Note: This entry continues my discussion of the need for a CUNY Center for Innovative Technologies and Learning.
C. Centralized Online/Hybrid Oversight
In several blog posts (link), I have bemoaned the lack of guidance from CUNY Central in dealing with many aspects of online planning, support, and implementation. For an institution the size of CUNY, it makes little sense to have 20+ campuses, each pursuing their own methods, policies, structures and goals concerning online learning. In sharp contrast, SUNY has a more centralized approach (SUNY Online Network) to online learning and, consequently, they offer over 15 times the online programs that CUNY does. Moreover, by itself, the CUNY School of Professional Studies’ online programs are not sufficient in size and scope to impact online learning for the entire university. The end result is that, despite the best of intentions, CUNY is over a decade behind in terms of implementing online learning compared to SUNY, and over two decades behind some of the leading public universities (e.g., University of Wisconsin, eCampus).
There is much work to be done in turning around this somewhat dysfunctional situation at CUNY, which admittedly might not happen in my lifetime. Nonetheless, one critical measure that can help turn the ship around would be to have a centralized office dedicated to online learning to advocate for it, support it, and facilitate online learning throughout CUNY.
How might a central office be useful? For example, there are potential synergies in having one portal through which students can register for online courses at any CUNY campus, or system-wide Blackboard support 24/7 for faculty and students, or being able to leverage faculty development efforts across multiple campuses, or being able to work with vendors to support specific online initiatives in an expeditious manner. As online has become mainstream at virtually all public institutions, I believe CUNY is at a strategic disadvantage by not having the ability to plan and guide the delivery of online programs across the entire institution. The “loose federation” of CUNY campuses will lose out in the online arena to those institutions whose efforts are both focused and streamlined to produce online programs.
D. Coordination/Advocacy for Instructional Technology
A new CUNY Center for Innovative Technologies and Learning would be an advocate for new learning technologies throughout the university. Whether it is skeptical and resistant faculty or administrators, there needs to be a reliable and respected counter to the numerous roadblocks to change that often occur at CUNY. Failing this, these battles over turf and power will slow innovation on each CUNY campus. Moreover, instructional technologists at each campus need to be recognized and supported in their efforts to spread the word on technologies for teaching and learning.
In January 2013, I convened a CUNY-wide Forum of Instructional Technologists. Although the event fell outside of my work responsibilities, I felt it was sorely needed. At this meeting, we had time to review instructional technology issues at our respective CUNY colleges and discuss commonalities. As far as I know, there was no follow-up meeting after that event. Instructional technologists throughout CUNY are working hard on their campuses with little support, guidance or resource and idea sharing with other colleges. This lack of coordination amongst technologists at CUNY is a lost opportunity which has several undesirable results including feelings of isolation for technologists, much duplication of effort, and wasted time and resources. I believe we need to do better.
A centralized unit in support of instructional technologists on all CUNY campuses is needed. This might take the form of centralized training opportunities / workshops for technologists, a resource-sharing network of IT strategies that work, the funding of some instructional technologist positions on various campuses, and review panels to test and recommend specific products. Other universities have organized this area more effectively (see SUNY Network for Instructional Designers) since they recognize the importance of academic technologies to support the central mission of their institution.
There is a substantial need at CUNY campuses going unmet and a wide disparity at campuses throughout the university concerning Instructional Technology. For example, are two instructional technologists per 1500 faculty sufficient to support new digital tools on campus and with no funds available to be spent on new instructional technologies? I believe not, yet this is the actual situation at a prominent senior college within CUNY. Will CUNY have the vision and courage to address this need? I believe central office oversight in this area is critical to long-term success.
Graphic: Created by Louis Oprisa (CETL Technologist) using InDesign