Need as Opportunity

April 5th, 2009

April 1st was CUNY’s annual joint meeting of the Academic Council (the council of CAOs or chief academic officers) and the Administrative Council (the council of COOs or chief operating officers). The focus is always on the budget, but it is also about whatever other especially pressing issue confronts the University. This time it was enrollment growth.

CUNY has grown 16% in FTEs (full-time enrollments) over the past five years. That’s dramatic growth, but economic downturns have a way of moving dramatic growth into the realm of high drama. This year, applications are up 11% over last year. On average, students are taking more credits. Retention has improved (one of the main but also under-acknowledged reasons for enrollment growth, too often thought to be all about new applicants).

What pushes this into the realm of high drama (as if you don’t already know) is that we are pressed for space. Even if all building plans are completed, CUNY will be 10% behind the national standard for accommodating current enrollments. And we know enrollments are on the rise. Dramatically. What’s more, it’s not as if CUNY cram more and more students into large lecture classes (even if we wanted to): only a little more the 10% of all the classroom space in the University can handle classes of 50 or more.

When I hear such facts, two words occur to me: blended learning. If ever there was a time for a reasoned use of partly online and partly on-campus instruction, it’s now and in the immediate future. More pedagogically sound than large lecture courses (which depend so much more on passive absorption, so much less on interaction), they also, at least conceptually, could allow us to recoup classroom space (to say nothing of saving commuting time for both faculty and students).

To make this idea a practical reality, we’d have to get organized. Any use of blended learning for the conservation of classroom space would have to be carefully planned. This goes without saying. What’s at least as obvious, given our recent experiences, is the need for greater confidence in the technological means. We’ve been buffeted by problems and outages, so much that some CUNY faculty have declared that they’ve had it with Blackboard in its current version and centrally supported form.

Like everything else about academic technology that needs work and thought these days, this strikes me as an opportunity for the CUNY Academic Commons. If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a community to support an innovation, to nurture it and refine it into full viability. If we can use the Commons to discuss the kinds of strategic planning that would allow blended learning to create real institutional benefits for us, we might be able to move BL from a means of pedagogical enhancement to a means of improving access and increasing revenue. If this isn’t a use of technology that administrative leadership can get behind, what is? And if this isn’t the time — a tough time when we have problems academic technology can help us solve  — then when?

  1. Maura Smale Says:

    One of the things I most hope that the Academic Commons will do is provide another avenue for junior faculty (like me) to learn about and become involved in blended learning and teaching with technology. Of course there are instructional technologists and professional development opportunities at each campus, though with the whirlwind of tasks involved in getting up to speed in a new position many of us may not have taken advantage of them (yet). I’m looking forward to browsing the ever-increasing amount of information on the wiki and participating in discussions and groups as the Commons grows. As a new CUNY faculty member it’s exciting and empowering to consider the possibilities of this community for learning, planning and teaching.

  2. CUNY Academic Commons: Off and Running Says:

    […] Otte, our fearless leader, has been blogging up a storm. In his latest posts, Sizing Up Models and Need as Opportunity, George has begun to trace out some of the important needs that the Academic Commons might fulfill. […]

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