Technologically Adrift?

In many posts I have criticized what I would characterize as CUNY’s “institutional drift.” Departing chancellors take several years to leave, followed by an interim administration of a year or more, followed by a new administration taking many years to come up with any real vision for CUNY. The area of technology, and specifically, online learning (the focus of this blog)  has been Exhibit A in terms of this “drift”.  This is not to say there aren’t excellent technologists at CUNY–there are many, and most are dedicated to this institution.  However, there has been an overall management void that, in my estimation, borders on gross neglect and mismanagement. What follows is a list of several areas CUNY is found wanting.

A. Central Online Vision

Simply stated, there is no vision for online learning within CUNY.  While Chancellor Milliken might provide sound-bites in speeches, there has been no real vision for all of CUNY regarding online learning despite his record of success with online at his previous institution. In essence then, 23 campuses are allowed to pursue their own path with a minimum of oversight from CUNY Central. In a previous blog, I used the sports metaphor of a football lining up on one side of the ball, while the other team’s players scattered all over, without anyone organizing the players.  In an online competitive environment, which team will likely win?

B. Online Policies, Procedures, Systems

Although some campuses have an online policy manual, many don’t. Those who do not, often have administrations lacking any real understanding of online learning. I often get asked if there are any limits on the number of students in online classes, or the minimum number of times that a hybrid class must meet to be considered hybrid.  My response is that there are no policies, procedures or systems that are currently in place regarding online learning, therefore, if your department chair approves, it’s OK for now.  Many administrators don’t realize the need for such policies, and lacking any guidance from CUNY Central, there are none. In a previous post, I have posed 20+ policy concerns or questions that need to be addressed prior to offering hybrid/online courses. A CUNY campus that proceeds down the online trail without such policies, is starting the journey without a map.

C. The Sea of Instructional Technologies

An institution the size of CUNY needs to have paid staff whose responsibility it is to convene  a team of evaluators to make recommendations regarding software for use on the campuses.  Failing such a team, and the resources to make it successful, this task often falls on the Centers for Teaching and Learning, or IT offices– each not up to properly doing the job. I believe that such teams–like Penn State “hot teams”— can be very useful in guiding purchasing decisions at campuses, or at worst, helping to whittle down the deluge of choices that confronts front-line managers. Instead, often salespersons at conferences or making sales calls, get to pitch their products to those who don’t have the context or authority with which to make a legitimate choice regarding allocation of limited resources. Although the CUNY Committee on Academic Technology has tried to play a role with reviewing some technologies, there is no budgetary support, and so these ad-hoc efforts have been sporadic, if non-existent for new instructional technologies.

D. Strategic Planning

Although a recurring theme over many years in this blog, I now understand that such planning concerning online learning will probably never happen at CUNY. It won’t happen for a myriad of reasons including lack of understanding the need, lack of understanding the means, lack of institutional support and lack of a clear vision to which such a strategic plan might be applied. Instead, CUNY will drift from academic year to academic year, making pronouncements about “Digital CUNY” without any substance or commitment to achieve it. This is in sharp contrast to SUNY, our sister institution, that has a clear system-wide online policy and implementation plan which I discussed in several posts (post 1) (post 2) (post 3)

E. Faculty Buy-In

Early articles in journals about online learning clearly pointed out that faculty resistance was the number one impediment to the adoption of online at many institutions. For the most part, the Sloan-C reports showed that administrators were a lot more enthusiastic about the potential for online than their respective faculty members. As online has gradually become increasingly accepted across academia, faculty resistance has lessened, although online is still far from being embraced.

At CUNY, faculty resistance was, and still continues to be, an issue impeding online implementation. Whether grudging acceptance, or outright resistance, CUNY full-time faculty by and large have not “gotten with the program” for online teaching. Both CUNY Central and many campuses refuse to directly address the critical issue of faculty buy-in needed for online to be successful. As a result, the heavy lifting needed for a successful online implementation falls to IT or CTL staff, who do not have the clout to make things happen.

Even in the best of circumstances, with the full support of the Provost, full-time faculty may chose to balk at any initiative that smacks of a administrative directive. I saw first-hand at an open Faculty Senate meeting, CCNY faculty pass a resolution about 5 years ago, labeling courses taught in hybrid mode as “experimental” and requiring a Senate review after 2 years. A mere two years later, with CCNY hovering at at the basement of senior colleges in this area with 1% of courses in hybrid/online mode, and likely feeling the Performance Management heat from those dismal numbers, the college president decides to create a “faculty-driven” online program. Of the approximately 45 instructors enrolled in that program, maybe a handful ever realized a hybrid or online course. Followed by that success, the college’s only real instructional technologist with expertise in hybrid/online, is terminated from a grant. That same administration recently receives a new $700K grant from CUNY Central to begin planning two new online programs….

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In the next post, I will explore the relationship between top administrators salaries versus those of adjunct instructors employed at CUNY, and the “winner take all” atmosphere prevalent in today’s society.


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