By: Toni Beaton (First-year MI Student)
Dr. Colin Conrad is an Assistant Professor with the School of Information Management (SIM). He is currently serving a 6-month interim directorship for the Master of Digital Innovation (MDI) program here at Dalhousie University. I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Conrad to learn more about his new role:
Please tell us your new title and briefly explain your key responsibilities.
I am the Interim Director of the Master of Digital Innovation, and am filling in for Dr. Vlado Keselj for 6 months. The program is interdisciplinary between Computer Science and Management. The biggest things I do within this position are being responsible for cultivating both the program and the student experience, being able to regularly liaison with students on how they achieve their goals, deal with admissions, and guide the strategic vision for the program as it goes through a review.
How would you describe the MDI program to someone who is not familiar with it?
This is Dalhousie’s premier program for dealing with the intersection of technology and different applications of business. For instance, the MDI is designed to equip students to go into different areas of the economy and identify the ways in which digital technologies are transforming those areas. It’s about advancing digital technology and improving those areas of discipline. It is also a program for other professional disciplines, such as health informatics, and non-profit organizations, such as DeepSense. We have three certificates; one of them is in digital business for people primarily interested in business, there is one in health information for those who want to work in health industries, and one in data science for those interested in data science applications to other areas of society and the economy.
What courses will you be teaching in the MDI program?
I’ve been teaching a core course called “Digital Transformation;” it is the first of two core courses in the MDI program. It is a super cool course, because it involves business, management, communications, and technology. In this case, students learn about identifying problems that organizations face, how to prototype solutions using technology, and then guiding an innovation process from beginning to end. It is a very hands-on course and is taught by two instructors (one from Management and one from Computer Science). One of the features of our program is that it is very interdisciplinary; we want to offer an immersive experience where students receive mentorship. It’s been a great course, and I’m optimistic that it will once again be well received by students (this is my third year teaching it).
What connections do you see between the MDI and SIM programs?
There’s a lot! People come into MDI primarily to find a job in digital transformation; SIM students often have a broader interest. Whether that means they are working in non-profits, they really care about things like the social good. In SIM, students often come from interdisciplinary backgrounds, but especially from the Arts and Social Sciences. In MDI, students are mostly coming from Computer Science backgrounds. There’s also a different balance between international and domestic students; in SIM, there are mostly domestic, whereas in MDI, there are mostly international students.
Other than those differences, they have more similarities than anything else! They are both interested in the intersection of information in society (in the case of SIM), and digital technology in society (in the case of MDI). Those two things overlap a lot. There are opportunities for shared courses, collaboration, and social opportunities. A lot of MDI students take our “INFO 6540 Data Management” course, for example. There are students within SIM who have gotten involved and really been transformed by this community. Some of our SIM students who are more technical in their interests have taken a course called “Data Mining and Data Warehousing” offered through MDI.
Do you have any special goals you are hoping to accomplish during your time with the MDI?
I want to have a really good understanding of what motivates students to go out and meet other people. One of the things we saw during the pandemic was that it was very difficult to do that; I want to know how we can go about creating a greater sense of community within the MDI cohort. I also want to find the right way to structure the program in making everything more flexible. Right now, we don’t have a lot of flexibility within our rigid certificate programs; I want to have students use the MDI in a way that they are best able to achieve their goals. For example, if a student is passionate about user experience in health, how can we take our current structure and empower that student? Those are the two things I am looking at.
Do you have any other comments you’d like to add?
SIM is a stakeholder in a new initiative called the College of Digital Transformation, and this is going to be an initiative related to the program. It’s a new partnership between Computer Science and Management. There will be lots of opportunities to collaborate and enrich each other’s communities. That’ll be something to watch over the next year!
If you’d like to learn more about the MDI program, please visit their website at: https://www.dal.ca/academics/programs/graduate/digital-innovation.html.