The CUNY Center for Innovative Technologies and Learning (Part 1)

I have been blogging for several years about online and hybrid learning and technology trends in academia.  In that time I have made several proposals in my blog regarding ways I feel CUNY needs to change concerning instructional technology and online learning.  Among the ideas I have advocated include:

  • Creating a CUNY-wide Office for Online Learning (blog link)
  • Establishing a Vision Statement for Academic Technology at CUNY (blog link)
  • Creating an Emergency Plan for Academic Continuity in case of a crisis (blog link)
  • Promoting a “change incubator” to research/pilot educational technologies (blog link)
  • Transforming our teaching paradigm to a learning paradigm (blog link)
  • Organizing all Instructional Technologists at CUNY (blog link)
  • Developing a Strategic Planning Process for Hybrid/Online (blog link)
  • Viewing online as a strategic CUNY asset to support/fund (blog link).

Although most of these proposals have yet to be implemented, I now see a common thread that includes many of these into one proposal, namely, creating a CUNY Center for Innovative Technologies and Learning. This Center would act as the CUNY-wide focal point for several critical functions including:

  • Envisioning/strategic planning;
  • Incubating, testing and piloting new technology initiatives;
  • Planning/advocating/assisting hybrid/online learning;
  • Coordination and outreach to Instructional Technologists on campuses;
  • Collaboration and partnerships with private companies, as well as other institutions;
  • Pursue grant opportunities for new technologies;
  • Advocating with CUNY Central and faculty for these technologies.

The graphic below points to the direction that I feel would be useful.

Bruce Blog CUNY CITL A. Envisioning/Strategic Planning

The single factor that separates those institutions that are truly serious about implementing innovative technology for teaching and learning on campus is an organizing vision. This vision statement needs to be put on paper, disseminated to the entire institution, and readily available. Complementing this vision statement is a planning process that is strategic in nature. It acknowledges the opportunities and challenges inherent in technological change, including an assessment of a “failure to act.”  The most effective institutions will not only have a strategic plan worthy of the name, but the actual planning process will be fully operational down to the details of how that institution functions. This later condition is rare in academia; however, it is essential if an organization wants to ensure that their vision materializes. CUNY needs an office that can provide leadership in this envisioning, planning, and strategizing process.

B. Change Incubator

However change is defined, be it Christensen’s concept of “disruptive innovations,” or Tagg’s concept of a “paradigm shift” from instruction to learning, or what conferences trumpet as “transformational change,” one thing is clear — in CUNY (as in many such institutions), such change will be opposed, sabotaged, and undermined by many competing stakeholders —  all with apparent veto power.

As I’ve written in previous blog posts, the best way, and in reality the only way to implement meaningful change, is “in the margins.” By that term, I mean that existing structures, relationships, and arrangements need to be suspended, or at least mitigated, for a new approach or program to begin. Accordingly, I recommend an institutional “incubator” where significant changes may be researched, piloted and evaluated outside of the pressures from a variety of stakeholders that, by definition, are the gatekeepers for the status quo. Although this may seem unlikely at CUNY, I would remind you of the examples of SPS online programs, the MacCauley Honors College, and other programs where such exceptions were made, and alas, a more flexible arrangement resulted in excellent outcomes.

Admittedly, at this point in my career, I may suffer from a tad of impatience. From time to time, the tone of my blog posts certainly reflects this, and for that I offer no apologies. For positive innovations to succeed at each CUNY campus and throughout the institution as a whole, we need to carve out safe-zones for experimentation and for testing new technologies and teaching models.

In addition, some of these changes might have commercial viability. Accordingly, such “change incubators” might look into supporting creative faculty with new technologies or approaches that might have commercial potential. For example, some BMCC professors  are working on a game-based Learning Management System that has been presented at several CUNY IT conferences over the years. These and other ideas need to be piloted and given a fair chance of rising above the entrenched forces of the status quo.

Next Blog Post: The CUNY Center for Innovative Technologies and Learning (Part 2)

Graphic: Created by Louis Oprisa (CETL Technologist) using InDesign


Christensen, Clayton,  “How Disruption Can Help Colleges Thrive,” Chronicle of Higher Education,  Retrieved at:

Barr, Robert B. and Tagg, John, “From Teaching to Learning: A New Paradigm for Undergraduate Education,” Change,  November/December 1995.
Retrieved at:

Tagg, John, The Learning Paradigm College, Jossey Bass, San Francisco, CA., 2003.


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