do before? Tell us a little bit about you.>>So I’m sort of a classic UMUC — initially,
a classic UMUC adjunct faculty member. I had a lengthy career in information
technology, both in the private sector in the D.C. area, and also
within the government. I was the chief information officer for
the U.S. Department of Transportation, and one of the people at Transportation
recommended that I teach graduate classes at what’s called the I-School
at Syracuse University. And it seemed to me, if I was going to do
that — I did that for a couple of years — that I should be teaching for UMUC,
where I had a master’s, anyway, from. So I became a graduate adjunct at UMUC for five
years, and then this full-time position came up in information systems management. And I applied for it, and was lucky to get it. The amusing thing of that, of course,
is that I graduated from College Park — University of Maryland College Park 100
years ago in information systems management. So I tell people that my career arc — it extends all the way from College Park
to Adelphi, which is — I could walk it.>>And when did you teach
your first online class?>>It would be about 11 years
ago, and that was the Syracuse — the two years at Syracuse University.>>Oh.>>And then nine years ago at UMUC.>>Right.>>And at Syracuse, and at UMUC in the
graduate class — the school, I had, again, the opportunity to actually create
some of the classes that I taught. So I was tasked to recreate, or to
create the graduate classes at Syracuse, and I had the opportunity to redo
and enhance the capstone class in the IT masters program I was teaching.>>Right. Right. And so, then, how did you — how did you — so you’ve been in this program
chair role now how long?>>Just a little bit over four
years, just had the fourth year. And I will say, it’s a great — it’s a wonderful
opportunity, because it’s sort of — it’s — you get to touch everything
that makes UMUC special. We — it is — the program chairs hire,
and mentor, and work with the faculty. We have responsibilities for the
academic content of the program. We deal with the students, and help them, in
terms of their issues, and things like that. So that we get to touch everything a little bit.>>And your program is one of the biggest ones. I think you have — I think you have the
biggest group of adjuncts, don’t you?>>We’re actually — well, we’re close to it. So the — it’s an interesting major, because
— and I might say a second about that. The — it’s an interesting major at UMUC,
because while it has a reasonable number of students who are majoring
in it, about 1500 — between 1500 and 2000, we have
a general education course that almost everyone in the
university has to take. And we have an upper-level course
that almost all business managers — majors have to take, so that means over the last
12 months, we had close to 19,000 enrollments — individual enrollments in the school. We have 300 sessions in the fall and spring. So it’s an enormous logistical issue. For those that don’t know, by the way,
information systems management sits in between technology and business. It’s — the graduates are supposed to be good
at project management, and are also supposed to be good at being able to tie strategic
objectives of an organization to the IT, technology, things — and as
technology’s become more pervasive, it becomes a more important role. The classical end-state of an IFSM or management
information systems major is sometimes called — is to be a chief information officer. As I joke with the other
technology programs, eventually, their graduates are going
to work for my graduates. So –>>Could you also say something
about the academic board? You’ve — that’s a group that you chair
with several others on the board, obviously. Tell us about that group, and your
involvement in that organization.>>– well, again, it’s been a great experience,
because it’s allowed me to learn a lot about the institution that I
otherwise wouldn’t be able to get to, because of all these logistical challenges
that exist, and then all the demands of — the academic demands of the program. So the academic advisory board, or the AAB, is
the shared governance advisory group established under the law of State of Maryland. So we — our role is to represent the
academic interests of the faculty, and present them to the administration, such
as yourself, President Miyares, and others, and whoever — however we have to. And we have representatives
from all the stakeholder groups around the school that touch
the faculty process. So we have program chairs,
and our full-time collegiates, both undergraduate and graduate school. We have an adjunct representative. We have a librarian. We have representatives from overseas,
our — the — both in Europe and Asia. One of the great challenges I learned over
time was when do you schedule the meetings, because we have to do these meetings online, because people are scattered
all around the world.>>Right.>>And how do you do it so that you
don’t force either Asia or Europe to be up too late, or up too early?>>Right.>>And it turns out, daylight savings time
is implemented differently everywhere. So it’s been a great experience. It’s a challenge, because we have — in addition
to the full-time faculty, we have, you know, close to 4000 — over 4000 adjuncts,
again, all around the world. And trying to represent them and
get their inputs is an ongoing issue that we’ve worked very hard at.>>Right. So, shifting gears, I understand
that you’re working on this project about academic quality, and tell me
— you’re interested in that topic. Where did that particular interest come
from, and what are you doing on that?>>So we — academic quality started off — I mean, so it’s like a two-part
— two-step process. So I got interested in the whole issue of
academic quality from my work as a program chair in information systems management. We — every five years, every
program at UMUC has to do what’s called an academic program
review, which looks at their program, where it sits in the marketplace. Are they doing a good job? Are they being responsible
to students, and so on? So that was a very interesting — that
occurred a number of years ago for my program. So it got me thinking about the issue
of — well, so what does that mean? I mean, the academic quality — I
mean, who’s against academic quality? But what exactly are we trying to measure,
and why are we trying to measure it? So that started that conversation, and then,
it got — I got interested a little beyond it, both because of my work with
the academic advisory board, and also a number of initiatives
that occurred at the school. So, for example, a number of years ago, we moved
from textbooks to open educational resources, and — which was to save students money. Well, one of the questions that
came up, that we’ve been wrestling with is, so did we do a good job? Did we do a — were there
places where there are gaps? Is one better than the other? How do you measure that? How do you prioritize investments in that? And there weren’t good answers to those
questions, so that was of concern to me also. And one of the things that occurred to me was
that, when we looked at the school, and what — you know, this is not a green field. We do — we have conversations
about academic quality all the time, but they tend to be what I, as a joking — sometimes people refer to
as cylinders of excellence. That is, there’s individual
stovepipe kinds of activities, but they’re not necessarily
communicated or agreed to, as to what we’re trying to accomplish. So we have Helio Campus, which is connected
to us with Ventures, that does data studies. We have CILSS, the Center for Instructional
Learning and Student Success, which is — does a lot of research activities. We’ve had resources in the
marketing organization trying to come up with success factors around students. Your organization added a resource
to look at student retention. So we have all these individual
activities that are going on associated with academic quality, but
they’re not connected yet. They — both in terms of the interaction
isn’t always there, and the institution as a whole doesn’t necessarily agree
upon how you should measure this stuff, and how you should communicate.>>So would you say before it was
discussed, but it was very fragmented, and there wasn’t a common
vocabulary about what it might be?>>Yes. Yes, and it becomes increasingly important. UMUC, over the last decade or so, has grown
from being a very important organization to a very large organization, and it’s become
big enough that you can’t — you know, the — maybe 10, 15 years ago, everybody
knew everybody, or the decision-makers knew
everything that was going on. It’s too big for that now. And we’re making all these investment
decisions, and so the question becomes, when do you want to put resources
into this issue, or this program as opposed to that program? One of the components of that is, are we
achieving sufficient academic quality? And that requires everybody to agree
upon what it is, and how you measure it.>>Right. And I’m — I’m spending a lot of
time now thinking about our strategic plan, and I’ve gone back and looked
at previous strategic plans. And it’s mentioned in every one, but to the
point you’re making, how people define it, where it lives, is it being
tracked — that could be uneven. And it has looked uneven to me, which is
why it’s wonderful that you’re doing this. I’m very happy. So tell us a little bit about how
you’re organizing these questions. Do you have — do you have a
committee, or involving other people? What’s the process that you’ve
been using to bring this together?>>Right, and just — something you had
said, and then I’ll answer that, is — the other issue is — and this — I think one
of the things that’s been a real positive is — that you’ve been bringing
is a continuing focus on it. There’s a difference between creating a
strategic plan and doing what one would refer to as report on a shelf, and it’s not
sufficient to just write it up as an objective. It has to be part of the day-to-day
conversation, over, and over, and over again. So what I’ve tried to do is, I got — I put
together representatives from the undergraduate and graduate school, both — of the various
components of the full-time faculty — that is, the program chairs, and collegiates,
and we have what are called academic specialists that do a lot of the interaction with faculty, and the initial interaction
with faculty and students. Plus we got some representatives from
what I might call stakeholder groups that are aware of these separate activities. I had mentioned some of them already,
and — to make sure that we weren’t — that we weren’t duplicating
something, or going in a direction that wouldn’t be able to get support. And we’ve been meeting every couple
weeks, and we did some investigations. We looked at what are our top competitors
doing, at least in the public space. What do they say are their top
priorities in academic quality? We identified — we did a literature search
for what has currently been looked at, and then have had a report
from a group of people on that. We also did a quick look at Middle
States, which does our accreditation, and just looked at what — you know,
what are the standards they’re imposing, to see if that gives us some insight. So we’ve been doing that, and then we have one
more — oh, and we’ve been doing presentations. We did some overseas — again, online
presentations to get input from faculty there, and then to the graduate
and undergraduate school. And then, we’ve typically used our
social networking site, Engage, to get input from the adjunct faculty,
again, who are geographically very dispersed, and we’ll be doing that shortly,
and getting inputs. That has often been a good way to get that.>>So what’s been the reaction when you
— as you bring all these groups together, and start talking to them about it? Did they — were they excited? Were they skeptical? What — confused, energized? What’s been their reaction?>>You probably hit all the
reactions on that list.>>Oh, okay [laughter].>>So, yeah, I — the — there are three things
I think it’s worth mentioning that were sort of interesting, in terms of these things. One was skepticism. I mean, the reality is, we’ve been talking
about academic quality, and when we do it, we don’t publicize what we’re doing
very well, in terms of the organization. So people keep hearing that we’re interested
in it, but they don’t see a result. So there was skepticism. Why is this going to be different? How are we going to overcome the systemic
issues that have prevented it from –>>Was that because there weren’t metrics
associated with it, and therefore, the metrics weren’t updated, and
then people just didn’t know?>>– so this will — I’m going to alienate
the people who say “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it” crowd, which
I sometimes play part of it. I think the key issue is
the communication issue. It isn’t that we haven’t had metrics. So I think metrics is going
to be a very key focus here. So metrics are very important. The key issue is, we don’t talk about it enough. You know, we talk about it when
we do the plan a little bit. But when we have faculty meetings and other
things, is one of the topics academic quality?>>Oh, I see. Weaving it into the conversation.>>It has — people pay attention
— people in very — people pay attention to what people talk
about, and when people — the subjects they — are on their mind, that they bring up are the things people recognize
over time are important to them. And academic quality was important only
when it had to be important, and it’s — again, it’s not that people didn’t care, but
we’re so busy doing so many different things. So one issue was skepticism. That was one thing, and I’m going to mention
one thing that sort of feeds into that. The second thing, however,
was incredible passion. I mean, you, I’m sure, have experienced this. When you talk to the faculty everywhere
at UMUC, the one thing that they — that we’ve got down pat is mission. People believe strongly and passionately in
the mission of UMUC, in terms of its impact on people who are otherwise
not able to participate –>>That’s true.>>– in the economic mainstream,
which is why we’re here. And they desperately want to feel that what they’re doing makes a
difference, and is of high quality.>>Right.>>Very passionate about that,
and one of the challenges which I had underestimated was
the complexity of the topic. The reality is, it’s not like
there’s a single point somewhere out there that describes academic quality. You just have to find that place. Academic quality is pervasive, organizationally. It touches everything we do, and everybody
has a different perspective on it. Some people believe in this. Some people believe in that. And so, the question is, how do you distill
that, and do something that’s practical? And the other thing — being academics,
they want it to be complete and perfect on the first day, and that’s
not how it’s going to work. You know, I — people who are around
me all the time get bored by the fact that you’ll hear crawl, walk, run. And organizations just like us, like students,
like people, have to do the first steps, learn the first thing before they can do
the second thing, and we’ve got work to do to get to the second and third thing. So we’re not going to have the perfect result, but we’ve got to do something that’s
interesting enough, and valuable enough that will do that beginning step. And that’s, I think, the ultimate challenge
that I took from these interactions, this great passion — is how do
we make sure that whatever we come up with is important enough that
people think it’s worth doing, but doable enough that we
can succeed at it on day one? And I haven’t quite got there yet. I’m working — that’s still
a — we’re working on that. We haven’t done the final report yet.>>So maybe this would just
be restating what you said, but why — I mean, why is this so hard? Like, it — there are examples out
there in the world of academic quality, and things that lack quality, and why does
— why can’t the group just figure it out, look at the examples, and come
up with some general frameworks? I know it’s more complex than that,
but you’ve been spending time on this. So what makes it complex?>>Well, to some extent — well, first of
all, when you look at the academic literature, and you look at some of the
reports that have been done — you know, and there’s these very large online
surveys of institutions that have looked at the issue of academic quality,
and what schools are reporting at. We’re not so far behind, even at where we are. It turns out that this is an issue that people
are grappling with at other institutions. I suspect — you know, as I said, my
academic career expands in terms — as a — in a faculty position spans Syracuse to UMUC, so I don’t have a 30-year
career in the academic world. I have a feeling that bricks-and-mortar
schools tended to feel that it was sufficient to have tenured faculty that generated
research, and had Ph.D.s from good schools, and therefore, by definition, they were great. Everything was great.>>Right.>>So they didn’t do that kind
of analysis that we’re doing. We have a lot of components that
go into providing education — faculty, which are absolutely
critical, and very important, because they’re the day-to-day
interface to the student. But we also have the learning environment — that is, our learning management
system, and how we provide that. We have — because we have such huge scale,
we have content we have to deal with. And how do you measure that? And we have a lot of support
services, and how do we measure that? So one of the issues is picking and
choosing — so one of the complexities is, you could have 100 things to measure. Which are the ones you want to prioritize? And that takes judgment. And the other thing is, you’re doing
proxies for what you want to measure. I mean, fundamentally, we’re
trying to measure — did we successfully cause a student
to learn what we wanted them to learn, and as a result of that,
did they get a better job? Or did they get an advancement in the job, or did they get promoted, or
some variation on that theme? That’s not so easy to measure by itself. So you’re always doing proxies for that. So which are the right proxies,
and how do you combine it?>>But going back to what you were saying at
the beginning, I think it’s fascinating — I never thought about it
the way you described it. Because you were saying that, really, in
the realm of traditional institutions, they had to deal less with this notion
of academic quality, because they thought that it — it applied — it
related to other kinds of metrics, like numbers of full-time faculty,
SAT scores of incoming students, you know, rankings and things like that. But once — is it the case that, when
you start thinking about institutions that serve the non-traditional students, where
there’s more flexibility around those metrics, then this issue of — well,
if it’s not that, what is it?>>So first of all, I think they were
wrong, the bricks-and-mortar schools. And in fact, there’s a lot of evidence
that you can’t go very long — you — in today’s world, particularly
as bricks-and-mortar colleges and universities have gotten more
and more expensive, the issue is, is it worth students piling up
that debt to get that degree? Is it worth it, or not? And there’s — for traditional, classical,
bricks-and-mortar research universities, that question gets asked
a lot in the literature, and the answers are not always very positive. There’s not — there’s a lot
of evidence that, in fact, the goals that were desirable didn’t happen. So I would even say that
I think the bricks and — the traditional way of doing
measurement was probably wrong. You know, if you have a very selective school,
and you have a lot of very smart students, because you’ve only allowed
certain smart students, I would contend you could probably put
them in a classroom and forget the faculty. And they’d still learn something,
because they’re really smart students. But when you have an open university,
and you have wonderful students, but still a whole variety of students, you
have to start being more precise in terms of the measurements, and think about that stuff.>>Sure. Right.>>And I think the difference is not
that they didn’t have to, and we do. It is — we all did, but we’re realizing
— we’re not resting on that laurel. We’re starting with the premise that
we have to do those measurements.>>Right. So are there some people —
when you raise these topics in your group, are there some people that say,
“Well, academic quality is — it’s outcomes, and so we look at the outcomes. We know if we have quality.” Is that something some people say?>>Yes, and the only challenge there is, if — we have 26 people that are participating
in this work group actively, and then, of course, we’re going to be reaching out. Well, I can promise you we have close
to 26 answers — groups of answers. You know, the classical — the
blind man and the elephant. Everyone’s feeling the elephant, and
feeling a different part, and therefore, they have a different description. Everyone has a different focus. To some extent, one of the —
we’re going to touch on it, but — on the issue of what is the UMUC vision, and why
are we here, and what do we mean by education, which itself is not always the most obvious
thing, which I think will be more the purview of the strategic planning process. But inevitably, that drives everything
we’re talking about, because what is it — is it important to prepare
people for jobs today? Is it important to prepare people
for jobs five years from now? Is it important to do — what aspects
of the classical, liberal education, which teaches people how to be good citizens, and learning about critical
thinking — how important is that? Is it more important, or less important
than the major they’re working on? Those, to some extent, are above the pay grade
of the working group, but they touch on it. Because these sort of things
are all intertwined.>>Right.>>And what you want to measure gets — and there’s disagreement,
depending on who you talk to. But I will say that I — one of the things we’ve
come up with, which is not violently creative — you know, when we came up sort of
— we’re coming up with a context. And we look at this — the customer base. The reality is, the vast, vast, vast majority
of the students, as far as all the information that we’ve gotten, are here because they want to change their situation
economically, and we’re that opportunity. So we have to do these other aspects
of education, but we can’t lose sight that the students, and indirectly,
the employers — because we need to make sure we
are educating the students in a way that the employers are going
to want to hire them.>>Right.>>So we need to keep both
of them in our vision. You know, we have that dual customer. We’ll say students first,
employers first and a half. That might be the — but they both have to be
in our mind, and we — and reaching out to them.>>Right, right, right. So where are you in this process with the
committee, and where do you think you’re — if you had to say right now where
you think you’re going to come out, what do you think you’re going
to come out on academic quality?>>So hopefully, we won’t
go too far beyond our remit. We’ve come up with sort of a context,
which we’re testing on the input. So I have one large set of inputs that
we’re going to get from the adjunct faculty, which will integrate, and this
may change what I’m saying. So we think we’re going to be focused
on how do we help the students, and how do we make sure they
meet employer expectations. We’ve looked at four areas in the context of it. How do we optimize the involvement of faculty? How do we optimize the learning environment, which would include our learning
management system, and then the aspects around
the learning environment? Which is — because we also teach online and
in-person — both of those kind of components. How do we optimize the academic
programs, and, you know, their course design, and things like that? And finally, how do we optimize
support services that relate to that? So that’ll be sort of the context
around that, and our hope was — we’re going to have a prioritized
set of metrics, but also, we may have some prioritized set of
initiatives that are not exactly a metric. That is, it may be — you have to
do this — you have to do this — you have to do faculty development
well in order to help faculty.>>So activities that would drive the metrics?>>Yes, so we’ll have two lists
that’ll do — that’ll come out of that. And our hope will — so it’ll be that. That — we’ll have — the goal
— we’ll have those two lists, context plus two prioritized
lists, which will probably be — will be a little bit longer than we’d like. But we’ll try and have the
top priorities be obvious.>>Right. Well, it’s a lot of work. Will you ever volunteer for anything again?>>Yeah, well, one of the things
I’ve learned is — no [laughter]. You know, I — I — again, for
people who — you know, some of — for the people who are listening — are
listening to this, or see this that are not at UMUC, I can’t begin to tell you
how positive it is to be able to — actually be able to reach out,
broadly speaking, into the community. Talking to the faculty is a
great thing, and the same way — I tell people, “I never went to my own
college commencements, but I went to the — I’ve been to as many of the UMUC college
commencements that I’ve been at.” And something that President Miyares
said at the first one that I went to, which really struck me — he
said, “At a traditional school, parents come to cheer on their kids. At our school, the kids come
to cheer on their parents.” And it’s — for all the extra work,
the opportunity to interact with people about that is very special, and it was
a wonderful thing to be able to do.>>It is. It is. Lastly, just to wrap up, what have you learned
from this process that might help others at other schools that would be thinking about,
you know, taking a deep dive into this terrain? What could you share to help them?>>So I think — again, one of the
things are, make sure that you reach out to all the stakeholders,
people who are touching — as much as possible, try and get some insights. You want to do that, because
you’re going to want them to be comfortable with what you come up with. So there’s a governance issue, but also, it
turns out you — if you talk to people who care, and are smart, you’ll learn something new. You know, you may think you
know, but you don’t know. So that’s one thing, and the second
thing is to know that you’re — it’s — you’re going to be surprised at some
of the things that you come up with. And, again, I already mentioned one. You have — it is useful to understand
you’re going to not start with perfection. You have — and the result
can’t be a one-off report. The — what I hope will come out of this — I hope that this work group effort
will impact on the strategic plan. I mean, that’s one thing I hope it does. I hope it impacts on the communication plan — that is, that it’ll be something that
will be communicated on an ongoing basis. I think it will. It feels like it will. And I hope that, a year from now, we can
say, “And then step two is — ” something. It has to — it has to eventually
change the culture of the organization.>>Have an impact on other initiatives –>>Yes.>>– that go on, right. Well, I think if it’s integrated into the
plan, I think it — it’s set up to do that. And I — look, I — you’ve
spent a lot of time on this. It’s very — it’s important. It’s worthy. It’s the right time, but
you’ve gotten the word out. You’ve gotten some enthusiasm about it. You, as we can all see — you’re
excited, and you’re bringing energy to it. And I think that sends a nice signal. So it’s infectious, and it’s very positive. Thank you. I — I’m delighted.>>Yep, I was glad — even though I complain
about it, I was glad to be asked, and –>>Usually, I only see you this
excited about the Capitals. Usually, this is, like — but here, this is —
this is your second passion after the Capitals.>>I believe the correct title
is the Stanley Cup Champion –>>Oh, I’m sorry.>>– Capitals.>>Right. But thank you for
joining us, and it’s been — it’s been wonderful, and we’ve learned a lot. And thank you for joining
us on Thursday Thoughts.>>Thank you.>>Thanks for watching Thursday
Thoughts with Dr. Alan Drimmer. This has been a production of University
of Maryland University College. [ Music ]