August 31, 2018 | University Life

By Philip PecorinoLogo, Ed Tech News and image of circuits

The CUNY Committee on Academic Technology met on Friday, August 24, 2018. The following points of interest are based on the committee notes of George Otte (University Director of Academic Technology).  Faculty questions, comments and blog submissions regarding these topics are welcomed.

Ed Tech Events
The 17th Annual CUNY IT Conference 11/29-30. (That link will take you to an overview of the conference and bios for the keynote speakers: Anya Kamenetz and longtime CAT member Steve Brier.) Conference chair Lisa Brundage noted how very lucky we are to have them both. Deadline for proposals is 9/17/18. (For the CFP and means of submission, click here.)

“CUNY Cloud Policy”
Our next topic of conversation was the one we left off from at May’s meeting: the “CUNY Cloud Policy.” We are so far from both the letter and spirit of that drafted document, appended to the May minutes, that the scare-quotes are justified, largely because the whole business has become much less scary. An advisory group on which CAT is well represented (by Phil Pecorino, Matt Gold, Chris Stein, Greet Van Belle, and George Otte) has been working hard over the summer, recasting the communications to faculty and the community, not as strictures and constraints, but as support, already materializing in things like the provisioning of faculty with Microsoft OneDrive available through the expanded Microsoft Office365 Suite. (That page is exemplary – detailing what is available, providing tutorials, and, oh yeah, asking you to review the PDF on the Acceptable Use Policy for the suite.)

Phil, who co-chairs the group with University CIO Brian Cohen, noted that the vision is to create a resource site that will point faculty to what is available, what is coming or under consideration, and what they might do to surface needs not yet addressed. He proposes reaching out to CAT for help and ideas in putting together such a site. This led to a rich discussion of how we document real and projected uses (without seeming to make this a form of surveillance), how we leverage CUNY’s size and consequent clout (without neglecting limited – even “niche” – programs and uses), how we inventory practices and programs (without realizing that the target(s) will never stop moving, that this is about riding waves of change and even creating some ripples ourselves). This is likely to be a focus of discussion for much of our time together this year. At this point, it is worth stressing two things: that the tone has changed (from control to support), and that the steps taken so far have been taken by talking across too-siloed offices and units. (The advisory group, half faculty [most already named from the CAT membership], is small, but nevertheless includes representatives from Legal, OHRM, Purchasing/Requisitions, Student Services, OAA, and the campus CIOs.) The group crosses units the way CAT crosses campuses, and that seems vital in considering how to make technologies available to the CUNY community.

Federal Revision of Higher Education Act
At the end of July, impatient with an impasse in legislative progress on education oversight, the Department of Education (DoE) released a plan to establish rule-making committees. The actual document is not very readable, so you may be better off with articles (including commentary and analysis) from Inside Higher Ed and The New York Times. The upshot is a plan to make “innovative” approaches (paradoxically profit-making yet cost-saving) less subject to restrictions or censure from accreditors. The DoE document notes written comment about the proposed content closes on September 14, 2018.  Take a look if you’re interested; if you’re particularly interested, especially to the point of providing testimony, let Phil Pecorino know.

Steve Powers, reporting on Blackboard on behalf of BbCAT, let us know that the thaw is on with Blackboard plug-ins and LTIs. Once stalled in a review process (and particularly a legal review process), some are now being implemented, with the first of these (and seemingly the first to get in line so long ago) the McGraw Hill plug-in, which has been held up for over two years. Happily, the signal sent now is that these review processes will be expedited. (This is in keeping with the Interim Expedited Procedure for Renewing Mission Critical Software Contracts approved over the summer and accompanying these notes as an attachment – “interim” because the whole software procurement process for CUNY is being redesigned to move more quickly. Critical-Mission-Software-renewals-FINAL1.pdf)

Another challenge with (but not from) Blackboard is also being addressed.  For some time, really since the advent of CUNYfirst, there have been challenges in giving instructors timely access to the Blackboard course sites they use (and sometimes need to build) before the first day of classes. We have workarounds for this, if not solidly reliable policies and procedures. But there was a mid-summer crisis: the implementation of the CUNYfirst payroll interface in July effectively did a wholesale termination of all adjuncts who were not teaching at the moment, resulting in their loss of access to CUNYfirst and to Blackboard Heretofore, adjuncts who had taught in the spring and were scheduled to teach in the fall still had access to Blackboard over the summer and between terms – could resolve Incompletes, respond to grade appeals, and, above all, ready their course sites for next term. Adjustments after the payroll interface implementation restored access for most “regular cases” – most, but not all, adjuncts who had been teaching and were scheduled to teach. But there still needed to be emergency reinstatements – 160+, each labor-intensive, using the old portal as a backdoor to Blackboard access. The portal, now unnecessary after the success of single sign-on, will soon be eliminated, and so will that back door access. The Office of Human Resource Management is looking into how, by way of process modifications and appropriate definitions of work “breaks,” access to Blackboard can be preserved for the adjuncts who teach so many of our courses in CUNY.

The CUNY initiative has sent out a second call for proposals. Greg Gosselin (Interim University Dean of Libraries and Information Systems), reported that the response was several times last year’s, and last year’s was no small thing. Our first shot at work with Open Educational Resources was without benchmarks. At the time, we believed we were, if anything, very ambitious in hoping to have 1,500 OER sections reach 40,000 students and save them $4 million. Last year 2,800 OER sections served 76,000 students, saving them $9.5 million. That’s a very impressive return on investment, and promises to be greater still this coming year. The new proposals have amounted to three times the “ask” of last year – and funding has remained at $4 million for the year. If we have yet to see the results of what the CUNY colleges will do with the funding they are getting in response to their proposals, it is at least clear that they are broadly and deeply committed to OER work.

Library Services  
Greg reported that we are very close to signing on a new LSP (Library Services Platform) – a good thing because the window for sunsetting of our current LSP (Aleph) is closing fast. Stephen Francoeur reported that the integration of CUNY LibGuides with Blackboard is now complete at Lehman and Hostos (and at York) and that our open institutional repository, Academic Works, continues to grow; now with 19,000 items and 1.5 million downloads.

CUNY Academic Commons
When we met in May, the Commons had just released its latest version; Matt Gold already expects the new version to be ready by early November. Forged especially in experiences using the Commons for teaching, the version will feature templates for new groups/sites: in addition to the default template, there will be templates for teaching/OER, for portfolios and research, and for academic departments or administrative units. All these uses have seen significant upticks as the Commons has become a collaborative hub for research projects like the New York Slavery Records Index, administrative efforts like CUNY’s Office of Institutional & Policy Research blog, and an explosion of collaborative teaching projects and OER work. This last has led to the hiring of some ed tech specialists in support of OER work – e.g., with 41 faculty at BMCC. Increased use of the Commons to teach and support use of OER prompted discussion of why faculty might choose to use it over Blackboard. The sense was that, while they were not diametrically opposed alternatives, the Commons was more open, more adaptable, and the work on it more shareable; it might have more appeal for faculty interested in collaboration and experimentation, but it might also demand more from faculty than the readymade environment Blackboard provides. The key consideration may be the ability to share content and even whole courses, in line with the mission of the Commons – to connect people and activity across the campuses of CUNY.

Philip Pecorino is Professor of Philosophy at Queensborough Community College and serves on the UFS Executive Committee.
Ed Tech News is a UFS Blog series on educational technologies.  Colleagues are invited to weigh in.  
Please send submissions on this topic to Stasia Pasela, Editor.

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