Online Policy for CUNY: Some Important Points

Note: This document was written prior to my letter to the Chancellor (the previous post) and was created on January 24, 2019. It summarizes some of my thinking over many years of following online learning, and CUNY’s rather inept response to this major trend. I wrote it in one sitting, in list format, rather than using paragraphs. I apologize, but at the time I did not have the energy to convert it into expository. Nonetheless, I believe you can follow the dots…..

  • Online and hybrid courses and programs an increasing percentage of US colleges’ teaching modality
  • CUNY has lagged well behind other universities in this regard and needs to directly address online learning throughout the university
  • CUNY colleges largely operate independently, rarely coordinating the resources, strategies, marketing, purchasing, programmatic and numerous other aspects of online teaching and learning
  • There is a need for a central Office of Online Learning within CUNY that can help coordinate, set policy, advocate for resources, and strategize CUNY’s online offerings (link).
  • There is very uneven implementation for online at various CUNY colleges ranging from campuses with over 20% hybrid/online courses, to campuses with under 3% of hybrid/online courses. At campuses in the lower range, there is a dearth of resources allocated to online, with some campuses not even having a director for online, or even one instructional technologist serving this function.
  • Throughout CUNY, staffing for online programs is insufficient, and some campus administrators neither have the knowledge to lead such an effort, or the will to do so.
  • Compensating faculty to convert their courses to online within CUNY is spotty at best, as is faculty development on many campuses.
  • There is a no strategic plan for implementing online programs throughout CUNY, a shocking state of affairs considering its increasing importance in the pedagogical mix of universities these days.
  • Online programs, rather than merely taking an online or hybrid course, is what has a significant impact for students in terms of access and time to degree completion. In this area, CUNY has been lagging. For example. Whereas SUNY as over 600 fully online programs, CUNY has about 25 (check #). Many other online programs continue to enroll NYC students, reducing a potential income source for the university.
  • Brick and mortar campuses are very expensive to build, particularly in NYC. Online programs, requiring no physical campus, has the potential for delivering programs without the additional overhead of classrooms and buildings.
  • CUNY Chancellors and administrators have not articulated any coherent direction or policies regarding online learning CUNY-wide, thereby contributing to a lack of direction and confusion regarding the role online learning has at the university.
  • At many campuses, staff who have online responsibilities report a lack of administration support and resources for their efforts, as well as lack of direction and making online a priority at their respective campuses.
  • Reporting and listing online and hybrid courses within CUNYfirst is still confusing and ambiguous, casting doubt on the numbers campuses report for their hybrid/online efforts.
  • Tenured faculty have often been quite resistant or dismissive of online learning, hampering implementation within departments and programs. Neither CUNY nor campus leaders have done much to oppose this, and have often held those same attitudes toward online, which includes college presidents and provosts.
  • The PSC-CUNY union representing faculty and staff at CUNY has seen online learning as an area for negotiating rather than one to work with management on setting effective policies. For the most part, the union has been absent in this area, or take an adversarial approach to those advocating online within the university.
  • Online courses are mostly taught by adjuncts within CUNY, reflecting a lack of buy-in from tenured faculty, and a lack of online integration into teaching with the university.
  • New technology tools and approaches for online learning have been slow to get support university-wide, leaving CUNY’s online efforts not as technologically robust as competitors offerings.
  • The School of Professional Studies (SPS) has done excellent work creating online programs, and in fact offers more than half of CUNY’s online programs. This school cannot carry the weight of online learning for the entire university, although this has been the de-facto position for Chancellors over the past decade.
  • There has been a dearth of clearly stated and vetted policies, procedures and strategic plans for online learning on respective campuses and university wide. Issues like maximum course size for online classes, and student preparation for online courses (among many other issues) have seen little research, discussion, or creation of actual policy. Essentially, each campus must re-invent these, creating wasted effort and differing policies throughout CUNY.
  • College presidents have gone largely unaccountable for their lack of progress implementing online programs on their respective campuses. Although some measures for online and included in the PMP stats, college presidents have been given a pass on having little hybrid/online implementation. This lack of accountability has resulted in years of “institutional drift” concerning developing online programs at respective campuses. In addition, the PMP measures the percentage of hybrid/online courses, not programs, which for the most part is less significant measure of online implementation.
  • What is the vision for online teaching and learning throughout the university? Without a clear and compelling vision to motivate and inspire, we have more institutional drift and lack of progress. In sharp contrast, SUNY has had chancellors that have articulated real goals (like Chancellor Nancy Zimpher speaking of a 100K increase in online enrollments in one year, or current Chancellor Kristina M Johnson, who at an 2018 conference stated, “I want SUNY to be the largest online university system in the country….” (link to Chancellor Johnson’s speech). CUNY has totally lacked this type of visionary leader needed for substantial change in online learning.
  • Closely related to vision, a recent Online Learning Consortium surveyindicates that 80% of 4 year public colleges view online learning as strategic to their efforts.  Does CUNY? If so, this needs to be stated, and moreover, planned for at the highest levels within CUNY. Do we have a CUNY strategic plan for online learning or, jettisoning “strategic,” any university-wide plan for online within CUNY? The answer is clearly “no”.
  • The tenure and promotion process often minimizes the importance of digital scholarship and work with technology. This creates a dilemma for tech-savvy faculty that might wish to spend time more time writing about technology and experimenting with tools in their classes. Along with this is the lack of recognition for online teaching given to faculty who are innovative in their courses.
  • Staff involved with online learning at CUNY campuses have significant morale issues after years of mismanagement, neglect, marginalization, under-funding, and “making do.” Many talented professionals have left, while others are in the trenches doing what they can without the benefit of competent management for online learning.
  • For successful implementation of online programs throughout CUNY, a combination of top-down and bottom-up strategies need to be employed. Up to now, much of the advocacy for online learning has been bottom-up at individual campuses and at CUNY central. Over the span of many decades of online learning, CUNY hasn’t had even one Chancellor who was a strong and dynamic advocate for online learning. Will the new Chancellor, when appointed, be such a leader?
  • There are many talented, smart and tech-savvy persons working within CUNY who are waiting for online learning to become a priority. It is important to inspire them with a real vision of online, engage them with planning for online programs throughout CUNY, and lead them to carry out a viable strategic plan for online implementation at this university. Anything short of that would be short-changing CUNY faculty and staff, and CUNY students.
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