Lessons Learned From John Jay Online (Part 2)


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.


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.

Posted in CUNY Practices, Envisioning Online, Online Best Practices, Online Learning Policies, Procedures, Systems, Strategic Planning for Online | Comments Off on Lessons Learned From John Jay Online (Part 2)

A Scalable Learning Management System (LMS)

Some of the barriers to entry into the arena of online learning have been greatly diminished in recent years, namely both the cost and scalability of the learning management system. An LMS is where most of online teaching happens — the virtual bridge between teacher and student. It is the environment where a professor structures their course, posts materials (links, PDFs, videos, etc.), creates assignments, conducts online discussions and assesses a student’s work, along with many other features. Fundamentally, it is the center for online learning created from the toolkit provided by the LMS vendor.

Blackboard, the largest LMS in the higher education market, has its critics and promoters. Over time, Bb has become more sophisticated, costly, and feature-rich. While many of these features are quite useful for teaching (i.e., wikis, whiteboards, eportfolios, webinars, etc.), costs for this and other LMS’s tend to be prohibitive, and faculty training with all the bells and whistles, daunting. Free LMS’s like Sakai and Moodle, could provide an affordable option to small entities only if you overlook the back-end technical know-how to successfully implement these systems. In either case, smaller institutions were  challenged to pursue this path.

Now, however, there are viable options for smaller entities wishing to conduct cost-effective online learning using a simple LMS. Companies like SchoolKeep, provide a customizable, affordable, easy-to-use LMS-lite for newbies in the online domain. The company offers an array of options/services from piloting several courses at no charge, to creating a fully online program and school. Moreover, SchoolKeep offers cost-added services like marketing, branding, registration, and student support depending on client requirements.

This company is a harbinger of what I would characterize as just-in-time LMS services, which may allow an institution, small company, or not-for-profit the flexibility of gradually building an online learning program without incurring significant start-up costs for the technology infrastructure. Often LMS contracts locked in an institution to a specific vendor for a long period of time, or the vendor might require a significant percentage of the online revenues from the new venture. This scenario is not the case for these new vendors who are increasingly more friendly to novices in the online learning segment.

In summary, SchoolKeep and similar new options allow a smaller entity to pilot or prototype their online courses and programs without major financial risks. A “build up and out strategy” can then be employed if these initial efforts prove fruitful. Thus, SchoolKeep might provide a good fit for those smaller learning enterprises making their initial foray into the arena of online learning.


Burns, Janet (2014), The Changing Framework of Online Learning, PSFK blog, retrieved at: http://www.psfk.com/2014/12/changing-framework-online-learning.html

Posted in Envisioning Online, Online Best Practices, Online Learning Policies, Procedures, Systems, Online Trends, Strategic Planning for Online | Comments Off on A Scalable Learning Management System (LMS)

Faculty Development — As If It Matters

Slightly departing from my usual topic of online learning, I’m devoting this post or two to the topic of Faculty Centers within CUNY. As current Director of City College’s CETL (Center for Teaching and Learning), and having held several positions in faculty development over a dozen years at four institutions, I have given substantial thought to the topic.  On a monthly basis, CUNY’s CETL Directors meet to discuss matters and projects of mutual interest with colleagues.

In June 2011, Dr. Karrin Wilks, (then) University Dean for Undergraduate Studies, surveyed all CTL Directors within CUNY to get a better understanding of what these Centers were doing, their staff and funding levels, their respective missions and impact and finally, make appropriate recommendations for action. Entitled, “Analysis of CUNY Centers for Teaching and Learning,” (link here), this was really the first systematic attempt to determine the effectiveness of the CTLs in addition to assessing the challenges inherent in directing them. Although several years old, and since publication, several new Centers have cropped up on CUNY campuses, it remains the only authoritative document that I’m aware of that addresses this subject. I will add some thoughts/reflection below and in a subsequent post.

CTLs: An Under-valued Resource

Currently, there are 17 CTL Centers within CUNY. Each Center has unique, but similar, context, missions, programs and resources. If I were to characterize the general “gestalt” of CTL Directors in numerous meetings I have attended over the years, it would be that most Centers are not realizing their full potential as institutional resources for their respective campuses. Admittedly, this observation is subjective, and though there is significant variation from Center to Center, I would stand by that view. It is common for Center Directors to report staffing and budget deficiencies; inadequate, changing or tenuous management support and reporting structures; lack of involvement with institutional priorities; and minimal understanding or vision from administration of what role these CTL Centers could potentially play on each campus. Greater support and/or less marginalization regarding these concerns is necessary for these Centers to be viable, effective and integral.

CTLs as Change Agents?

In Dr. Wilks’ report, she concludes, “An effective CTL is thus a mechanism for both individual and organizational development, and an essential component of systemic change.” (pg 17, reference below). This view is frequently heard and written about in SoTL  (Scholarship of Teaching and Learning) circles.

The CTL Directors at CUNY that I’ve met are professionals who see the “big picture” in terms of the importance of teaching, technology, assessment and student learning. This perspective comes from many years of teaching, research, publications, conference presentations and attendance, and thinking about their respective Centers. In terms of being agents for change, their unique talents and ideas can greatly assist a college in the throes of institutional change. Yet often, they are not part of the decision-making process.  This is a great loss, personally to these Directors, and institutionally, as well. As I’ve written in previous posts, throughout academia generally, and CUNY and its respective colleges specifically, there is a need for a serious overhaul in the approach to teaching, technology and learning. If so, where will the agents of change come from?


Wilks, Karrin (2011), “Analysis of CUNY Centers for Teaching and Learning,” Office of Academic Affairs website. Retrieved at: http://www.cuny.edu/about/administration/offices/ue/CentersTeachingLearning/CTLReport6-15-11.pdf

Posted in A Learning Pedagogy, CUNY Practices, Envisioning Online | Comments Off on Faculty Development — As If It Matters

Lessons Learned From John Jay Online (Part 1)


In September 2014, John Jay College of Criminal Justice launched two new fully online programs as part of their John Jay Online :

  1. Advanced Certificate on Terrorism Studies, and
  2. Masters in Security Management.

These programs represent the first fully online programs at a CUNY college outside of CUNY’s School of Professional Studies online programs. Given the significance of this development, I organized a panel discussion at the latest CUNY IT Conference in early December 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 programs into being: Adam Wandt, Assistant Professor of Public Policy/ Faculty Fellow of Online Learning, and Feng Weng, (formerly) Director of John Jay Online.

Acting as a moderator for the panel, I asked Adam and Feng to reflect on their experiences creating these programs from inception to program delivery. Topics discussed ranged from the initial vision to market research, from stakeholder buy-in to overcoming obstacles, from marketing to faculty development, from policies and procedures to takeaway lessons for other campuses. Our free-flowing conversation offered many insights and passionate viewpoints. I believe this session provided an all-too- rare dialogue concerning the trials and tribulations of starting fully online programs within CUNY. What follows below (and subsequent blog post) are the salient points these two experts made, and an expanded discussion of each point.

A Long and Winding Road

Having the college president of John Jay supporting the creation of these online programs was an essential part of seeing this project to fruition. Yet, from inception to program rollout, it took about five years to fully implement these online programs. Yes, the process is a long and winding one, with diverse obstacles and pitfalls. Unlike the SPS online programs, which created alternative structures around faculty governance issues, John Jay did not have that luxury. Faculty governance and faculty buy-in took a long time and much effort to be realized. In addition, new policies and procedures had to be developed and approved, and numerous bureaucratic approvals needed to be obtained in terms of NYS Department of Education. Considering these and other unforeseen issues, it would be a good idea for all CUNY campuses interested in online programs to plan for a lengthy process.

Institutional Support

Starting online programs with institutional support is a difficult path, without it is a fool’s errand. At several CUNY schools that I know of, mid-level administrators and some forward-looking faculty have attempted to pilot online offerings without the full buy-in from their respective administrations. Invariably, such well-meaning efforts lead to frustration and accusations from faculty governance and few sustainable initiatives. Without enthusiastic support of a college President and Provost, there is little hope for any semblance of an online strategy, vision or effective implementation. For all practical purposes, each campus stakeholders must be on board and pulling in the same direction for new online programs to have a fighting chance.

Next Blog Post: John Jay Online: Part 2 will include these topics:

Empowering the Change Makers; Tenure and Promotion; Faculty-Driven Efforts; New Business Practices, Policies and Procedures; Faculty Resistance to Acceptance

Posted in CUNY Practices, Envisioning Online, Online Best Practices, Online Learning Policies, Procedures, Systems | Comments Off on Lessons Learned From John Jay Online (Part 1)

Implications of Digital CUNY?


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.

Posted in CUNY Practices, Envisioning Online, Strategic Planning for Online | 3 Comments

Life Skills and Making the College Connection

In this month’s Chronicle, (reference below) there was a thought-provoking article entitled: “Now Everything Has a Learning Outcome.” The article details a new emphasis at Augustana College for both faculty and student advisors to include non-academic activities in counseling/advising sessions with students. So for example, participation on the golf team, a part-time job, a volunteer activity, all are seen as part of holistic learning experiences of a student. For many students, this far-reaching approach enables them to see the connection between their academic lives and those outside the ivory towers. As Dan Berrett explains,

“…. too many students squander those formative years. If they manage to make sense of what their education adds up to, they do so by accident or on their own. But educators uncomfortable with that reality are trying to shift it. While colleges won’t return to dictating moral development, some are now guiding students with a firmer hand. They are bolstering advising, trying to connect what students do in and outside of class, and explicitly identifying the learning that happens in various corners of campus. In sum, treating a college education as a holistic, cohesive experience.”

He continues,

“What matters in this vision of college is how well students put together and make sense of the pieces of their education. To that end, colleges must curate that experience. Augustana has identified nine learning outcomes—like critical thinking and quantitative literacy—that apply to everything students touch: courses, clubs, teams, residence halls. … Residence halls, for example, help achieve intercultural competency and communication competency by requiring roommates to work out their differences and negotiate privacy. Sports can help develop collaborative leadership and ethical citizenship. Running the campus’s organic farm can develop collaborative leadership; dealing with vendors and handling invoices might foster quantitative literacy.”

The program at Augustana is what I would characterize as “boutique advisement.” In a small college with favorable student to faculty and staff ratios, advisors have more time to get to know their students in a less restricted setting. In essence, these staffers function in a manner similar to what an elder sibling, aunt, or uncle might have in the virtually extinct extended families of another era. Many students today need and crave insight and direction from some caring adult to make sense of their often frenetic and bumpy lives.

The situation at public institutions regarding assisting students is not pretty. Students are frequently hard-pressed to see their advisors, whose numbers and hours are being cut due to budgetary imperatives. A student may see their “academic” advisor once a semester, and faculty are often not available to spend much time getting to know their students. So even if a student passes their courses and eventually secures a degree, they may lack essential life skills required to succeed in the workforce or in life.

In my experience, the pace and numbers of students at a large institution like CUNY campuses, forces faculty and staff into a “nuts and bolts” type of student advising. Take courses A, B, and C to meet such and such requirement may be all too typical. What I commend Augustana for doing, albeit with more resources per student, is attempting to understand the confluence between the needs of the student with those of the greater society at large. More than academic or career guidance is offered. I would characterize their approach as “how to be your own person in the world you live in now and in your future.” This is a much more ambitious undertaking than what currently passes for college education.


Berrett, D., 2014, “Now, Everything Has a Learning Outcome,” Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 10, 2014. Retrieved at: http://chronicle.com/article/Now-Everything-Has-a-Learning/149897/?cid=at&utm_source=at&utm_medium=en

Posted in A Learning Pedagogy, Envisioning Online, Paradigm Shift, Strategic Planning for Online | Comments Off on Life Skills and Making the College Connection

First Mover Advantage

The concept of “first mover advantage” certainly applies to online learning.  The term is used in the context of a competitive environment, with the first entry in that environment often getting the advantage over competitors later to the table. In other words, there is an “opportunity cost” for delaying, procrastinating, and generally “not getting your act together.” In the online arena, this applies to CUNY’s efforts.

Online learning is not local or even regional in scope, but rather national, and increasingly global.  What that means for CUNY is that students living within the boundaries of New York City have the option of taking online programs from many institutions of higher learning throughout this country. So for example, a person wishing to get a masters degree in environmental studies/sustainability (lately a very hot academic area) can choose from several good programs — at Bard College, the University of Vermont, etc.  In the case of the University of Vermont, they had virtually no online offerings as of two years ago, but collaborated with a vendor to handle the technology and CMS component while they were responsible for creating the content. Virtually overnight, a successful program was born.

An online program in “urban” sustainability would be a natural fit for CUNY.  With expertise in business, sciences, architecture and engineering, an interdisciplinary program could have been developed with the right focus for an urban audience nationwide. Alas, such a program was indeed proposed two years ago by SPS, and steps were taken to begin the process of getting approval for an online program in urban sustainability. However, the rug was pulled out from under those proposing the program by an anonymous bureaucrat in CUNY’s Central Office. CUNY would have been a “first mover” in this arena had the program come to fruition.  Instead, we see several excellent programs already developed and operational taking its place.  An opportunity was lost.

This story brings up several questions.

a. Is there accountability within CUNY?

b. Who has veto power over such proposals and what is their track record?

c. Why does it take so long to bring an online program to market?

d. How can CUNY do better?


a. No, in my experience, there is little, if any, accountability within CUNY. People who have made disastrous decisions, like CUNYfirst and the one above are still earning their salaries if not more for a “well-deserved” promotion. Talented individuals, on the other hand, are often fired, overlooked, or resign due to frustration over the sad state of affairs at all levels of CUNY.

b. Often the persons making decisions regarding online learning are completely ignorant of the field, which includes many recalcitrant faculty in positions of governance. Rather than asking those who know the field, they instead pass resolutions in the faculty senate to equate hybrid courses with “experimental courses” and, therefore, require governance approval. That decision, and hundreds like it, are made by people in power at CUNY who don’t have the interest, humility or common sense to inquire.

c. The process to get an online program operational took four years from start to finish at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Other than the Graduate Center’s SPS, no other CUNY school has implemented an online program. In several other blog posts, I have documented various impediments to making online happen at CUNY, starting with the lack of a common vision, no strategic planning, and significant faculty resistance. While we fiddle as an institution, others are seizing the “first mover advantage” and gaining market share in a competitive educational marketplace.

d. CUNY can do better.  I will be starting a white paper, hopefully with the help of others, to be submitted to the new CUNY Chancellor. In his previous position at The University of Nebraska, online learning was one of James B. Milliken’s accomplishments. I would hope he’d be willing to entertain some ideas on how to move forward.

In summary, many within CUNY don’t fully recognize that today we are in a competitive environment more than ever, where quality enrollments are not to be taken for granted. Increasingly, the online arena is the one in which institutions compete for students across local and regional boundaries. Such programs account for the growth in many school’s enrollments, and is an important new revenue stream for those colleges. Most important, online learning can offer existing students and faculty the potential for positive learning outcomes in a manner that is both cost-effective and convenient for all university stakeholders.


University of Vermont Sustainability Programs

Bard College, MBA in Sustainability

John Jay College of Criminal Justice Online Program

Posted in Envisioning Online, Online Best Practices, Online Learning Policies, Procedures, Systems, Strategic Planning for Online | Comments Off on First Mover Advantage

SUNY Gets It (Part 3) A Tale of Two Universities

Note: On January 2014, Open SUNY was started with a full roll-out to happen in September 2014. This post reflects on their online strategy as a university and calls for CUNY to begin to address hybrid/online from a university perspective.


In previous posts, I  outlined SUNY’s new initiative in the field of online learning, which they have branded as “Open SUNY.”  In this post, I compare and contrast what CUNY has, or hasn’t done in this regard and provide my perspective. The chart below shows the disparity between the two NYS public institutions for higher education in terms of online.

                 Tale of the Tape (Best statistics as of 2014)

Online Programs 400+   12
Fully Online Courses 12,000+ approx. 1000
Planned increase online students in next 3 years 100,000  ?
Strategic Plan Yes No
Online Global Perspective Yes No
Take courses @ other campus? Yes No
24/7 Student Support? Yes No

This chart could easily be expanded to contrast many other criteria important to the success of an institutions online programs like, uniform faculty development program, collaborative efforts, and team-based course development.  These data points clearly show a “tale of two cities” scenario that can only be attributed to how these institutions view, plan, and implement online programs. In my estimation, CUNY, unlike SUNY, still “doesn’t get it.” What the “it” is, is the importance of online learning for the future success of the institution. CUNY still is not taking online seriously, hasn’t a strategic plan for the entire institution concerning online, and does not support and encourage campuses with dedicated resources to implement online programs. With a new Chancellor, I would hope that  new direction for online learning at CUNY might have a chance of being considered.

SUNY Takes Online Seriously

From the SUNY Chancellor, Nancy Zimpher, at the inauguration of Open SUNY on January 14, 2014:

“Open SUNY will completely redefine access to a college degree in our state, reaching every child and adult in every school and home in New York,” added Zimpher, “reaching them on their terms—in their homes and communities, and on their time, adapting to their schedules.” (reference below)

This major initiative involves serious planning for just about every aspect of the student experience, online infrastructure, faculty development, and transfer of course credits between campuses. For example, the press release states:

“Included as part of Open SUNY are built-in supports for students and faculty, such as 24/7 assistance for students, whether they need technical help, tutoring, financial planning, or academic advisement services; and a Center for Online Teaching Excellence where faculty can opt in to training programs and online for a to broaden their knowledge about developing effective online courses, or share best practices and learn directly from colleagues across SUNY.” (reference below)

A.  Support of SUNY students 24/7 from a central help line provides efficiencies of scale and support for online student learners across SUNY campuses. Moreover, students at one SUNY campus can easily take an online offering at another campus to speed their time to degree and take courses not available at their local campus.  In contrast, CUNY has no 24/7 help now or in the planning stages, and has just undergone a bitter Pathways controversy which purports to speed the transfer of credits between 2- 4 year colleges.

B.  SUNY has established an online global presence in their COIL campus in the heart of NYC. The Center, established in 2010 with the following mission:

The SUNY Center for Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) is one of the leading international organizations focused on the emerging field of Globally Networked Learning (GNL); a teaching and learning methodology which provides innovative cost-effective internationalization strategies. Such programs foster faculty and student interaction with peers abroad through co-taught multicultural online and blended learning environments emphasizing experiential student collaboration. (from COIL website, reference below)

The concept of expanding an institution’s online offerings from regional, to national, to global reflects a later stage in online program development (see previous blog post). SUNY has chosen to create this innovative Center to start a process of looking outward to potential collaborations with other countries, vendors, and collaborations. Simply put, this is light years ahead of where CUNY is at this point.

C.  SUNY has a comprehensive model for online faculty development (link here to video). It will take another blog post to detail the numerous advances in this area that SUNY is truly pioneering.  For now, viewing the video is a good starting point. For someone who is in the trenches of online faculty training at a CUNY college, I can say that we have nothing that approaches SUNY’s vision, scope or program implementation. Instead, for many years I have labored under several administrations dismissive, if not adverse to online learning and a faculty governance process that equated hybrid courses with “experimental” courses in a faculty senate vote about 3 years ago. Both faculty recalcitrance and administration neglect has created a situation where only about 1% of courses on my campus are either fully or partially online at this point. This is a sad state of affairs.

In conclusion, there is a wide gap in online envisioning, planning and implementation between SUNY and CUNY. In my estimation, SUNY is at minimum a decade ahead of CUNY in this area with the gap widening with each passing month that CUNY languishes without making online programs a priority. SUNY has pointed the way.  With the right vision and leadership, CUNY can still create a viable path for online learning that is competitive, innovative, and strategic.

Note: Please email me if you come across any factual errors and I will gladly correct numbers in this post. Unlike SUNY which openly offers it’s online statistics, CUNY does not.


SUNY Empire State College One of Six SUNY Colleges To Debut Open SUNY, Empire State College Press Release, available at: http://www.esc.edu/news/releases/2014/open-suny.html

The SUNY Center for Collaborative Online Learning, mission statement available at: http://coil.suny.edu/page/about-coil-0

Pickett, Alexandra, “Open SUNY Digital DNA: Emerging View of Open SUNY Initiatives,” ELI 2014 Spring Focus Session, available at: https://educause.acms.com/p2e4wrz6w36/?launcher=false&fcsContent=true&pbMode=normal

Posted in Envisioning Online, Instructional Technology, Online Best Practices, Online Learning Policies, Procedures, Systems, Online Trends, Strategic Planning for Online | Comments Off on SUNY Gets It (Part 3) A Tale of Two Universities

Adjuncts Online: An Exploited Class

The plight of adjunct instructors across academia has been receiving a lot more press of late from the NY Times to the Chronicle of Higher Education.. It comes as no surprise that online teaching, the fastest growing component of teaching in higher education, also uses adjuncts as an integral strategy for keeping costs down. Although many online classes are taught by full-time faculty, increasingly, programs are using adjuncts to teach the bulk on online offerings.  Why is this so disturbing? As a niche, online programs offer a profitable segment in higher education, which is often used to subsidize traditional teaching.

The recent arrangement between Starbucks and Arizona State University illustrates my point. In an illuminating article in the June, 27th Chronicle of Higher Education entitled, “Starbucks Plan Shines a Light on the Profits of Higher Education,” the author reflects that this partnership, “..has also opened a new window on the economics of online education, one that shows just how much “profit margin” there can be in a distance-education operation.”

The article, which is worth reading, provides detail on how the costs for offering an online BA to all Starbuck part-time employees will be divvied up between the company, ASU, government subsidies (via Pell Grants) and students. To pull off this arrangement, “ASU will be forgoing 59% of what it would receive if students were paying full freight.” (P4, reference below). In essence, OSU can offer such discounts, the author claims, since online costs less to deliver that face-to-face programs. So OSU gets thousands of new online students, Starbucks gets the acclaim of supporting its part-timers, and the baristas get a real benefit that can advance their career.  It sounds like a win-win-win situation?

Who get’s left out of this party? The part-time online instructors who get about $3000 per course on average.  Is anyone paying for their continuing education, or health benefits, or professional development? Probably not. They remain an exploited class online as they do on campus, made more galling by the fact that online learning is the profitable engine for many institutions. In the calculus of online learning economics, poorly paid adjuncts are an essential part of the equation that is never questioned by these institutions. Possibly the solution to exploited contingent online faculty is for them to apply to Starbucks to get some fairer compensation for their labor.

Blumenstyk, Goldie “Starbucks Plan Shines a Light on the Profits in Online Education,” Chronicle of Higher Education, June 27, 2014.

Posted in Envisioning Online, Online Best Practices, Online Learning Policies, Procedures, Systems, Online Trends, Strategic Planning for Online | 1 Comment

SUNY OPEN Gets It! (Part 2)

Note: In January 2014, Open SUNY was started with a full roll-out to happen in September 2014. This post reflects on their online strategy as a university and calls for CUNY to begin to address hybrid/online from an institutional perspective.


The previous post outlined SUNY’s new initiative in the field of online learning, which they have branded as “Open SUNY.”  In this post, I compare and contrast what CUNY has (or hasn’t) done in this regard and provide my personal perspective.

A. We Are in a Competitive Online Environment

You may not know it from CUNY’s online strategy, but online learning is increasingly a very competitive arena as more institutions of higher education realize the potential for enrollment growth may come from off-campus, adult-learner students. So, a college that starts a sustainability program has what is called “first mover advantage.” While CUNY considered, then rejected, this promising area for degree development, several other institutions have already come to market with wonderful online sustainability programs.  In the future, if CUNY decides to reconsider this option, it will be more difficult to successfully come to market in an already saturated environment. The same could be said for other online degree programs; they have already been developed by other competitors, including SUNY, which currently has 400 online programs to CUNY’s dozen.

B. Something Beats Nothing

If one team has a plan and the other doesn’t, all things being equal, the team with the plan will win the competition. That is what is currently happening in the New York State public education online marketplace. Several years ago, SUNY had about 100 fully online programs; today they have 400.  In that same period, CUNY has gone from six online programs to 12. What accounts for this difference?  SUNY has developed and executed an online strategic plan, whereas CUNY has no such plan, and has no urgency to develop one in the near future. The gap between these two institutions will continue to increase until CUNY sees the necessity for strategic planning in this area.

C. Programs, Not Courses

CUNY college presidents’ performance ratings are based on performance measures called PMP. One of the many criteria for a president to get a good rating concerns the percentage of hybrid/online courses offered at a campus. Many CUNY campuses are woefully under-represented in terms of online courses offered, ranging from a paltry 1.5% at one senior college to about 10% at the best. These numbers, at face value, are not good in comparison to most public universities.

Even worse, what PMP measures is not a good metric, and understates how ineffective CUNY’s online efforts truly are. A much better comparison is the number of fully online programs a college has, since it is programs that can really impact whether a student enrolls at one college or another.  A few scattered courses offered throughout the curriculum will not appreciably impact time-to-degree, enrollment numbers, or other important evaluations of an institution’s success. CUNY must direct its focus on online programs to stay relevant in this arena.

Next Post: More Analysis of SUNY vs. CUNY Online Programs

Posted in CUNY Practices, Envisioning Online, Online Best Practices, Strategic Planning for Online | Comments Off on SUNY OPEN Gets It! (Part 2)