Illumination by Modern Campus

Jack Suess (University of Maryland) on The Sea of Change for Higher Ed Using Microredentials

January 25, 2024 Modern Campus
Jack Suess (University of Maryland) on The Sea of Change for Higher Ed Using Microredentials
Illumination by Modern Campus
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Illumination by Modern Campus
Jack Suess (University of Maryland) on The Sea of Change for Higher Ed Using Microredentials
Jan 25, 2024
Modern Campus

On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, host Amrit Ahluwalia was joined by Jack Suess to discuss how microcredentials can help change how people think about the value of higher education, and the need for tech leaders to think about what it will take to support microcredentials at scale. 

Show Notes Transcript

On today’s episode of the Illumination by Modern Campus podcast, host Amrit Ahluwalia was joined by Jack Suess to discuss how microcredentials can help change how people think about the value of higher education, and the need for tech leaders to think about what it will take to support microcredentials at scale. 

Voiceover: Welcome to Illumination by Modern Campus, the leading podcast focused on transformation and change in the higher education space. On today’s episode, we speak with Jack Suess, who is Vice President of IT and CIO at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. Jack and podcast host Amrit Ahluwalia discuss how microcredentials can help change how people think about the value of higher education, and the need for tech leaders to think about what it will take to support microcredentials at scale. 

Amrit Ahluwalia (00:00):Jack Seuss, welcome to the Illumination Podcast. It's great to be chatting with you. Thank you.

Jack Suess (00:39):I'm looking forward to the conversation.

Amrit Ahluwalia (00:41):Absolutely. Now we're live in Washington DC we're at the Sia Acro Microcredentialing conference called Convergence. And I'm curious what sparked your interest in micro-credentialing?

Jack Suess (00:51):So I got involved in micro-credentialing when I was chairing the board of IMS Global. Back in 2015. The Mozilla Foundation came to IMS global and asked if we would be interested in taking on the work that they had done with badging where they had sort of the backpack and other sorts of beginning work that was there. IMS global for those that don't know, is now called one Ed Tech. And it developed standards in the higher ed, higher ed, and K through 12 space that actually function internationally. And so one of the things that we did is we decided to take this project on is begin to look at the potential for MICROCREDENTIALS to really make a difference. And that's when my interest really got sparked as I began to sort of take a deeper dive into what the possibilities were, it became apparent to me that these could be a sea change for higher ed in how we think about using them and how we think about telling the story of the value proposition of higher education.

Amrit Ahluwalia (02:05):Absolutely. I mean, we're getting towards a point where we recognize education is not a binary, but we were constricted to the systems that really we had the capacity to access. And now that we have more flexibility, we can start to tell a more flexible learning journey story.

Jack Suess (02:20):Oh, most definitely. One of the things I ended up doing for edu, cause this happened during the pandemic, and I may share with you the URL, please do. It's a three minute video that I did as part of a Shark Tank presentation, but it talked about the value proposition of this idea of a comprehensive learner record over what we now give students, which is the transcript.

(02:46):And going back and getting ready for that and researching the whole history of the transcript was truly fascinating. Most people don't realize that the transcript actually evolved in 1910 to 1912, and it was really around the time where doctorate education was changing, where you getting a PhD. So before the early 19 hundreds, most students, if you got a doctorate, you got at the same institution that you did your baccalaureate with. You just stayed on longer. Once we began creating research universities, you had this movement of students. And so the registrars and universities realized they needed something to explain what students had taken at institutions prior as they were coming in to be able to judge the students. Because often, actually until the mid to late 18 hundreds, we really didn't have grades at most institutions. You were just passing and moving on master based frankly. And so it was just really interesting. But what it highlighted to me is that we're still using this artifact of something that was designed for one thing, sort of the progression from bachelor's to graduate school and it was going registrar to registrar or department to department. It was never designed for employers. It was never designed for the individual who it's all about. And so being able to be thinking about how something like a comprehensive learner record could be transformative, that really excites me.

Amrit Ahluwalia (04:26):Absolutely. So you come from a relatively unique role in the context of this conference where it's largely leaders of continuing education divisions, leaders of online education divisions and registrars as ACIO. And I'm curious as to the role that you feel the CIO should be playing when it comes to identifying and scaling innovative approaches to credentialing.

Jack Suess (04:47):Well at this point in time that's all that's possible is to be thinking about innovative ways to truly scaling micro-credentialing

(05:00):The vision long-term is going to be, and I think this vision will manifest itself probably at the end of this decade, which is that the I-S-S-I-S stands for student information system for those will be augmented to now have the ability to be tracking learning outcomes. But in addition to learning outcomes, additional credentials and things like that that were earned as part of the activities that were undertaken. However, today, if you're going to be designing something that you might want to do micro-credentialing at scale across a whole university, you really need technology leaders to be thinking about a set of products that are going to wrap around the student information system, your data warehouse, other tools that are going to be able support doing what you need to be able to do to move to scale. Because it's just not something where you can go off and easily buy one product and it's going to do everything that you need to be able to move into this space. And so that's the challenge right now. But I think that's an interesting challenge for IT leaders to be taking on because this is a revolutionary technology in a way. I think it's going to move much faster than many of us think. And maybe we'll talk about that later. 

Amrit Ahluwalia (06:31):Well I think that it's a fair point because to a certain extent, and this is something that comes up, I think it's been on the last, at least five top 10, IT issues that EDU cause has published the CIO so frequently is left out of strategic conversations. It's frequent that the CCIO sits in, almost is left in a role that's maybe more operational. So EDU has identified having a seat at the table as a key priority for CIOs. I'm curious why that tends to be the case, why CIOs are often left out of those strategic conversations and what it's going to take to bridge that perception gap around how the CIO can really start to drive transformation at the institution

Jack Suess (07:13):Well, I think that there are many CIOs who do have a seat at the table. And I think that as we look at this issue part, the issue of wanting to have a seat at the table, I don't look at myself solely as an IT leader. 

I look at myself as a higher education professional. And so I want to be understanding what's going on in higher ed from and be able to converse appropriately with my vice president of research, my vice president of advancement, my vice president of student affairs, my provost, my deans. And so I think it's incumbent upon the CIOs of the world to be learning more about how universities functions, about what the priorities are, go out to lunch with people and just talk about what are you working on. What's happening where I think IT leaders can begin to bring a lot to the table is we have good understandings of what technologies are already available to us, what skills we have in the enterprise, how we can begin to do pilots scale things. These are all skills that most CIOs have a good understanding of. And so I would encourage a lot of the leaders who may not be IT leaders to also be reaching out to their technology leader and asking the question, how might we do this? I'm looking at this and this is something that we think would have tremendous value for our organization. How could we partner? How could we begin to be thinking about ways that we could be moving this forward, learn from it and be ready to take something that maybe was a pilot that we've done in our continuing or professional education area, but be able to now be thinking about how we might scale that more broadly across the organization. And these pilots I think are really important.

As I said, there's not a just go by X and you've solved the problem. It's a more complex issue than just technology. There's a whole set of process things that we have to develop and then there's skill building that we have to do inside of our own organizations to be ready for this.

Amrit Ahluwalia (09:43):Absolutely. What's so interesting, you raised that at edika. Josh Callahan was part of a panel where he talked about the technological jungle and how at so many institutions, certainly over the past few years, there's been a proliferation of systems that kind of flew under the procurement radar that were implemented as point solutions by multiple departments. And now the question for CIOs is how do we start to consolidate and how do we start to choose the right option and how do we start to create economies of scale within the institution? And I think it's fascinating against the backdrop that you just mentioned of folks need to be open to coming to the CIO to talk to them about this is the thing I'm trying to accomplish.

Jack Suess (10:25):No, it's a really interesting point and one where the last four or five months we've spent, because we're implementing a privacy law that will go into effect October 1st, 2024, we have to know all the different systems that our data is going to. And so we've spent the last four or five months working with data in our procurement system, talking to our chief security officer, talking to my head of data integration, all people who might not be talking to one another, they're all in it, the procurement is in a different administrative area. But really understanding what we've been buying and what I think one of the opportunities for institutions is really beginning to look at the value proposition of all these systems that we have and really looking at where we can extract more value out of these systems. So many of these systems as we're starting to take a look at 'em using a quarter or a third of the system, what might we also be able to do

Add value or where is it redundant and we're spending money on our one side, but we could actually be getting it for free if we would just leverage the functionality over here that someone else is paying. And so I think these are all conversations that we're going to have be having over the next few years because the cost of these SaaS systems is jumping on a annualized rate of something like five to 7%. So as you look at this, it, it's been a great innovation engine the last decade, but I think many departments and many organizations are going to find that they're going to have to be selectively pruning in order to be able to afford what they want to keep. That's really going to add value.

Amrit Ahluwalia (12:23):That makes a lot of sense. So I mean it flows actually beautifully. But the next question though, because when push comes to shove, what are the key technological considerations that leaders should bear in mind, especially against the backdrop of what we're talking about here when it comes to launching and scaling a digital credentials in infrastructure?

Jack Suess (12:43):Well, I would actually say that the first conversations have to begin to be really having conversations with academic leaders around what are some of the value propositions that may be there for micro-credentialing. And I'll tell you sort of a story that brought me into this. And so I got involved in a lot of our student success efforts at UNBC. I've been at U NM BC for a very long time. This is my 42nd year that I've been. So just a bit. Just a bit. Yeah. And so back in 2004 I was CIO and at that point we were beginning to really start some deliberate work around retention activities, student success, that whole sort of portfolio. One of the things that we began talking about at some of our retreats is the person who became our first dean of undergraduate academic affairs and was leading a lot of these efforts said, how can we validate that all students are getting the kind of experience that we want to call our UMBC experience and then ones that we know we're giving to our most successful students.

(14:04):And what was really interesting in that conversation is we really didn't have a good way to tell, because what was key around a lot of that conversation is the experience that our very best students were getting had so much co-curricular, so much experiential learning. They were doing undergraduate research, they were working in labs, they were having other kinds of activities that were adding on to this academic undertaking that we were providing, which we could look at a transcript and see the academic, but we couldn't see all of the experiential learning, all of the internships to really be understanding what they were doing, but also who wasn't getting those experiences. And so one of the first projects that we ended up doing a few years later in 20 13, 20 14, as we were sort of manifesting these things, and that was noodling in my head for a while, was working with student affairs to be tracking clubs, organizations, all these sort of groups because at that time, the leader of our vice president of student affairs, she said, it's great that I can see who's in the most got the most, but what I really want to know is who's not in any way because I want to have the RA or someone reach out to that person and pull them into a club organization. I know if a student gets engaged, they're going to end up staying, they're going to be retained and it makes a difference. And so that is one of the things where I think understanding this, what's the reason for why you want to begin to be getting into micro-Credentialing is really a key element for us. It was really around beginning to think about this North star of the comprehensive learner record, which is going to be how can we be showcasing both the co-curricular and the academic

(16:12):Into one document? And it's not just about having a student be able to have this litany of things that they've accomplished. It's also about giving students an understanding of how they can talk about their experience. Students don't often really put these together until they reflect and look at what you've produced. Oh yeah, I did do that. Oh yeah, this did add on to what I learned in the classroom. And for us, that's been really key. And so what I'd first say to my colleagues is don't get into how do you do the move bits and how do you set everything up technologically, but understand first what you want to do and if your institution is anything like UMBC where you want to be talking about the experience, I think the first thing I would do is go out and spend some time talk with your registrar, learn more about the comprehensive learner record because to me, that's one of those key North stars that we should all be thinking about. Once you've begun to have that conversation, you can now begin then thinking about what might be some of the technological solutions. The good news is that, and we're seeing it today here at this conference, is that there's a lot of new vendors that are coming in to be filling the gaps that are in place today.

 (17:43):We started this in 20 17, 20 18 being one of the acro pilots on the comprehensive learner record, there were so many places that it just didn't have any vendor in the space ready to be filling this. And you had to almost be encouraging vendors to come into the space. Today, we've got a litany of vendors that can be out there that you can begin talking with and understanding how this can be part of their portfolio. The second thing I'd say to all CIOs is you really need to be advocating to your vendors, especially the vendor that you get, your SIS from that you're interested in this idea of micro-credentialing the comprehensive learner record. We need to be putting our collective voice around the fact that this community needs these tools and that these tools have to be available sooner rather than later. One of my concerns is that you often hear a complaint, well, how will employers deal with this, et cetera. That problem is getting solved. We don't see it because it's happening outside of what we often look at. But one, ed tech has been doing a fabulous job of working with a lot of the human resource providers. A lot of the people in the workforce learning space, they see the power of micro-credentials to be tracking learning over time as something, and so they're moving fast to start implementing systems. My fear is that within two, three years, we'll have people who are hiring our students expecting to be getting

Showing what they have documented, their skills and learning outcomes and those sorts of things. And all of us will be scrambling at that point to be figuring out, well, how do we even get started because we're not advocating to our SIS vendors that they need to be thinking about how they're going to solve this problem for us. Absolutely.

Amrit Ahluwalia (19:57):Well, Jack, I mean that pretty much does it on my end. And at this phase, I am so sorry to tell you, this is where we pivot to the part you didn't want to do, which is to become a food podcast for a few minutes. So if someone's out to dinner in Baltimore, and I believe actually anyone who's at the Kale Conference next week, we'll find themselves in Baltimore. Where do they need to go for dinner?

Jack Suess (20:19):So I am going to preface this by the fact that I have not been out to dinner in Baltimore in the last five or six years, and part of the reason was that for some different reasons, we have a limited diet as to what we can be eating, but I asked my executive assistant who does go out on a regular basis and understands what's active in Baltimore. And so one recommendation that I got, and it's in a place, a part of town that I just love because it's so quintessential Baltimore. The restaurant is called The Food Market, and it's in a place called Hamden and Hamden. If you're a John Waters fan, it was part of where Pink Flamingos was filmed. It's this quintessential weirdness of Baltimore that it's where the Hun is celebrated. And so the food market though, is one of these restaurants that celebrates being slightly weird with incredible food. So that's one recommendation that I would make. I would also say that along the Harbor East location has become a real foodie hot spot. It is a relatively new development in the last 10 years that's adjacent to, it sits between Baltimore's Inner Harbor and Fells Point, and it has a number of fabulous restaurants, many of 'em with views of the water.

Amrit Ahluwalia (21:54):There you go. Jack Seuss, thank you so much for your time.

Jack Suess (21:57):You're welcome. Thank you.