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The IMTA History

The following history of IMTA was presented by Dr Marty Wiskoff at the 50th - jubilee - conference in Amsterdam (2008)

IMTA — DOWN MEMORY LANE

Marty Wiskoff, Ph.D.
Senior Manager, Northrop Grumman Corporation
99 Pacific Street, Suite 455–E
Monterey, California 93940

Abstract

As we celebrate this 50th Annual Conference of the International Military Testing Association, it would be fun as well as informative to look back at the beginnings of the organization and then travel through time. How has IMTA evolved over the years from its modest beginnings as an organization addressing enlisted job proficiency evaluation to its current status as a significant venue for discussing testing, occupational analysis, training technology, human factors, leadership, manpower trends, and organizational behavior? Who were some of the individuals who shaped the growth and direction of the IMTA? What have been some IMTA contributions to national research and operational programs? Are there examples of cooperative research undertakings where we have shared technologies and knowledge across nations? Finally, on a personal note, I will offer some reflections on my more than 40 years of IMTA association.

First awareness

I started working for the Bureau of Naval Personnel in August 1963, after four years at the Army Research Institute as a bench researcher. In November 1963, Charles Macaluso and Casimer Winiewicz from the Naval Examining Center at Great Lakes appeared unannounced in my tiny office. They both spoke loudly to me about this organization, the Military Testing Association (MTA), which they said I should join. Their opinion was that I could make a name for myself in the MTA. I was somewhat intimidated by them, and after they left I spoke to my boss. He said he was not impressed by the organization and did not encourage me to attend the conferences. So for three years I did not go, until I was promoted in 1967 and was able to make my own decision. I traveled to Toronto for the first conference to be held outside the U.S., and this started my love affair with the MTA. Other work requirements caused me to miss some conferences in the early years of my career, but I am proud to have attended all the conferences since 1977—32 consecutive years. By the way, both Macaluso and Winiwiecz were founding members of the MTA; they were excited about the organization, and they continued productive involvement for many years.

MTA evolution

The MTA evolved quickly after its start in 1959 as a three-day conference of some 60 representatives of the U. S. military services to discuss “areas of common interest in the field of enlisted job proficiency evaluation.” Dr. Jimmy Mitchell, one of the organization‟s greatest supporters over the years, provided interesting background and challenging thoughts in his paper at the Edinburgh conference in 2000, just before his untimely death (Mitchell, 2000). I will try to supplement his overview from my personal experience.

By 1962 the term “testing” in the MTA‟s name had greatly expanded to include medical and foreign language testing, and testing other than achievement and paper-and-pencil testing. It was also the year that the Harry Greer Award was established to honor U. S. Navy Captain Harry Greer, commanding officer of the U. S. Naval Examining Center and the MTA‟s founder. Captain Greer continued to play an active role in the conferences for many years before and after his retirement. The next year, the MTA Steering Committee was created. By the 7th Annual Conference, at the U.S. Air Force Personnel Research Laboratory in San Antonio in 1965, the official by-laws were established and the conference theme was expanded to “the impact of automation techniques on personnel evaluation” and a sub-theme of “psychological testing and the invasion of privacy.” The significance of these early years is that the MTA had become an attractive venue for the research community to present findings and share information. The more intimate and comfortable nature of its conferences provided for more intensive exchange than was possible in larger settings, such as the American Psychological Association and other professional society meetings.

The 1969 conference was hosted by the U. S. Coast Guard on Governors Island with a splendid view across New York City harbor. There was a banquet speech that year by Dr. R. L. Birdwhistell of the Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute on “Man and Communications” (Birdwhistell, 1969). The Steering Committee decided to eliminate banquet speeches for a while after the response by attendees.

The MTA was growing in the number of attendees, the diversity and professionalism of presentations, and the general stature accorded the organization. A metric of this growth was the international interest generated among attendees and nations seeking formal status within the MTA. As Mitchell points out, by 1972 Canada, Australia, Great Britain, and the Federal Republic of Germany were members of the Steering Committee (Mitchell, 2000.)²

In 1972 I moved from the Washington, DC, area to the Navy Personnel Research and Development Center (NPRDC) in San Diego. My ability to participate in the MTA increased, and by 1974 NPRDC was an active member of the Steering Committee.

IMTA as an international organization

MTA programs have mirrored the technical and political developments of their day. An early and continuing area of interest, occupational analysis, was spearheaded by the Air Force and a longstanding contributor, Dr. Raymond Christal. The program that was developed, Comprehensive Occupational Data Analysis Programs (CODAP), was adopted by other military services and nations. The MTA has been the site of continuous dissemination of information on CODAP, and this has resulted in exchanges of researchers across countries.

The “Computer Revolution” of the 1960s caused an explosion in training technologies leading to advances in computer-based and computer-managed training. MTA conferences were replete with training technology and practice symposia. This emphasis on the computer related to training is seen today in distance learning.

The thrust to replace paper-and-pencil tests with computer adaptive testing (CAT) was initiated in the 1970s and strongly supported by Dr. Steve Sellman in our Office of the Secretary of Defense. A joint-service program to develop CAT instruments was chaired by my own laboratory at NPRDC, and there were frequent discussions of CAT at MTA conferences. CAT research shared among country representatives at MTA conferences led to highly productive exchange visits and, consequently, to the more rapid introduction of this testing technology across many nations.

Other areas that have been discussed extensively over the years include leadership, aviator selection, military personnel health, officer selection, assessment centers, attitude surveys, and sexual harassment. More recently, the political changes brought about by the end of the Cold War, as well as conflagrations and natural disasters in Eastern Europe, Asia, and the Middle East have led to the emergence of newer research topics such as peacekeeping, the war on terrorism, and the tsunami relief mission.

During the first 25 years, MTA conferences were held only in the U.S. and Canada. A breakthrough occurred at the 26th Annual Conference held in Munich, which turned out to be the biggest up to that time in terms both of the number of participants (about 280) and of the variety of scientific presentations. Contributors came from Austria, Belgium, Canada, France, Israel, the Netherlands, Spain, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and the Federal Republic of Germany. This dispelled previous trepidation over how many people would attend a conference in Europe. Nevertheless, there was a gap of 10 years before the organization now called the International Military Testing Association (IMTA) returned to Europe, this time in Rotterdam, hosted by its European members (Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom). During the 14 years since that conference in 1994, IMTA has been hosted four times in the U.S., three times each in Australia and Canada, and in Edinburgh, Brussels, Singapore and, this year, in the Netherlands again. Recent years have seen an increasing number of nations participating in and joining the IMTA (Poland, 1997; Singapore, 1998; Sweden, 2000; Switzerland, 2003; Croatia, 2004; Korea, 2005; and Indonesia, 2007).

There have been two joint IMTA/NATO conferences. In 1999, the Defense Personnel Security Research Center (PERSEREC) hosted a conference in Monterey, CA, that was unique in many ways. François Lescreve had suggested that we hold the conference in conjunction with a NATO Human Factors and Medicine Panel Workshop on Officer Selection. This marriage was so successful that our meeting rooms were overflowing, and we had to make emergency arrangements with nearby hotels to house the 285 delegates representing 31 countries. The banquet night at the Monterey Bay Aquarium also was a special event.

The 2004 conference in Brussels also was a joint venture with the NATO Research Task Group on Recruiting and Retention of Military Personnel. It was a successful conference jointly sponsored by Belgium and France with more than 240 attendees.

IMTA publications

Publishing the proceedings of our conferences became a contentious issue when the sheer number of pages threatened to cause problems for the host nation and delayed publication, sometimes by up to a year. We made many fixes such as limiting page size, making sure presenters provided their papers at the conference, and using CDs rather than print media. The ultimate solution has been Web-based technology that allows us to publish proceedings electronically and make all of them available on-line. I have a complete set of all published IMTA proceedings that I used and jealously guarded for years, and now they are unnecessary.

Dr. Raymond Waldkoetter is known to many of you as a long-time contributor to IMTA and a person who sought to expand the organization in many ways. At the 1979 Steering Committee meeting, Ray recommended development of a scholarly scientific book to document the major professional contributions contained in the proceedings of our previous conferences. A publication review group outlined the book, to consist of seven chapters, and by 1980 some chapter associate editors had been identified. An ambitious schedule was established for the book to be completed by the 1983 Annual Conference.

In 1981 Ray changed the goal to four separate books. Eventually, two hardcover books were published by Praeger. One book, Military Contributions to Instructional Technology edited by Dr. John Ellis of NPRDC, was published in 1986. A second book, Military Personnel Measurement: Testing, Assignment, Evaluation edited by Martin F. Wiskoff and Glenn M. Rampton, was published in 1989. My co-editor, from the Canadian Forces Personnel Applied Research Unit in Toronto, had been Chairman of the MTA in 1979 when the book was started. Its chapters covered areas that were being researched extensively at the time and discussed at MTA conferences: Enlisted Selection and Classification: Advances in Testing; Personnel Classification/Assignment Models; Computerized Vocational Guidance Systems; Officer Aptitude Selection Measures; Aviator Selection; and Evaluation of Individual Enlisted Performance.

After 15 years in San Diego, I took a job in 1987 with the Defense Personnel Security Research Center (PERSEREC) in Monterey, California, and we were accepted into the MTA that year. At the same time, the Steering Committee also approved creating a relationship with the journal Military Psychology that I was starting for Division 19 (Military Psychology) of the American Psychological Association. The first issue of Military Psychology was published in 1989, and it has benefited enormously from the international contributions and stimulus provided by MTA.

IMTA events-of-nature moments

IMTA conferences have not been without their unusual events. NPRDC hosted a successful conference in 1979 that was held in a picturesque setting on Mission Bay in San Diego. The weather was beautiful, as it usually is, and acting as Chairman, I had just called the Steering Committee meeting to order. As the room started to shake, and the chandeliers were swaying, a few of the delegates started to move toward the door or under the conference table. This was the first and only MTA earthquake. For seasoned California residents, it was not much of an earthquake—considered only moderate at 6.5 on the Richter Scale, with the epicenter some distance away. The movement didn‟t last long and, as we resumed our Steering Committee meeting shortly afterward, we agreed that the earthquake provided for good conversation and lasting memories. We also treated delegates to a banquet on the beach, preceded by a boat ride around Mission Bay on a sternwheeler, the Bahia Belle, but without an earthquake accompaniment.

Another event of nature occurred in 1998 just before the IMTA conference in Pensacola, Florida. Some of you may remember the Category 2 hurricane that destroyed property and closed at least one of the convention hotels. Things were patched together quickly, rooms were switched and, although it was pretty damp, it was a good conference nevertheless.

Individual contributions

IMTA has been notable for the many individuals who have made contributions over its 50 years. Some of these folks have been formally recognized as Harry Greer Award designees. Others have been equally influential but not accorded that public recognition. I have fond memories of my interactions with all of these dedicated people. Jimmy Mitchell recognized the loss when individuals who have been instrumental to IMTA success retire. He recommended that “IMTA membership needs to be broadened to include other nations and to keep interested individuals involved even after they leave military personnel assessment organizations” (Mitchell, 2000). Jimmy was correct, and we have seen many other nations join IMTA since 2000. His second recommendation was endorsed when a motion was passed that, since 2004, allows previous Harry Greer Award recipients to attend Steering Committee meetings as nonvoting members.

IBTA

What is the genesis of the IBTA? François Lescreve has promoted Belgian beer as the best in the world. The challenge was taken up in 1999 by Ian Johnston of Australia, who was our Harry Greer Award recipient last year. At our conference in Monterey, we obtained a room from the hotel and set up a careful double-blind experiment, so to speak. I was nominated as one of the tasters, and I reported my findings discretely, because I did not want to anger either of my friends. The results have not been published. And so a new tradition was born, and by the next conference enthusiastic IBTAers were bringing beer from their homelands. Our conference in Brussels in 2004 included an extended IBTA, in the form of a pub crawl through Bruges led by François on the Friday after the conference. In 2006, in deference to cultural sensitivities, the IBTA was renamed the International Beverage Tasting Association.

Reflections

I would like to close with a few remarks for consideration by the audience and the Steering Committee.

Name change

Jimmy Mitchell documented the numerous attempts at changing the MTA‟s name through the 17th Annual Conference in Indianapolis in 1975 when the motion was defeated (Mitchell, 2000). The issue reappeared in 1989, but in 1990 the Steering Committee stated, “There was general agreement that the 1989 carry-over topic of „MTA Name Change‟ should be dropped from future MTA Steering Committee meeting agendas. This has been a repeated item, and the historic continuity value of the current title is most important.” The organization name was changed in 1993 to include the word “International”, and we became the IMTA. I like the name IMTA, and I wish this was the end of the story. The issue was brought up again in 2002, but no subsequent action was taken. Most recently a name change proposal was defeated at the 48th Annual Conference in Kingston two years ago, after heated discussion, some of it my own. I move that we go back to the decision made by the 1990 Steering Committee. After 50 years of having the name serve us well, let‟s not even consider this issue again.

IMTA Structure

Should IMTA change its mission and structure? There have been proposals over the years to expand IMTA beyond what it is. Ray Waldkoetter made many suggestions to generate a more permanent structure. Jimmy Mitchell suggested a permanent staff and extensive outreach to other agencies in order to have greater influence. The issue of a permanent position on the Steering Committee to ensure continuity from year to year was discussed but rejected in 2002.

I agree with the Steering Committee decision, and I think that IMTA should continue to evolve as it has been doing, both in the internationalizing of the organization and in the expansion of our website. The testimonials to IMTA‟s success as a means to improve personnel assessment procedures and in promoting cooperation in the exchange of these procedures are the moves by countries to join IMTA in increasing numbers. We have become a premier organization for rapidly disseminating research findings. We do not publish a refereed journal that can take a year or two to publish results. We are not a NATO working group that focuses on a specific issue and makes recommendations. We are a community of individuals with diverse interests and our conferences provide a forum for discovering what others are doing.

IMTA website

We should continue to expand our excellent website to provide for even greater dissemination of information. We have available, through the website, the capability for anyone to easily become educated concerning IMTA, and to review papers and presentations at all IMTA conferences.

The website is a valuable asset to the Steering Committee. For example, in the past it was difficult for the Steering Committee to be certain which organizations were still participating as active members. To address this, a measure was passed stipulating that conference minutes should contain information on how many consecutive years an organization did not participate and that after three years nonparticipating organizations would be dropped, unless there were extenuating circumstances. This is an excellent idea, and host countries have been providing summaries of this information in the minutes.

Finally, I would suggest that a list of major recent decisions made by the Steering Committee either be documented on the website or be made available by the host nation to Steering Committee attendees prior to the conference. This would further the goals of the organization and reduce the tendency to revisit issues that have previously been addressed.

Our organization has done very well over its first 50 years. I say we continue along the same path, and look forward to the challenges the future brings to IMTA.

References

- Birdwhistell, R.L. (1969). Man and communications. Proceedings of the 11th Annual Conference of the Military Testing Association (pp. 410-417). New York: U. S. Coast Guard Training Center.
- Ellis, J.A. (Ed.). (1985). Military contributions to instructional technology. New York: Greenwood/Praeger.
- Mitchell, J.L. (2000). IMTA 2000: Who are we, where are we, and where are we going. Proceedings of the 42nd Annual Conference of the International Military Testing Association (pp. 13-18). Edinburgh, UK: Defence Evolution and Research Agency.
- Wiskoff, M.F., & Rampton, G.M. (Eds.). (1989). Military personnel assessment: Testing, Assignment, Evaluation. New York: Greenwood/Praeger
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