Online Education in CUNY

December 7th, 2014


Online ed

[This particular presentation — the title seems hubristic, but was assigned — was given at the University Faculty Senate Fall Conference on Online Learning on 11/21/14. Clicking on the image above will give you access to the slides. A kind of outline/summary of the talk is below. The upper-case headings are also slide titles — so, should you want to see the slides while reading the text, those headings will signal when to go to a new slide. There’s a 2-part video of the talk available here and then here.]


ONLINE ED: a matter of whatever handle you have on it?

  • Like the parable of the blind monks and the elephant, online ed “is” whatever aspect of it people think they have a grasp on at the time. What comes to mind first? The proprietaries? The overhyped MOOCs? Or more conventional on-going endeavors?
  • It’s worth noting that OE isn’t any longer new or especially localized. It’s available now at almost all public institutions of higher ed.
  • The single greatest shift is away from the old image of satellite operations and mutant offshoots to integrated approaches that serve as many or more local students as “distant” ones; 80% of the students are typically within a short driving distance and/or the area code of OE’s point of origin.


WHAT IT ISN’T: High Points on the Hype Cycle

  • Huge Untapped Potential – You’ve seen the headlines: “Campus Tsunami” / “Revolution Hits the Universities” – the idea that harnessing the power of online ed will change the educational landscape. It hasn’t.
  • The Thing to Fix Higher Ed – The idea that online ed will take care of all the problems afflicting IHEs: rising costs, soaring student debt, and unresponsiveness to accelerating changes in the technological and economic realms. Again, it hasn’t (and could only if reality could be bent as the laws of physics are in cartoons).


WHAT IT IS: Different means to the same ends

  • Defined in terms of learning outcomes, outline learning has achieved real success: a study of studies (a meta-analysis of 57 different comparability studies that satisfied strict definitions for research design) found that online learning did a bit better and blended learning did a lot better than face-to-face instruction.



  • There is in fact significant resistance to online learning from the faculty – well documented by recent surveys (Conflicted, the recent Gallup poll); the needle hasn’t moved in a decade (and the hype hasn’t helped)
  • The issue of more work … really isn’t an issue – faculty work hard as it is – but something too few recognize is the challenge for first-timers (learning to ride a bike is very different from getting back on a bike), and this is where the need for support comes in.
  • The question of whether there’s adequate support, the tech is good etc.
  • Above all, getting people to change means giving them good reasons to: why move from tried and true methods



  • The early days of CUNY Online – focusing on so-called “course conversions” – explicitly sought to accomplish the same goals online, and the main motivation was access to web resources and discussions, and for the blended courses, freeing up classroom time by what we now call “flipping” – putting instructional content online so that class time can be focused on point-of-need instruction, cultivating critical thinking and problem solving – the things that we’re most interested in.
  • The single most significant difference online represents: interaction (with content, among students) that would chew up too much class time is easy, engaging, beneficial
  • Online instruction also is enormously helpful to students who work, notably our many students who are in-service professionals



  • For SPS specifically, the issue was, in a work, access: it was serving the stop-outs (more than 10K a year) – the people who left college because “life happened” and would need online as the only way of completing the degree
  • Interestingly, there are currently 31 million adults in this country who have some college but no degree, and nearly a million in NYC alone; this is the target population for SPS



  • Another reason we really haven’t availed ourselves of much: the new push for students to “finish in four”; think how much easier it would be for students to do that if 1 or 2 of those up to 5 classes could be online or hybrid
  • And think of the growth in enrollment capacity if people take that seriously – how, gradually, we could move to significant access to gen ed courses, bottleneck courses, etc.)



  • Support for the students and the faculty: orientations to the software in use
  • Emphasis on experiential and interactive use
  • A Coalition of the Willing: people should do it because they want to (disciplinary, even individual reasons)
  • For faculty specifically, time to prepare and ongoing support



  • Those who don’t want to teach/learn this way
  • Those who think learning is lurking
  • Those who rely on spontaneity and seat-of-the-pants adjustments
  • Those who have time management issues



Why: expanding connections (among learners, to content, to the world) and making (models of) teaching and learning so much more visible (for other faculty, students)

Why not: making/saving money (this is not cheaper); making/taking it easier (this is more demanding/engaging)


[THE LAST SLIDE (my profile on the CUNY Academic Commons)]

Please feel free to contact me with comments and questions.



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