North Texas Daily

Adam Fein talks about his new role as vice president for digital strategy and innovation

Adam Fein talks about his new role as vice president for digital strategy and innovation

Adam Fein talks about his new role as vice president for digital strategy and innovation
November 17
17:52 2018

On Nov. 1 Adam Fein joined UNT as the new vice president for digital strategy and innovation. Fein talked to the Daily about his new position at UNT and how he plans to use his experience in online education to help UNT students. 

Before taking on his current role at UNT, Fein came from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he spent 17 years in various position, but most recently as assistant provost for educational innovation. Responses have been edited for grammar and brevity.

Q: How do you plan to use your nearly 20 years of experience in online education with your new position at UNT?

Fein: That’s a great question. The first thing I’m going to do is to reach out to the students. I’ve just actually spoken with the deans who are requesting nominations for an office of the president in online innovation advisory board. We will have one for graduates and undergraduates as well.

If we are going to achieve a kind of world-class status in the area of digital strategy, the students are going to have a big role in that. I really want to reach out to talk to you and to see what is working and what is not working. That’s going to be my first step.

The second step will be to really… I want to take a couple of months to have kind of a listening and learning tour. Start with the students and I’m also meeting individually with each of the deans. I’ve met with many of them already but I want to continue one on one meetings.

[The deans] have been wonderful and very welcoming and I think we have a ton of great ideas so it’s going to be a chance for us to get to know each other and to prioritize and choose the projects with the most impact to start with. Really getting to know everybody and to know the landscape here. First to know the students and the dean and the faculty.

QYou were formerly the Assistant Provost for Educational Innovation at the University Of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and have been there since 2001. Why did you decide to come to UNT?

Fein: I had amazing initial conversations with president and provost. Neal [Smatresk] and Jennifer [Evans-Cowley] are exactly the type of colleagues I love working with. They’re innovative, not afraid to take risk, they put the students first, they care about faculty, they care about diversity, and they care about higher education.

We had amazing initial conversations and that certainly piqued my interest and then I started investigating this amazing university. I kind of fell in love with it. [UNT has] got a rich history. It’s really diverse. It’s in a really interesting location in the country. [Denton] being an amazing college town but you know you are 30 minutes from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex with seven million people. And so, there’s just a ton of opportunity here.

All of those things played into me wanting to join the team here.

Q: In the welcoming email, UNT President Neal Smatresk said how UNT is “seeking to become a global leader in online learning experiences and educational technology,” how are you going to try to fulfill what he said?

Fein: There will be a number of things we can do. If you look at what my teams were able to accomplish at the University of Illinois, it was really a team effort. It wasn’t just me by any means but we were the first land-grant university to partner with Coursera, the MOOC [Massive Open Online Course] provider.

We had the first three degrees with MOOC-based degree programs. Now, there are over 3,000 students, online students in that program in just the first two years. We doubled online enrollment in the last couple of years at the University of Illinois.

Now, each university has its own goals and unique context at both Illinois and the University of North Texas are both large, public universities. I think that experience will help me here. I’m certainly not starting from scratch. There are around 25 [48 in total including certificates] really high-quality online programs here.

We have a large percentage of our residential students here who already take online courses as part of their mix. I think the next steps are to see how to take that to the next level.

Number one starts again with the students and ensuring the quality of those classes are world class. Secondly, looking at the market and how we can serve the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. There are seven million people here and a lot of them have an interest in higher education. Maybe they want to finish their bachelor’s degree. Maybe they want to go on and get their master’s degree. We can serve them well and if we do that then people around the nation and around the world will be interested as well.

[President Smatresk] has created some amazing connections in China including our Net Dragon partnership. I have experience working between the U.S. and China on online programs and have had a lot of success there. You are going to see that grow here as well.

Q: Do you feel students who take online courses are learning the same amount of content as if they were taking the course in-person?  

Fein: Certainly. [I] hope that’s what is happening here. There’s a lot of research about online being as good and/or better than face to face. I think there are some things you can do there. Sometimes it depends on the individual, maybe it is not for everyone.

You can have an amazing face to face course and you can have a terrible face to face course. You can have an amazing online course and you can have a terrible online course.  It is really all about the design and the efforts the faculty makes…to make that connection with the students whether its face to face or online.

It really starts with faculty who care about teaching and we have a lot of those here and the design of the course. I certainly expect that our online courses will be as good or better than anything. Really our job is to pay attention to the quality and innovation. I’ll be working with face to face courses, online, blended and the point is that these are fantastic quality for our students and we are integrating technology in the right way.

All of our courses will be high quality, and they need to be, and online courses will definitely be part of that.

Featured Image: Adam Fein. Courtesy

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Jacqueline Guerrero

Jacqueline Guerrero

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