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Lessons Learned From John Jay Online (Part 2)

Background

This is the second post discussing the implications from a panel discussion I moderated for the latest CUNY IT Conference in early December 2014 entitled, “Strategic Planning for Online Programs: Lessons Learned from John Jay Online.” I was fortunate to have two John Jay panelists, both instrumental in shepherding these new online programs into being: Adam Wandt, Assistant Professor of Public Policy/ Faculty Fellow of Online Learning, and Feng Weng, (formerly) Director of John Jay Online.
Note: Please refer to my original post (link) to provide a fuller context for the ensuing discussion.

Empowering the Change Makers

One of the key points that both Adam and Feng made was the need to empower the persons making change, in this case, those implementing a new online learning program. Each campus, a reflection of CUNY as an institution, has a plethora of potential stakeholders who want nothing more than to slow down, if not kill outright, any real change on their campuses. Maybe such actors feel they weren’t sufficiently consulted or kow-towed to; or  maybe they feel that it is a secret plot by the “administration”; or possibly they feel that their much discredited “sage on stage” style of teaching is perfectly fine; or maybe they are frustrated, ornery, stick-in-the mud types itching for a fight. Regardless, those seeking real change will inevitably encounter them in the sinecures of their faculty governance structures, administrative offices, departmental chairs, and often in the upper echelons of their respective campuses.

In reality, these obstructionists can add years to any sincere, valid effort to introduce hybrid/online programs. That is the reality at many CUNY campuses today. The only antidote to this scenario is for the president of a college to forcefully and unequivocally support those mandated to  make such change happen — as in the case of John Jay. This does not mean supporting a “faculty-driven” effort by those unknowing, undeserving or unable to lead such an online initiative.  It means giving the real experts — advocates of online learning — their “day in the sun” with the full support of administration to provide a protected space  and sufficient time for a new online program to incubate and new ideas, policies and practices to see the light of day.

Tenure and Promotion

It seems curious that in this digital age, with the rapid growth of social media, online learning  and digital publications, that rewards for most digital activities are completely absent from the formal avenues leading to tenure and promotion within CUNY. It is even more curious that critical legal documents in the tenure and promotion process are governed by letters of agreement dating back over 40 years (see link 1 and link 2). These documents pre-date even word processing and were obviously copied from old paper forms, yet have the force of law. In the context of online learning, it means that all the difficult, good work of an untenured faculty (like Adam Wandt) in seeing two online programs to fruition, is completely ignored in terms of tenure and promotion.

If this is the case, what is the motivation for junior faculty to create or teach an online course — especially if doing so might alienate senior faculty within the department? There is none, and in fact, there is more than a morsel of tangible disincentives. So younger faculty, who might gravitate to teaching online, need to think again, while older tenured faculty who can risk such behavior are not particularly inclined to do so since they may not be as fluent with technology or are happy with the status quo.  With such convoluted incentives and totally obsolete faculty policies, is it any wonder that CUNY is years behind other large public institutions in implementing online learning?

New Business Practices, Policies and Procedures

I had the pleasure of taking an intensive workshop on “Creating Online Programs,” co-taught by Joel Hartman, Vice Provost and CIO at the University of Central Florida. Dr. Hartman (see bio) has won just about every significant award in online learning that there is. When I mentioned to him that faculty development is often the primary focus of new online efforts, and that little thought is given to changing the policies, practices and procedures relating to online implementation, he enthusiastically confirmed, “you’ve got it!”

John Jay Online not only impacted teaching and learning at that college, but there also needed to be significant changes in policies, practices and procedures for that program to succeed.  Regarding the policies (link here), real thought was given to how online would impact course and teaching loads, payment to faculty for designing and teaching a course, a chargeback system for new online revenues to fund expansion of the Office for Online Learning, and other significant changes. Moreover, certain governance rules needed to be curtailed for the program to go forward. It is (and was) of critical importance to change many college practices and procedures and have the needed systems in place for this (or any) online program to succeed.

Conclusion

There are more lessons from John Jay’s online experience that are of value to other CUNY campuses. However, only those who are fully knowledgeable and experts, going through this 4+ year process,  can really speak to these lessons. After our panel discussion, I briefly proposed an idea to have such experts like Adam and Feng (and others from SPS) act as internal consultants for other CUNY campuses leaning toward starting fully online programs. By heeding their guidance, we can build institutional capacity while avoiding some of the pitfalls in developing online programs. The “O-Team” as I would call it, is a worthy project that deserves to be funded. Such a project would be a fitting and useful outcome from our excellent panel discussion and assist many CUNY campuses in implementing online learning.

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