Implications of Digital CUNY?

Background

CUNY has been fortunate to attract a new, dynamic Chancellor–James B. Milliken–who has personal experience teaching — and institutional experience leading — online learning. He impresses me as a sincere, hard-working individual who does wish to advance the ball for CUNY as a whole. On Nov. 19th, he laid out his vision for CUNY in a speech (link here) at The Association for a Better New York. Subsequently, in a CUNY-wide faculty conference on November 21st, entitled, “Online Learning: What We Need to Know, What We Need To Ask,” he further articulated his plans for what he termed “Digital CUNY.”  What follows is an examination/rumination about his proposal.

What is Digital CUNY?

For now, “Digital CUNY” is an amorphous, broad term that we technologists can project our hopes, visions, pet projects, and agendas onto and see a bright future ahead.  At the Faculty conference, Chancellor Milliken quoted a figure of $7 million for this initiative–an impressive sum to those of us in the tech trenches at CUNY campuses. But how will such monies be spent? What group will decide what projects are worthy of funding, and will that funding be enough? Even if many worthwhile projects are ultimately funded, will they be focused on a theme or dispersed in many digital directions? And, in the end, will it really make a dent in terms of institutional change?

The Chancellor did hint at online learning being a focus for these efforts in terms of specifically mentioning online learning in both of his speeches. Coming from the University of Nebraska which has a viable, if not robust, program of online offerings, Dr. Milliken will, in all likelihood, be receptive to advancing online learning across all CUNY campuses.  This is a positive development on many levels, and a much overdue development. As I’ve blogged about previously, CUNY is many years behind other public universities in online implementation. Contrary to those who believe that CUNY, being largely a “commuter” university and hence not needing online offerings, online learning can be a boon to many CUNY students struggling with difficult schedules and commutes. I believe the Chancellor recognizes this need for more online learning opportunities at CUNY, and I fully expect that in the semesters to come there will be a concerted push in this direction.

It has been suggested that Digital CUNY was intentionally left vague in its definition in order to solicit the best ideas under that banner in future funding requests.  Logically, this view has support in terms of Chancellor Milliken’s announcement (referred to earlier) of a $7 million fund for projects that could fall under that banner. Most assuredly, there will be substantial interest and competition for such funds once the RFP is announced early in 2015.  Personally, I have thought about several projects currently lacking funding that would advance aspects of online learning within CUNY. These will be outlined in a future blog post.

Overall then, the take-away from the various speeches of CUNY’s new Chancellor seems positive for advancing both online learning and innovative technology initiatives taking place throughout CUNY (some of these are documented in a CUNY Innovation database by Lisa Brundage). There is cause for optimism, and that is a good development for those in the trenches wishing for change.

Update/Clarification: Certain assumptions I made when writing this post are not official and may not materialize.  In light of this new information, it would be better to take a wait and see approach to Digital CUNY for now. It is my sincere hope that many of the potential advances discussed in the above post can come to fruition through increased funding and attention to how instructional technologies can be used to further CUNY’s mission.

Here is the feedback I received from George Otte, CUNY Director of Academic Technology:

There is no assumption, Bruce, that the $7 million figure mentioned by the Chancellor (or any portion of that) will be devoted to the proposed projects targeted by a call for proposals to be sent out early in the new calendar year. That planned CFP  does not presume access to that funding, nor is there any presumption that the CFP will be a way of fulfilling the Chancellor’s intentions with regard to “Digital CUNY.

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3 Responses to Implications of Digital CUNY?

  1. “… project our hopes, visions, pet projects, and agendas onto …” and … what then to fund. You can easily get lost in and overwhelmed with choices. And burn a lot of money. Any great organization in history has usually been marshaled around a certain battle-cry that was easy enough for everyone to understand and apply even in their daily routine. I once was at a large organization that manufactured candy bars. Often I heard senior executives when making choices about business travel say “Hm, imagine how many candy bars we’d have to sell to make up for the trip” – and then tried to find a “cheaper” way. All the while knowing that if they only looked at the cheap side of things and not getting work done then no candy bars would get made either. But they seemed to have an inner compass all the time. Another thing I read in Foreign Affairs about the first Iraq war. When it was “won” all the military personnel and stuff/ordnance had to be brought safely home. The then commanding general issued one brief statement: “Not one more life”. It was enough, obviously, for everyone to connect the dots themselves. It is along those lines you should try and find a battle-cry or you will in the end start “bickering”.

  2. George–Thank you for that clarification. I will put that disclaimer in my blog post. Be well…Bruce

  3. Profile photo of George Otte George Otte says:

    There is no assumption, Bruce, that the $7 million figure mentioned by the Chancellor (or any portion of that) will be devoted to the proposed projects targeted by a call for proposals to be sent out early in the new calendar year. That planned CFP does not presume access to that funding, nor is there any presumption that the CFP will be a way of fulfilling the Chancellor’s intentions with regard to “Digital CUNY.”

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