Navigating the Sea of Instructional Technologies

One of the events I most look forward to each year is the annual CUNY IT Conference held in late November or early December. CUNY has many dedicated and talented people who do excellent work in the trenches using technology for both academic and administrative goals.  The conference program for 2012 is a good reflection of the scope and depth of work being done at this institution. Dr. George Otte, CUNY’s Director of Academic Technology, has done yeoman’s work planning and organizing this event for the past 11 years.

This year, I am on two panels, one concerning research and publishing in the field of online education (see blog post), the other a panel discussion I initiated entitled “Navigating the Sea of Instructional Technologies at CUNY Campuses.” I have included a link to the PowerPoint presentation for that panel (Navigating_IT_112812 v4.) Part of the presentation concerned a review of a short survey on instructional technology distributed to key IT decision-makers throughout CUNY. We received responses from over 20 CUNY schools (out of about 23 requests) so I feel that most of the colleges were represented. I have attached the PDF file for the survey and resulting data (SurveySummary).

Genesis of Survey and Panel

I am fortunate to have a challenging and rewarding job as Director for CCNY’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning for the past six years. In that capacity I have seen the need for policy, planning and resourcing the area of instructional technology. These are tools that serve a real pedagogical purpose, and thus extend and promote the ability of instructors to engage students in learning, while potentially promoting better learning outcomes. Yet, often the importance of these technologies is not sufficiently recognized by college administrations, or properly addressed in terms of staffing and other funding. As instructional technology has grown rapidly in the past decade, there is a large gap between the potential of these technologies for teaching and learning, and what is being delivered “on the ground,” hence this panel.

Analysis of Results

A quick synopsis of survey results show the following:

  • Most CUNY schools have designated a point-person for instructional technology.
  • Many stakeholders have input regarding instructional technology at their colleges.
  • A variety of instructional technologies are being used at most CUNY campuses.
  • A systematic evaluation process in terms of choosing ITs seems to be lacking at most campuses, although most use some standard criteria for making decisions.
  • A lack of sufficient resources for instructional technology in terms of people, and funds to purchase, pilot and implement these tools is the primary complaint heard from many campuses.

In an institution as complex and large as CUNY, there will naturally be many pressing needs competing for funding. Any program area, if surveyed, would likely complain for lack of resources. So why should instructional technology be an area singled out for attention? There can be many compelling arguments, but let me offer these insights.

First, I believe that academic technology has been chronically underfunded at CUNY. Many colleges have gotten by only through the dedication of hard-pressed, often overwhelmed staff. While the “early-adopter” faculty has largely gone-it-alone using these instructional tools, many faculty who need encouragement and support incorporating technology into their courses have not been helped much in that process. 

Second, CUNY as an institution (and each college with the university) need to specifically put instructional technology into their vision statements, strategic planning documents, and budgetary processes. With all students contributing a technology fee as part of their tuition, it is only recently that campuses have had a reliable funding stream for technology. Even so, to foster 21st century technology skills for our students, we need to empower faculty to use and model such technologies in the classroom. I believe that despite progress  in this area, we have a long way to go in supporting instructional technology usage by faculty.

Third, the structure of many campuses is often too balkanized to have a coherent and effective strategy for instructional technology.  Implementation of ITs is often hampered by not knowing who is in charge, or having multiple decision-makers in the process. Both CUNY as an institution, and the individual campuses suffer from the “too many chiefs” syndrome, and often these “chiefs,” however well-intentioned, are not well-informed about this field. So, IT departments, Academic Affairs offices, academic departments and schools, individual faculty members, various deans, Centers for Teaching and Learning, and many other entities are making decisions without fully consulting or even recognizing  the need of other campus constituencies.  This can produce a technological “House of Babel” with multiple technologies, vendors, contracts, etc. What is often lacking is a coordinated, systematic approach to decision-making and implementation.

Fourth, what are the qualities that make for a good instructional technology manager or director? A person in this position must bridge the chasm between teaching and technology, and consequently needs to be versed in both areas.  Moreover, this individual needs to be able to canvas the needs of their college, synthesize the findings and make a compelling case to administration for adequate funding. And, if that is not enough, the director of instructional technology needs to be a consensus-builder, have faculty development and teaching experience, be proficient with budgets, be able to create and articulate a vision, and hire and motivate a team of professionals.  This is not an easy task, and often the people assigned to these positions are lacking in one or more of these requisites. Consequently, there is a need for college-wide teams working toward a common goal of finding the best answers for teaching with technology at each campus.

To conclude, I believe that an institution as large as CUNY needs to create and foster structures within the university whereby instructional technology staff from all campuses can collaborate and brainstorm issues common to all colleges. Adam Wandt, Deputy Chair for Academic Technology at John Jay College, has been carrying the ball with his Skunkworks project which evaluates instructional technologies used at CUNY within a specific category (i.e., student response systems). Beyond this, I feel there is a real need for IT staff to periodically get together and compare notes in terms of strategies and approaches. Toward that end, I hope to host such a meeting at CCNY during the intersession. The good work of many people in the IT trenches need to see the light of day, and maybe even, as with this conference, have occasion to promote and acknowledge the progress being made at CUNY colleges.

Additional Resources:

Instructional Technology Lists  (a work in progress)
Note: These lists are reflective of the depth of IT and its dynamic nature. Please reply to this post if you wish to add to the list or with other suggestions.

IT List created by Dr. Natalia Kapli and Bruce Rosenbloom, CCNY Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning

IT List created by Joe Ugoretz, Associate Dean of Teaching, Learning and Technology, Macauley Honors College

Excellent Skunkworks Rubric to Evaluate Educational Technology:


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